A large new study suggests vitamin E
may help prevent death from cancer and
heart disease in middle-aged men who smoke,
contradicting the findings of some previous
studies on the subject.
In a study of 29,092 Finnish men in their
50s and 60s who were smokers, those with
the highest concentrations of the vitamin
E in their blood at the study's outset
were the least likely to die during the
follow-up period, which lasted up to 19
years, Dr. Margaret E. Wright of the
National Cancer Institute in Bethesda,
Maryland and colleagues report.
There are a number of mechanisms by which
vitamin E, also known as alpha-tocopherol,
might promote health, Wright and her team
note in the current issue of the American
Journal of Clinical Nutrition. For example,
vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, while
it also boosts immune system function
and prevents tumor blood vessel growth.
But studies investigating blood levels
of vitamin E and mortality, as well as
the effects of taking supplements of the
vitamin, have had conflicting results.
In the current study, Wright and her
colleagues compared men's levels of alpha
tocopherol at the beginning of the study,
before they had begun taking the supplements,
with their mortality over the course of
the study's follow-up period.
Men with the highest levels of vitamin
E in their blood were 18 percent less
likely to die than those with the lowest
levels, the researchers found. They also
had a 21-percent lower risk of death from
cancer, a 19-percent lower risk of dying
from heart disease, and a 30-percent lower
risk of death from other causes.
The optimum concentration appeared to
be 13 to 14 milligrams vitamin E per liter
of blood, with higher concentrations offering
no additional benefit.
Because trials of vitamin E supplements
have shown no effect on mortality, the
findings don't suggest that they would
be beneficial, but do suggest that people
can benefit from getting more vitamin
E in their diet through foods such as
"nuts, seeds, whole grains, and dark-green
leafy vegetables," the researchers conclude.
SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition, November 2006.