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Vitamin Supplements Don't Prevent Heart Disease, Researchers Say



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DALLAS - You need to eat your vitamins, not take them.

Heart specialists said Monday that supplements of antioxidants such as C and E do not protect against cardiovascular disease. Despite early, compelling evidence to the contrary, the miracle of antioxidants may be myth.

"It was too good to be true," said Dr. Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts University School of Medicine. She and her colleagues, at the bidding of the American Heart Association, recently reviewed all studies on antioxidants.

The conclusion: Available data "do not justify the use of antioxidant supplements" for reducing heart disease risk. The advisory appears in the journal Circulation.

"If for whatever reason they make you feel better, fine," said Dr. John Keaney of Boston University School of Medicine. "Just don't take them believing that you're going to prevent heart disease." Antioxidants are also touted for cancer prevention and other reasons. So far, cancer studies have not borne out any of the claims.

There's some evidence that supplements may harm more than your wallet, although studies have not been clear about safety.

Keaney, like most of his colleagues, had hoped that vitamins in bulk could boost heath. The first studies found that people who ate vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables were less likely to suffer heart attacks, and test-tube data suggested antioxidants as the secret weapon.

The early evidence even helped prompt books like "The Antioxidant Miracle" and "Antioxidant Revolution."

"Vitamins are a message everyone wants to believe," Dr. Keaney said. About 40 percent of Americans take vitamins, with C being the most popular.

Experts still say that people should eat foods rich in antioxidants and exercise regularly. And some believe in continuing research into antioxidants and heart disease, even if the promise of supplements appears to be fizzling. "There is something there," said Dr. Kenny Jialal of the University of California at Davis, who has studied vitamin E. "I don't think the field should be abandoned."

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(c) 2004, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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