Vitamin E and heart disease: basic science to clinical intervention trials

Free Radic Biol Med. 2000 Jan 1;28(1):141-64. doi: 10.1016/s0891-5849(99)00224-5.


A review is presented of studies on the effects of vitamin E on heart disease, studies encompassing basic science, animal studies, epidemiological and observational studies, and four intervention trials. The in vitro, cellular, and animal studies, which are impressive both in quantity and quality, leave no doubt that vitamin E, the most important fat-soluble antioxidant, protects animals against a variety of types of oxidative stress. The hypothesis that links vitamin E to the prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD) postulates that the oxidation of unsaturated lipids in the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particle initiates a complex sequence of events that leads to the development of atherosclerotic plaque. This hypothesis is supported by numerous studies in vitro, in animals, and in humans. There is some evidence that the ex vivo oxidizability of a subject's LDL is predictive of future heart events. This background in basic science and observational studies, coupled with the safety of vitamin E, led to the initiation of clinical intervention trials. The three trials that have been reported in detail are, on balance, supportive of the proposal that supplemental vitamin E can reduce the risk for heart disease, and the fourth trial, which has just been reported, showed small, but not statistically significant, benefits. Subgroup analyses of cohorts from the older three trials, as well as evidence from smaller trials, indicate that vitamin E provides protection against a number of medical conditions, including some that are indicative of atherosclerosis (such as intermittent claudication). Vitamin E supplementation also produces an improvement in the immune system and protection against diseases other than cardiovascular disease (such as prostate cancer). Vitamin E at the supplemental levels being used in the current trials, 100 to 800 IU/d, is safe, and there is little likelihood that increased risk will be found for those taking supplements. About one half of American cardiologists take supplemental vitamin E, about the same number as take aspirin. In fact, one study suggests that aspirin plus vitamin E is more effective than aspirin alone. There are a substantial number of trials involving vitamin E that are in progress. However, it is possible, or even likely, that each condition for which vitamin E provides benefit will have a unique dose-effect curve. Furthermore, different antioxidants appear to act synergistically, so supplementation with vitamin E might be more effective if combined with other micronutrients. It will be extremely difficult to do trials that adequately probe the dose-effect curve for vitamin E for each condition that it might affect, or to do studies of all the possible combinations of other micronutrients that might act with vitamin E to improve its effectiveness. Therefore, the scientific community must recognize that there never will be a time when the science is "complete." At some point, the weight of the scientific evidence must be judged adequate; although some may regard it as early to that judgement now, clearly we are very close. In view of the very low risk of reasonable supplementation with vitamin E, and the difficulty in obtaining more than about 30 IU/day from a balanced diet, some supplementation appears prudent now.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Angiography
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / administration & dosage
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diet, Atherogenic
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Synergism
  • Female
  • Free Radicals
  • Humans
  • Lipid Peroxidation
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / blood
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rabbits
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk
  • Safety
  • Stroke / prevention & control
  • Vitamin E / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin E / therapeutic use*
  • Vitamins / administration & dosage
  • Vitamins / pharmacology


  • Antioxidants
  • Biomarkers
  • Free Radicals
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Vitamins
  • oxidized low density lipoprotein
  • Vitamin E