Opening blocked arteries is a proven treatment for heart attack. Unfortunately, a common side effect of these life-saving procedures is inflammation, which can damage the heart muscle. Australian scientists say that vitamin E treatment before and after these procedures may be an inexpensive way to help prevent such damage.

In a mouse study designed to reflect human heart attack conditions, an antioxidant form of vitamin E reduced oxidative stress and inflammation. This in turn preserved cardiac function, said lead author Karlheinz Peter, M.D., an interventional cardiologist and deputy director of the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Australia. “One of the most effective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents is vitamin E and its derivatives,” he explained.

Peter foresees patients receiving vitamin E in the ambulance or when they arrive in the emergency department, before the blocked blood vessel is reopened and stented, as well as in the days before hospital discharge.

Currently no other drug is available to reduce the cardiac damage caused by reopening of a blocked coronary artery, the authors wrote. “[T]he potential impact of our finding on cardiovascular health would be significant,” concluded Maria Wallert, M.D., a nutritional scientist and vitamin specialist.

The study was published in the journal Redox Biology.