Supplementing the Elderly
As we age, our bodies are less efficient. In order to stay on top of the aging process, many people choose to supplement their diets with vitamins, minerals, proteins, herbs, amino acids, and a whole host of other products. While many of these products are helpful, it has long been unclear how helpful they actually are. Also, with an aging body, too much of a given supplement could cause health problems. Too much Vitamin B12 can cause itchiness, numbness, and even increase the risk of certain cancers. Although the risks are known, the potential benefits, such as improved mental function and the prevention of Alzheimer’s, beg the question: Should the elderly be given vitamin and mineral supplements? A series of recent tests were conducted in order to find an answer.
Are RDAs Sufficient for the Elderly?
The Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) set by various governments are based on the nutritional requirements for the average adult. We understand that these allowances do not apply for children, though it is not clear if they should apply to the elderly as well. A recent study that compared RDAs to the actual vitamin intake of 286 healthy elderly women was conducted in order discover what their actual requirements were. Researchers measured their vitamin intake and concluded that the RDAs were satisfactory for folic acid, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6; however, it wasn’t sufficient for vitamin B-12 and for vitamin C. This study suggests that RDAs of certain vitamins should be adjusted by age category.
B-Vitamins and Mental Health
Vitamin deficiencies have been linked to mental decline and dementia. The Memory Clinic of Italy’s S. Anna University Hospital conducted a study in which they divided groups of elderly individuals according to levels of homocysteine (high homocysteine, or hyperhomocysteinemia, can indicate a B-vitamin deficiency), and deficiency in blood glucose value (BVG). Group members underwent a series of mental and physical tests. Researchers were unable to conclude what role a low BVG played in mental deterioration, but they did find that patients with the worst mental impairment were most likely to suffer from hyperhomocysteinemia as well. These findings indicate that B-vitamins could play a role in preventing diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
B-Vitamins and Bone Health
It has long been known that factors such as gender, ethnicity, and lifestyle can negatively affect bone health as a person ages, but it appears that a lack of B-vitamins may also play a role how easily an elderly person’s bones may break. A recently-published review on bone health highlighted the fact that high levels of homocysteine were often found patients diagnosed as a bone fracture risk, and the same risk was true for patients with a B-vitamin deficiency. It isn’t clear what effect either of these factors have on the health of bones, but the reviewer believes that they either modify the collagen, a protein that gives a bone flexibility and strength, or the cells that make up the bone. Taking B-12 supplements could help the elderly fight of hyperhomocysteinemia and increase bone strength.
Long-term B-Vitamin Benefits
You may have heard that vitamin and mineral supplements can help to keep the mind sharp while growing old. A new study sought to test the theory on a large group of healthy men and women between the ages of 55 to 65. After a series of blood tests and mental exercises, they were given multivitamins over a 16-week period, and then tested again. The results revealed that there were no measurable mental improvements, but there was significant evidence in the bloodwork showing a variety of other benefits. Both men and women had higher B6 and B12 levels. Women showed lower levels of C-reactive protein (high levels are a sign of inflammation), while men had less homocysteine. Men also had improvements in oxidative stress (a sign of aging) and cholesterol. The test concluded that although the multivitamin regimen did not improve thought process, it did boost a number of factors that are linked to the thought process.