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Vitamin E May Lower Women's Lung Disease Risk

Study Finds Slight Reduction in COPD Risk in Women Who Regularly Take Vitamin E Supplements
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 17, 2010 -- Long-term, regular use of vitamin E supplements appears to reduce the risk of chronic obstructive lung disease or COPD in women, according to a new study.

But men may not get the same benefit, according to another study. Both studies were presented this week at the American Thoracic Society international conference in New Orleans.

The risk reduction for women on vitamin E supplements was equal in people who smoked -- the primary risk factor for getting COPD -- and people who didn't, says Anne Hermetet Agler, a PhD candidate at Cornell University and lead author of the study involving women.

''We saw a 10% reduction in risk," she says. The women took 600 IU of vitamin E every other day. Of the effect, she says, "It is limited to just women."

Vitamin E, an antioxidant, has been looked at as a lung disease preventive because it is thought to protect against free radicals, molecules that damage cells and one of the proposed processes by which lung disease is thought to develop. But previous research has found little or no effects of antioxidants on lung outcomes, Agler says. And other research has found increasing vitamin E may slightly increase lung cancer risk and other ill effects.

More than 16 million Americans have COPD, also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, according to the National Lung Health Education Program.

Vitamin E and Women's COPD Risk

Agler and her co-researchers analyzed data that had already been gathered for the Women's Health Study. The long-term research effort ended in 2004 and focused on what effects aspirin and vitamin E had in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer in nearly 40,000 women, age 45 and older.

During that study, women were randomly assigned to groups that took either 600 IU of vitamin E every other day, 100 milligrams of aspirin every other day, or placebo. None of the women had COPD at the start of the study.

During the nearly 10-year follow-up, there were 760 new reports of COPD in the vitamin E group and 846 in the placebo group, translating to a 10% risk reduction for the supplement group.

The effect held when Agler considered a number of other factors, including smoking status, age, and multivitamin use.

Even though the vitamin E reduced the overall risk of COPD in both smokers and nonsmokers, the current smokers were more than four times as likely as never smokers to get COPD, the researchers found.

Agler also looked at the effect of vitamin E on new diagnoses of asthma, but found little or no association.

Vitamin E and Men's COPD Risk

Men don't appear to get the same protection from vitamin E, according to study author Patricia Cassano, PhD, associate professor of nutritional epidemiology at Cornell University.

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