Subclinical Malnutrition Risk In the Elderly

The Risk of Subclinical Malnutrition in Healthy Elderly People 

In a study from the Section on Aging of Italy’s National Research Council, the trends of vitamin intake over a 10-year follow-up period in a group of successfully aging elderly people were examined in a longitudinal study.

A longitudinal study It is a type of observational study (observation without manipulation) that involves repeat observations of the same variables over long periods of time (in this case 10 years).  Longitudinal studies are used to study trends across the lifespan and uncover predictors of disease.

The people they observed were between 70-75 years old at the start of the study. The researchers looked at these elderly people’s diets and compared them with the recommendations of the European Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of vitamins B1, B2, A, and C.  They also looked at mean energy and macronutrient intake at the beginning of this study and 10 years later.

At the beginning of this 10 year study, the researchers found no decline in total energy intake, but the intake of all vitamins (micronutrients), except for vitamin B1 – for which over 40% were already deficient, were all above the European RDI. However, at the ten-year point vitamin B2 and vitamin A deficiencies were present in 50% and vitamin C deficiencies rose from 3 to 6%.

The researchers conclusions included the realization that despite an adequate total energy intake a considerable portion of the successfully aging elderly were at high risk of becoming deficient in several essential vitamins.  Therefore, multivitamin supplementation may be necessary, even in healthy individuals!

Although my observations are by no means “scientific”I think it is important to describe my experience as an undergraduate.  When I was in college I took a class in nutrition anticipating that my education in medical school would be insufficient in this area.  The class I took was a prerequisite course for Home Economic, Dietitian, and Nutrition majors, and as such had over 150 people in attendance.  During the course we were asked by the professor to keep a food diary of all the macronutrients and micronutrients we consumed in a one month.  At the end of the one-month we were to compare our micronutrients intake with the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) recommendations at the time.

Now remember, this survey was in a class that were made of a majority of 20-something students whose major was, among other things, nutrition. Out of the 150 people who participated in this observational study, only 3 met the RDA requirements; and those 3 were more than a obviously obese!  The reason why the 3 obese students met the RDA requirements?  Because they ate thousands upon thousands more calories per day than the other people in the room!

My conclusion?  Everybody, even those that are cognizant about their diet, need a multivitamin.