More Support for Antioxidants in Heart Disease Prevention

By Richard Lewis


Two articles in recent issues of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) gave a big boost to the use of antioxidant nutrients for controlling and preventing coronary heart disease (CHD).

The antioxidant theory holds that antioxidant nutrients protect the low density lipoproteins (WL) from oxidation. 

The antioxidant nutrients are vitamins A, C, E, and beta carotene and the trace mineral selenium, along with magnesium and zinc.

This support from the medical establishment hasn’t always been so enthusiastic. Back in the 1950’s, Evan and Wilfrid Shute, both medical doctors, were successfully treating heart patients with vitamin E in Canada. They were labeled frauds by the medical establishment and the hospital returned their mail unopened rather than deliver it.

In the 1960’s, Wilfrid Shute, M.D., said about his book, Vitamin E for Ailing and Healthy Hearts, “I hope this book will be the means of making available to all sufferers from heart disease the help they deserve-a proved, successful treatment.” The information about vitamin E wasn’t accepted by the mainstream physicians.

But times are changing and nutrition is finding its way into the standard medical journals and even into the clinical offices of standard physicians.

In one such article appearing in the July 12 issue of JAMA, the researchers concluded by writing, “It appears that reductions in serum total cholesterol levels are not likely to bring cultures with a high CHD risk, such as the United States and Northern Europe, back to a CHD mortality level characteristic for the Mediterranean and Japanese cultures unless other factors are also changed. The Mediterranean and Japanese diets, low in saturated fat and rich in antioxidants, may have beneficial effects both on the oxidizability of LDL particles and on [the growth of blood clots that cause heart attacks], apart from an effect on LDL levels per see This stresses the importance of factors other than serum cholesterol, blood pressure, and smoking status; such as diet, in CHD prevention.” (Emphasis added)

This alone is a major step forward. The real leap came the month before in a JAMA article looking at the effects of vitamins C and E on the progression of coronary artery
disease (CAD).

This study, completed at the University of Southern California and led by Howard Hodis, M.D., used angiograms, two years apart, to verify their results in 156 men who had coronary bypass surgery. With these men, the research team wanted to learn what effect supplementary and dietary vitamin C and E, in conjunction with a cholesterol lowering diet and either colestipolniacin (a cholesterol lowering drug) or a placebo, would have on CAD.

The ”men who had a supplementary vitamin E intake of 100 IU per ‘day or more demonstrated significantly less coronary artery lesion progression than did men with a supplementary vitamin E intake of less than 100 IU,” wrote Hodis and his associates.

Earlier epidemiological studies showed much the same results with vitamin E. Eric Rimm, ScD, and associates at the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed a relationship between a higher intake of supplementary vitamin E and a reduction in the risk of heart disease in men. Meir Stampfer, M.D., found similar results in women. Both studies were published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1993.

”The consistency between vitamin E intake and reduced coronary lesion progression in [this study] and reduced incidence of CHD with higher vitamin E intake reported in epidemiological studies is additionally strengthened by the finding that atherosclerosis progression in [this study’s] cohort is predictive of subsequent CHD events,” Hodis’ team added.

The antioxidant theory holds that antioxidant nutrients protect the low-density lipoproteins (LDL) from oxidation. When LDL becomes oxidized, it forms a foam cell that promotes the beginning and progression of artery clogging lesions. By preventing the oxidation, antioxidants prevent the start and the progression of coronary artery disease (CAD). “Several lines of evidence support this proposition,” Hodis adds.

The researchers said that their “data indicate a connection between increased antioxidant vitamin E intake and angiographically demonstrated reduction in progression of CAD.” They add that, “these data indicate a promising role for antioxidant vitamins in primary prevention [of CAD].”

Vitamin E and its fellow antioxidants have finally found clinical support for their role in preventing coronary artery disease and treating it after it has started.