Nutrition Supplements: Preventing Bone Loss and Improving Heart Health

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Preventing bone loss

Millions of Americans are on long-term steroid therapy to control inflammatory and autoimmune diseases such as asthma and multiple sclerosis, but steroids can decrease bone mass by as much as 20 percent in the early stages of treatment. Bone loss can lead to osteoporosis, a condition that results in fragile and easily fractured bones. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) recently released guidelines for the prevention and treatment of osteo­porosis resulting from steroid medications. Top on its list: supplements of calcium and vitamin D and daily exercise.

The ACR recommends that people who take steroid drugs–even as little as 7.5 mg a day–consume 1,500 mg of elemental calcium and vitamin D daily (vitamin D enables the body to ­utilize the calcium). Supplements containing both elemental cal­cium and vitamin D are readily available. The organization notes that a minimum of thirty minutes a day of a weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging, or tennis, will help build and maintain strong bones and thus deter osteoporosis. This activity is also re­commended for ­people not taking steroids.

Vitamins C and E: Vessel defenders

Taking vitamins C and E before eating fatty foods may help protect your blood vessels from damage caused by cholesterol. At the American Heart Association’s 69th Scientific Session last November, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the ­University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore presented two studies on the ability of the anti­oxidant vitamins C and E to counteract the restriction of blood flow through the arteries that can occur after eating a high-fat meal.

In the Boston study, vitamin C improved blood flow and dilated blood vessels in the forearms of twelve people with good cholesterol levels (between 133 and 200 mg per deciliter) and 112 people with cholesterol levels of 240 mg or higher. The blood-flow measurements were taken before and after vitamin C was injected into the artery of each of the participants’ forearms. In the high-­cholesterol group, the vitamin C widened the vessels and improved blood flow, but it showed no effect on those people with normal cholesterol levels.

The Baltimore researchers measured vessel expansion of the arteries of twenty volunteers with normal cholesterol levels four hours after they ate a 900-calorie meal containing 50 percent saturated fat. On another day, the volunteers were given 1 g of vitamin C and 800 IUs of vitamin E before eating the same meal. Researchers found that before eating the meal without the ­vitamins, the group’s average blood vessel dilation was 21 percent; two hours after the meal, the ­dilation dropped to 12 per­cent. However, measurements taken after the group ate the meal with the vita­mins showed ­dilation at 17 percent before the meal and again four hours after the meal. Although he warns that the results are preliminary, Gary D. Plotnick, M.D., head of the Baltimore research team, says these findings indicate that vitamins C and E may help regulate blood flow that appears to be affected by cholesterol.

Vitamin E and heart disease

A two-year study in the United Kingdom showed positive results for vitamin E’s ability to reduce nonfatal heart at­tacks in people suffering from coronary disease.

In the ­Cambridge Heart Anti­ox­idant Study, 2,002 ­volunteers who had not previously taken vitamin E and had been diagnosed with heart disease were divided into three groups. While 1,035 people received an average dose of 600 IU per day of vitamin E, the remaining 967 took a placebo. The risk of nonfatal heart attacks dropped more than 75 percent after 200 days of treatment among those who took the vitamin E supplement. However, the death rate among people in this group also showed a slight increase, which the re­­searchers attributed to events occurring before the trial ­started, not to taking vitamin E.(1)


(1) The Lancet, March 23, 1996.
(2) Nutrition Research Newsletter, October 1996.

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