Research news from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University

September 13, 2004

Vitamin E to Prevent the Common Cold?

Each year, millions of people are mildly bothered by the common cold, but among elderly individuals the common cold can be much more debilitating. A groundbreaking study by Simin Nikbin Meydani, DVM, PhD, of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and colleagues, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that vitamin E may protect against the common cold among elderly individuals residing in nursing homes.

"Our study found that those taking the vitamin E supplement pills were 20 percent less likely to suffer from respiratory infections and that vitamin E supplementation reduced the incidence of common colds by about 22 percent," said Meydani, professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

"Older individuals are at greater risk for respiratory tract infections, including the common cold," she continued. "Colds occur more frequently and their symptoms are more severe and more debilitating among the elderly, and at present there is no vaccine or antiviral therapy available to fight them off."

The one-year study enrolled 617 individuals who were 65 years of age or older and residing in one of 33 long-term care facilities. Roughly half of the participants were given a daily supplement containing 200 IU (International Units) of vitamin E while the remaining participants received a daily placebo capsule containing only 4 IU of vitamin E. Nurses performed weekly physical examinations on participants to collect information relating to signs and symptoms of respiratory infection.

The results of the study revealed a significantly lower frequency of common colds and significantly fewer individuals with common colds among those subjects taking the vitamin E supplement when compared to those receiving the placebo.

"We hope that this research on vitamin E would help improve the quality of life for individuals living in nursing homes by providing them with a simple means to combat respiratory infections, especially the common cold," said Meydani. "Because of the high rate and increased morbidity associated with common colds in this age group, these findings suggest important implications for the well-being of the elderly," she and her colleagues wrote in the JAMA article.

Meydani, Simin, et al. Journal of the American Medical Association, August 2004, 292(7):828-836. "Vitamin E and Respiratory Tract Infections in Elderly Nursing Home Residents: A Randomized Controlled Trial."

Older Women and Women with Diabetes: Eat Fish For Your Heart

Women may want to make certain they include enough fish in their diet, especially tuna and other dark fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, according to researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and colleagues. A recent study showed that postmenopausal women who had previously been diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD) and who consumed more fish in their diet had a slower progression of plaque buildup in their arteries than those women who consumed little fish in their diet. This association was particularly strong for women with diabetes.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women and men in the United States. The number of people with diabetes, a major risk factor for heart disease, has been increasing, partially related to the surge in obesity.

"This study shows that following the current guidelines of eating at least two servings of any type of fish per week slows down the progression of heart disease in women with CAD, especially those who were also diabetic," said Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, an author of the study and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts. "We further found that eating one or more servings per week of fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids --- such as tuna or other dark-fleshed fish --- is equally effective."

CAD is more generally associated with men, but after menopause women are just as likely as men to develop heart disease. This study is among the first to monitor the association between fish consumption and the development of atherosclerosis in women. Studies in the past have linked the two, but few studies have actually measured the development of plaque buildup in the arterial walls. This study included 229 postmenopausal women previously diagnosed with CAD. The progression of atherosclerosis was measured in each woman at the start and end of a three-year period using coronary angiography, an X-ray examination of the blood vessels of the heart.

"These findings suggest that all women--and most likely men--would benefit from regular fish intake," according to Lichtenstein. "A tuna fish sandwich counts, as does almost any other type of fish that is baked, broiled, grilled, or poached," said Lichtenstein, who is also the Gershoff Professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. She suggests avoiding commercially fried fish that tends to be prepared with hydrogenated fat. "Eating fish twice a week is part of a healthy diet and it doesn't have to be hard to do."

Erkkila, A., Lichtenstein, A., Mozaffarian, D., Herrington, D., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 2004, 80:626-32. "Fish intake is associated with a reduced progression of coronary artery atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women with coronary artery disease."
If you are interested in hearing more about any of the studies or speaking with a member of the faculty of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy or another Tufts health sciences researcher, please contact Siobhan Gallagher via email at or by calling 617-636-6586.

The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the only independent school of nutrition in the United States. The school's eight centers, which focus on questions relating to famine, hunger, poverty, and communications, are renowned for the application of scientific research to national and international policy. For two decades, the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University has studied the relationship between good nutrition and good health in aging populations. Tufts research scientists work with federal agencies to establish the USDA Dietary Guidelines, the Dietary Reference Intakes, and other significant public policies.

Tufts University

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