Vitamin E and the risk of pneumonia: using the I 2 statistic to quantify heterogeneity within a controlled trial.
Br J Nutr. 2016 Nov ;116(9):1530-1536. Epub 2016 Oct 26. PMID: 27780487
Analyses in nutritional epidemiology usually assume a uniform effect of a nutrient. Previously, four subgroups of the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention (ATBC) Study of Finnish male smokers aged 50-69 years were identified in which vitamin E supplementation either significantly increased or decreased the risk of pneumonia. The purpose of this present study was to quantify the level of true heterogeneity in the effect of vitamin E on pneumonia incidence using the I 2 statistic. The I 2 value estimates the percentage of total variation across studies that is explained by true differences in the treatment effect rather than by chance, with a range from 0 to 100 %. The I 2 statistic for the effect of vitamin E supplementation on pneumonia risk for five subgroups of the ATBC population was 89 % (95 % CI 78, 95 %), indicating that essentially all heterogeneity was true variation in vitamin E effect instead of chance variation. The I 2 statistic for heterogeneity in vitamin E effects on pneumonia risk was 92 % (95 % CI 80, 97 %) for three other ATBC subgroups defined by smoking level and leisure-time exercise level. Vitamin E decreased pneumonia risk by 69 % among participants who had the least exposure to smoking and exercised during leisure time (7·6 % of the ATBC participants), and vitamin E increased pneumonia risk by 68 % among those who had the highest exposure to smoking and did not exercise (22 % of the ATBC participants). These findings refute there being a uniform effect of vitamin E supplementation on the risk of pneumonia.