Vitamin E may help elderly ward off colds

August 25, 2004 in Nutrition for Older Adults, Nutrition Topics in the News, Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements

Vitamin E may help elderly ward off colds

Giving nursing home residents a daily dose of vitamin E may offer some help in reducing the risk of upper respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold, according to new study findings from Tufts University in Boston.

Researchers followed 617 elderly nursing home residents for approximately one year, and asked half to take a 200 IU capsule of vitamin E daily, a dose shown in previous research to boost immune functioning in the elderly.

In the current study, slightly fewer people who received vitamin E supplements developed one or more respiratory infection of any kind during the study period. Vitamin E recipients also appeared somewhat less likely to develop the common cold.

However, the vitamin supplement did not reduce the number of respiratory tract infections overall or help nursing home residents recover faster from the illness.

In an interview, the lead researcher explained that vitamin E did appear to offer slight protection from respiratory tract infections overall, but the difference was so small, she and her colleagues were unable to rule out whether it was due to chance.

However, the fact that vitamin E offered some protection from common colds and one or more infections suggests that the supplement may, in fact, work. Consequently, despite the seemingly contradictory nature of the findings, the researchers recommended that nursing home residents receive vitamin E supplements to help protect them from these infections.

Respiratory tract infections fall into two groups: upper and lower. Upper respiratory tract infections, which include the common cold, are typically caused by viruses, while lower infections, such as pneumonia, are often the result of bacterial infections.

Previous research has shown that vitamin E is particularly good at fighting viruses, which may explain why the supplement appeared to beat upper respiratory tract infections better than lower infections.

Elderly people admitted to nursing homes are more likely to develop infections, including respiratory tract infections, than elderly people who still live at home. Old age is also typically associated with a decrease in the functioning of the immune system.

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