Vitamin E Helps Protect Your Lungs
Against Pneumonia
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Last updated January 11, 2018, originally published April 19, 2015
By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

Pneumonia is one of the main causes of death worldwide.
Together with influenza, pneumonia was the eighth leading
cause of death in the US last year. Approximately, 900,000
people in the US contract pneumonia each year and about
50,000 of them die from it. In the UK, the NHS estimates
that the mortality rate from pneumonia is between 5% and
14%.  In the US, according to the American Lung
Association, the mortality rate from pneumonia is over 5%
and can range much higher among those over 65. Some
studies put the mortality rate from pneumonia from 22% to
30% among those over 65.

Why do so many older people die from pneumonia? What
can you do to protect your lungs as you age?

Your Immune System Ages Too

As you get older, so does your immune system. One of the
best recognized features of an aging immune system
(immunosenescence) is the decline in cells called “T cells”.
These T cells become defective as you age.  But, as many
studies have found, including a 2008 study from the Human
Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, that
Vitamin E reverses many of the  age-associated defect in T

Why would we need extra Vitamin E-- can't we get enough
from food? The answer here is, yes, most people get plenty
of Vitamin E from food sources such as vegetable oil, nuts
and seeds. Vitamin E deficiency is rare, and its main
symptom is
peripheral neuropathy.

But "getting enough" simply means you are meeting the
daily recommended minimum amount. Studies have found
that, especially as we age, we need more.

Vitamin E Lowers Incidence of Common Cold Among
Those Over 65

The common cold is an upper respiratory infection, as
opposed to pneumonia or influenza, which are lower
respiratory infections. Many studies have found that, when
Vitamin E is added to the daily diets of people over the age
of 65, that these people suffer significantly fewer cases of
colds.  One study in 2004 Led by Dr. Meydani of Tufts
University examined 617 nursing home residents all over
the age of 65.

The residents were divided into two groups. One group
was were given a capsule which contained half of the daily
recommended amount of vitamins plus a  200 mg Vitamin E
supplement.  The other group of residents was given the
multivitamin but no Vitamin E.

At the end of a year, the researchers tallied up the number
of respiratory infections each group suffered.  A full 62%
of the residents who had no received the Vitamin E
supplements had experienced an upper respiratory
infection. In contrast, only 50% of the group which had
taken the Vitamin E experienced these infections. In other
words, the group that took Vitamin E had a 19.3 % lower
rates of upper respiratory infection.  

Vitamin E Protects Your Lungs Against Pneumonia

Vitamin E Lowers Incidence of Pneumonia

In December of 2014, a different group of researchers
from Tufts –Dr. Siobhan Gallager and Dr. Andrea Grossman
–discovered that taking extra Vitamin E helps to protect the
lungs of elderly against the bacteria that causes most cases
of pneumonia, “Streptococcus pneumoniae”.

Your body is normally able to fight off lung infections by
deploying an army of special cells called “neutrophils.
However, as we age, the body loses its ability to regulate
neutrophils, As a result, some of the neurtrophils can enter
the lungs and themselves cause inflammation. Too few
neutrophils and the bacteria can cause inflammation and
pneumonia. Too many neutrophils trasipsing around in
your klungs and they themselves can cause inflammation.  
When you're young, this regulation goes on perfectly. As
you get older, the regulation can go awry.  It turns out,
that Vitamin E helps the body to fix its defective regulation
of neutrophils.

How much Vitamin E did the trick? The researchers in this
study gave one group of the mice 200 IU per day.  The
lungs of this group were protected against pneumonia.
Another group was given the equivalent of the daily
recommended amount of Vitamin E, about 20 IU per day
and this group suffered normal rates of pneumonia.

This research from Tufts agrees with the general result of a
prior study from Helsinki, Finland in 2011. That study found
that people physically active, non-smokers who took
between 200 to 400 IU per day if Vitamin E experienced
69% lower rates of pneumonia.  But the oppsite was true
for those who smoked or who were sedentary, in which
case, Vitamin E actually
increased their risk for pneumonia
by a whopping79%.

How Much Vitamin E Do You Need for Lung Protection?

Which brings us to the general question—how much
Vitamin E do you really need to achieve lung protection? If
the recommended daily amount is not enough, high high
should you go?

As we've seen, the daily recommended amount of Vitamin E
is 20 IU.  But this amount is insufficient to trigger up-
regulation of neutrophils to better protect your lungs
against pneumonia bacteria as you age –for this, you'll
need at least 200 IU.  Other studies have found that 200 IU
is the minimum amount you should take to experience an
uptick in the number of protective T-cells. The highest
amount I have seen in a human study is 800 IU per day
given in two studies, a 1991 study again led by Dr. Meydani
of Tufts and a 1990 study by the same group.

Vitamin E toxicity does not occur until you reach 1500 IU
(equivalent to 1000 mg) per day, according to the
Dieticians of Canada and most other medical authorities .
For those over 65, Vitamin E is considered safe up to 800
IUs per day for a period of 4 months.

Who Shouldn't Take Extra Vitamin E

Those who are allergic to Vitamin E should of course avoid
it. Also, because Vitamin E can down-regulate thyroid,
check with your doctor if you have thyroid problems before
taking extra Vitamin E.

Vitamin E is an anti-coagulant—meaning it thins the blood
and increases the propensity to bleed—so if you are already
on blood-thinners (aspirin, blood pressure medications or
taking omega-3 oil supplements) again check with your
doctor before taking extra Vitamin E.

Finally, pregnant women should not take Vitamin E or any
other supplements before checking with your doctor.


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Almonds are rich in Vitamin E
but only provide 9 to 10 mg per