Proven health benefits of vitamin E

As we discussed elsewhere, proven health benefits of vitamin E are not easy measure. Vitamin E is an antioxidant with a complex, even subtle, function in the body. Picking up on what exactly it is doing is not an easy feat of medicine. Vitamin E is, however, clearly important and also demonstrated to be beneficial in some cases. This article describes how various doctors have found solid, clinical evidence for vitamin E as an effective antioxidant therapy.

A series of studies at Tufts University have found that elderly nursing home residents supplemented with vitamin E promoted cellular immunity and offered protection from upper respiratory infections, supporting a role for vitamin E in aiding the immune system (1,2).

A recent Canadian study in elderly women found that vitamin C and E consumption offered the same level of protection to bone mineral density as resistance exercise in elderly women. This finding points to a fascinating intersection between oxidative stress and bone strength (3).

More information on the bone density health benefits of vitamin E

Being young and active, I am always looking for more life-affirming, positive health benefits of vitamin E. My favorite clinical study in the vitamin E world has to do with a group of Mt Everest climbers who were given a placebo-controlled antioxidant dose (Vitamin C, E and lipoic acid). The supplementation provided effective and clinically significant protection against acute mountain sickness(4). For me, proven increases in physical performance in the face of adversity is the most attractive among the health benefits of vitamin E.

A number of studies have attempted to link Vitamin E supplementation with reduced risk for, or slowed progression of dementia or neurodegenerative diseases. A large intervention study at Colombia University showed that vitamin E supplementation slowed disease progression. Meanwhile, a study of Japanese-American men at the University of Hawaii showed that vitamin E and C supplementation showed some protection atgainst dementia and a positive impact on cognitive function late in life (5,6)

I have looked at hundreds of papers while writing this article. I have actually racked my brains wondering whether these pills I've been taking for years are actually doing anything. It's easy to conclude that they are doing nothing special and that I'm wasting my money on vitamin E supplements. But after looking at the data, I've decided that they are probably helping my body deal with a number of stresses. So based on the human data, I'm still convinced of the health benefits of vitamin E supplementation. And I'm still taking my pills.

One final footnote-- between these small-scale trials and the larger ones described , one consistent theme emerges: vitamin E is well tolerated across a range of doses in humans. Some studies have suggested this is not so, but have been harshly disputed (7).

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1. Meydani, SN, Leka, LS, Fine, BC, et al. "Vitamin E and respiratory tract infections in elederly nursing home residents: a randomized controlled trial." JAMA 292 (2004) 828-36.
2. Meydani, SN, Barklund, MP, Liu, S, et al "Vitamin E supplementation enhances cell-mediated immunity in healthy elderly subjects." Am J Clin Nutr. 52 (1990) 557-63.
3. Chuin, A, Labonte, M, Tessier, D, et al. "Effect of antioxidants combined to resistance training on BMD in elderly women: a pilot study." Osteoperosis Int. 20 (2009) 1253-8.
4. Bailey, DM, Davies, B. "Acute mountain sickness; prophylactic benefits of antioxidant vitamin supplementation at high altitude." High Alt. Med Biol. 2 (2001) 21-9.
5. Sano, M, Ernesto, C, Thomas, RG, et al. "A controlled trial of selegiline, alpha-tocopherol, or both as treatment for Alzheimer's disease. The Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study." N Engl J Med 336 (1997) 1216-22.
6. Masaki, KH, Losonczy, KG, Izmirlian, G, et al. "Association of vitamin E and C supplement use with cognitive function and dementia in elderly men." 54 (2000) 1265-72.
7. Hathcock, JN, Azzi, A, Blumberg, J, et al. "Vitamins E and C are safe across a broad range of intakes." Am J Clin Nutr. 81 (2005) 736.