Vitamins and Mineral Deficiencies in Seniors

Nutritional Supplementation to correct nutrient deficiencies in seniors

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Information on Senior Health By Greg Arnold, DC, CSCS, February 24, 2008
Abstracted from “Older Adults Who Use Vitamin/Mineral Supplements Differ from Nonusers in Nutrient Intake Adequacy and Dietary Attitudes” in the August 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic AssociationExcept for any noted source material, content copyright, Greg Arnold

Numerous studies over the past 15 years have shown that older Americans continue to fall short of the recommended amounts of many nutrients from food alone(1, 2). Because vitamin deficiencies contribute significantly to the chronic diseases so prevalent in the elderly population(3), a growing proportion of older adults are using vitamin and mineral supplements to “substantially increase” nutrient intake(4).

But while supplement compliance in the elderly can be an issue with hip fractures(5), a new study(6) finds that supplements can help prevent vitamin deficiencies in the elderly and can improve the overall quality of food intake.

In the study, researchers analyzed data on more than 2,500 American aged 51 years or older from the US Department of Agriculture’s 1994-96 CSFII and Diet and Health Knowledge Survey, a nationally representative survey of non-institutionalized individuals in all 50 states(7). Dietary intake data were obtained during in-person interviews and 24-hour recall. Supplement intake information on both vitamin/mineral supplements (multivitamin) and specific types of single vitamins/minerals ( vitamin A , vitamin C , calcium , and iron ) was also obtained during the in-person interviews.

The researchers found that 34% of men and 41% of women took supplements, with 74% of men and 71% of women taking a multivitamin supplement. Vitamin C (19%) and vitamin E (34%) were the most commonly mentioned single vitamin or mineral supplements while calcium supplements were popular among older women; 26% of users aged 51 to 70 years and 18% of users aged 71 years and older took them.

While non-supplement users were very “borderline” in meeting the Estimated Average Requirements (EARs) for minerals, nutrient intake from food in the supplement group was higher for nearly every mineral tested (Vitamin A, C, E, folic acid , magnesium , zinc , iron). This indicated that supplement users most often followed healthier diets due to a healthier mindset regarding their diet. When adding in their supplement use, total mineral intake rose to several times that of non-supplement users and satisfied the EARs with every mineral tested except for magnesium. Only 3% of the men exceeded the upper limits for vitamin B-6, C and calcium, while 10% of men exceeded the upper limits of zinc and iron.

While “supplement users were more likely to have adequate nutrient intakes from food alone than non-users for many of the nutrients studied”, the researchers concluded that “generally, supplement users consume more nutritious diets than non-users” and that “supplements had a positive influence on nutrient adequacy for men and women aged 51 years and older.”

Greg Arnold is a Chiropractic Physician practicing in Danville, CA. You can contact Dr. Arnold directly by visiting his web site at

1 J. Hallfrisch and D.C. Muller, Does diet provide adequate amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc in a well-educated population, Exp Gerontol 28 (1993), pp. 473–483

2 E.S. Ford and A.H. Mokdad, Dietary magnesium intake in a national sample of US adults, J Nutr 133 (2003), pp. 2879–2882

3 K. Chandra, Impact of nutritional status and nutrient supplements on immune responses and incidence of infection in older individuals, Ageing Res Rev 3 (2004), pp. 91–104

4 A.E. Millen, K.W. Dodd and A.F. Subar, Use of vitamin, mineral, nonvitamin, and nonmineral supplements in the United States: The 1987, 1992, and 2000 National Health Interview Survey Results, J Am Diet Assoc 104 (2004), pp. 942–950

5 Prince RL. Effects of Calcium Supplementation on Clinical Fracture and Bone Structure. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:869-875.

6 Sebastian RS. Older Adults Who Use Vitamin/Mineral Supplements Differ from Nonusers in Nutrient Intake Adequacy and Dietary Attitudes. Jou Amer Diet Assoc 2007; Aug;107(8):1322-32

7 K.S. Tippett and Y.S. Cypel, Editors, Design and Operation: The Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals and the Diet and Health Knowledge Survey, 1994-96, US Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service, Beltsville, MD (1988) Nationwide Food Surveys Report No. 96-1.

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