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Adv Nutr. 2012 Nov 1;3(6):822-4. doi: 10.3945/an.112.002956.

Vitamin/trace mineral supplements for the elderly.

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Department of Biochemistry and Program in Nutrition and Health Sciences, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA.


The fraction of population that is elderly has been increasing, as has the consumption of vitamin/trace mineral supplements, which is now a multibillion dollar industry. Yet the rationale for such supplement intake by the majority may be questioned. Some of the current recommendations for micronutrient intake by the elderly are extrapolations from recommendations made for younger adults, whereas other recommendations are based on measurements of biochemical indices not proven to reflect a deficient level in the elderly. Suggestions that the elderly need more than the recommended daily allowances largely rest on the assumption that they should have biochemical indices similar to younger adults despite decreased energy intake with decreased physical and metabolic activities of the elderly. Although some individuals require supplementation because of problems with intake, absorption, or metabolism, there is little or no proof that boosting micronutrient intake above what can be achieved in well-balanced diets, some of which already contain fortified foods, will lead to a healthier outcome for most elderly individuals. There is not only the potential for unnecessary and occasionally harmful excess administered to some, but there is a cost that now runs in the billions of dollars and adds to the costs of covering multiple chronic disease conditions. Hence, some caution should be exercised in public health promulgations concerning routine use of supplements for those in this age group (>65 y of age) and of both sexes until more research establishes clear connections between the need for micronutrients and nutrient-related health in the elderly.

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