Vitamin E Prevents Colds in Seniors

Vitamin E Prevents Colds in Seniors

Healthnotes Newswire (October 28, 2004)—Older people who take a vitamin E supplement reduce their likelihood of getting a cold or other upper respiratory tract infection, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (2004;292:828–36).

Infections of the upper (throat, nose, sinuses, ears, and bronchi) and lower (lungs) respiratory systems are very common in elderly people. Because the immune system typically weakens with age, these infections can cause prolonged illnesses and can even become life-threatening for older people. Upper respiratory infections (URIs), including the common cold, are usually caused by a virus and are characterized by symptoms such as congestion, runny nose, headache, sore throat, cough, and fever. URIs are not typically dangerous, but if an infection spreads to the lungs and becomes pneumonia, it is more serious.

Typical treatment for URI includes bed rest and anti-inflammatory and decongesting medications for symptom relief. Vitamin C taken orally in relatively large amounts (such as 1,500 to 4,000 mg per day) has been shown in most, but not all, studies, to reduce the duration of the common cold by approximately 30%. Zinc, taken in the form of lozenges dissolved in the mouth, is also helpful in treating the common cold. Little is known about the effects of vitamin E in preventing or treating colds and other infections.

In the current study, 451 nursing home residents aged 65 or older were randomly assigned to receive a multivitamin/mineral supplement each day and either 200 IU of vitamin E per day or placebo for one year. At the end of the study, fewer people in the vitamin E group than the placebo group had experienced any respiratory infections. The numbers of people who had experienced colds or other upper respiratory tract infections during the study were also lower in the vitamin E group. In fact, people taking vitamin E were found to be 18% less likely to have had one or more URIs and 19% less likely to have had one or more colds than people not taking vitamin E.

The results of this study suggest that vitamin E could play a role in preventing respiratory infections in elderly people. The potential benefits of higher amounts of vitamin E remain to be determined. However, for preventing infections in the elderly, more may not be better. In one study, a vitamin E dose of 200 IU per day was more effective than 800 IU per day at improving various measures of immune function in elderly people. Future research might study the effects of combinations of antioxidants on immune function and risk of infection in elderly people as well as in people with immune systems weakened by health conditions or medication.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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