Neither aspirin nor vitamin E turns out to be the miracle drug everyone hoped for. Two reports last week from the Women's Health Study (WHS)--a scientifically rigorous trial that followed 40,000 healthy middle-aged women over 10 years--showed that regular use does not, for the most part, prevent cancer or heart disease. Here's what you need to know:
Doesn't aspirin help prevent heart attacks?
Yes, for certain people. Healthy women ages 65 and older and men 40 and older benefit from a daily baby aspirin (81 mg). It also lessens the risk of a second heart attack. But the WHS showed no significant heart benefit for most healthy middle-aged women.
What about cancer?
The data showed that the group of women who took aspirin were no less likely overall to develop cancer than their counterparts who were given a placebo. Aspirin did, however, seem to slightly decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer. Other studies suggest that regular aspirin use among men may help prevent prostate cancer.
Is the news about vitamin E any better?
No. Taking 600 IU of vitamin E every other day provided almost no protection from heart disease or cancer, with two exceptions. It slightly reduced the risk of dying from heart disease and decreased the number of heart attacks in women 65 and older.
So what's the bottom line?
Healthy middle-aged women are pretty darned healthy, and most do not need regular doses of aspirin or vitamin E. Their best bets are to stick with proven strategies like quitting smoking, being physically active and eating lots of fruits and vegetables.