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The Journal of Nutrition published a fabulous paper in the June 2012 edition that celebrates the 100th birthday of the year the term vitamin was coined.

The paper looks at demographic changes that are leading to greater numbers of elderly people, and the mounting evidence that suggests an association between vitamin status and the development of degenerative diseases.

Data from Western countries dietary intake surveys indicate that vitamin inadequacy is widespread – even in our healthy elderly.

This paper suggests the 21st century to be the Century of Aging because increasing life expectancy and falling fertility rates result in a considerable shift in demographics.

By the year 2040, more than 1 in 4 Europeans and 1 in 5 North Americans will be over the age of 65.  The 6 leading causes of mortality in the elderly are degenerative diseases and they account for 70% of deaths in people over the age of 65 in the U.S.

This peer-reviewed paper also suggests that health expectancy is already more than 10 years less than life expectancy, meaning the last decade of life for most people will include disability and disease.

Establishing a clear cause-effect relationship for this dilemma-of-aging remains a challenge due to the long latency period and multifactorial origin of degenerative diseases, however mounting evidence exists for a link between inadequate vitamin intakes and the development of cellular degeneration.

The obvious question:

•    How good is the nutritional status of the elderly in the Western world?

On one hand, an ever increasing variety of foods is available in large quantities.  On the other hand, factors such as decreased income, physical activity, energy needs, social contact, and dementia and other psychological factors typically lead to decreases in food intake, which affects nutritional status in the elderly: the focus of this paper.

This paper evaluates vitamin intake of the healthy noninstitutionalized elderly – relative to established dietary intake (DRI).

The results:

In elderly Americans under the age of 71, prevalence of intakes below the recommended daily requirements established to simply keep us alive, but not particularly healthy were:

50% below for vitamin A

40% below for vitamin C

40% below for vitamin D

75% below for vitamin E

49% below for vitamin K

16% below for folate for men

40% below for folate for women

25% below for vitamin B-12

The good news: 

Ideally, the paper authors, and this writer, prefer to increase the nutrient density of the elderly diet with a more diverse diet. However, they, and a number of well-respected nutrition scientists suggest properly designed dietary supplements might prove to be a more promising approach to solve this problem.

Over the past decade, a number of studies have explored the effects of vitamin intakes beyond the daily recommendations on a variety of mostly chronic diseases.  The outcomes are inconsistent: some reported a positive effect, some found none, or even negative impacts of certain vitamins on health outcomes, including all-cause mortality, or cancer risk on unhealthy subjects, particularly when excessive amounts of single nutrients are ingested, or when multiples are not designed with micronutrient balance in mind.

The paper concludes, “These study inconsistencies should not divert our attention from the widespread inadequate intakes of essential micronutrients such as vitamins in the elderly population. Given the magnitude of the problem, this is a call to action for all stakeholders involved—academia, health professionals, industry, funding agencies, and policy makers – to find ways to close the gap between recommended and actual vitamin intakes in the elderly.”

Given the present and future economic impact of 10 years of disability and disease for the ever-growing number of elderly,  we have everything to gain by searching for long-term health improvement answers in the right places.

“my father tucks his hands into his back pockets and searches for the Big Dipper in the wrong part of the sky.”  

From poet, Lauren Shakely’s cover page in Luis Alberto Urrea’s award winning novel titled, In Search of Snow.

Ellen Troyer, MT MA

Biosyntrx CEO / Chief Research Officer