Nutritional Deficiencies Among the Elderly


From publishers of The New England Journal of Medicine



      Even when healthy, people 90 and older can develop deficiencies in the vital micronutrients zinc, selenium and vitamin B6, reports the February American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Such deficiencies may affect the abundance and efficacy of natural killer cells, immune cells that seek out and destroy cancerous cells or infectious invaders.
      Italian researchers examined the nutritional status of 62 healthy people aged 90 to 106 who were not taking nutritional supplements or drugs. Deficiencies in zinc, selenium or vitamin B6 were found in approximately half of the participants, while smaller percentages had deficiencies in vitamins A, E, B12 and folate. People with the highest levels of zinc and women with the highest levels of selenium had the highest percentage of natural killer cells in their blood. When placed in a test tube, the natural killer cells of women with high levels of vitamin E were better at defeating tumor cells than were the natural killer cells of women with low levels of vitamin E.
      Though this study suggests that zinc, selenium and vitamin E protect immune function, HealthNews associate editor George Blackburn, M.D., says that there is no hard evidence that differences in the number of natural killer cells influence our ability to fight infections and cancer. Still, he acknowledges that because of poor dietary absorption as we age, elderly people sometimes develop nutritional deficiencies. Nutrient-fortified food or a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement may help ensure adequate amounts of micronutrients, says Dr. Blackburn.




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