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Study: Antioxidants Do Not Protect High-Risk Women from Heart Disease, Death

Antioxidants do little to protect at-risk women from heart disease, cardiovascular problems or death, according to a new study.

Although it's believed that oxidative damage to cells may contribute to cardiovascular disease, there is little evidence that the antioxidants vitamins C, E and beta carotene taken individually or together are of benefit to women who are at high-risk for the condition, according to a report in the Aug. 13-27 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, a JAMA/Archives journal.

For the study, Nancy R. Cook, Sc.D., of Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues tested the effects of the vitamins on 8,171 women age 40 or older (average age was 60.6) for nine to 10 years beginning in either 1995 or 1996.

The women, who either had a history of cardiovascular disease or three or more risk factors, were randomly assigned to take 500 milligrams of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or a placebo every day; 600 international units of vitamin E or a placebo every other day; and 50 milligrams of beta carotene or a placebo every other day.

Participants were followed up for the occurrence of heart problems, including stroke, heart attack and bypass surgery or death through 2005.

During the study period, 1,450 women had one or more cardiovascular events, including 274 heart attacks, 298 strokes, 889 coronary revascularization procedures (bypass surgery or angioplasty) and 395 cardiovascular deaths (out of a total 995 deaths).

“There was no overall effect of ascorbic acid, vitamin E or beta carotene on the primary combined end point or on the individual secondary outcomes of myocardial infarction, stroke, coronary revascularization or cardiovascular disease death,” the authors wrote in their report.

However, the authors did observe that the women who took active ascorbic acid and vitamin E experienced fewer strokes, but said more study is needed.

No adverse effects from the vitamins were reported, except for a small increase in reports of an upset stomach for those taking active beta carotene.