August 14, 2007
Vitamins Fail To Cut Cardiovascular Risk In Women

Antioxidant vitamins C, E, and beta carotene failed to cut risk of heart attacks in women. (but remember that you probably need more vitamin D)

Vitamins C and E and beta carotene, either individually or in combination, do not appear to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events or death among women at high risk for heart disease, according to a report in the August 13/27 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

The search for why vegetables and fruits improve your health isn't finding that antioxidant vitamins are the cause.

Oxidative damage—harm to cells caused by exposure to oxygen—may contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease, according to background information in the article. In addition, compounds known as free radicals may damage artery linings, encourage blood clots and alter the function of blood vessels. “Antioxidants scavenge free radicals and limit the damage they can cause,” the authors write. “Diets high in fruit and vegetable intake, and thus rich in such antioxidants, have been associated with reduced rates of coronary heart disease and stroke. Vitamins C and E and beta carotene are potential mediators of the apparent protective effect of a plant-based diet on cardiovascular disease.”

Nancy R. Cook, Sc.D., of Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues tested the effects of these compounds in the Women’s Antioxidant Cardiovascular Study, which followed 8,171 women 40 years or older (average age 60.6) beginning in 1995 to 1996. The women, who either had a history of cardiovascular disease or three or more risk factors, were randomly assigned to take 500 milligrams of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or placebo every day; 600 international units of vitamin E or placebo every other day; and 50 milligrams of beta carotene or placebo every other day. Participants were followed up for the occurrence of heart events (including stroke, heart attack and bypass surgery) or death through 2005.

Vitamin C and E in combination might cut risk of stroke.

During the average study period of 9.4 years, 1,450 women had one or more cardiovascular events, including 274 heart attacks, 298 strokes, 889 coronary revascularization procedures (bypass surgery or angioplasty) and 395 cardiovascular deaths (out of a total 995 deaths). “There was no overall effect of ascorbic acid, vitamin E or beta carotene on the primary combined end point or on the individual secondary outcomes of myocardial infarction, stroke, coronary revascularization or cardiovascular disease death,” the authors write. “There were no significant interactions between agents for the primary end point, but those randomized to both active ascorbic acid and vitamin E experienced fewer strokes.”

While scientists try to figure out what exactly in fruits and vegetables extend the lives of many people your best bet is to eat more fruits and vegetables. Vegetables are boring. But vegetables are good for you. They are probably good for you for the same reason they are boring: They have low glycemic index and so do not taste as sweet as other higher glycemic index foods. Also, their fibers have tastes that aren't as appealing as starchy grains. If you want to live longer then find ways to make vegetables more palatable.

If you can't find it in you to eat lots of vegetables (and few people can) then you should find the time to promote accelerated research into the development of therapies that reverse the damage caused by eating lots of meat and grains. Donate to research. Ask your government to fund more research into stem cells and gene therapy. Invest in biotech start-ups.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 August 14 08:41 PM  Aging Diet Studies

Dennis Mangan said at August 14, 2007 9:34 PM:

These sorts of studies are hard to credit; they add vitamins to the regimen of someone who continues on her high-fat, low-fiber, no-exercise diet, and find that they do nothing. Not too surprising.

Randall Parker said at August 14, 2007 10:03 PM:


But the appeal of vitamins for many people was the hope that by taking vitamins one could get the benefits of the most health-promoting foods without having to eat asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Yes, eating a high-fat, low-fiber, no-exercise diet while remaining healthy is the ambition.

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