TUESDAY, March 20, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Vitamin E supplements don't appear to affect a healthy woman's overall risk of heart failure one way or the other, researchers report.
"It neither increases nor decreases the risk," said study author Dr. Claudia Chae, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
This latest finding, published in the March 20 issue of Circulation: Heart Failure, differs from previous reports of an increased risk of heart failure with the use of the supplement. However, those studies looked at the effect of the supplements in women who had heart disease or diabetes or who had suffered a heart attack.
The new study is believed to be the first to look at whether vitamin E supplements might help healthy women avoid heart failure.
The new study, Chae said, "adds to a pretty substantial body of data" that does not support the use of supplements for preventing heart disease.
Vitamin E has been suggested as a way to improve heart health due to its antioxidant properties.
For the new study, Chae and her colleagues evaluated nearly 40,000 women enrolled in the Women's Health Study. Each of them took 600 international units of either vitamin E or an inactive placebo every other day. (An intake from food of 22 international units, or about 15 milligrams of vitamin E per day, is the current Institute of Medicine recommendation.)
The researchers followed the women for a decade, on average. During that time, 220 cases of heart failure occurred. The women's intake of vitamin E supplements did not change their risk of developing heart failure. This finding remained true even after the researchers adjusted for factors such as age.
Chae's team then looked at a subgroup that had a type of heart failure known as heart failure with normal ejection fraction. It occurs during the time when the heart is relaxing as it fills with blood.
In this subgroup, the investigators did find that vitamin E supplements reduced the risk of this type of heart failure by 41 percent. However, Chae said people should not make too much of this finding.
It is one observation and involves only a subgroup. "You always have to interpret subgroup analysis with caution," she said.
The study was supported by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the U.S. National Cancer Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation and the Elizabeth Anne and Karen Barlow Corrigan Women's Heart Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"This is important research," said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, director of the Ahmanson Cardiomyopathy Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The strengths of the research, he said, include the random assigning of the women to take vitamin E supplements or a placebo, and the focus on whether the vitamin supplements prevent the development of heart disease in women who didn't have it at the start.
"Supplementing with vitamin E is not needed," he said, in women trying to prevent heart disease.
Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, agreed. "This is another study that [shows] vitamin E supplementation really has no benefit," she said.
"I think the take-home message is that in a healthy population, there is no need or room or benefit for vitamin E supplements," said Steinbaum.
Women who want to ward off heart disease should turn to exercise and other proven strategies, Steinbaum added.
Fonarow and Chae agreed that other strategies are proven. Besides exercise, they recommend:
- Keep blood pressure at a healthy level
- Keep cholesterol at normal levels
- Maintain or get down to a healthy body weight
- Don't smoke
To learn more about heart disease prevention among women, visit the American Heart Association.