Millions of older people in the UK are putting their long terms health at risk because their diets are low in certain key vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, says a new research review commissioned by the Health Supplements Information Service (HSIS).
The review, about to be published in Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, assessed the evidence from 34 randomised controlled trials, published 2005-2015, where adults aged ≥50 years had been given nutritional supplements. The gold standard Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines were used to ensure that only high quality studies were included in the analysis.
Commenting on the research review, GP Dr Paul Stillman, an advisor to HSIS notes: “The data results show promising results for many nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils, B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K to name a few:
- Increasing omega-3 intakes from fish oils appeared to have a role in improving memory, reducing the risk of dry eye, lowering depression scores and levels of leucocyte telomere oxidative stress (a marker of how fast cells are aging) while supporting muscle protein synthesis (which helps older people remain active and avoid falls);
- Folic acid and B12 supplementation were found to impact positively on cognitive function (particularly memory);
- Combinations of calcium and vitamin D appeared most effective for fracture prevention
- Multivitamin use was associated with reduced total cancer risk, improved reported energy levels and enhanced mood.”
However, it was clear from dietary surveys that intakes of key nutrients were low in significant groups of older people. Lead author, Dr Carrie Ruxton, comments: “Vitamin D is a key nutrient for healthy ageing, with a proven role in maintaining normal bone health and immune function. Yet dietary intakes in older British adults are just 30-40% of the recommendation with more than one fifth found to be clinically deficient. Risk of deficiency is also high for iron where 14% of older adults have low blood levels of haemoglobin leading to anaemia, poor immune function and poor cognitive health if not corrected. Smaller groups have inadequate intakes of B vitamins and calcium with those over 65 years most at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Average intakes of omega-3 fatty acids remain below the recommended 450mg per day because two thirds of older adults don’t eat oily fish on a regular basis.”
Dr Ruxton adds: “People’s bodies age at different speeds and it would appear that having the right diet can slow this process, therefore helping people to stay healthier for longer. While research is still at an early stage, there are promising results for fish oils, B vitamins, calcium and vitamin D. Taking more of these nutrients, from foods plus vitamin and mineral supplements, could help older people age more healthily and would certainly do no harm if intakes remain within recommendations”.
The Health Supplements Information Service (HSIS) (www.hsis.org.uk; Tel: 020 7052 8955) is an independent information body, set up to provide balanced information on vitamins and minerals. It is supported by a restricted educational grant from the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB).
- Ruxton CHS et al. (2015) Role of fatty acids and micronutrients in healthy ageing: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials set in the context of European dietary surveys of older adults. J Hum Nutr Diet. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12335
- Bates et al. (2014) National Diet and Nutrition Survey, rolling programme years 1-4. FSA/PHE: London.