Healthy living

Vitamin E linked to stroke

Vitamin E linked to stroke Increased risk of brain haemorrhage

Doctors have urged caution about the "indiscriminate" use of vitamin E supplements, due to an increased risk of stroke.

An international team of researchers found that taking the vitamin raised the risk of a haemorrhagic stroke, caused by bleeding in the brain, by 22 per cent.

However, vitamin E was found to lower the risk of ischaemic stroke, by 10 per cent. This type of stroke is caused by a blood clot interrupting the flow of blood to the brain, and is the most common type of stroke in the UK.

Each year, an estimated 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke, and more than 60,000 die as a result. Stroke is also the biggest cause of disability, affecting around 300,000 people.

Past research has suggested that taking vitamin E may help protect against heart disease, but other studies have found it has no such effect and may even, in high doses, increase the risk of death.

Researchers from the US, France and Germany analysed the data from nine trials which looked at the effect of vitamin E on stroke involving more than 118,000 people (59,357 of whom took the vitamin and 59,408 who took a placebo).

Although none of the results from the individual trials suggested that vitamin E significantly altered the overall risk for stroke, the researchers found stark differences when they looked at the type of stroke.

For every 1,250 people who take vitamin E supplements, one extra haemorrhagic stroke occurred. However, supplements lowered the risk of having an ischaemic stroke, equivalent to preventing one stroke for every 476 people taking the vitamin.

The researchers pointed out that other means of prevention, such as blood pressure and cholesterol lowering drugs and living a healthy lifestyle have a far greater effect on lowering the risk of ischaemic stroke than taking vitamin E.

Writing in today's British Medical Journal, the authors said: “Given the relatively small risk reduction of ischaemic stroke and the generally more severe outcome of haemorrhagic stroke, indiscriminate widespread use of vitamin E should be cautioned against.”

This article was published on Fri 5 November 2010

Image © James Steidl -

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