Diet More Important than Vitamins for a Healthy Heart

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January 02, 2008 | 8,868 views

Taking vitamin pills to protect against heart disease is no substitute for a balanced diet, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Studies on heart patients who have taken vitamin supplements have had varied results. An observational study of 85,000 nurses, cited in the report, found that the risk of heart disease was lowest in women with the highest intake of vitamin E - a level achievable with vitamin supplementation. A second study of 39,000 males revealed similar results.

A randomized study, which compared the effects of placebo with the effects of vitamin supplements raised red flags. Researchers divided 29,000 male smokers into three groups and followed their health for a period of up to eight years. One group received placebo, a second beta carotene and the third was treated with vitamin E. For both treatment groups, no reduction was found in the incidence of lung cancer and heart disease. More disturbingly, an unexpected increase in the risk of fatal stroke was identified in the vitamin E group, and a jump in the number of deaths linked to lung cancer and heart disease was identified in the beta carotene group.

Evidence of health benefits from vitamin E is stronger in studies of individuals who have had a heart or stroke. For example, in the Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study, the risk of non-fatal heart attack among individuals who took high doses of vitamin E was 77 percent lower than in participants who did not take the vitamins.

COMMENT: It is great to see the AHA recommending a good diet. Of course, the AHA and I thoroughly disagree about the definition of a good diet. They, of course, focus on whole grains and low fat, which we all know will increase, not decrease, one’s risk of heart disease. The study does bring up an important point though. One needs to be careful of supplementation. I have always contended that the diet is far more important than supplementation. This is especially certain when one takes synthetic vitamins. The complication with beta carotene is believed by most knowledgeable physicians to be related to the fact that synthetic, not natural, beta carotene was used. However, the central thesis is still true. It is far better to obtain beta carotene from foods, not supplements. Antioxidants like beta carotene that are present in foods, could not always be replicated in a pill bottle. Many antioxidants are compounds that work synergistically. If an antioxidant is isolated, its effect could be significantly weaker. With respect to vitamin E, I would only recommend Unique Vitamin E as it is the highest quality of natural not synthetic vitamin E and also has mixed tocopherols not just d-alpha tocopherol. I would also keep the dose at 400 units per day. I am not convinced that higher doses provide any benefit any they may actually be counterproductive by interfering with fatty acid metabolism (beta-oxidation of long chain fats).