The Role of Vitamins in Nutrition

In depth research on essential vitamins.


There are special concerns regarding proper nutrition and vitamins for the elderly. Seniors are at risk of being malnourished for many reasons including poor appetite due to medications, disability, or reduced food intake due to intestinal disorders, diabetes, or restrictive diets. The most common nutritional disorder is reduced intake of calories and proteins.

Nearly 2/3 of older people admitted to the hospital are undernourished. Such malnutrition is associated with poorer outcomes from whatever medical problem they have. Infections are more frequent in older folks, and deaths due to infections are two to ten times more likely. A study from Spain showed 85 percent of elderly persons with community-acquired pneumonia were malnourished. Now there is abundant information that nutritional strategies such as liquid multivitamins can delay or even reverse aging of the immune system.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common in the elderly also. For example, the food intake of the mineral zinc tends to decrease throughout life. Even if your doctor checks the level of zinc in the blood, and it appears normal, the level inside the individual cells may be reduced. Proper nutrition along with vitamin and mineral intake is important throughout life, but it seems to be especially important for good health later in life.

A healthy, balanced diet is important throughout life, but appropriate vitamin intake is especially important in the elderly. Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol) is necessary for calcium absorption, building healthy bones, and preventing bone mass loss. Vitamin D and Calcium work together to keep our nervous system healthy and boost our immune system. The elderly need plenty of Vitamin D supplements because they usually don't get enough due to malnutrition including malabsorption and because they stay in-doors and don't get enough sunlight. The bones of the elderly can become quite brittle and they may be liable to fractures when seniors fall, and they often do.

The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is 5 ug/day (200 IU) for men and women under 50 years of age, 10 ug/day (400 IU) between 50 and 70 years, and 15 ug/day (600 IU) for men and women over 70 years. Seniors also need Vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting and may have a role in enhancing bone density. It is a common component of vitd> n supplementation for people at risk for osteoporosis, and is currently being evaluated for its role in preventing osteoporosis. Vitamin K deficiency is common in the elderly.

Recent research indicates that vitamin K and Alzheimer's disease have something in common: the concentration of vitamin K is lower in carriers of the APOE4 gene, the same gene that is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease! Vitamin K is not a classical antioxidant, but recent studies have shown its ability to inhibit cell death due to oxidation in nerve cells. This suggests that a vitamin K deficiency may contribute to the development of Alzheimer's.

The current RDA for vitamin K is 120 ug/day for men and 90 ug/day for women.

We carry innumerable oxidized free radicals out to destroy our cells and alter our genetic material. These free radicals are contributing causes to more than 60 diseases, including heart attacks, cancer, as well as the wrinkles, stiff joints, varicose veins and hardened arteries of "old age."

Free radicals have an unnatural molecular structure that is caused by unnatural forces such as pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation, fried foods, cured meats, stress (mental, emotional and physical), pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Cigarette smoke, including passive smoke, puts billions of free radicals into our blood stream. Our unnatural environment and lifestyle has created an overabundance of free radicals that play a role in every degenerative disease known to man and the older we get the more of them we acquire.

Free radicals have been linked to such diseases as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, AIDS, cancer, premature aging, collagen deterioration, varicose veins, arthritis, asthma, cataracts, retinitis, angina, rheumatism, cataracts, stress, hemorrhoids, heart disease, stroke, senility, swollen extremities, kidney and liver disorders.

Free radicals alter the molecular structure of our body and destroy our cells but we can fight them even in old age. At the molecular level, there is a constant battle going on in our body between antioxidant nutrients and free radicals.

A free radical is a molecule or molecular fragment with the spin of one electron that is not paired with a companion electron. This is a very hazardous, unnatural and unstable state, because electrons normally come in pairs.

This odd, unpaired electron in a free radical causes it to collide with other molecules so it can steal an electron from them, which changes the structure of these other molecules and causes them to also become free radicals. This can create a self-perpetuating chain reaction in which the structure of millions of molecules are altered in a matter of nanoseconds (a nanosecond is a billionth of a second), reeking havoc with our DNA, protein molecules, enzymes and cells.

Our immune system has a means of defending against free radicals, but it is very easy for our body to find itself outnumbered. This is why we, particularly in old, need a generous supply of antioxidant nutrients. Our immune system uses antioxidants to stabilize and eliminate free radicals. Antioxidants are able to give free radicals an electron, which becomes a companion to their unpaired electron, thus eliminating the threat of that free radical.

The elderly needs to take supplements of antioxidant nutrients. The most commonly known antioxidants are Vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene, which becomes Vitamin A in our bodies. Other nutrients, such as the minerals copper, selenium, zinc and manganese and certain amino acids, are considered antioxidant nutrients because they invigorate the body's own natural antioxidants. A vitamin C antioxidant blend is an ideal way to accomplish this, as it supplies vitamin C, which bolsters the immune system, as well as antioxidants that the strengthened immune system can utilize.

Bioflavonoids are another significant category of antioxidant. Bioflavonoids can offer a double benefit to our immune system because in addition to eliminating free radicals, they also enhance our assimilation of Vitamin C.

A good multivitamin is the foundation of health and nutrition. Take a look at our scientific reviews of many of the popular brands for factors such as ingredients, areas of improvement, quality level, and overall value. If you are looking for a high quality liquid multivitamin, we suggest that you take a look at the Multivitamin Product Comparisons.


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Singh RB, Ghosh S, Niaz MA, et al. Dietary intake, plasma levels of antioxidant vitamins, and oxidative stress in relation to coronary artery disease in elderly subjects. Am J Cardiol. 1995;76:1233-8.

Simon JA, Hudes ES, Browner WS. Serum ascorbic acid and cardiovascular disease prevalence in U.S. adults. Epidemiology. 1998;9:316-21.

Richard MJ, Roussel AM. Micronutrients and aging: intakes and requirements. Proc Nutr Soc. 1999;58:573-8.

Pandey DK, Shekelle R, Selwyn BJ, et al. Dietary vitamin C and beta-carotene and risk of death in middle-aged men. The Western Electric Study. Am J Epidemiol. 1995;142:1269-78.

Loria CM, Klag MJ, Caulfield LE, Whelton PK. Vitamin C status and mortality in US adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72:139-45.

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