Antioxidant vitamins, either alone or in combination with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), do not appear to provide any heart health benefits to postmenopausal women with existing heart disease, say San Francisco researchers.
In the study, 400 postmenopausal women with heart disease were randomly assigned to take HRT, vitamins C and E, a combination of the two, or inactive placebo pills.
In the study, women who were assigned to the HRT group took either estrogen (Premarin) or estrogen plus progestin (Prempro) if they had not had a hysterectomy. A second group took 400 international units (IUs) of vitamin E plus 500 mg of vitamin C, twice a day, or a placebo. Some women took both HRT and the vitamins and a fourth group of women took only placebos.
Annual measurements suggested that artery narrowing was the same or slightly worse for women taking HRT compared with women taking a placebo, and for women taking the antioxidant vitamins compared with women taking the placebo. Rates of death, nonfatal heart attack and stroke were also higher among women taking HRT and vitamins than women taking placebos.
The results of this trial add to the accumulating evidence that neither HRT nor antioxidant vitamin supplements improve the clinical course of coronary disease in postmenopausal women.
However, the dietary supplement's leading trade group, the Council for Responsible Nutrition, criticized the design of the study and the interpretation of the results, charging that the findings could be due to chance.
Other antioxidant experts agree saying there was no statistically significant difference one way or the other that you can conclude this study showed harm.
Indeed, the study authors note that the increase in death among women taking high doses of antioxidant vitamins "may represent a chance finding," and state that more research is needed. Healthy postmenopausal women should look at the totality of evidence when it comes to taking antioxidant vitamin supplements, the bulk of evidence, which shows a benefit rather than harm.
Similarly, eating foods rich in antioxidants, compounds that squelch disease-causing free radicals in the body, reduce heart disease risk, but providing the same vitamins in pill form may not have the same effect.
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