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Is Vitamin E Beneficial?

Past studies have hinted that vitamin E might help reduce the risk of cancer and of heart disease. But a new study shows that in people at greatest risk for heart problems, vitamin E actually increased that risk.

After Jim Hill had a quadruple bypass, he was looking for ways to reduce his risk of more heart problems. He heard that vitamin E could help, and could also reduce his risk of cancer.

"I was talking to the cardiologist and uh, I was curious about for me vitamin E, and there was no studies on it but he said it wouldn't hurt to take it," says Mr. Hill

But a new study in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that vitamin E may indeed hurt people like Jim-- who are over age 55 with a history of heart problems, diabetes, or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

"In high-risk people, vitamin E does not prevent cardiovascular disease, namely heart attack and stroke, and it does not prevent cancer. Furthermore, we noticed an increased risk of heart failure, so there is a potential for harm in people receiving vitamin E," says Dr. Lonn.

Dr. Eva Lonn, OF McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, along with researchers from the U.S. and thirteen other countries, conducted the vitamin E study. they tracked the health of more than nine-thousand high-risk patients, some for as long as almost ten years. They compared those taking 400 international units of vitamin E a day, to those taking a placebo, or sugar pill. The results for those who took vitamin E the longest were dramatic.

"We noticed actually a 40 percent increase in risk of hospital admissions for heat failure,” says Dr. Lonn.

So Dr. Lonn says doctors and patients need to rethink vitamin E.

"There is often the belief, well even if it doesn't benefit you, it causes no harm. Now, our study suggests that this assumption is not always correct,” says Dr. Lonn.

Jim was part of that study, and felt relieved when he later learned that he was taking placebo, not vitamin e. Now he takes prescription medications for his heart health.

"All in all, things look pretty good, so carry on with the same medications,” says Dr. Lonn.

He says he'll follow doctors' orders, which don't include taking vitamin E.