If you've finally quit smoking, congrats. Your heart, lungs, and pretty much every ounce of your body just got a whole lot healthier. But to lessen your chances of developing heart disease even more, you might want to load up on vitamin E. In a small study of recently quit smokers, the participants' blood vessel function improved by an average of 2.8 percent after kicking the butts. And those who also popped a supplement containing gamma-tocopherol, a particular type of vitamin E, saw an additional 1.3 percent boost in function.
That extra 1.3 percent may seem negligible, but it actually translates to big improvements in heart health, says Richard Bruno, lead study author and professor of nutrition at Ohio State University. "Based on data from observational studies, a 1 percent improvement in vessel dilation is associated with 13 percent lower risk of future cardiovascular disease," he says, adding that gamma-tocopherol likely betters blood vessel function by taming inflammation.
Bruno notes this study was too short to determine whether long-term vitamin E supplementation would continue to offer more heart help, although there's good reason to be optimistic. He also says it's too early to tell if people who've never smoked would also reap vitamin E's blood vessel benefits. "However, earlier clinical studies by my research team show that improving circulating levels of gamma-tocopherol protects against vascular dysfunction," he explains.
Bruno chose gamma-tocopherol for this trial because most studies are performed with alpha-tocopherol, a different type of vitamin E. "Gamma-tocopherol is an understudied form that has underappreciated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities not fully shared by other kinds of vitamin E," he says.
Alpha-tocopherol is also more commonly used in dietary supplements than gamma-tocopherol, but you certainly can find gamma-tocopherol on health-food and drugstore shelves. You just need to read the back labels of vitamin E products. Bruno says you can also get gamma-tocopherol from pistachios, pecans, cashews, peanuts, and soybean, canola, and some other vegetable oils, although it can be difficult to obtain enough from food alone.