press information / news

Epidemiology
07.12.2017

Vitamin deficiency in later life

One in two persons aged 65 and above has suboptimal levels of vitamin D in the blood. This is the conclusion of an investigation conducted by researchers at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, as part of the population-based KORA-Age study in the region of Augsburg. Moreover, as the authors of the study report in the peer-reviewed journal ‘Nutrients’, one in four older adults has suboptimal vitamin B12 levels.

© Fotolia/Sven Bhren

Since more than 30 years, the KORA Cooperative Health Research platform has been examining the health of thousands of people living in the greater Augsburg area in Southern Germany. The aim of the study is to understand the impact of environmental factors, lifestyle factors and genes on health. “In this context, we were also interested in examining the micronutrient status of older adults, including vitamins” explains study leader Dr. Barbara Thorand of the Institute of Epidemiology (EPI), Helmholtz Zentrum München. “So far, in Germany, research data on this topic has been relatively thin on the ground.”

Overall, the scientists examined blood samples of 1,079 older adults, aged 65 to 93 years from the KORA study*. Their analysis focused on levels of four micronutrients: vitamin D, folate, vitamin B12 and iron.

“The results are very clear,” explains first author Romy Conzade. “Fifty-two percent of the examined older adults had vitamin D levels below 50 nmol/L and thus had a suboptimal vitamin D status.” The scientists also observed shortages with regard to some of the other micronutrients. Notably, twenty-seven percent of older adults had vitamin B12 levels below the cut-off. Moreover, in eleven percent of older adults, iron levels were too low, and almost nine percent did not have enough folate in their blood.

EPI director Professor Annette Peters puts the data into context: “By means of blood analyses, the current study has confirmed the critical results of the last German National Nutrition Survey (NVS II)**, which revealed an insufficient intake of micronutrients from foods. This is a highly relevant issue, particularly in light of our growing aging population.”

Are dietary supplements the way forward?

The majority of older adults with suboptimal vitamin levels had in common that they were very old, physically inactive or frail. Special attention should, therefore, be paid to these groups with a higher risk for micronutrient deficiencies, explain the researchers.

“Our study also shows that regular intake of vitamin-containing supplements goes along with improved levels of the respective vitamins,” says Barbara Thorand. “However, vitamin-containing supplements are not a universal remedy, and particularly older people should watch out for maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet.”

In this context, the authors say their next objective is to continue investigating the metabolic pathways that link supplement intake, micronutrient status and disease states.


Further Information


* For almost 30 years, the Cooperative Health Research in the Region of Augsburg (KORA) has been examining the health of thousands of citizens in Augsburg and environs. The aim of the project is to increase understanding of the impact of environmental factors, behaviour and genes on human health. The KORA studies focus on matters relating to the development and progression of chronic diseases, in particular myocardial infarction and diabetes mellitus. To that end, research is conducted into risk factors arising from lifestyle factors (including smoking, diet and exercise), environmental factors (including air pollution and noise) and genetics. Questions relating to the use and cost of health services are examined from the point of view of health services research. 

** Max Rubner-Institut: Nationale Verzehrsstudie II, Ergebnisbericht Teil 2 (2008). Die Bundesweite Befragung zur Ernährung von Jugendlichen und Erwachsenen.

Background:
In 2013, Thorand and her team showed that vitamin-containing supplements are not a universal remedy. The researchers found that many older people are ingesting too much magnesium and vitamin E.

The first author Romy Conzade is participant in the Helmholtz Graduate School for Environmental Health (HELENA).

Original Publication:
Conzade, R. et al. (2017): Prevalence and Predictors of Subclinical Micronutrient Deficiency in German Older Adults: Results from the Population-Based KORA-Age Study. Nutrients, DOI: 10.3390/nu9121276

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus, allergies and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,300 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members. 

The Institute of Epidemiology (EPI) assesses genetic, environmental and lifestyle risk factors which jointly determine the occurrence of major chronic diseases. The focus is on the development and progression of metabolic, respiratory and allergic diseases, as well as heart diseases and mental health. The goal is to understand the molecular underpinning of disease better and to translate this knowledge into personalized approaches of prevention as well as polices to improve health. Research builds on the unique resources of the KORA cohort, the KORA myocardial infarction registry, and the KORA aerosol measurement station. Aging-related phenotypes have been added to the KORA research portfolio within the frame of the Research Consortium KORA-Age. Moreover, the institute makes use of the birth cohorts GINI and LISA. It plays a leading role in the planning and setting up of the German National Cohort and builds the NAKO biorepository.