New York Times — Vitamin E May Harm, or Help, Your Lungs by Anahad O’Connor

A form of vitamin E found in vegetable oils like corn and canola may worsen lung function, while another form typically found in olive oil may protect it, a new study suggests. The findings may help explain why studies of the health effects of the vitamin have had conflicting results.

Vitamin E comes in various forms called tocopherols, which are commonly found in fats and oils. Supplements of the vitamin may contain a single type of tocopherol, or a mix.

The new research, published in the journal Respiratory Research, found that a form of the vitamin called gamma tocopherol, the kind in corn, canola and soybean oils, was linked to poor lung function in adults. But another form of the vitamin more typically found in olive and sunflower oils, called alpha tocopherol, seemed to have a beneficial effect on the lungs.

“It’s mind-blowing that there’s this disparity,” said Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, an allergist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. “What’s interesting is that most people taking vitamin E never stop to ask where it’s from. It’s not something you tend to be aware of.”

Dr. Bassett, who was not involved in the study, said the findings suggest that consumers who use the vitamin and doctors who recommend it might need to be “more acutely aware” of its source and formulation. That information is sometimes listed on the labels of supplements, but not always.

Vitamin E, considered a powerful antioxidant, is thought to play a role in cardiovascular and neurological health. There is also some evidence that the vitamin may help protect against asthma and other respiratory problems. But studies have also suggested that taking vitamin E has no effect on lung health, or even a potentially harmful one.