Elderly people get a lot of respiratory tract infections, including colds, sinus infections, and pneumonia. In earlier studies, a group of researchers in Boston found that vitamin E improved seniors' immune responses, so they decided to try it out on respiratory tract infections.
What the researchers wanted to know: Does taking vitamin E reduce respiratory tract infections in elderly people who live in nursing homes?
What they did: About 600 seniors from 33 nursing homes around Boston were randomly assigned to get 200 milligrams of vitamin E or a placebo daily for a year. Everyone also took a multivitamin every day and received a flu vaccine. These people all lived in nursing homes, but in some ways, they were relatively healthythey were expected to live longer than six months and weren't on feeding tubes, dialysis, or ventilators. (Some did have dementia; for those patients, their families gave permission for them to take part.)
What they found: Vitamin E appeared to protect people against colds, but it didn't appear to reduce any other kinds of respiratory tract infections.
What the study means to you: This may not be enough evidence to recommend that seniors take vitamin E, but it's worth more research.
Caveats: Colds were the most common infections in the study‑it could just be that there weren't enough of the other infections to detect a difference.
Find out more: A recent meta-analysis of studies on vitamin E found a higher risk of death if people were on 400 mg of vitamin E or more a day. Check out facts about Vitamin E from the National Institutes of Health.
Read the article: Meydani, S.N., et al. "Vitamin E and Respiratory Tract Infections in Elderly Nursing Home Residents: A Randomized Controlled Trial." Journal of the American Medical Association. August 18, 2004, Vol. 292, No. 7, pp. 828-836.
Abstract online: http://jama.ama-assn.org