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.