By the way, doctor: Is it safe to take vitamin E pills?

Is it safe to take vitamin E pills?

Q Many years ago my doctor recommended that I take two 400-IU vitamin E pills each day for leg cramps. Now I hear that vitamin E may increase my risk for heart disease, and I already have had heart problems. What should I do?

A The story on vitamin E pills is confusing. You're right about the recent news. An analysis of 19 different studies that involved a total of more than 135,000 subjects was published in early 2005 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. By putting the studies together, the researchers found that high doses of vitamin E in pill form (400 IU or more each day) may actually increase the risk for heart disease and other causes of death. Many people in these studies had chronic diseases, including heart disease, so the results are relevant to you. Whether they apply to people without chronic diseases isn't certain. Moreover, some experts found flaws in the study's design that raise questions about whether it was vitamin E alone that increased risk.

Interestingly, the researchers found that lower doses (150 IU per day or less) might be protective, so it's not a simple message. In general, though, randomized trials haven't found that vitamin E pills reduce the risk for heart disease or Alzheimer's disease.

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