People who take low dose multivitamin supplements may be less likely to have a heart attack, say Swedish researchers.
There has been much debate about whether antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, can protect the heart from cardiovascular disease, with several studies failing to support the use of vitamins. But results from the Stockholm Heart Epidemiology Program (SHEEP) showed that in a Swedish population, both men and women who took multivitamins had a significantly lower risk of myocardial infarction than those who did not take supplements, irrespective of their diets.
The team from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm studied a population of 45-70 year-olds living in Sweden, where consumption of fruits and vegetables is relatively low and foods are not fortified with folic acid. Almost 1300 people (910 men, 386 women), who experienced a first heart attack, were matched to 1685 controls (1143 men, 542 women) by sex, age and hospital catchment area.
Among controls, 57 per cent of the women and 35 per cent of the men used dietary supplements; corresponding figures for the heart attack cases were 42 and 27 per cent respectively, reported researchers in this month's Journal of Nutrition. About 80 per cent of supplements were multivitamin preparations.
After adjustment for major cardiovascular risk factors, the risk of heart attack for men who took supplements was 21 per cent lower than for those who did not use multivitamins. For women, the risk was reduced even further, by a third.
"This inverse association was not modified by such healthy lifestyle habits as consumption of fruits and vegetables, intake of dietary fibre, smoking habits and level of physical activity, although never smoking appeared to outweigh the association in women," said the researchers.
This observation appears to rule out the theory that vitamins found in fruit and vegetables are more effective than taking supplements.