Harvard Heart Letter

Heart beat: C+E get an F for heart protection

Heart beat

C+E get an F for heart protection

If you've been relying on vitamins E and C to ward off heart disease, it's time to switch to something that actually works.

The results of a large, randomized controlled trial showed that 500 milligrams of vitamin C plus 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E, or either one alone, offered no more protection against heart disease than a placebo. (The vitamins didn't protect against prostate or other cancers, either.) The eight-year trial, conducted in more than 14,000 initially healthy male physicians, echoes the negative results of similar trials in healthy women, as well as in men and women with heart disease or at high risk for it (Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 12, 2008).

The idea that antioxidants might protect against heart disease makes good sense. The oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is an early step in the development of artery-clogging atherosclerosis. Blocking this step with antioxidants like vitamins C and E could slow, or even prevent, atherosclerosis and thus ward off heart disease. Yet this trial, called Physicians' Health Study II, joins nearly a dozen others showing that taking an antioxidant supplement has little or no effect on heart disease.

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