Vitamin E May Prevent Early Development of Cardiovascular Disease

BACKGROUND: Vitamin E has been shown to prevent the free-radical oxidation (damage) of cholesterol, considered to be an early step in the development of coronary artery disease. Some clinical trials have found that vitamin E supplements can reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and heart attacks while others have not. Because heart disease takes many years to develop, long-term intake of vitamin E may play a role in its prevention.

RESEARCH: Researchers analyzed dietary intake and blood levels of vitamin E and other antioxidants among 307 women, ranging in age from 30-69 years. They also conducted ultrasound examinations of the subjects' carotid artery, a major blood vessel, to look for associations between antioxidants and early stages of cardiovascular disease. The development of atherosclerosis (fatty deposits) in the carotid artery, particularly at a point called the "carotid bifurcation," is a very early sign of cardiovascular disease, which can be detected years before any other symptoms appear.

RESULTS: Women with either low intake or low blood levels of vitamin E were far more likely to have atherosclerotic plaques at the carotid bifurcation and, conversely, those with the highest intake or blood levels of the vitamin were least likely to have early signs of atherosclerosis. For example, women with the lowest blood levels of vitamin E were twice as likely to have signs of early cardiovascular disease. The authors noted that only women in the highest category of intake consumed the recommended levels of vitamin E. In addition, no associations were found between the intake or blood levels of the other antioxidants studied and the presence of atherosclerotic plaques.

IMPLICATIONS: This study suggests that low intakes and low blood levels of vitamin E are associated with an increased risk of developing early signs of cardiovascular disease. The research suggests that adequate vitamin E intake may play a role in preventing early stages of cardiovascular disease.

Iannuzzi A, Celentano E, Panico S, et al, "Dietary and circulating antioxidant vitamins in relation to carotid plaques in middle-aged women," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002;76:582-587.

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