IHN Database

Vitamin E in heart disease and cancer prevention

HAMILTON, CANADA. A group of international researchers has completed a study to determine the effect of vitamin E supplementation on cancer and heart disease incidence and mortality. The original trial (HOPE) was begun in 1993 and included 9541 older patients at high risk for cardiovascular events. The patients all had a history of coronary or peripheral arterial disease, prior stroke, or diabetes plus at least one other cardiovascular risk factor, and most of them were taking one or more pharmaceutical drugs – in other words, not a healthy group of people.

The patients were randomized to receive either placebo or 400 IU/day of natural source vitamin E (alpha- tocopherol acetate) for an average of 4.5 years. At the end of this period the researchers concluded that vitamin E supplementation does not decrease the incidence or mortality from cancer and does not decrease the number of cardiovascular events (heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular causes) in this group of high-risk patients. The trial was continued for another 2.5 years (HOPE-TOO) with much the same results except that a 13% increase in the rate of heart failure was observed among the patients taking vitamin E.

The researchers speculate that the disappointing results may be due to the potential for alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) to become a pro-oxidant under certain conditions. (Editor’s Note: This is why vitamin E should always be taken in conjunction with vitamin C). Another possibility is that supplementing with alpha- tocopherol, on its own, could have disturbed the balance with gamma-tocopherol. (Editor’s Note: This is why vitamin E should always be taken as part of a mixture of other tocopherols and tocotrienols). The researchers conclude that vitamin E supplements should not be used in patients with vascular disease or diabetes.
Effects of long-term vitamin E supplementation on cardiovascular events and cancer: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 293, March 16, 2005, pp. 1338-47
Brown, BG and Crowley, J. Is there any hope for vitamin E? Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 293, March 16, 2005, pp. 1387-90

Editor’s comment: This study should not discourage healthy people from supplementing in order to protect their health and well-being. As I have, on numerous occasions, pointed out the primary benefit of antioxidant supplementation is to PREVENT disease. It seems that whenever the medico-pharmaceutical establishment wishes to discredit an antioxidant they totally ignore this basic fact and gleefully report that it does not stop seriously ill patients from dying.

All chronic diseases have a certain lag time before they become clinically manifest. Cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, etc. do not happen all of a sudden from one day to the next – they develop slowly over a long period of time (the latency period). What antioxidants do is that they prolong this latency period very significantly, in many cases, providing complete protection from disease during a person's lifetime. I am much less convinced that the antioxidant property of vitamin C, vitamin E, etc. plays a major role in slowing down or reversing already serious manifest disease, although there is some indication that very large intravenous doses of vitamin C may be helpful in slowing the progression of certain cancers, and that large doses of vitamin E may help slow down Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

So, should you continue to supplement with vitamin-E to protect your health? – ABSOLUTELY!! Two very large studies involving over 100,000 female nurses and male health professionals found that supplementation with 100 IU/day or more of vitamin E is associated with a 40% reduction in the risk of developing heart disease. Vitamin E has also been found to protect against heart attacks (400 or 800 IU/day) and has been found helpful in preventing diabetes, cataracts, Alzheimer's disease, and several other conditions (see www.yourhealthbase.com/vitamin_E.htm)

Recent research has shown that it is important to take vitamin-E as a combination of gamma- and alpha- tocopherol (about a 3:1 ratio) and with adjuvant amounts of other tocopherols and tocotrienols. In such a complete formulation 100 to 200 IU/day of alpha-tocopherol would likely be quite sufficient. Vitamin E should always be taken in combination with vitamin-C, and preferably with alpha-lipoic acid and selenium as well in order to maximize its beneficial effect and prevent any pro-oxidant effect. The optimum daily intake for an individual depends on many factors, including the intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids and the degree of exposure to air pollution and toxic chemicals. Higher dosages may be indicated for women suffering from premenstrual or menopausal problems, for smokers, for people engaging in heavy, outdoor exercise, and for people having a family history of cancer. A large intake of fish or fish oils has been shown to increase the requirement for vitamin E quite significantly. Inorganic iron (ferrous sulphate) destroys vitamin-E and oral contraceptives deactivate it to some degree. So vitamin E should be taken with the main meal to optimize absorption and at least 6 hours before or after taking an iron supplement or a birth control pill. Vitamin E remains in the body for a long time, so it can be taken once a day or once every second day as convenient.

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