According to a new US study, increased intakes of vitamin E may accelerate the return of blood vessel function back to a healthier state, reversing some of the damage caused by smoking.
In the study, 30 smokers in their twenties who had smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for a year and had quit for one week received either 500 mg of vitamin E a day or a placebo for one week (1). At the start and at the end of the study, the participants’ blood was analyzed for markers of inflammation and vascular function (the blood vessels’ ability to dilate) was measured by taking ultrasound images of an upper arm artery before and after circulation was temporarily stopped. The study results showed that all of the participants had a 2.8% increase in vascular function owing to the fact that they had quit smoking, but those who also took a vitamin E supplement enjoyed an additional 1.5% of improved vascular function. Participants who took the vitamin E supplement also had lower levels of proteins closely linked to the body’s inflammatory system that can contribute to heart disease.
The researchers commented that although the study was small and the smokers only quit for a brief period of time, the results are meaningful given that prior work showed that every 1% increase in vascular function translated into a 13% drop in the risk of developing heart disease. Studies showed that it can take a decade or more after smokers stop smoking for their hearts to resemble those of non-smokers. It takes that long for some of the damage due to inflammation to subside and for the blood vessels to return back to their elastic, flexible selves so they are no longer contributing to an increased risk of heart problems (2). For smokers, quitting smoking should be the number one item on the health agenda, the scientists noted, but if one could enhance the effectiveness of smoking cessation and lower the risk of future heart disease by increased intakes of vitamin E, this would also have a significant impact from a public health perspective.
In the study, gamma-tocopherol, the most abundant vitamin E form in the American diet, was used. Usually, vita-
min E studies use alpha-tocopherol, the best investigated vitamin E form. Vitamin E is regarded as a very effective antioxidant that protects against damage to lipids and prevents the oxidation of lipoproteins and polyunsaturated fatty acids in the body, which is caused by free radicals. Smokers are well-known to have increased oxidation of those fats in the body and, based on prior studies, vitamin E has been touted as a nutrient that may help mitigate that damage.