Vitamin E and atherosclerosis.


Chan AC




J Nutr


Vitamin E was advocated as an effective treatment for heart disease by Dr. Even Shute of London, Ontario more than 50 years ago. His pioneering claims, which were unacceptable to the medical community at large, have been confirmed by recent findings from epidemiologic studies and clinical trials. This review integrates our current knowledge of atherogenesis with the biological functions of vitamin E. The response-to-injury hypothesis explains atherosclerosis as a chronic inflammatory response to injury of the endothelium, which leads to complex cellular and molecular interactions among cells derived from the endothelium, smooth muscle and several blood cell components. Inflammatory and other stimuli trigger an overproduction of free radicals, which promote peroxidation of lipids in LDL trapped in the subendothelial space. Products of LDL oxidation are bioactive, and they induce endothelial expression and secretion of cytokines, growth factors and several cell surface adhesion molecules. The last- mentioned are capable of recruiting circulating monocytes and T lymphocytes into the intima where monocytes are differentiated into macrophages, the precursor of foam cells. In response to the growth factors and cytokines, smooth muscle cells proliferate in the intima, resulting in the narrowing of the lumen. Oxidized LDL can also inhibit endothelial production of prostacyclin and nitric oxide, two potent autacoids that are vasodilators and inhibitors of platelet aggregation. Evidence is presented that vitamin E is protective against the development of atherosclerosis. Vitamin E enrichment has been shown to retard LDL oxidation, inhibit the proliferation of smooth muscle cells, inhibit platelet adhesion and aggregation, inhibit the expression and function of adhesion molecules, attenuate the synthesis of leukotrienes and potentiate the release of prostacyclin through up-regulating the expression of cytosolic phospholipase A2 and cyclooxygenase. Collectively, these biological functions of vitamin E may account for its protection against the development of atherosclerosis.