Healthy Women Don't Need Aspirin, Vitamin E
Regular Aspirin or Vitamin E Doesn't Prevent Cancer, Heart Disease in Women
July 5, 2005 -- Neither aspirin nor vitamin E is a magic pill to prevent
heart disease -- or most cancers -- in healthy women.
The findings come from a large, decade-long, clinical trial known as the
Women's Health Study. Nearly 40,000 healthy women aged 45 and older took a
white pill once a day -- for half it was low-dose aspirin; for the other half,
inert placebo (fake pill) -- and an amber capsule the next day -- 600 IU
vitamin E for half, placebo for the other half.
Ten years later, researchers looked at whether aspirin or vitamin E affected
the women's risk of cancer or heart disease. The results appear in the July 6
issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Nancy R.
Cook, ScD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard University, reported the
aspirin results. Her colleague, I-Min Lee, ScD, reported vitamin E results.
"We saw no overall effect of aspirin on total cancer, on breast cancer,
or on colon cancer," Cook tells WebMD. "We did see some evidence of a
protective effect against lung cancer -- particularly death from lung cancer --
but that needs to be confirmed with other data."
"Vitamin E does not protect healthy women against heart disease, stroke,
or cancer," Lee tells WebMD. "A lot of people are looking for the magic
bullet. It is easier to pop a pill than to do things we know protect you from
cancer and heart disease -- keeping weight down, exercising, and getting proper
cancer screening. Unfortunately, the study shows that vitamin E does not
protect against these diseases."
Aspirin, Vitamin E: Not Magic Bullets
The study showed that low-dose aspirin:
- Had no affect on women's total cancer risk.
- Had no affect on women's risk of breast, colorectal, or other site-specific
cancers except lung cancer.
- Had no affect on women's risk of cancer death, except for lung cancer
- Tended to lower women's risk of lung cancer. Lung cancer deaths were
slightly lower -- by 30% -- in women who took low-dose aspirin.
- In a separate report released last March, low-dose aspirin did not cut women's combined risk
of heart attack and stroke. However for people who have had heart
attacks, low-dose (81 milligrams-325 milligrams) aspirin is still recommended
as a way to reduce risk of second heart attacks.
The study found that vitamin E:
- Did not lower women's risk of heart attack or stroke.
- Did not lower women's total cancer risk.
- Cancer death was not different.
- Did not lower women's risk of breast, lung, or colon cancer.
- Had no effect on women's overall risk of death.
- Slightly decreased -- by 24% -- women's risk of dying from heart
Vitamin E Controversy
That last finding -- a 24% decrease in risk of heart disease death -- is
open to interpretation.