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Experts Say Vitamin E Protects Against Heart Disease

May 1, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ High doses of vitamin E lower the risks of heart disease by helping to neutralize the ″bad″ kind of cholesterol, but vitamin C has no such effect, researchers reported Saturday.

University of Minnesota scientists said that a study of patients taking supplements of both vitamin E and vitamin C showed that only E was able to keep low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the so-called ″bad″ cholesterol, from turning into a killer chemical that attacks the inside of arteries.

Dr. Jozsef Balla, in a paper delivered at a national meeting of clinical researchers, said that LDL cholesterol does its mischief when it is oxidized in the bloodstream and actually becomes toxic to the cells lining arteries.

Laboratory tests with oxidized LDL, he said, showed that the bad cholesterol is toxic when placed in culture with cells taken from the lining of arteries. The oxidized LDL actually killed 40 percent to 50 percent of the artery cells it touched, he said.

Such an action in the body causes wounds inside the arteries and leads to a build up of plaques. This process is part of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, a condition that can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Earlier studies suggested that both vitamin E and vitamin C could prevent the LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized and, thus, toxic.

But Balla and his colleagues, Dr. Gregory M. Vercellotti and Dr. Harry Jacob, said that blood tests run over a six-week period on 10 men who took supplements of vitamins showed that only vitamin E was protective.

Jacob said tests showed that after just a few days of taking 400 to 800 international units of vitamin E daily, the LDLs in the patients’ bloodstream were no longer able to damage arteries. Vitamin C, he said, did not provide the same protection.

″LDLs with vitamin E were much harder to oxidize,″ said Jacob. ″It could not kill the vascular wall cells. We found no such effects on the vascular wall cells for vitamin C.″

The protective effects of vitamin E quickly disappeared if patients stopped taking the supplement.

″If you take vitamin E, you need to take it for life if you are to enjoy the benefit,″ said Jacob.

The daily intake recommended by the federal government for vitamin E is 25 international units, but Vercellotti said it takes at least 400 IUs to cause the chemical changes in LDL that protect against heart disease.

Earlier studies have shown that vegetarians, who load their diet with leafy greens rich in vitamin E, seem to have an LDL that is resistant to oxidation, Vercellotti said.

″We think diet can make a big difference in the rate of heart disease,″ he said.

The researchers presented their study at the national Clinical Research Meeting, a combined convention of the American Federation for Clinical Research, the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians.

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