Can Antioxidant Supplements Prevent Heart Diseases?
Can Antioxidant Supplements Prevent Heart Diseases?
Antioxidants are natural substances found in foods as vitamins, minerals, and other compounds. They are thought to help prevent disease by combating free radicals, which harm the body if left unchecked. Normal bodily processes - such as breathing, and environmental contaminants - such as cigarette smoke, produce free radicals. These free radicals travel throughout the body, damaging cells if antioxidants are not present in sufficient quantities. One of the major known factors in the development of heart disease - oxidation of cholesterol - is caused by some of this cellular damage.
Let’s take a deeper look into whether or not antioxidants can help prevent heart disease.
What Do Studies Suggest?
The possibility of a link between LDL oxidation and antioxidants has prompted researchers to investigate the role of antioxidants in heart disease. Many studies have been conducted over the years. However, the designs of some of the studies called the findings into question. Some of the studies, for example, used far too few participants to obtain reliable results. Some used vitamin E doses that were later found to be insufficient. Some had a short treatment period, and others couldn't tell whether the beneficial effects were due to antioxidants or other lifestyle factors.
Few of the studies, on the other hand, were well designed. Nonetheless, their outcomes were not the same. Antioxidants were beneficial to some while others did not gain the same benefits. Few more studies, suggest that one of the antioxidants, beta carotene, could be harmful.
Clearing The Confusion
The Cleveland Clinic researchers decided to clear up the confusion by conducting a meta-analysis, an overview study of the best designed, largest antioxidant studies. A meta-analysis allows researchers to combine the findings of multiple studies, allowing them to see small benefits or harms that would not have been apparent in a single study. Their results were recently published in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal. Here's what they discovered.
The researchers looked at data from seven large randomised trials of vitamin E alone or in combination with other antioxidants, as well as eight shots of beta carotene. Vitamin E doses ranged from 50 to 800 international units (IU), while beta carotene doses ranged from 15 to 50 milligrammes (mg).
The meta-analysis included 81,788 patients in the vitamin E portion and 138,113 in the beta carotene portion. The CCF researchers investigated the impact of antioxidant vitamins on death rates from cardiovascular disease or any other cause.
Vitamin E did not affect mortality compared to control treatments, and it did not affect the risk of cardiovascular death or stroke. The lack of any beneficial effect was observed consistently, regardless of the vitamin doses used or the diversity of patient populations. As a result, the CCF researchers conclude that this study "does not support routine vitamin E use."
Beta carotene was associated with a small but statistically significant increase in all-cause mortality and a slight increase in cardiovascular mortality. The researchers describe their findings as "particularly concerning," because beta carotene doses are commonly included in over-the-counter vitamin supplements and multivitamin supplements that have been advocated for widespread use.
According to the study, using beta carotene-containing vitamin supplements should be "actively discouraged" due to the increased risk of death. They also advise that the study of beta carotene supplements be halted due to the risks.
Researchers also stated that they do not support the continued use of vitamin E treatment and discourage its inclusion in future studies of patients who are known to be at high risk of heart disease.
Antioxidant Foods: A Different Story
Even though supplements were found to be ineffective in preventing heart disease, antioxidant-rich foods are still recommended. This is because there are advantages to getting vitamins from foods that occur in natural form. Foods high in antioxidants may contain nutrients such as flavonoids and lycopene that are not always present in standard oral vitamin supplements. In addition, a diet high in antioxidant-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains has been linked to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Foods Rich In Antioxidants
Green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, papaya seeds, and whole grains are the best source of vitamin E. Brown rice, oatmeal, soybeans, sweet potatoes, watercress, wheat, and wheat germ are some good choices too.
Rich sources of dark orange, red, and dark green vegetables and fruits.
The Bottom Line
Although antioxidant supplements may not be the perfect choice for your health, natural forms of antioxidants are crucial to fight free radicals in your body and keep you healthy. You can include antioxidant-rich foods such as leafy greens, fresh fruits, whole grains, etc. However, it is suggested to consult your healthcare provider before making any dietary changes, especially you have any underlying health condition.
Dr Mukesh Rao
Sr. Consultant – Interventional Cardiologist