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Boosting immunity in the elderly....

Boosting immunity in the elderly . . .

As people age, their ability to fend off disease declines. Working with mice at the Agriculture Department's Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Simin Meydani found that by countering an age-related increase in lipid-peroxide formation, she can also significantly improve several aspects of immune function. Reasoning that the same approach might help people--since their production of toxic lipid peroxides also increases with age--she initiated a human study involving vitamin E supplements. This vitamin can disarm potent oxidizing chemicals produced in teh body. Results of Meydani's just-completed, double-blind clinical trial indicate elderly people not only tolerate massive doses of the vitamin but also derive substantial immunity benefits.

In the month-long study, 32 heathy men and women over age 60 moved into resort-like accommodations at her center's metabolic research unit. A pill taken before each breakfast and dinner provided either 400 international units of vitamin E (26 times the recommended daily allowance) or a placebo. Before and after the supplementation, Meydani measured in vivo immunue response with a skin test, and several in vitro indices of immunity -- such as the proliferation of lymphocytes (white blood cells useful in fighting infection) and levels of lymphokines (cell-growth-promoting factors produced by white blood cells). Although a few people getting the vitamin supplement did not respond to treatment, most showed notably improved signs of immune function--with increases of 10 to 50 percent in the measured indices -- relative to their own pretreatment scores and to those of the placebo group.

While cautioning that her study was small and brief, Meydani says, "Certainly the data suggest that it might be possible to improve the immune response of the elderly with vitamin E supplementation." These findings are "very significant," says conference organizer William A. Pryor of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, because until now there have been no strong data indicating that healthy individuals on normal diest could benefit from vitamin E supplements.
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Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 26, 1988
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