This blog is part 2 in my Nutrients for Immune Function Series on nutrition and its impact on immune function. If you missed reading last week’s blog, which discusses the immune system and its role in cancer protection, I would make sure you check it out! You can find part 1 here.
This content is based on information hosted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), called Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role? You can listen to the entire presentation here (click “View this webinar” under the Meeting Materials heading).
The Role of Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin. It seems to play a role in immune function but its effect is not consistent. For example, elderly subjects given vitamin E supplementation will show an improvement in immune function and reduced respiratory infections. But not everyone experiences this response.
There are two reasons that could account for this inconsistent effect. First, not everyone is deficient in vitamin E. People who will show an improvement in immune function with vitamin E supplementation are those who are low in vitamin E. Second, there is a gene-nutrition relationship with vitamin E.
The Gene-Nutrition Relationship
TNFα (Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha) can be used as an indicator of inflammation in your body. It is a cell signaling protein (cytokine) and one of its primary roles is to regulate immune cells.
TNFα has its own genes. The gene can vary by the allele that it contains – either AA, GG or AG. As it turns out, the A allele (AA or AG types) will have higher TNFα levels or in other words, more inflammation. When people who have either AA or AG alleles on their TNFα receive vitamin E supplement, they benefit from the vitamin E by a greater reduction in inflammation.
Another important point that Simin Nikbin Meydani, the scientist who presented the vitamin E data, recommends taking note of is that only the elderly benefited from the vitamin E supplementation. She is also quick to point out that vitamin E deficiency in the general public is rare. However, but vitamin E deficiency is increased in populations with fat malabsorption, which would include people with Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis or chronic diarrhea. To complete this circle of thought…those who do have a vitamin E deficiency have impaired immune function.
The Bottom Line
The National Institute of Health states that “evidence to date is insufficient to support taking vitamin E to prevent cancer. In fact, daily use of large-dose vitamin E supplements (400 IU) may increase the risk of prostate cancer.”
What should you do as a cancer survivor who wants to thrive after cancer?
If you suspect you are deficient in vitamin E, consult with your physician. You may consider taking 200 IU per day (the amount shown to have the best immune system response). This is equivalent to 134 mg of vitamin E in it’s natural form. In addition, everyone should include food sources of vitamin E in your diet every day. You should aim for 15 mg per day, which is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults. This chart from the National Institute of Health shows you some of the dietary sources of vitamin E.
Stay tuned for part 3 in my Nutrients for Immune Function Series, which will explore the connection between immune function and vitamin B6.