Study Finds that Vitamin Supplements May Not Benefit Heart
Over the past few years, data has been accumulating that suggest foods rich in antioxidants are healthy, but antioxidant supplements offer little benefit. A significant new study has some useful details.
Bottom line first
In middle-aged women, the antioxidant vitamins C, E and beta carotene don't appear to offer heart-related health benefits when taken in supplement form.
This study in 50 words or less
Researchers registered over 8,000 women at elevated risk for heart disease. Some took supplements (together or in various combinations); others took placebos. After about 10 years, they found no meaningful differences between groups in heart attacks, strokes or heart-related deaths.
Yes, but. . .
This is an unusually strong study: It randomized the women into different groups, it provided the supplements and placebos, and it tracked various endpoints over a long period of time.
There was a slight reduction in stroke for women taking vitamins C and E. Researchers also found a marginal heart disease benefit for women taking just Vitamin E. But the researchers conclude these observations show a need for more study, not a benefit.
The doses used were: vitamin C, 500 mg/day; vitamin E, 600 IU/every other day; and beta carotene, 50 mg/every other day. Findings apply only to these doses in high-risk, middle-aged women.
The study found no evidence of harm from the pills. This differs from a few redcent findings linking some antioxidant supplement use to possible harm.
So what are you going to do about it?
If you are taking antioxidants for their presumed heart health benefits, you may want to talk to your doctor about the implications of this study.
If you are taking antioxidant supplements without medical supervision, for any condition, this study could provide a good opportunity to talk to your doctor or nutritionist about the role of supplements in your personal health care plan.
This study does nothing to question the health benefits of eating antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. A large and convincing body of research links eating a lot of different kinds of fruit and vegetables to good health generally and lower risk of specific diseases.
Our site has some useful information about antioxidants in the diet and via supplements.
An excellent site for more in-depth information on supplements is the federal government's MedlinePlus. You can look up most supplements by name and get a complete, science-based report on risks, benefits and other factors. Here are the reports on vitamin C and beta carotene.