Vitamins may greatly reduce the risk of heart attacks and the need for further surgery in people with coronary artery disease, according to new research released Wednesday.
Two studies, published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, show substantial benefits from vitamins.
In one, studying people who had undergone angioplasty to unblock coronary arteries, taking supplements of B vitamins helped keep the blood vessels from becoming blocked again.
In the other study, combining niacin, one of the B vitamins, with a cholesterol-lowering drug greatly lowered the rate of heart attacks for patients with coronary artery disease. The effect of the combination was considerably greater than that observed for cholesterol-lowering drugs alone.
However, the study also showed that large doses of anti-oxidant vitamins -- once thought to protect the heart -- offered no benefit. The anti-oxidants actually interfered with the gains of the niacin therapy when the two were taken in combination, suggesting that at least some heart patients should consult their doctors before taking extra amounts of anti-oxidants such as Vitamins C and E.
"Both studies are good news," said Dr. Michele Hamilton, associate professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles and co-director of the UCLA heart failure program. "They're showing we're homing in on the most effective ways to try to reduce the risk of heart attacks and prevent the progression of coronary artery disease."
The studies suggest that doctors should consider vitamin therapies with at least some of their heart patients, Hamilton and other experts said. But they also stressed that the studies were small and that patients should beware of taking supplements without consulting their doctors. Niacin, for instance, can sometimes cause liver complications.
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