NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Women who don’t get enough vitamin E in their diets appear to be more likely than others to show early signs of the artery disease atherosclerosis, even before they experience any symptoms of the condition, study findings show.
A group of Italian researchers found that the more vitamin E women consumed in their diets, the less likely they were to have the beginning traces of thickening in the neck’s carotid arteries, a marker of artery disease throughout the body.
“This association was independent of other cardiovascular risk factors, was not related to vitamin supplements, and supports the hypothesis that low vitamin E intake is a risk factor for early atherosclerosis,” Arcangelo Iannuzzi of A Cardarelli Hospital in Naples and colleagues write.
However, they add, women at highest risk of early atherosclerosis were those who took in the lowest amount of vitamin E in their diets. Consequently, increasing vitamin E intake will likely only benefit those whose intake is now relatively low, and may have no effect on women who already get enough of the vitamin in their diets.
“Thus, before advising subjects to change their diet or take antioxidant vitamin supplements, it would be helpful to evaluate their intakes and (blood) concentrations,” the authors write. This extra step “would help us identify those who could benefit the most from this type of intervention.”
Atherosclerosis is defined as the build-up of fatty plaques in arteries that inhibit blood flow, raising the risk of heart attack or stroke. The condition is linked to a process called oxidation–damage to body tissues caused by byproducts of the body’s normal processes called free radicals.
The oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in the arteries is a major factor in the development of heart and blood vessel disease such as atherosclerosis. Previous research has suggested that because antioxidants such as vitamin E can neutralize oxidative damage in the body, they may help ward off heart disease and certain cancers.
In the current study, Iannuzzi and colleagues performed ultrasounds on 310 women to determine whether they showed early signs of atherosclerosis in their carotid arteries. The study participants completed dietary questionnaires and submitted blood samples that were tested for levels of vitamin E, other antioxidants and cholesterol. All of the women were between 30 and 69 years old, and none were taking vitamin supplements. The researchers found that the more vitamin E the women consumed in their diets, the less likely they were to show early signs of atherosclerosis. Moreover, the ratio of blood levels of vitamin E to cholesterol was also linked to early artery disease. The less vitamin E in relation to cholesterol in the blood, the more likely patients were to have plaques in the carotid arteries.
The investigators did not see any relationship between blood levels of other antioxidants–such as vitamins A and C–and early atherosclerosis.
Reporting in the latest issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition ( news – web sites), Iannuzzi and colleagues note that women who consumed more vitamin E may have a healthier diet overall, and other aspects of their well-balanced food intake besides vitamin E may have influenced their atherosclerosis risk.
The study participants, who hailed from Southern Italy, got most of their vitamin E from legumes, vegetables and olive oil.
SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2002;76:582-587.