Despite some reports that antioxidant vitamins offer heart benefits, a panel of experts at the American Heart Association (AHA) has concluded that there is too little evidence to recommend taking antioxidant supplements to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Instead the panel recommends that we get plenty of antioxidants from food sources, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts. The Dallas-based group advises eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day and at least six servings of grain products, including whole grain foods.
Antioxidants, including vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, target a process called oxidation in which cell-damaging substances called free radicals accumulate. Oxidation is suspected of increasing the risk of several diseases, including heart disease.
There is some evidence that oxidation plays a role in the development of fatty deposits that build up in diseased arteries. What's more, some population-based studies have observed lower rates of heart disease in people who take antioxidant supplements, such as vitamin E.
During the past 5 years, several clinical trials have investigated the effect of antioxidant supplements on heart disease, and the AHA panel reviewed the results to see whether it was time to start recommending antioxidant supplements.
But most studies have not demonstrated that antioxidant supplements have cardiovascular benefit. And a few studies have found that antioxidant supplements may have a detrimental effect on cardiovascular risk.
But the apparent lack of a beneficial effect of antioxidant supplements in recent clinical trials doesn't mean that oxidation doesn't play a role in the development of artery disease, said the experts. While the research shows that antioxidant supplements have no benefit, the role oxidative stress plays in the development and progression of heart disease has yet to be clarified.
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