NEW YORK — A large 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.
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In a study of 29,092 Finnish men in their 50s and 60s who were smokers, those with the highest concentrations of 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, Md. 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 shown 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.
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