The vitamin E results of the Womens Health Study are published in the July 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. In addition to the cardiovascular disease findings, the study authors report that there was no effect of vitamin E on total cancer or on the most common cancers in women breast, lung, and colon cancers. The Womens Health Study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
This landmark trial has given women and their physicians important health information. We can now say that despite their initial promise, vitamin E supplements do not prevent heart attack and stroke. Instead, women should focus on well proven means of heart disease prevention, including leading a healthy lifestyle and controlling risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, said NHLBI Director Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D.
The Womens Health Study was conducted between 1992 and 2004. The participants were 39,876 healthy women age 45 years and older who were randomly assigned to receive 600 IU of Vitamin E or placebo and low-dose aspirin or placebo on alternate days. The participants were followed for an average of 10.1 years. The aspirin results published last March found no benefit of aspirin (100 mg every other day) in preventing first heart attacks or death from cardiovascular causes in women but did find a reduced risk of stroke overall, as well as reduced risk of both stroke and heart attack in women aged 65 and older.
In recent years, there has been a great deal of public and scientific interest in the potential of antioxidant vitamins like vitamin E to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Laboratory and animal research suggested that vitamin E might prevent the accumulation of fatty deposits inside arteries, which would reduce the chance of clogged and blocked arteries. Other large observational studies have also suggested that people who eat foods high in vitamin E or take supplements have a lower risk of coronary heart disease. Although several clinical trials conducted prior to the Womens Health study found little cardiovascular benefit from vitamin E, these trials were shorter and primarily studied individuals with cardiovascular disease or CVD risk factors. The intent of the Womens Health Study was to provide a long-term look at the effects of vitamin E supplementation among healthy women.
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