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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Monday, August 13, 2007

Antioxidants no magic bullet for heart disease, study says

Antioxidant pills do not protect high-risk women from cardiovascular disease, a Harvard study has found, adding to growing evidence that supplements can’t duplicate a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Taking vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene alone or together did not protect the women overall from heart attacks, coronary artery disease or stroke, Dr. JoAnne E. Manson of Harvard Medical School and colleagues report in today’s Archives of Internal Medicine.

"Antioxidants are clearly not the magic bullet for heart disease prevention," she said in an interview. "Supplements do not replace the more difficult lifestyle modifications that have been proven to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as regular exercise, a heart-healthy diet, not smoking, and managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol."

The study of 8,171 women was the first large-scale randomized trial to look at the impact of vitamin C on the risk of cardiovascular events, and it was also the first to examine vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene individually and in combination, Manson said.

Previous randomized trials of antioxidants have been disappointing, failing to duplicate the promising results found in observational studies following people who ate high amounts of antioxidants in their food. Antioxidants have been the subject of much research because of the hope that they could limit the harm caused by compounds called free radicals.

The combination of vitamin C and vitamin E did appear to reduce the risk of stroke by 30 percent, but Manson, who is also chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said this result warrants further study before making a recommendation.

"It’s not ready for prime-time," she said. "People should not be going out and buying vitamin C and vitamin E for the express purpose of preventing stroke."

They shouldn’t throw away their multivitamins, either, if they take them to make up for not eating a balanced diet, she said. The trial used doses much higher than can be found in multivitamins.

"Everyone’s looking for a simple pill you cold pop that will improve health or lower the risk of heart disease," she said. "Any widespread use of these vitamins for cardiovascular disease prevention is just not warranted."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 04:29 PM
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