Vitamin E seems to help elderly people fend off colds and other upper respiratory infections, according to a study in the Aug. 18 Journal of the American Medical Association.
Earlier studies of the effects of the antioxidant vitamin E against infection in elderly populations produced mixed results. In the new work, researchers gave 617 nursing home residents in the Boston area a daily multivitamin plus a capsule that contained either 200 international units (IU) of vitamin E or inert ingredients.
At the end of a full year, the researchers found that 62 percent of the study participants taking the placebo had experienced at least one upper respiratory infection, compared with only 50 percent of those getting vitamin E. Most of the infections were colds.
Antioxidants scavenge free radicals—highly reactive, oxidized molecules that can damage cells. Since aging decreases the activity of natural antioxidants in the body, elderly people need supplemental antioxidants to fortify their immune defenses, asserts study coauthor Simin Nikbin Meydani, a nutritionist at Tufts University in Boston. The U.S. recommended daily allowance for vitamin E for adults is 22 IU, a number that should be hiked for elderly people, she says.