A daily dose of vitamin E does not help older people ward off respiratory infections and may even exacerbate symptoms in those who do get a cold, researchers report.
Their study found that adults aged 60 and older who took 200 milligrams (mg) of vitamin E daily for two years were more likely to have a fever and tended to be sick longer when they got a respiratory tract infection than their peers who did not take vitamin E. Taking a daily multivitamin/mineral or a vitamin E supplement did not lower the risk of developing the infections in the first place.
The finding seems to contradict previous studies that found taking a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement boosted immune system factors in elderly adults.
It may be that individuals in the current study were well nourished as a group and therefore, people with deficiencies of certain nutrients might benefit, the researchers suggest. However, few studies have looked at the effects of vitamins and minerals on respiratory tract infections.
This study included more than 600 healthy adults, aged 60 and older, who were divided into four groups. One group took multivitamin pills plus vitamin E; another group took only multivitamins; a third group took only vitamin E; and another group took placebos or sugar pills.
About 70% of adults taking a multivitamin developed a respiratory tract infection at least once during the study period, compared with 68% of those in the vitamin E group, 66% of those taking both supplements, and 67% of those taking placebos.
Vitamin E users reported a greater number of symptoms and more severe symptoms associated with their infection. Nearly 37% of vitamin E users developed a fever, compared with 25% of those who did not take the vitamin supplement.
It is not clear why vitamin E was associated with more severe infections but the researchers suggest that more severe symptoms might reflect more vigorous immune activity. It is also possible that symptoms might become more severe when there is an imbalance of certain nutrients in the body.
The study concludes, if these results are confirmed and vitamin E does indeed worsen respiratory tract infections, elderly people, especially those who are already well-nourished, should be cautious about taking vitamin E supplements.
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