Vitamin E helps maintain physical function in the elderly

Get it Straight

“What’s the matter with vitamin E?”

That’s what a friend asked me after her doctor warned her that studies have revealed the dangers of vitamin E supplement use.

As you can imagine, I filled her in on the problems with those studies (many subjects were already suffering from chronic diseases, and/or the inferior synthetic form of the vitamin was used).

The shame is that this doctor is warning patients away from one of the key nutrients our bodies require to stay in optimal working order as we age.

Saying “no” to decline

In a recent study from the Yale University School of Medicine, researchers intended to find out if low blood levels of certain nutrients might be associated with physical function decline in older subjects.


  • Researchers recruited nearly 700 subjects who were 65 or older
  • Blood samples from each subject were tested for levels of folate, and vitamins B6, B12, D, and E
  • The physical condition of each subject was assessed with a standardized tool for evaluating lower extremity function in older people
  • These same assessments were conducted again with each subject three years later
  • Of the five nutrients tested, only low levels of vitamin E were linked with a decline in physical function

The researchers state that their study doesn’t establish vitamin E deficiency as a specific cause of physical function decline. But they suggest that insufficient vitamin E might create an imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants. The resulting oxidative stress might prompt DNA, muscle, and neuronal impairment.

Heart protection

The Yale team notes that clinical trials should be mounted to determine if optimal vitamin E levels might reduce functional decline and the onset of disability in older people.

Actually, we already have a few trials that show just how important it is to maintain adequate E levels as we age.

In 2005 I told you about a Brigham and Women’s Hospital study in which nearly 40,000 women over the age of 45 were divided into three groups and assigned to take either 600 IU of vitamin E each day, a low dose aspirin, or a placebo. After 10 years, results showed that women in the vitamin E group over the age of 65 had a 50 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease compared to the other two groups. Heart attack risk was also lowered by nearly 35 percent in this group.

And in the e-Alert “Killer Vitamin” (9/13/08) I told you about another intervention study that recruited more than 600 subjects over the age of 65. For one year, each subject received either 200 IU of vitamin E daily or a placebo. The results: Vitamin E supplements had a significant preventive effect on upper respiratory infections.

HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., recommends 400 IU of vitamin E daily (ideally as d- alpha or mixed tocopherols), along with 200 micrograms of selenium.

Talk to your doctor before adding an E supplement or selenium to your daily regimen. Meanwhile, you can get vitamin E from a variety of food sources, including eggs, liver, nuts and seeds, spinach, broccoli, peaches, wheat germ, and vegetable oils.

“Serum Micronutrient Concentrations and Decline in Physical Function Among Older Persons” Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 299, No. 3, 1/23/08,