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To E or not to E?

Not so many years ago, researchers suggested vitamin E could lower the risk of coronary heart disease. Vitamin E is an antioxidant found naturally in foods like almonds, green leafy vegetables and mangoes, but it’s also available as a supplement. Now, recent studies suggest that vitamin E may not help prevent heart disease. In fact, taking a vitamin E supplement could do more harm than good.

Why experts had high hopes

When a coronary artery becomes blocked by a buildup of cholesterol deposits on the arterial wall, the result is a heart attack. Scientists believe that oxidation, a natural process that leads to cell and tissue damage, plays a role in how fatty deposits build up. Scientists thought vitamin E could slow or prevent this process.

After more research, however, scientists are challenging the idea that vitamin E has a protective effect on heart disease. The Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE and HOPE-TOO) studies that involved nearly 10,000 people found no significant difference in rates of heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular causes between people who took a vitamin E supplement and those who took a placebo, or sugar pill. Those who took vitamin E actually had a 13% higher risk of heart failure. What’s more, an American Heart Association analysis of several clinical trials found a higher death rate among study participants who took vitamin E supplements of more than 400 IU. No such increase was seen among those who took 200 IU or less a day. One supplement capsule typically contains 400 IU to 800 IU.

So what now?

Don’t wait for doctors to give the final word on vitamin E. If you want to increase your chances of preventing heart disease, you should:

  • Follow already-proven steps such as leading a healthy lifestyle and controlling risk factors like smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
  • Skip the supplements. Get your daily dose of vitamin E naturally. Make foods like almonds, corn oil, soybean oil, green leafy vegetables, mangoes and fortified cereals part of your daily diet.