Study links vitamin E to heart health

March 21, 1996
Web posted at: 8:10 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Andrew Holtz

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A study published Thursday in the British medical journal Lancet lends further support to the theory that vitamin E can help protect the heart. British researchers working with Cambridge University said they found a dramatic reduction in heart attacks among patients taking vitamin E pills.

The Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study -- 'CHAOS' for short -- split 2,000 patients into two groups. The patients in the study had fatty plaque build-ups in the arteries that feed blood to the heart muscle. These deposits, which are linked to cholesterol levels, can trigger a heart attack, usually when a clot plugs the blood vessel bottleneck.

Patients in one group took either 400 or 800 units of vitamin E each day. Their risk of suffering a heart attack within a year and a half was only 23 percent the risk of patients in the control group, who took dummy pills containing no vitamin E.

The researchers found no detectable difference in the death rate due to heart disease. Though researchers caution the report in Lancet is not the last word, one said he will begin recommending that some of his patients with heart disease take vitamin E supplements.

Other studies have found indications that vitamin E may also lower the risk of some cancers. Those studies have shown that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin E and other antioxidants, or who have high levels of vitamin E in their blood, are less likely to suffer heart attacks and heart disease deaths. Those findings have led experts to recommend a diet that includes those vegetables and fruits as a way to gain protection against heart disease, cancer, and other ailments.

Up to now scientists had been unable to show that taking vitamin E pills could bring similar payoffs. But until the results of longer and larger tests are in, researchers say they won't know whether vitamin E pills can either save lives or prevent healthy people from developing heart disease.

Experts emphasize that the new findings about vitamin E, tantalizing as they may be, shouldn't overshadow well-established advice: Quitting smoking, lowering blood pressure, losing weight, exercising, and eating lots of fruits and vegetables conclusively protect hearts and prevent deaths.