NAPLES, ITALY. There is general agreement that oxidative stress is involved in the formation of the early lesions initiating atherosclerosis and subsequent heart disease. Researchers at the Federico II University in Naples now report that a low vitamin E intake is associated with an increased incidence of atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries. Their study involved 310 healthy women (aged 30 to 69 years) who underwent ultrasound (B-mode) evaluation to detect early signs of carotid atherosclerosis. The women also completed food frequency questionnaires and their blood plasma concentrations of vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A and carotenoids were measured. None of the women were taking vitamin supplements, but obtained their vitamin E mainly from fresh vegetables, legumes, and olive oil.
The researchers found that 66 per cent of the women had atherosclerotic plaques located at the common carotid artery, the carotid bifurcation (branching point) or both while the remaining 34 per cent had no plaques. There was a clear inverse correlation between the presence of plaques at the carotid bifurcation and vitamin E intake. Women with an intake of 8 mg/day or more of vitamin E were almost three times (OR=2.79) less likely to have plaques than were women with an intake below 5.8 mg/day. A low ratio of plasma vitamin E to cholesterol was also found to be a significant risk factor for the presence of atherosclerotic plaque. No association was found between plaque presence and intake or plasma concentrations of vitamin A, vitamin C or carotenoids.
The researchers acknowledge that some studies have found no protective effect of vitamin E in patients who
already have cardiovascular disease. They believe this is because vitamin E acts by preventing initial
plaque formation, but has little effect once the atherosclerotic process is well underway.