Vitamin E could be the key to protecting older people from pneumonia, according to new research from Tufts University. In their study, researchers found that an extra dose of E protected older mice from a bacterial infection that often causes pneumonia.
Pneumonia sends about 1 million Americans to the hospital each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The lung infection kills about 50,000 Americans annually.
Healthy bodies wage war against the Streptococcus pneumonia bacteria (the most common type) with white blood cells called neutrophils. They enter the lungs and kill the bacteria. However, our bodies need to regulate these benevolent killers, or they can cause inflammation and damage. Aging can mess with our ability to regulate the neutrophils; thus, there’s a higher risk of infection among people over 65 years of age.
“Earlier studies have shown that vitamin E can help regulate the aging body’s immune system, but our present research is the first study to demonstrate that dietary vitamin E regulates neutrophil entry into the lungs in mice, and so dramatically reduces inflammation, and helps fight off infection by this common type of bacteria,” said the study’s first author Elsa N. Bou Ghanem, Ph.D., postdoctoral scholar in the department of molecular biology and microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM), in Tufts' release about the study.
Older mice who received the vitamin E were able to control the pneumonia infections as efficiently as young mice.
“A growing body of research suggests vitamin E could make up for the loss of immune response caused by aging,” said co-senior author Simin Nikbin Meydani, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, professor of nutrition and immunology at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and member of the immunology program faculty at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. “Whether vitamin E can help protect people against this type of pneumonia affecting older adults requires more research.”
The study has been published ahead of print in the Journal of Immunology and was noted on sciencedaily.com.
Amid conflicting reports about the need for vitamin E and how much is enough, an analysis published earlier this year in Advances in Nutrition suggested that adequate levels of the vitamin are especially critical for the very young, the elderly and women who are or may become pregnant.