Nearly one out of four Americans has some form of cardiovascular disease. And heart disease and stroke , the main components of cardiovascular disease, are the first and third leading causes of death in the US respectively.

Previous research suggesting that high amounts of vitamin E may help prevent or delay cardiovascular disease has led as many as one in four Americans to take vitamin E supplements on a regular basis. But much of this research has been based on observational studies, which can never completely control for all of the different factors that can influence the risk of heart disease, such as exercise habits and diet.

Now, a new study in the July 26, 2004 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine has analyzed the most reliable, non-observational, studies conducted on vitamin E and cardiovascular disease since 1990. Their analysis suggests that vitamin E supplementation does not provide cardiovascular benefits.

About the Study

This study included data from seven large, randomized studies on the effectiveness of vitamin E in the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease, conducted from 1990 and on. A total of 106,625 men and women between the ages of 40 and 80 participated in these studies, which looked at vitamin E supplementation and incidence of cardiovascular events, including nonfatal myocardial infarctions, nonfatal stroke, and cardiovascular death over the course of two to six years.

In each of these studies participants were randomized to receive either Vitamin E, in doses ranging from 30 to 800 milligrams depending on the study, or a placebo. (The recommended daily intake of vitamin E for adults is 15 milligrams). The researchers compared total cardiovascular events between those receiving vitamin E and those receiving a placebo.

The Findings

Six out of the seven studies analyzed found that vitamin E had no effect on cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, looking at the combined total cardiovascular events, heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular deaths for all seven studies, they found no difference between participants taking vitamin E and those taking a placebo.

How Does This Affect You?

Despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, this study strongly suggests that high doses of vitamin E do not provide cardiovascular benefits as suggested by earlier research. This means that you should not rely on vitamin E supplements to lower your risk of heart disease.

While there is probably no harm in taking vitamin E supplements, it makes more sense to focus on methods that have been consistent shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events: not smoking, getting regular exercise, and eating a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fat. And if you already have cardiovascular disease, or serious risk factors, ask your doctor about whether you should be taking medication with compelling evidence supporting their benefits, such as aspirin, statins, or beta-blockers.

Finally, although vitamin E supplements may be a costly and ineffective way of preventing cardiovascular disease, this does not mean you should avoid foods containing Vitamin E and other anti-oxidants. Diets rich in sources of vitamin E, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and green leafy vegetables (coincidently also components of a heart healthy diet) will quite likely lower your risk of many chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease.