Antioxidants heart healthy, despite mainstream slant

Perhaps you saw it. Maybe you even forwarded it to someone yourself. I’m talking about the story that supposedly appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine reporting that staring at breasts had the same beneficial effect on men’s health as a 30-minute cardio workout. Apparently, without doing any further research, major newspapers all over the globe picked up and ran the story. They took it at face value and printed this hoax, which was rumored to have been started by two friends on the internet.

The media seem to do the same exact thing whenever a new study comes out that questions any aspect of alternative health. Without looking into the full story any deeper, they take press releases from drug companies or other mainstream sources and turn them into hard news. As a result, the public is left with the impression that alternative health is being exposed left and right as fraudulent quackery without all the facts.

It’s happened yet again. And, as reported, the resulting story could have many questioning the safety and effectiveness of one of the cornerstones of complementary medicine – antioxidants.

Last week, a study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. It found that the popular antioxidant cocktail of vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and selenium may inhibit the effectiveness of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. In the study of 153 people, the statin drugs (when taken alone) were found to raise the good, HDL cholesterol levels by 25 percent. When the antioxidants were added to the drugs, the HDL levels only went up 18 percent.

More significantly, HDL2-C, a component of HDL that’s believed to account for much of its heart-health benefits, went up 42 percent with the drugs alone. When the antioxidants were added, they didn’t rise at all.

Like most in the natural health community, we at the Institute have longed believed in the heart-healthy benefits of antioxidants. So we were concerned by what we read and wanted to get insight from a specialist. I tracked down Dr. Randall Wilkinson, HSI’s panel expert on antioxidants. He was in his backyard going over plans for his daughter’s upcoming wedding. But he had read the news reports on the study and was as eager to respond as we were.

“The biggest problem with the study isn’t the conclusion,” he said. “After all, it may well be that some antioxidants lessen the strength of statins. The real problem is the assumption the researchers make that statin drugs are simply the best thing to take for heart disease. While that may be assumed by the mainstream medical community, it simply isn’t true.

“Take vitamin E, for example. Double-blind, placebo-controlled human studies have shown that the tocotrienol form of vitamin E lowers cholesterol, improves LDL:HDL levels, and provides general heart-protection. And unlike statin drugs, you’re not at the mercy of potentially dangerous side-effects when you take them.”

(In last Thursday’s eAlert, we told you about Baycol, a popular statin drug that was just removed from the market after being linked to over 40 deaths.)

Before we hung up, Dr. Wilkinson asked the question the journalists should have asked: “Why aren’t we complaining that statin drugs interfere with the effectiveness of antioxidants, and not vice versa?”

So, once again, the spotlight shines on a side-effect-laden prescription drug rather than an effective, proven, side-effect-free alternative. Someone conducts a study that shows the two treatments don’t work well togetherand it is automatically decided that the natural alternative should be rejected in favor of the dangerous prescription drug.

Meanwhile, thousands of patients struggling to lower their cholesterol levels are left facing the rest of their lives on these drugs, while safe, natural, proven alternatives are helping thousands of others.

Over the years, we’ve told you about Care Diem, a tocotrienol supplement from Aspen Benefits Group. As Dr. Wilkinson pointed out, tocotrienols have been proven to lower cholesterol levels and protect heart health – without side effects. Given its strong antioxidant power (60 times more powerful that the more common form of vitamin E, tocopherols) tocotrienols provide benefits well beyond heart health. Something you certainly won’t get from statin drugs. For more details about tocotrienol vitamin E, as well as reports of the research to date, refer to your new member bonus reports and to your April 2001 HSI Members Alert.

We’ll continue looking into this specific study further and will report back when we’ve had a chance to examine the results in depth. We’ll also keep you posted on any other ongoing research regarding antioxidants and heart health.

As always, we urge you to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your medications or your supplementation.