High levels of LDL cholesterol have long been considered to be a major risk factor for heart disease. Many scientists now believe that it is not the LDL cholesterol itself that causes heart disease but the oxidation of the LDL molecule that causes the most damage to arteries. Oxidized LDL molecules are extremely reactive and once deposited in the arteries react strongly with substances in the lining of the arterial wall leading to tissue damage and the formation of atherosclerotic plaques.
Several studies have found Vitamin E to be very effective at slowing the rate of LDL oxidation and subsequently slowing down the rate of atherosclerosis.
One study, published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology in 1993, looked at the effects of vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene on the level of LDL oxidation in 8 healthy volunteers. The researchers found that while vitamin C and beta carotene had little effect, vitamin E decreased LDL oxidation levels by 50%. The level of vitamin E used in this study was quite high at 1.6g per day (more than 100 times the recommended daily intake), the equivalent of 8 standard vitamin E pills.
A second study looked at the effects of much lower levels of vitamin E on LDL oxidation. That study, also published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, involved 20 volunteers who took vitamin E supplements at a variety of doses for 2 weeks at a time. The researchers found that even at a relatively low dose of 25mg per day, vitamin E offered protection against LDL oxidation.
A final study, published in the journal Diabetes Care in 2000 compared the effects of tomato juice, vitamin E, and vitamin C on LDL oxidation. The researchers found a 42% increase in resistance to LDL oxidation in the tomato juice group, a 54% increase in resistance for the vitamin E group, and no significant change in the vitamin C group.
People at a high risk of developing atherosclerosis may benefit from vitamin E supplementation however there are many natural foods that are rich in vitamin E. Wheat germ oil is relatively inexpensive and is widely avaiable in health food shops and supermarkets. One tablespoon of wheat germ oil contains a massive 20mg of vitamin E as well as 2.4g of omega-6 and 0.3g of omega-3 fatty acids – both essential for good health. Other rich sources of vitamin E include avocados, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, tomatoes, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and silverbeet.
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