According to most scientists, alpha-tocopherol (one form of vitamin E) supplementation is useless. The Finnish ATBC trial (1985-1993), for example, showed that supplementation had no effect. In 2011 the Finnish scientists Harri Hemilä and Jaakko Kaprio published a study in which they had another good look at the results of the ATBC trial, and they reached a different conclusion.
In the ATBC trial [atbcstudy.cancer.gov] male smokers were given 20 mg beta-carotene and/or 50 mg alpha-tocopherol daily. When it became clear that beta-carotene increased the chances of developing lung cancer the trial was brought to a halt prematurely.
In retrospect the beta-carotene dose was extremely high. The EFSA recommends that we consume no more than 15 mg beta-carotene daily in the form of supplements. EFSA’s maximum dose for alpha-tocopherol is 300 mg per day. [Link]
Hemilä and Kaprio confined themselves to the men older than 65 in the ATBC trial, and in the first instance they only looked at the effect of alpha-tocopherol.
In the group of 10,837 over 65s as a whole, alpha-tocopherol supplementation had no effect. But among the over 70s the vitamin did seem to lower the mortality risk.
In the end alpha-tocopherol extended the life expectancy of the over 70s by six months the researchers calculated. And, yes, that’s a statistically significant effect.
When the researchers separated out their data, they discovered that the alpha-tocopherol only extended the life expectancy of the men who smoked fewer than 20 cigarettes a day and consumed more than 90 mg vitamin C a day. Alpha-tocopherol extended life expectancy by two years in this sub-group.
Some of the men also took beta-carotene, but this was of no influence in this group. [Table]
“Our findings among the older ATBC participants support the previous reports indicating that protective measures against oxidative stress may increase the life expectancy of mammals under some conditions,” concluded the researchers, referring to a number of animal studies. [Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2005 Nov;289(5):R1392-9.] [Rejuvenation Res. 2008 Feb;11(1):83-96.] [Gerontology. 1984;30(6):371-5.]
“Although the 2-year increase in lifespan in the subgroup of participants who had high vitamin C intake and smoked less is substantial, only 20 percent of the study participants belong to this subgroup. The lack of benefit in the other participants, consisting of 80 percent of this male cohort, shows that vitamin E is no panacea for extending life expectancy.”
“Given the heterogeneity in the effect, the findings should not be generalised without caution. Nevertheless, our findings warrant further study on the possible effect of vitamin E on old people.”
Vitamin E may affect the life expectancy of men, depending on dietary vitamin C intake and smoking
antioxidants might protect against oxidative stress, which has been suggested as a cause of aging.
the Alpha-Tocopherol-Beta-Carotene (ATBC) Study recruited males aged 50–69 years who smoked at least five cigarettes per day at the baseline. The current study was restricted to participants who were followed up past the age of 65. Deaths were identified in the National Death Registry (1,445 deaths). We constructed Kaplan–Meier survival curves for all participants, and for four subgroups defined by dietary vitamin C intake and level of smoking. We also constructed Cox regression models allowing a different vitamin E effect for low and high age ranges.
among all 10,837 participants, vitamin E had no effect on those who were 65–70 years old, but reduced mortality by 24% when participants were 71 or older. Among 2,284 men with dietary vitamin C intakes above the median who smoked less than a pack of cigarettes per day, vitamin E extended lifespan by 2 years at the upper limit of the follow-up age span. In this subgroup, the survival curves of vitamin E and no-vitamin E participants diverged at 71 years. In the other three subgroups covering 80% of the participants, vitamin E did not affect mortality.
this is the first study to strongly indicate that protection against oxidative stress can increase the life expectancy of some initially healthy population groups. Nevertheless, the lack of effect in 80% of this male cohort shows that vitamin E is no panacea for extending life expectancy.