Vitamin E And Heart Disease

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Supplements and Health, Vitamins and Health

Does Vitamin E Reduce Heart Attack Risk?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

vitamin e and heart diseaseSince February is “Heart Health Month”, I thought I would share some information with you that might change how you think about vitamin E and heart disease risk. You’ve seen the headlines: “Vitamin E Does Not Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease”. In fact, these headlines have been repeated so many times that virtually every expert thinks that it has to be true. Let me share the opinion of one expert who disagrees. This week I’m going to share some information with you that I learned from a seminar by Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg from Tufts University.

But first let me tell you who Dr. Blumberg is. Dr. Blumberg is a Professor in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. Dr. Blumberg has over 200 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. He is considered one of the world’s top experts on supplementation.

Now back to what I learned at his seminar. Dr. Blumberg’s specialty is conducting and analyzing clinical studies, and his perspective on some very influential clinical studies is a bit different from what you may have heard from media reports. He believes that the media has seriously misinterpreted several recent studies. You might call this “The Rest of the Story” because you (and your doctor) definitely did not hear this part of the story in the news.

Does Vitamin E Reduce Heart Disease Risk In Women?

cardiovascular disease in womenLet’s start with vitamin E and the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. The most influential study on this subject was the Women’s Health Study (Lee et al., JAMA, 294:56-65, 2005). This was a major study in which 39,876 women were given either 600 IU of vitamin E every other day or a placebo and followed for 10 years.

The headlines said “Vitamin E Supplements Do Not Reduce Risk Of Cardiovascular Death, Heart Attack And Stroke In Women”. That was true if you looked at the total population of women in the study.

But Dr. Blumberg pointed out that when you looked at women who were 65 or older in that study vitamin E supplementation caused a…

  • 24% decrease in cardiovascular deaths,
  • 26% decrease in major cardiovascular events,
  • 21% decrease in venous thromboembolism (blood clots forming in the veins),

…and all of these decreases were statistically highly significant. That’s important because the risk of heart disease in pre-menopausal women is extremely low. It’s the over 65 group who have a high risk of heart disease.

Perhaps the headlines should have said: “Vitamin E reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular deaths in those women at high risk of heart attacks”. But, of course, they didn’t. Perhaps that wasn’t considered newsworthy.

Other Studies On Vitamin E and Heart Disease Risk In Women

heart disease riskIf this were the only study suggesting the vitamin E might benefit women at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke, it might be easy to dismiss it, but it’s not the only study showing this effect.

For example, a subsequent study called the “Women’s Antioxidant Cardiovascular Study” looked at the effect of 600 IU of vitamin E every other day on cardiovascular events in 8171 women health professionals (Cook et al, Archives of Internal Medicine, 167:1610-1618, 2007).

Once again the headlines said that vitamin E supplementation had no effect on cardiovascular events in women. But, when the authors looked at those women who already had cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study (and were, therefore, at high risk of suffering a cardiovascular event during the study) vitamin E supplementation caused a 23% decreased risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular death.

Another important study was the HOPE (Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation) study (Levy et al, Diabetes Care, 27: 2767, 2004). The overall study results were similar to several other recent trials – no significant effect of vitamin E supplementation on cardiovascular health in the population group as a whole.

However, by the time that study was performed it was clear that a particular genetic variation in the haptoglobin gene called the haptoglobin 2-2 genotype lead to a significant increase in oxidative damage to the vascular wall (the professor will collect your quizes at the end of this email).

When the data were reanalyzed by genotype, it became clear that people with the haptoglobin 2-2 genotype experienced a significant decrease in both heart attack and cardiovascular death with vitamin E supplementation. This finding has been confirmed by a subsequent double-blind, placebo-control study specifically designed to look at the cardioprotective effects of vitamin E in people with different haptoglobin genotypes (Milman et al, Arterioscler. Thromb. Vasc. Biol., 24: 136, 2008).

In short, the headlines from all three studies should have said: “Vitamin E reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular deaths in those women at high risk of heart attacks” – and, it doesn’t appear to matter whether the increased risk is due to age, pre-existing disease, or genetic predisposition.

Does Vitamin E Reduce Heart Disease Risk In Men?

heart disease in menFor men the most influential study was called the “Physician’s Health Study II” (H. D. Sesso et al, JAMA, 300: 2123-2133, 2008). In this study male physicians aged 40-84 were invited to participate in a double-blind clinical trial in which they were randomly assigned into groups who were given 400 IU of vitamin E every other day or placebo. They were followed for an average of 8 years during which data on both total mortality and cardiovascular mortality were obtained.

Once again, the headlines read “Vitamin E Does NotPrevent Cardiovascular Disease in Men”. But let me tell you what Dr. Blumberg said so that you understand “The Rest of the Story”. It starts by looking at the selection process for the Physician Health Studies.

Dr. Sesso and his colleagues sent out a letter asking 261,248 male physicians in the US if they would be willing to participate in the study. Only 112,528 responded and, of those responding, only 59,272 indicated that they were willing to participate. Of those who said that they were willing to participate only 32,223 met the selection criteria.

The exclusion criteria eliminated anyone who already had suffered a heart attack, stroke, angina or was on a blood thinner – in other words those people who were at greatest risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke during the study.

Finally, the study had an 18 week “run in” period to eliminate those people who were unwilling or unable to comply with the study protocol. This eliminated another 10,000 participants, leaving only 22,071 participants – less than 10% of the original.

This is where it gets really interesting. Dr. Sesso and his colleagues used publicly available databases to evaluate total and cardiovascular mortality in each group (H. D. Sesso et al, Controlled Clinical Trials, 23: 686-702, 2002). It turns out that at each stage of the selection process the incidence of both total and cardiovascular mortality during the 8-year period decreased.

In fact, the doctors who were actually included in the study were 67% less likely to die from all causes and 73% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than the male physician population as a whole.

The bottom line is that the selection process eliminated almost all of the physicians at significant risk of having a heart attack or stroke during the study. The only ones who were actually enrolled in the study were those physicians who were at very low risk for having a fatal heart attack or stroke – or dying from any cause – during the study.

So the headlines describing this study should have read “Vitamin E Does Not Prevent Cardiovascular Disease in Men Who Are At Very Low Risk Of Heart Attack And Stroke”.The irony is that there was nothing wrong with the design of the study. It’s probably just a male ego thing. Guys who were unhealthy just didn’t want to participate in a study that might show how unhealthy they really were.

What Does This Mean For You?

These studies illustrate the true story of supplementation. For those of us who are at low risk of disease, supplementation is just a form of health insurance. But for those of us at high risk of disease, supplementation can make a huge difference in our health. That increased risk can be due to many things, as we have seen in the studies above. It can be due to poor diet, age, pre-existing disease, and/or genetic predisposition.

The problem is that most of us don’t really know whether we are at low risk or high risk until it’s too late. For millions of Americans the first sign of heart disease is sudden death.

 

The Bottom Line

  • The experts have been saying for years that vitamin E does not reduce the risk of heart disease. That claim is true, if you look at the general population, most of which is at low risk of developing heart disease – at least during the time frame of the clinical studies. However, when you look at people who are at high risk of developing heart disease, the answer is different.
  • For example, when you look at clinical studies with women, vitamin E significantly decreased the risk of heart attacks in women who…
  • Were over 65,
  • Had pre-existing heart disease at the beginning of the study,
  • Or, had a genetic predisposition to heart disease.

The headlines from these studies should have read “Vitamin E reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in those women at high risk of heart attacks”, but they didn’t.

  • For men the story is a bit different. The Physician’s Health Study is considered the definitive study on the subject. However, most of the unhealthy male physicians either didn’t enroll in the study or dropped out before its completion. In fact, the doctors who were actually included in the study were 67% less likely to die from all causes and 73% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than the male physician population as a whole. The headlines describing this study should have read “Vitamin E Does Not Prevent Cardiovascular Disease in Men Who Are At Very Low Risk Of Heart Attack And Stroke”.
  • These studies illustrate the true story of supplementation. For those of us who are at low risk of disease, supplementation is just a form of health insurance. But for those of us at high risk of disease, supplementation can make a huge difference in our health. That increased risk can be due to many things, as we have seen in the studies above. It can be due to poor diet, age, pre-existing disease, and/or genetic predisposition.
  • The problem is that most of us don’t really know whether we are at low risk or high risk until it’s too late. For millions of Americans the first sign of heart disease is sudden death.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Best Diet For Heart Disease Prevention

Posted July 9, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Are The American Heart Association’s Recommendations Correct?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

What is the best diet for heart disease prevention? 

diet for heart disease preventionHeart disease is a killer. It continues to be the leading cause of death – both worldwide and in industrialized countries like the United States and the European Union. When we look at heart disease trends, it is a good news – bad news situation.

  • The good news is that heart disease deaths are continuing to decline in adults over 70.
  • The decline among senior citizens is attributed to improved treatment of heart disease and more seniors following heart-healthy diets.
  • The bad news is that heart disease deaths are starting to increase in younger adults, something I reported in an earlier issue, Heart Attacks Increasing in Young Women of “Health Tips From the Professor.”
  • The reason for the rise in heart disease deaths in young people is less clear. However, the obesity epidemic, junk and convenience foods, and the popularity of fad diets all likely play a role.

Everyone has a magic diet for reducing heart disease risk. The American Heart Association tells us to avoid fats, especially saturated fats. Vegans tell us to avoid animal protein. Paleo and keto enthusiasts tell us carbs are the problem. Who is correct?

Of course, we don’t eat fats, carbohydrates, or proteins. We eat foods. That is why a recent study (T Meier et al, European Journal of Epidemiology, 34: 37-45, 2019) is so important. It reported which foods increase and which decrease the risk of premature heart disease deaths.

How Was The Study Done?

diet for heart disease prevention studyThe authors of the current study analyzed data from the “Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) Study”, a major world-wide effort designed to estimate the portions of deaths caused by various risk factors.

The current study focused on the impact of 12 dietary risk factors on heart disease deaths between 1990 and 2016 for 51 countries in four regions (Western Europe, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia).

The dietary risk factors were:

  • Diets low in fiber, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains.
  • Diets high in sodium, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and trans fatty acids.

Saturated fat and meat were not explicitly included in the GBS Study data. However, diets low in polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fats are likely high in saturated fats. Similarly, diets low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are likely higher in meats. The study also did not include dairy, and some recent studies suggest that some dairy foods may decrease heart disease risk.

For simplicity I will only consider the findings from Western Europe because their diet and heart disease death trends are similar to those in the United States.

 

Best Diet for Heart Disease Prevention?

plant-based diet bestThe study found that in 2016 (the last year for which data were available):

  • Dietary risk factors were responsible for 49.2% of heart disease deaths.
  • 6% of all diet-related heart disease deaths occurred in adults younger than 70, and that percentage has been increasing in recent years.

When they looked at the contribution of individual foods to diet related heart disease deaths, the percentages were:

  • Diets low in whole grains = 20.4%
  • Diets low in nuts and seeds = 16.2%
  • Diets low in fruits = 12.5%
  • Diets high in sodium = 12.0%
  • Diets low in omega-3s = 10.8%
  • strong heartDiets low in vegetables = 9.0%
  • Diets low in legumes = 7.0%
  • Diets low in fiber = 5.7%
  • Diets low in polyunsaturated fats = 3.7%
  • Diets high in processed meats = 1.6%
  • Diets high in trans fatty acids = 0.8%
  • Diets high in sugar-sweetened beverages = 0.1%

So, what is the best diet for heart disease prevention?

In short, this study concluded:

  • A primarily plant-based diet is the best protection against premature death due to heart disease.
  • All plant-based food groups (whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and legumes) play an important role in reducing heart disease deaths.
  • Meat was not included in the analysis, but it is likely that most people’s diets in this region of the world contained some meat. The most likely take-away is that meat does not affect heart disease risk in the context of a primarily plant-based diet.
  • Dairy was not included in the analysis either, but some studies suggest dairy, particularly fermented dairy foods, reduce heart disease risk.
  • Finally, the study concluded: “Compared to other…modifiable risk factors (physical inactivity, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco smoking, obesity, etc.), an altered diet is the most effective means of preventing premature deaths from cardiovascular disease in Western Europe.”

While every study has its weaknesses, this study is consistent with multiple previous studies showing that primarily plant-based diets are best for reducing heart disease risk. You will find a more complete discussion of these studies in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

 

Are the American Heart Association’s Recommendations Correct?

With this study’s results in mind we can now ask whether the recommendations of the American Heart Association and other popular diets are correct. Are they likely to reduce heart disease deaths?

  • The American Heart Association Recommends a dietary pattern that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, skinless poultry and fish, and low-fat dairy products. This study supports those recommendations.
  • This study also supports the heart-health benefits of the Mediterranean and DASH diets.
  • Meat and dairy were not explicitly considered in this study. Thus, the results of this study are also consistent with vegan and semi-vegetarian diets.
  • However, low carb diets like Paleo and keto eliminate some of the key food groups (whole grains, fruits, and legumes) that appear to be essential for reducing heart disease risk. 40% of the heart-health benefits in this study came from those 3 food groups. Thus, this study does not support claims that those two diets are heart-healthy long term.

 

The Bottom Line

 

Everyone has a magic diet for reducing heart disease risk. The American Heart Association tells us to avoid fats, especially saturated fats. Vegans tell us to avoid animal protein. Paleo and keto enthusiasts tell us carbs are the problem. Who is correct?

A recent study provides some important clues. It looked at dietary patterns associated with reduced risk of premature death from heart disease in Western Europe. The study concluded:

  • A primarily plant-based diet is the best protection against premature death due to heart disease.
  • All plant-based food groups (whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and legumes) play an important role in reducing heart disease deaths.
  • Meat did not appear to affect heart disease risk in the context of a primarily plant-based diet.
  • Dairy was not included in the analysis, but some studies suggest dairy, particularly fermented dairy foods, reduce heart disease risk.
  • Finally, the study concluded: “Compared to other…modifiable risk factors (physical inactivity, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco smoking, obesity, etc.), an altered diet is the most effective means of preventing premature deaths from cardiovascular disease.”

While every study has its weaknesses, this study is consistent with multiple previous studies showing that primarily plant-based diets are best for reducing heart disease risk. You will find a more complete discussion of these studies in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

With this study’s results in mind we can now ask whether the recommendations of the American Heart Association and other popular diets are correct. Are they likely to reduce heart disease deaths?

  • The American Heart Association Recommends a dietary pattern that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, skinless poultry and fish, and low-fat dairy products. This study supports those recommendations.
  • This study also supports the heart-health benefits of the Mediterranean and DASH diets.
  • Meat and dairy were not explicitly considered in this study. Thus, the results of this study are also consistent with vegan and semi-vegetarian diets.
  • However, low carb diets like Paleo and keto eliminate some of the key food groups (whole grains, fruits, and legumes) that appear to be essential for reducing heart disease risk. 40% of the heart-health benefits in this study came from those 3 food groups. Thus, this study does not support claims that those two diets are heart-healthy long term.

For more details read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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