Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and an antioxidant. Vitamin E protects the body's cells from the actions of free radicals (oxidants). Free radicals are the waste products of energy metabolism in the body. Free radicals can damage body cells through oxidation. Respiratory infections (such as the common cold) are common in the elderly. This is due to decreased immune system function. Nutritional status is an important determinant of immune system function.
A recent study of 617 elderly nursing home residents showed that those who received supplementation with vitamin E 200 IU (international units) once daily for 1 year had significantly fewer colds than those who received no supplementation. Foods that are rich in vitamin E include nuts, oils, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin E is 22.5 IU (international units) per day for men and women 14 years of age and older. The upper tolerable intake level for vitamin E is 1,000 mg (1,500 IU) per day. Other ways to prevent colds include adequate rest, frequent hand washing, and avoiding contact with sick persons.