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Lower Levels of Certain Vitamins, Antioxidants Tied to Frailty in Older Adults

A new Irish study finds that reduced levels of specific dietary vitamins and antioxidants are associated with frailty in older adults. The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.

Frailty is a common chronic syndrome characterized by an overall decline in physical function and the failure to bounce back after experiencing a stressful event such as infection, a fall or surgery.

For the study, researchers from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin examined the association of vitamin B12, folate, vitamin D, lutein and zeaxanthin levels with frailty.

The B vitamins (B12 and folate) are important for several cellular processes throughout the body including DNA repair and energy metabolism. Vitamin D is essential for bone metabolism, muscle strength and mood. Lutein and zeaxanthin have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties important in eye health and brain health.

The team found that lower levels of lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin D were consistently associated with not only frailty but also earlier stages of ‘pre-frailty’ (a subclinical precursor to frailty). Low levels of B vitamins were also associated with pre-frailty.

Furthermore, the accumulation of micronutrient insufficiencies — having low levels of more than one micronutrient — was progressively associated with severe stages of frailty.

“We have presented evidence in the largest study to date that lower levels of specific vitamins and antioxidants — and having low levels of more than one micronutrient — is consistently and progressively associated with the most commonly used methods for measuring frailty,” said Dr. Aisling O’Halloran, lead author and senior research fellow at TILDA.

“Our data suggest that low micronutrient status may act as an easily modified marker and intervention target for frailty among adults aged 50 years and over.”

Low levels of all of these vitamins and antioxidants is common among Irish adults. The findings raise the question of the role of dietary supplementation and contribute to the ongoing policy discussions regarding fortification.

“Again we see that micronutrients (including vitamin D) are associated with better health outcomes in older adults,” said co-author of the study Dr. Eamon Laird.

“However we still lack a food fortification policy in Ireland and whilst this continues, we miss the opportunity of a cost-effective strategy to prevent and intervene in the progression of these conditions. As of yet there is no sign that the Irish government or the FSAI (Food Safety Authority Ireland) intend to advise on or implement such a strategy”.

Frailty, which affects up to 25% of adults over 65 years and more than half of adults over age 80, is associated with poor health, disability and death.

“Frailty occurs when a number of systems in the body lose reserve capacity and therefore the ability to ‘bounce back’ after even trivial illnesses,” said Professor Rose-Anne Kenny, principal investigator of TILDA.

“It is an important and challenging state; commonly associated with ageing but also common in patients of any age who have major surgery, cancer treatments and severe infections. The hallmark of frailty is muscle weakness.”

“If it is recognised in its early stages, it can be reversed. However, the longer it is present, the more difficult is it to ‘bounce back’ and generalised weakness and fatigue become progressively worse. This research suggests new potential treatments for a common and important condition.”

Source: Trinity College Dublin

Lower Levels of Certain Vitamins, Antioxidants Tied to Frailty in Older Adults

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). Lower Levels of Certain Vitamins, Antioxidants Tied to Frailty in Older Adults. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 5 Sep 2019 (Originally: 6 Sep 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 5 Sep 2019
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