More research shows that Vitamin E supplements protect the lungs with long-term use

May 19, 2010

Long-term, regular use of vitamin E in women 45 years of age and older may help decrease the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by about 10 per cent in both smokers and non-smokers, according to a US study. The researchers, based at Cornell University and Brigham and Women's Hospital, presented their findings at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in New Orleans this week and they say their results show that vitamin E could be used as part of a new preventive strategy for COPD in women.

COPD can cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus (the slimy substance), wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms, with cigarette smoking being the leading cause. According to the US National Institutes of Health, COPD is a major cause of disability, and it is the fourth leading cause of death in the US, with over 12 million people currently diagnosed with the disease.

The oxidant/antioxidant balance in lung tissue is hypothesized to contribute to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) risk, said the researchers, and they noted that observational studies consistently report high antioxidant status associated with lower risk of COPD and asthma. "As lung disease develops, damage occurs to sensitive tissues through several proposed processes, including inflammation and damage from free radicals. Vitamin E may protect the lung against such damage, said Anne Hermetet Agler, lead researcher and doctoral candidate with Cornell University's Division of Nutritional Sciences. There are eight forms of vitamin E: four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta).

According to the team, the strengths of this study include its randomized design, its large trial size, as well as the face validity for the outcome assessment. “Previous research found that higher intake of vitamin E was associated with a lower risk of COPD, but the studies were not designed to answer the question of whether increasing vitamin E intake would prevent COPD.

Using a large, randomized controlled trial to answer this question provided stronger evidence than previous studies,” said the researchers. They said they reviewed data compiled by the Women’s Health Study, a multiyear research initiative that ended in 2004 and focused on the effects of aspirin (100mg every other day) and vitamin E (600 IU every other day) in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer in nearly 40,000 women aged 45 years and older for ten years.

We tested the effect of vitamin E supplementation on risk of incident self reported MD diagnosis of chronic lung disease (CLD), defined as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or bronchiectasis explained the researchers. Fewer women taking vitamin E developed COPD, decreasing the risk of emphysema and bronchitis. They said an important finding was that the decreased risk of COPD in women who were given vitamin E was the same for smokers as for non-smokers.