An eight-year study of more than 14,000 male physicians found that taking vitamin C and vitamin E did not prevent cardiovascular disease.
The findings for vitamin C are not surprising given the results of numerous studies that reached the same conclusion, says Howard Sesso, a professor at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study. It will be published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
But the findings for vitamin E are new because this was the first large, strictly controlled study to assess the supplement and how it affects the heart and blood vessels, Sesso says.
The men enrolled in the Physicians' Health Study II were broken into four groups, which were given vitamin C and a placebo, vitamin E and a placebo, C and E together, and placebo only. The dosages were 500 milligrams of vitamin C daily and 400 international units of vitamin E every other day. There were about 3,600 men in each group.
When results were assessed, it was found that neither C nor E had an effect on what the researchers call "major cardiovascular events," which include heart attacks, stroke or death.
The study results might seem disappointing for consumers, "but we actually feel this is important from a public health standpoint, given the frequency of these vitamins' use without having good data," Sesso says.
The hope that vitamins C and E might help prevent cardiovascular disease came from both animal and test-tube studies in which the antioxidants had shown heart benefits. There are also studies of people who followed diets rich in these vitamins and who also took supplements.
Annette Dickinson, former president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement industry group, says the findings point to the need to place supplements in a context in which consumers are also taking other steps toward a healthful life.
"You pull a nutrient out of the whole diet context and you don't see the same effects," she says.
Dickinson says more research is needed to determine whether a higher dose or different form of vitamin E would be more effective.
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