Your Health

2 minute read

Vitamin E was once thought by some to be the cure for nearly everything. Observational studies suggested that moderately high doses (400 International Units, or IUs) could prevent heart disease, cancer and dementiaand make your skin glow, too. But lately scientists, using more rigorous tests, have had trouble substantiating some of those benefits.

Now comes what may be the crowning blowat least with respect to staving off heart disease. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week, found that taking 400 IUs of vitamin E each day did nothing to prevent heart attacks or strokes in a group of nearly 10,000 mostly elderly patients with cardiovascular disease or diabetes. This disappointing news comes on the heels of the Women’s Health Study finding earlier this month that vitamin E confers no cardiac benefit on healthy women age 45 or older.

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What immediately grabbed everyone’s attention in the J.A.M.A. study was the discovery that vitamin E slightly increased the risk of heart failure. That’s a first.

There’s no need to panic. If you take a multivitamin, you’re getting only 30 IUs of vitamin E, and this has long been shown to be a safe amount. And 400 IUs may yet prove to be fine. For complicated statistical reasons, the heart-failure finding could easily be a fluke, the study’s coordinating investigator readily admits.

What it all boils down to is this: vitamin E probably doesn’t prevent heart disease. That doesn’t mean it’s useless. There is strong evidence from other studies that moderately high doses of vitamin E may delay the onset of macular degeneration and boost the immune system in the elderly. Also, the U.S. National Institutes of Health is testing whether vitamin E, with or without selenium, may delay prostate cancer.

But one thing is certain: vitamin E is not the miracle cure it once seemed to be.

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