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Nutrition. 1998 Jun;14(6):513-20.

The potential role of antioxidant vitamins in preventing cardiovascular diseases and cancers.

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  • 1Institut Scientifique et Technique de la Nutrition et de l'Alimentation/CNAM, Paris, France.


Cardiovascular diseases and cancers constitute major public health problems in all industrialized countries, where they are the main causes of premature mortality. There is a large body of evidence suggesting that free-radical production can directly or indirectly play a major role in cellular processes implicated in atherosclerosis and carcinogenesis. Here we present mechanistic data and results of epidemiologic studies on the relationship between antioxidant vitamin intake or biochemical status and the risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Most epidemiologic data obtained on this topic were based on an observational approach, i.e., ecologic, case-control, or prospective studies. All these studies indicate that a high dietary intake or high blood concentrations of antioxidant vitamins are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer at several common sites. Although the results of these studies are convergent, they merely suggest a relationship at the population and individual level but do not affirm a causality link. Only intervention studies (randomized trials), by specifically changing antioxidant vitamin intake, can provide conclusive answers. The apparent discrepancies between the results of four recently published trials may be explained by the type of population (general or high-risk subjects), the differing doses of supplementation (nutritional levels or higher), the number of antioxidants tested (one, two, or more), and the type of administration (alone or in balanced association). It thus appears that a low risk of pathologies may be related to multiple nutrients consumed at nutritional doses and in combination. Optimal effects may be expected with a combination of nutrients at levels similar to those found in a healthy diet. A single antioxidant vitamin given at high doses in subjects with high risk of pathologies (smokers, asbestos-exposed subjects) may not have substantial benefits and could even have negative consequences.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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