A new German study published in the journal Nutrients shows that one in two persons over the age of 65 has a vitamin D deficiency and one in four has a vitamin B12 deficiency. In addition, 11 percent of older adults show low iron levels, and almost nine percent are low in folate.
Research has shown significant associations between various mental health conditions, such as depression and cognitive decline, and deficiencies in vitamins and minerals.
For the new study, researchers at the Helmholtz Zentrum München in Germany examined blood samples of 1,079 older adults, aged 65 to 93 years. Their analysis focused on levels of four micronutrients: vitamin D, folate, vitamin B12 and iron.
The study is part of the population-based KORA-Age study in the region of Augsburg; its overall aim is to understand the impact of environmental factors, lifestyle factors and genes on health.
“The results are very clear,” said 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 with regard to other micronutrients. Notably, twenty-seven percent of older adults had vitamin B12 levels below acceptable levels. In addition, 11 percent of older adults had low iron levels and almost nine percent did not have enough folate in their blood.
“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,” said Professor Annette Peters, director at the Institute of Epidemiology (EPI), Helmholtz Zentrum München.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency may include thin or brittle bones, fatigue and weakness. The study found that the majority of older adults with suboptimal vitamin levels were very old, physically inactive or frail. Special attention should be paid to these groups with a higher risk for micronutrient deficiencies, said the researchers.
“Our study also shows that regular intake of vitamin-containing supplements goes along with improved levels of the respective vitamins,” said study leader Dr. Barbara Thorand of EPI, Helmholtz Zentrum München.
“However, vitamin-containing supplements are not a universal remedy, and particularly older people should watch out for maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet.”
The researchers plan to investigate the metabolic pathways that link supplement intake, micronutrient status and disease states.