Vitamin E Could Lower Heart Risks For Former Smokers

woman hand stub out a cigarette
woman hand stub out a cigarette


By Amir Khan

If you've managed to quit smoking, you may want to consider taking a vitamin E supplement. It may give your heart an extra boost, according to preliminary research findings presented at the Experimental Biology meeting in Boston.

Smokers who quit and took a specific form of vitamin E were at a 19 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease than people who did not quit smoking, researchers from Ohio State University reported, but cautioned that the study is too small to prove there's a benefit.

Smokers participating in the study were asked to quit for seven days, and their blood markers for inflammation and blood vessel function were measured before and after the study. After quitting for seven days, the 30 study participants' vascular function increased by 2.8 percent, and those who took vitamin E as well showed an additional 1.5 percent improvement. While that edge may not sound like much, researchers said that previous research has indicated that a 1 percent increase in vascular function translates to a 13 percent drop in the risk of heart disease.

"This is a very short-term study that shows very promising effects," Richard Bruno, lead researcher and associate professor of human nutrition at The Ohio State University, said in a statement. "The underlying rationale is that we know it takes many years before the risk for cardiovascular disease of a former smoker matches that of a nonsmoker. We hope to develop a therapy to combine with smoking cessation that could accelerate the restoration of vascular function and reduce cardiovascular risk."

The form of vitamin E looked at in the study is known as gamma-tocopherol, which is not as common as alpha-tocopherol -- the type of vitamin E humans have a dietary requirement for, researchers said. Gamma-tocopherol is found in soybean and canola oils, as well as in pistachios, cashews and peanuts.

But before you go out and pick up gamma-tocopherol supplements, Steven Zodkoy, DC, a nutrition specialist with the American Clinical Board of Nutritionists, cautioned that this study is far too small to show any real benefit from taking vitamin E.

"Vitamin E has been known to be a blood thinner and an antioxidant," he said. "Several studies have looked at whether one of the four different types is more useful than another, and the bulk of the research shows that there is no benefit unique to any of one of them. The study is too small to even be counted and shouldn't be looked at as endorsing the gamma form."

But if you are really set on trying to increase the amount of gamma-tocopherol you get, it's much better to do so naturally, rather than take a supplement, he said.

"Whenever you are taking a nutrient, taking it in its natural form is the best way to get long-lasting effects," Dr. Zodkoy said. "When vitamin E is found in nature, all of these types are found in specific ratio. That ratio is how it is supposed to work. You need all of them to work together."

And while taking vitamin E likely won't bring your cardiovascular risk down to that of a non-smoker right away, quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, Zodkoy said. Nothing will lower your risk as much as quitting, he added, but said there is one supplement that can help.

"As you smoke, your blood vessels constrict," he said. "An amino acid called l-arginine is considered a medical food because it's proven to cause vasodilation. If you take that, it cuts down on constriction, but not as much as quitting smoking."

"Nothing lowers your risk of heart disease as much as quitting smoking," he said.

"Vitamin E May Give Former Smokers' Hearts a Boost" originally appeared on Everyday Health.

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