Effect of 50- and 100-mg vitamin E supplements on cellular immune function in noninstitutionalized elderly persons

Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Jun;69(6):1273-81. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/69.6.1273.


Background: It has been suggested that vitamin E can counteract the age-associated decline in cellular immune responsiveness (CIR). Particularly, T helper cell type 1 (Th1) activity, ie, interferon (IFN) gamma-producing Th1 activity and, hence, delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) would be enhanced by vitamin E supplementation.

Objective: Our aim was to study the effects of 6 mo supplementation with 50 and 100 mg vitamin E on CIR in the elderly.

Design: A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was conducted in 161 healthy elderly subjects aged 65-80 y. CIR was measured in vivo by means of DTH skin tests and in vitro by assessing the production of interleukin (IL) 2, IFN-gamma (a typical Th1 cytokine), and IL-4 (a typical Th2 cytokine) by peripheral blood mononuclear cells after stimulation with phytohemagglutinin.

Results: Both DTH and IL-2 production showed a trend toward increased responsiveness with increasing dose of vitamin E. However, IFN-gamma production decreased whereas IL-4 production increased in the groups receiving vitamin E. Only the change in the number of positive DTH reactions was borderline significantly larger in the 100-mg vitamin E group than in the placebo group (P = 0.06, Bonferroni adjusted). Subjects receiving 100 mg vitamin E with low baseline DTH reactivity or who were physically less active had a significantly larger increase in the cumulative diameter of the skin induration resulting from the DTH test than did the placebo group (P = 0.03), although this difference was not significant after Bonferroni correction (P = 0.07).

Conclusion: Possible beneficial effects of 100-mg vitamin E supplementation may be more pronounced in particular subgroups of elderly subjects.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Mass Index
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Delayed / drug therapy*
  • Immunity, Cellular / drug effects*
  • Interleukins / biosynthesis
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Vitamin E / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin E / blood
  • Vitamin E / pharmacology*


  • Interleukins
  • Vitamin E