HAIFA, Israel & NEW YORK, Nov 30, 2007 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Vitamin E supplements can significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks and related deaths for diabetics who carry a particular version of a gene, according to researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Clalit Health Services in Israel.
After 18 months of treatment, people with the haptoglobin (Hp) 2-2 gene who took 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin E daily had more than 50 percent fewer heart attacks, strokes, and related deaths than Hp 2-2 patients who took a placebo pill. 40% of individuals with diabetes carry the Hp 2-2 gene.
The findings were published in the November 21 online edition of the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.
Most of the difference came from the reduced number of heart attacks among those taking vitamin E. In the group of 1,434 Hp 2-2 individuals taking part in the study, seven people had a heart attack, compared to 17 who did not take the vitamin. Dr. Andrew Levy, of the Technion Faculty of Medicine, said there were no side effects observed in patients who took vitamin E.
The study suggests that genetic testing for Hp 2-2 "may be useful to identify a large group of diabetes individuals who could potentially derive cardiovascular benefit from a very inexpensive treatment," Levy said.
The finding is a new answer to an old question: can antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin E help prevent heart disease? Previously, cardiologists routinely prescribed vitamin E for their patients, but the practice has dwindled as several major studies in the past decade showed no heart-protective effects and potential harm from vitamin E mega-doses.
But Levy and colleagues suspected there might be one group of patients who could benefit from vitamin E: diabetic individuals with a particular variant of the haptoglobin gene. Haptoglobin is a powerful antioxidant protein that stabilizes the iron-rich red blood cell molecule called hemoglobin, preventing inflammation in the walls of arteries.
There are several versions of the haptoglobin gene. In previous studies, Levy and colleagues showed Hp 2-2 is an inferior antioxidant compared to its genetic siblings, and that this difference is exaggerated in patients with diabetes. They also discovered patients with Hp 2-2 are two-to-three times more likely than other diabetics to suffer a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack.
"This version of the gene does not determine whether or not an individual will develop diabetes but rather whether an individual with diabetes is susceptible to developing the complications associated with diabetes such as heart and kidney disease and visual loss," Levy noted.
A genetic test for Hp 2-2 is commercially available, said Levy, who is also a consultant for Synvista Therapeutics, which owns a patent on the use of Hp testing to predict diabetic complications.
By making a kit, the group hopes to considerably lower the price of testing. According to Levy, the test would cost about $30 and only have to be done only once.
The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is Israel's leading science and technology university. Home to the country's winners of the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in nanotechnology, computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine. The majority of the founders and managers of Israel's high-tech companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the American Technion Society (ATS) is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel, with 21 offices around the country.