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Quick Study

QUICK STUDY : A weekly digest of new research on major health topics

Tuesday, November 23, 2004; Page HE06


Large doses of vitamin E may raise a person's risk of death.

THE QUESTION Hoping to prevent heart disease or Alzheimer's or just improve their overall health, many people take vitamin E supplements, often in high doses. Is more of this vitamin truly better?

THIS STUDY reexamined the results of 19 randomized studies that compared people who took vitamin E supplements with those who took a placebo. The studies included 135,967 people, 12,504 of whom died by the end of follow-up periods that averaged up to eight years. Those who took high doses of vitamin E -- 400 or more international units (IU) a day -- for four to five years had about a 5 percent greater chance of dying than did those in the placebo groups.

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WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Anyone who takes vitamin E as a supplement. Multivitamins generally contain 30 to 60 IU of vitamin E, and individual supplements often contain 200, 400 or 1,000 IU. By contrast, the average person consumes about 10 to 15 IU of vitamin E a day through food.

CAVEATS Whether lower amounts of vitamin E are beneficial remains unclear. Most participants in the study were over 60 and had chronic illnesses, primarily heart disease; whether the results would differ for younger, healthier people was not determined. The increased risk of death determined by the study was small: 39 more deaths per 10,000 people in the high-dosage supplement group than in the placebo group.

BOTTOM LINE People inclined to take a vitamin E supplement should discuss the pros and cons with their doctor.

FIND THIS STUDY Jan. 4, 2005, issue of Annals of Internal Medicine; full study available online at www.annals.org.

LEARN MORE ABOUT vitamin E supplements at ods.od.nih.govand www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource.

acid reflux

Personal habits seem to affect the risk of severe heartburn.

THE QUESTION Obesity has been identified as one cause of the heartburn, indigestion and belching brought on by gastroesophageal reflux, which occurs when stomach acid leaks back into the esophagus. Can lifestyle habits -- eating, drinking and activity levels -- also cause this problem?

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