Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD
March 28, 2002 — Antioxidant vitamins (such as vitamins C or E) may help heart transplant patients keep their arteries healthy and blood flowing smoothly after surgery, according to a new study.
About 70% of heart transplant patients develop problems with hardening of the arteries, or arteriosclerosis, within three years of their surgery. Researchers say since methods to control organ rejection have improved in recent years, transplant-related arteriosclerosis has emerged as one of the biggest threats to survival for these patients.
The study, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, found daily supplements of vitamins C and E slowed the growth of plaque within artery walls in heart transplant patients for up to one year after surgery. Plaque growth is one of the major contributors to hardening of the arteries.
The plaque-fighting benefits of the antioxidant supplements were even greater than those found using statin medications, which have already been shown to slow hardening of the arteries after transplants. Previous research has shown that antioxidants, such as vitamin C and E, can promote heart health by reducing blood clots and keeping the blood vessels flexible.
Researchers say antioxidant supplements may also be useful in preventing similar complications following other types of transplant surgeries such as kidney, lung, and liver transplants. But more study is needed to determine whether the benefits of vitamin C and E supplementation can last over several years, when most cases of transplant-related hardening of the arteries occur.
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