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Health Capsules
August 2005
Vitamin E Results Disappoint

Vitamin E supplements don’t protect healthy women against heart attacks and stroke, according to the latest results from the Women’s Health Study, a long-term clinical trial funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and National Cancer Institute (both part of NIH). The vitamin also had no effect on the most common cancers in women or on total cancers.

An estimated 13.5% of women in the U.S. take vitamin E supplements. Laboratory and animal research has suggested that vitamin E might reduce the chance of clogged and blocked arteries. Observational studies suggested that people who eat foods high in vitamin E or take supplements have a lower risk of heart disease. Although several clinical trials have found little cardiovascular benefit from vitamin E, these trials were not conclusive. The Women’s Health Study aimed to look at the long-term effects of vitamin E among a large number of healthy women, studying 39,876 women age 45 years and older over an average of 10.1 years.

The study found that vitamin E didn’t significantly affect major cardiovascular “events”—a combination of nonfatal heart attack, nonfatal stroke and cardiovascular death. There were findings that warrant further study, however. There was some reduction in cardiovascular deaths among women taking the vitamin. Women 65 and older taking vitamin E also had a decrease in heart attacks and cardiovascular deaths (but not strokes). Total deaths, however, were unaffected by vitamin E.

NHLBI director Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel says women shouldn’t rely on vitamin E supplements to prevent heart attack and stroke. “Instead,” she said, “women should focus on well-proven means of heart disease prevention, including leading a healthy lifestyle and controlling risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”

Definitions iconDefinitions
Related to the heart and vessels carrying
blood throughout the body.

Clinical Trial:
A guided research study with human
volunteers that aims to answer specific health questions.

Observational Study:
Study in which researchers observe different
groups of people to try to figure out what
factors lead to different outcomes.

Links iconWeb Site

  Genes Affect Arsenic Response    

Arsenic contamination is a health problem throughout the world, including parts of the U.S. But it affects some people more than others. An international study funded by NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has found genetic differences that may explain why.

Arsenic, an odorless, nearly tasteless element, occurs naturally in the earth’s crust, making its way into food and drinking water. In large doses, it can kill. It can also cause cancer and a range of other health problems.

Arsenic comes in different forms, and the body can metabolize, or process, these forms in different ways. In this study, researchers measured the arsenic compounds in the urine of 144 people who drink well water containing arsenic. They isolated their DNA to look at 3 particular genes known to be involved in processing arsenic compounds.

The researchers linked 3 changes in a gene called CYT19 with changes in the arsenic compounds in urine. They found that these differences were greatest in children between the ages of 7 and 11. There was no association in those over 18.

While this study doesn’t prove these genetic changes are themselves responsible for differences in arsenic processing, it does establish a genetic link in arsenic processing during human development. Arsenic is widespread in nature, and arsenic compounds are also used to treat cancer in children. Understanding how the body processes arsenic may lead to safer, more effective therapies as well as better treatments for arsenic poisoning.

Links iconWeb Site
chemical/ arsenic.html


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