After adjusting the data to account for other factors that could contribute to physical decline, such as smoking or a lack of physical activity, the researchers found two factors were significantly associated with a greater chance of experiencing physical decline -- age and low levels of vitamin E. Levels of B vitamins, vitamin D and iron didn't increase the odds of physical decline, according to the study.
Being older than 81 years increased the odds of physical decline by 84 percent, and low levels of vitamin E in people between the ages of 70 and 80 increased the odds of physical decline by 60 percent, according to the study.
"Because only one person in our study used vitamin E supplements, our results suggest that an appropriate dietary intake of vitamin E may help to reduce the decline in physical function among older persons. Whether the use of vitamin E supplements would yield similar beneficial effects is unknown," Bartali said.
Dr. Kanwardeep Singh, a geriatric specialist at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit, said that while this is a very well-done study, it's difficult to "take the effect of age out of what we are trying to identify."
For now, he said, "I would not recommend vitamin E supplements. My recommendations would be based on a good nutritious diet, with adequate caloric intake and adequate exercise. These will take you far beyond vitamin E supplements" in maintaining physical function.
To learn more about vitamin E, including what foods it's found in, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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