If you’ve been taking vitamin E supplements for their antioxidant power, hoping to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, you may want to reconsider. New research suggests you could be increasing your risk of suffering a hemorrhagic stroke. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, involved the review of nine previous trials involving more than 100,000 participants, all of those trials assessing the impacts of vitamin E on stroke risk. Leady study author Dr. Markus Schuerks with Brigham’s and Women’s Hospital in Boston said they were inspired to conduct the study over concerns about the number of Americans currently taking vitamin E supplements to reduce their heart disease risk. Almost 13 percent of the U.S. population takes vitamin E supplements.
“If you’re taking vitamin E for cardiovascular disease, studies don’t support the idea that there’s a benefit,” he says. On the other hand, there may be a small increased risk for hemorrhagic stroke, a stroke which leads to bleeding in the brain. Schuerks’ team concluded that taking Vitamin E supplements increases hemorrhagic stroke risk by 22 percent. However, taking vitamin E reduces ischaemic stroke risk by 10 percent. Ischaemic stroke is the result of a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the brain. That translates into “one additional hemorrhagic stroke for every 1,250 individuals taking vitamin E” and “one ischaemic stroke prevented per 476 individuals taking vitamin E,” according to the study’s conclusions.
“Overall the absolute risk differences were small compared to other factors that lead to stroke risk,” Dr. Anand Viswanathan, a neurologist with Massachusetts General Hospital Vascular Center and Stroke Service, told AOL Health. While Viswanathan was not involved in the study, he has reviewed its conclusions and believes people should avoid widespread use of Vitamin E without a physician’s direction.
Schuerks agrees, saying it doesn’t matter if you’re at high risk of stroke or not. You still shouldn’t be taking vitamin E supplements unless your doctor has told you to do so. Schuerks says, at this point, researchers don’t know exactly what vitamin E is doing that results in the increased hemorrhagic stroke risk, but it’s possible it may be altering blood clotting patterns, leading to bleeding in the brain. “The exact biologic mechanism hasn’t been determined,” Viswanathan adds, “but because of the potentially harmful effects of vitamin E, people should be cautioned against its use without a doctor’s advice.” Both doctors say you can have a much greater impact on reducing your stroke risk by controlling your blood pressure, avoiding smoking, controlling your weight, and engaging in regular, moderate exercise.