The older population is considered to be at a higher risk of vitamin D and vitamin B12 micronutrient deficiency, due to their insufficient nutrient intake. This deficiency has also been associated with chronic age-related diseases and adverse functional outcomes. The findings of this study are further discussed in the Journal of Nutrients.
Since more than 30 years, the KORA Cooperative Health Research platform has been examining the health of thousands of people living in the greater Augsburg area in Southern Germany.
The study aims to understand the impact of environmental factors, lifestyle factors and genes on health. "In this context, we were also interested in examining the micronutrient status of older adults, including vitamins" explains study leader Dr. Barbara Thorand of the Institute of Epidemiology (EPI), Helmholtz Zentrum München. "So far, in Germany, research data on this topic has been relatively thin on the ground."
"The results are very clear," explains first author Romy Conzade. "Fifty-two percent of the examined older adults had vitamin D levels below 50 nmol/L and thus had a suboptimal vitamin D status."
The scientists also observed shortages of some of the other micronutrients. Notably, twenty-seven percent of older adults had vitamin B12 levels below the cut-off. Moreover, in eleven percent of older adults, iron levels were too low, and almost nine percent did not have enough folate in their blood.
EPI director Professor Annette Peters puts the data into context: "By means of blood analyses, the current study has confirmed the critical results of the last German National Nutrition Survey (NVS II)**, which revealed an insufficient intake of micronutrients from foods. This is a highly relevant issue, particularly in light of our growing aging population."
Are dietary supplements the way forward?
The majority of older adults with suboptimal vitamin levels had in common that they were very old, physically inactive or frail. Special attention should, therefore, be paid to these groups with a higher risk for micronutrient deficiencies, explain the researchers.
"Our study also shows that regular intake of vitamin-containing supplements goes along with improved levels of the respective vitamins," says Barbara Thorand. "However, vitamin-containing supplements are not a universal remedy, and particularly older people should watch out for maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet."
In this context, the authors say their next objective is to continue investigating the metabolic pathways that link supplement intake, micronutrient status, and disease states.