Vitamin E May Be Diabetic’s Saviour

December 20, 2005

About one out of every two diabetics has a five times larger than average risk of dying from heart disease. This risk can be cut in half by vitamin E. This is a well justified theory which is now being tested in a large Israeli study.

It is well known that the heart’s of diabetics become easily atherosclerotic, often causing them to die due to blood clots in the heart. Therefore, health officials work hard to combat atherosclerosis in diabetics. For example, diabetics are encouraged to take cholesterol reducing medicine, even when their cholesterol levels are very low. Diabetics’ blood pressure should also be low.

If one believes the Israeli researcher, Andrew Levy, the lives of even more diabetics can be saved by taking 400 units of vitamin E daily. Levy’s theory is now being tested in Israel in a large randomised study with 5,000 middle aged diabetics. Half of them will receive vitamin E for the next four years while the other half will not. If it goes as is hoped, the result will have enormous significance for public health.

It is optimistic to implement such an expensive study with vitamin E. As every (Danish, ed.) TV watcher knows, vitamin E doesn’t work against anything. Why would Levy and his co-workers from the Israeli Technion Technical Institute, where many Nobel prise winners can be found, go against the flow?

The explanation involves an antioxidant which few non-experts know of. It is called haptoglobin and is a protein which is created in the body. Haptoglobin binds the blood’s colouring agent, the iron rich haemoglobin, if it becomes detached from the red blood cells. In this way it prevents iron poisoning and therefore against overloading of free radicals in a long list of conditions where red blood cells die.

Disregarded effects of vitamin E
Levy and his co-workers have shown time and time again that haptoglobin works as an antioxidant. There is more to the story; haptoglobin is found in two forms, which are not equally effective antioxidants. Type 1 haptoglobin works much better than type 2. If one has type 2 haptoglobin (like 40% of the Israeli diabetics) the risk of death due to heart disease is five times higher than normal! In other words, a very large part of diabetics’ high death rate due to heart disease is because one out of every two of them has an insufficiency defence against oxidation because of ineffective haptoglobin.

The logical consequence of this enormous difference is, according to Levy, that the poorly protected diabetics with type 2 haptoglobin should take supplementary antioxidants. This is where the vitamin E study comes in. Vitamin E should be able to help. On the other hand, if it does help, why have other studies with vitamin E not previously shown this effect?

Levy believes that this is presumably because they have not been analysed with this effect in mind. He studied serum from a large sample of the ca. 10,000 participants in the Canadian HOPE study, where atherosclerotic participants received 400 units of vitamin E daily. The people behind the HOPE study found no effect of the vitamin E. But what about the 1,000 diabetics in the study? About a year ago, Levy proved that vitamin E reduced the risk of heart disease by 50% in the diabetic participants who had type 2 haptoglobin.
This surprising result was hidden in the HOPE study and was apparently unknown. This is quite educational. If the most threatened diabetics’ very high risk of heart disease can be halved with a cheap, harmless, vitamin E pill, the signification is very large.

Until 2010 we only have these results. There are no other results to turn to. It is not even possible to find out which kind of haptoglobin you have. If you wish to prevent heart disease, you have to do it in the dark. It is however risk free.

By: Vitality Council

1. Andrew P. Levy et al. The Effect of Vitamin E Supplementation on Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetic Individuals With Different Haptoglobin Phenotypes. Diabetes Care 27:2767, 2004.
2. Levy AP et al. Strong Heart Study. Haptoglobin phenotype is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease in individuals with diabetes: The Strong Heart Study. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2002 Dec 4;40(11):1984-90.
3. Suleiman M, et al. Haptoglobin polymorphism predicts 30-day mortality and heart failure in patients with diabetes and acute myocardial infarction. Diabetes. 2005 Sep;54(9):2802-6.
4. A survey of the study can be found at Clinical