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Vitamin E and COPD: What You Need to Know

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. You might not expect that this disease would take so many lives each year, but the truth is that COPD is a serious problem. However, new research suggests that Vitamin E supplements may reduce the risk of developing COPD

What is COPD?

COPD is a degenerative condition with few treatment options, and it frequently results in death.  COPD can manifest as either emphysema or chronic bronchitis and it is often caused by smoking. People who suffer from COPD have a chronic cough, get fatigued easily, and experience shortness of breath both at rest and with exertion.

The reduction in risk of developing emphysema or chronic bronchitis is small—only 10%. Lung function for those suffering from COPD can be slowed by taking vitamin E, but it cannot be completely eliminated.

If vitamin E can help reduce the risk of developing the disease, or help to reduce the decline in lung function once a person has it, then taking the supplement can add years to the life of the person who suffers from COPD. But let’s be clear: the new government funded research study does NOT suggest that people taking vitamin E supplements can continue to smoke.
Why Vitamin E?

Vitamin E is in a class of vitamins that have antioxidant properties. The other vitamins in this class are vitamins A and C. These vitamins help reduce the damage caused by free radicals, rogue oxygen molecules that cause cellular damage throughout the body. The A/C/E vitamins help to clear free radicals from the body, thus reducing their capacity to cause disease.

Phlegm plays a major role in COPD—it causes obstructions in the lungs and leads to both emphysema and chronic bronchitis. People who have diets high in the A/C/E vitamins produce less phlegm, which may account for the reduction in risk associated with vitamin E.

The participants in the government funded study took 300 IU per day of the vitamin, which is significantly higher than the current RDA standards. Most vitamin E supplements come in capsules of 100 to 400 IU. Vitamin E becomes toxic when more than 1500 IU is taken per day. However, for people taking blood thinners, vitamin E may further prevent clotting, so people should talk to their doctors before beginning a supplement regimen.

What You Can Do

Taking vitamin A and C, in addition to vitamin E can further help reduce the risk of developing COPD. These vitamins reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease as well. While it is relatively easy to obtain these vitamins from food, supplementation can help to ensure that the proper levels are consumed each day. The government study followed 30,000 women who took vitamin E every day for ten years—so regular consumption is essential in order to see a reduction in risk of developing COPD. Capsules can be found in many major pharmacies and most grocery stores.

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