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Vitamin results discouraging

OXFORD, UNITED KINGDOM. A large group of British researchers from 69 participating hospitals has just released the results of the Heart Protection Study. This major, five-year study involved 20,536 UK adults aged 40 to 80 years who suffered from coronary artery disease, other cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The patients were randomized to receive a placebo or a daily vitamin "cocktail" consisting of 600 IU of synthetic vitamin E, 250 mg of vitamin C, and 20 mg of beta-carotene. After supplementing for three years the average plasma level of vitamin E had increased from 27.0 to 49.5 mmol/L, that of vitamin C from 43.2 to 58.9 mmol/L, and that of beta-carotene from 0.32 to 1.22 mmol/L indicating that the supplementation was effective in increasing blood levels of the antioxidants. It is worth noting that the increase in vitamin C concentration was quite small and not enough to reach the plasma saturation level of 77 mmol/L.

A total of 2835 (14 per cent) of the patients died during the five-year follow-up. The researchers observed no statistical differences in mortality rates between the vitamin and placebo groups whether from cardiovascular or other causes. They conclude that the vitamin supplements are safe, but not effective in preventing further deterioration in patients already diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension or previous stroke. NOTE: This study was funded by two pharmaceutical companies, Merck and Roche.
MRC/BHF Heart Protection Study of antioxidant vitamin supplementation in 20,536 high-risk individuals: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet, Vol. 360, July 6, 2002, pp. 23-33

Editor's comments: The results of the Heart Protection Study are disappointing, but not really surprising. The main effect of antioxidants is that they help prevent (delay) the initiation of disease. They are not effective, certainly not in the amounts used in this trial, in reversing or even slowing down disease once it has taken hold. This is very basic antioxidant theory, but a point that seems to be ignored by many medical researchers. There are numerous studies that have shown vitamin E and vitamin C to be effective in PREVENTING many different conditions, but very few that have shown a curative effect. So basically, the Heart Protection Study just confirms that small, daily amounts of antioxidants are safe, but not effective in curing or slowing down serious diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension.

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