Vitamins C and E Not Beneficial in Heart Disease Prevention, Study Concludes

November 10, 2008

Vitamins C and E were not effective in preventing cardiovascular disease in males, concluded the Physician’s Health Study II that will be published in the November 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Vitamins C and E were not effective in preventing cardiovascular disease in males, concluded the Physician’s Health Study II that will be published in the November 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"(The vitamins) showed no trends that reached significance, except for an increase in hemorrhagic stroke among vitamin E users that was only marginally significant at p=.02,” said J. Michael Gaziano, MD, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School (Boston).

The study included 14,641 physicians, with a mean age of 64. “This was a very healthy population,” Gaziano noted. Participants received a placebo or 400 IU vitamin E every other day. While the study’s participants only included Caucasian men, smaller vitamin E trials did not show a gender difference.

Effects of the study will continue for an additional 3 years, Gaziano reported.

“This was a high-quality, long-term nutritional trial, and we don’t have many of these,” said Barbara V. Howard, PhD, Medstar Research Institute (Hyattsville, MD).

“We do need data in other racial groups, but it is very unlikely there will be differences. The other issue that will be raised is the type of formulation,” Howard said.

“I think most nutritionists would feel that it is highly unlikely that you could suddenly find a specific vitamin formulation that would be beneficial.”

In response to the study, Andrew Shao of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington DC.) released this statement:

“Although the results did not demonstrate an overall benefit, the results also do not discount the earlier epidemiological data showing that people with high intakes of vitamins E and C may have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Nutrition research is extremely complex, and doesn’t always provide clear cut answers. This study raises an interesting set of scientific challenges as to why the benefits found in observational studies have not been confirmed in this kind of trial.

Annette Dickinson, PhD past president of CRN, said, “These results do not of course negate other evidence of benefits for vitamin E and vitamin C for other conditions, including immune function, mental acuity, and eye health. Consumers would be well advised to ensure adequate intakes of all essential nutrients through a good diet plus use of a multivitamin, and selected other nutrients including vitamins E and C, vitamin D, calcium, and EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.”

Dickinson added that the possible effect of vitamin E on increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke may have been a matter of chance.

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