Pneumonia kills. According to data available, in 2002 almost 65,000 Americans died - of pneumonia, and combined with influenza, this respiratory infection is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.
And by and large vitamins are supposed to help ward off viral diseases, but a new report suggests that taking lots of vitamins does not reduce the likelihood of catching pneumonia, at least among well-nourished women.
Pneumonia is a general term that refers to an infection of the lungs, which can be caused by a variety of microorganisms, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
Often pneumonia begins after an upper respiratory tract infection (an infection of the nose and throat). When this happens, symptoms of pneumonia begin after 2 or 3 days of a cold or sore throat.
Although anyone can get pneumonia, it appears to favor older people, children, and those with certain heart conditions, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, and other chronic diseases.
Pneumonia is also more likely to prey on those whose immune systems have been compromised by AIDS, cancer treatments, organ transplants, or other causes.
"In malnourished individuals and in the elderly, there is some evidence to support the role of vitamin supplementation in reducing pneumonia risk," Dr. Mark I. Neuman from Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts said. But little is known about the effect of vitamins on the occurrence of pneumonia in healthy, well-nourished women.
To investigate, Neuman and his associates studied data from more than 80,000 women participating in the Nurses Health Study to see if vitamin intake altered the risk of pneumonia over a 10-year period.
After accounting for the effects of such factors as smoking, body-mass index, alcohol use, and physical activity, he and his colleagues found that intake of vitamin A, C, or E had no effect on the chances of developing pneumonia.
Similarly, the investigators report in the April issue of The American Journal of Medicine, there was no relationship between intake of other vitamins and micronutrients and the risk of pneumonia. This held even after adjusting for dose levels of the various vitamins and when considering vitamin intake from diet alone.
There was a hint, however, that vitamins might benefit smokers.
Specifically, smokers who had a higher intake of vitamin E from their diet had with a 54 percent lower risk of pneumonia than smokers with lower intakes. Nonetheless, Neuman cautioned, those results have to be confirmed before any recommendations can be made.
A Finnish study last reported that vitamin E and beta-carotene supplementation had no overall effect on the risk of hospital-treated pneumonia in older male smokers. They also found that vitamin E seemed to benefit subjects who initiated smoking at a later age, but they too said that required further investigation.