The report is the conclusion of an investigation conducted by researchers at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, as part of the population-based KORA-Age study in the region of Augsburg which aimed 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" commented study leader Dr. Barbara Thorand from the Institute of Epidemiology (EPI), Helmholtz Zentrum München. "So far, in Germany, research data on this topic has been relatively thin on the ground."
Writing in Nutrients, they reported that more than one in two people aged 65 and above studied were found to have sub-optimal levels of vitamin D in blood, while approximately one in four had lower than recommended levels of vitamin B12.
"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."
According to the team, the use of vitamin supplements was associated with a respective higher vitamin status. However they warned that high use of supplements may not be a ‘universal remedy’.
Thorand and colleagues examined blood samples of 1,079 older adults – all aged between 65 and 93 years – who took part in the KORA study.
Their analysis focused on levels of four micronutrients: vitamin D, folate, vitamin B12 and iron.
Analysis showed the prevalence of subclinical vitamin D and vitamin B12 deficiencies were high, with 52.0% and 27.3% of individuals having low 25OHD (<50 nmol/L) and low vitamin B12 concentrations (<221 pmol/L), respectively.
“Furthermore, 11.0% had low iron (men <11.6 µmol/L, women <9.0 µmol/L) and 8.7% had low folate levels (<13.6 nmol/L),” the team reported.
EPI director Professor Annette Peters said the insufficient intake of micronutrients from foods is a ‘highly relevant issue’, particularly in light of the growing aging population.
Indeed, the team found that the majority of older adults with suboptimal vitamin levels had in common that they were very old, physically inactive or frail.
As such, special attention should therefore be paid to these groups with a higher risk for micronutrient deficiencies, Thorand and colleagues warn.
Supplements to the rescue?
"Our study also shows that regular intake of vitamin-containing supplements goes along with improved levels of the respective vitamins," commented Thorand. "However, vitamin-containing supplements are not a universal remedy, and particularly older people should watch out for maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet."
However, the team concluded that the possibility that a regular and appropriately dosed micronutrient supplement could help older adults who are otherwise unable to follow dietary guidelines, to meet nutrient requirements, and prevent chronic diseases via the correction of low micronutrient levels, “is of major interest and could stimulate research on biological pathways that link supplement intake, micronutrient status and disease state.”
“The predictors identified provide further rationale for screening high-risk subgroups and developing targeted public health interventions to tackle prevailing micronutrient inadequacies among older adults,” they added.
Published online, Open Access, doi: 10.3390/nu9121276
“Prevalence and Predictors of Subclinical Micronutrient Deficiency in German Older Adults: Results from the Population-Based KORA-Age Study”
Authors: Romy Conzade, et al