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Vitamin E Supplements May Reduce a Woman's Risk of COPD


Researchers with Cornell University and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital have found that women 45 years and older who regularly take vitamin E supplements could significantly reduce their risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a lung condition that is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

The research team, led by Anne Hermetet Agler, a doctoral student with Cornell University’s Division of Nutritional Sciences, reviewed data from the Women’s Health Study which ended in 2004 that focused on the effects of aspirin and vitamin E in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The study included nearly 40,000 women aged 45 years and older.

In the study, the women took either 600 milligrams (300 IU) of vitamin E or a placebo every other day. About 10% fewer women taking the vitamin E supplements developed COPD, a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it increasingly difficult to breathe. Smoking is a major contributor to most cases of COPD, and the research showed that the benefit from supplementation was about the same rate in both smokers and non-smokers.

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Vitamin E supplements did not appear to reduce the risk of asthma, another lung condition caused by inflammation of the airways in the lungs and a risk factor for later developing COPD.

"The effect appears to be modest. But for something for which there isn't really any effective therapy and tends to be a degenerative condition, anything that would reduce the risk even somewhat is not an insubstantial benefit," says Jeffrey B. Blumberg, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston who was not involved in the study.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that may protect against inflammation and damage from free radicals (oxidative stress) that occurs with age. Excess vitamin E intake is a concern in some people, so further research would be necessary to determine the best dosage to achieve benefits and reduce risks. The amount of vitamin E in the study was about the amount found in most over-the-counter vitamin supplements.

The researchers, who presented their research at the American Thoracic Society’s 2010 International Conference, said they would next investigate if the same benefit was seen in men taking vitamin E.

More from the 2010 American Thoracic Society International Conference:
A Fatty Meal Can Increase Lung Inflammation in Asthmatic Patients
Severe Asthma in Children Raises Risk of Adult COPD