Can vitamins lower cholesterol?

Vitamin E

Vitamin E has been cited as offering protection against heart disease, yet scientific evidence supporting its beneficial effects is conflicting. This may be, in part, because we don't clearly understand vitamin E's role in the body.

We know that vitamin E is carried through the blood with LDL cholesterol. Because of its close proximity to LDL, vitamin E has been expected to protect LDL from oxidation by free radicals. But that may not be exactly so. It may be that a balance between vitamin E and other antioxidants is needed in order to get antioxidant protection, or perhaps vitamin E is not as effective as was once thought.

In an analysis of seven trials of more than 81,000 people who had or were at high risk for heart disease, vitamin E supplements ranging from 50 to 800 International Units (IU) did not lower the risk of cardiovascular death.

In the Women's Health Study, nearly 20,000 healthy women who took 600 IU of natural-source supplemental vitamin E every other day for ten years had no reduction in risk for major cardiovascular events. The 24 percent reduction in sudden cardiovascular death among women who took vitamin E supplements may have been due to chance.

Ultimately, these data did not support recommending vitamin E supplements for preventing cardiovascular disease in healthy women.

Out of seven clinical trials, only the Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study found that vitamin E supplements provided beneficial effects in preventing cardiac events in people with heart disease, and that study appeared to have some design flaws that may have influenced the results.

In fact, in 2005, a clinical trial known as the Heart Out comes Prevention Evaluation -- The Ongoing Outcomes (HOPE-2) found that 400 IU of vitamin E a day might actually increase the risk of heart failure. This example shows that when it comes to taking supplements, more is not always better; in fact, it may cause harm.

It's interesting to note that many of the clinical trials were conducted on people with established coronary heart disease or who were already at high risk; it's possible that vitamin E may be more helpful in preventing heart disease from occurring than in treating people who already have heart disease. More research and analysis will help find the answers to the vitamin E puzzle. Until then, there is no good evidence supporting the use of large dose vitamin E (400 IU or more) to reduce the risk of heart attack.

Selenium, on the other hand, is known to be an antioxident. Learn about this mineral on the next page.