Press Releases

2004 Releases

Regular Use of Vitamin E Supplements Linked to Reduced Risk of Death From ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis)

For immediate release:  December 17, 2004  

Boston, MA— Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the American Cancer Society have found that regular use of vitamin E supplements may reduce the risk for death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The research findings appear in the January issue of the Annals of Neurology and are also available prior to publication at http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/jissue/78504407

ALS, a rare disease, is the progressive wasting away of motor neurons, specific nerve cells of the brain and spinal column. Motor neurons control the voluntary muscles, which are the muscles that allow movement. Over time walking, talking, eating, breathing and swallowing become increasingly difficult. There is no known cure for ALS.

The researchers tracked nearly one million people who enrolled in the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II in 1982, had their vitamin use assessed at that time and were over the age of thirty. During the 10 year span of the study 525 participants died of ALS. The researchers found that those participants who took vitamin E supplements for at least 10 years reduced their risk of dying from ALS by more than half (62 percent) compared to those participants in the study who did not regularly use vitamin E supplements. They also found that regular use of other vitamin supplements, such as vitamin C or multivitamins, without using vitamin E, was not linked to reducing risk of ALS mortality. Vitamin E, known as an antioxidant, appeared to reduce the cell damage caused by oxidative stress that is linked to ALS.

The participants in the study who regularly used vitamin E supplements also were less likely to smoke cigarettes, exercised more, consumed more multivitamins and other vitamin supplements, ate more fruits and vegetables and high-fiber cereals than those in the study who did not, however this did not explain the benefit of vitamin E.

“In previous studies vitamin E did not improve the survival of ALS patients, our findings suggest that regular use of vitamin E supplements in healthy individuals may have played a role in reducing the incidence of new ALS cases,” said Alberto Ascherio, lead author of the study and an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “While these results support a benefit in ALS prevention from taking vitamin E supplements over a long period of time, they are not sufficient to support recommendations about use of this vitamin. More research needs to be done to confirm this finding and to explore possible synergisms between vitamin E and other supplements . Further, decisions about use of vitamins should be based on their overall health effects, not only on effects on risk of ALS”.

Funding for the study was provided by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu