Up to 25 million people in the United States suffer from the thin, brittle bones of osteoporosis. Women are especially vulnerable to bone loss once they hit menopause and their ovaries decrease estrogen production.
Similarly, when researchers remove rats’ ovaries, the animals quickly lose bone density unless they receive estrogen. However, when rats were given vitamin E after such surgery, they didn’t lose bone during the following 8 weeks, reports Sunil J. Wimalawansa of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Rats getting estrogen, vitamin E, or both had about the same bone density as rats that retained their ovaries. Combining estrogen and vitamin E didn’t appear to offer any additional benefit, Wimalawansa reports.
Vitamin E, an antioxidant, soaks up so-called free radicals that damage bone and other tissues. The study’s vitamin E dose was equivalent to what a person gets by taking a supplement of about 400 international units daily, Wimalawansa says.
“This study on its own is not enough to recommend vitamin E supplements for osteoporosis,” notes Lorraine A. Fitzpatrick of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., “but it gives great hope for . . . a cost-effective alternative to current medications.”