~ 120506 Important Health Benefits From An Overlooked Trace Mineral

Women with reduced micronutrient levels have greater risk of disability

The November 27, 2006 issue of the AMA journal Archives of Internal Medicine published the finding of researchers from Cornell University, Johns Hopkins, the University of Michigan, and the National Institute on Aging that older women with reduced levels of vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and selenium had a greater risk of developing disability in their activities of daily living over a three year follow-up period than those with higher levels. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate the effect of nutritional biomarkers on subsequent disability among older community-dwelling women.

The researchers analyzed data obtained in the Women's Health and Aging Study I, which evaluated risk factors contributing to the development of disability in 1,002 women 65 years or older who had difficulties in physical function. The current study included 634 participants who were not considered disabled, which was defined as having difficulty managing two or more activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing and eating. Blood samples drawn upon enrollment were analyzed for carotenoids, vitamin A, selenium, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, and vitamin D. The subjects were assessed at six month intervals over a three year period.

Over the three year follow-up, 208 women developed disability in performing activities of daily living. Women whose intake of vitamin B6 was in the lowest one-fourth of participants had a 31 percent greater risk of disability than those in the top three-fourths. For vitamin B12, the risk of disability was 40 percent greater, and for selenium, 38 percent greater for those in the lowest quarter compared to the remainder of the participants. There were no significant findings associated with the other nutrients tested.

Acting on the knowledge that deficiencies of vitamins B6 and B12 result in an elevation of homocysteine, evaluation of the subjects homocysteine levels revealed that having high levels at the beginning of the study predicted the development of disability over the follow-up period. The authors suggest that “(1) altered protein metabolism and increased levels of homocysteine, oxidative stress, and inflammatory markers resulting in protein damage and reduced muscle mass and strength (sarcopenia); (2) increased risk of developing degenerative disease; and (3) decline of cognitive function, may explain the link between low levels of vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and selenium with disability.

Related Health Concern: Disease Prevention

In the April 9, 1998, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, an editorial was entitled "Eat Right and Take a Multi-Vitamin." This article was based on studies indicating that certain supplements could reduce homocysteine serum levels and therefore lower heart attack and stroke risk. This was the first time this prestigious medical journal recommended vitamin supplements (Oakley 1998). An even stronger endorsement for the use of vitamin supplements was in the June 19, 2002, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

According to the Harvard University doctors who wrote the JAMA guidelines, it now appears that people who get enough vitamins may be able to prevent such common illnesses as cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. The Harvard researchers concluded that suboptimal levels of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 are a risk factor for heart disease and colon and breast cancers; low levels of vitamin D contribute to osteoporosis; and inadequate levels of the antioxidant vitamins A, E, and C may increase the risk of cancer and heart disease (Fairfield et al. 2002).

The National Academy of Sciences published three reports showing that the effects of aging may be partially reversible with a combination of acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid (Hagen et al. 2002). One of these studies showed that supplementation with these two nutrients resulted in a partial reversal of the decline of mitochondrial membrane function while consumption of oxygen significantly increased. This study demonstrated that the combination of acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid improved ambulatory activity, with a significantly greater degree of improvement in the old rats compared to the young ones. Human aging is characterized by lethargy, infirmity, and weakness. There is now evidence that supplementation with two over-the-counter supplements can produce a measurable antiaging effect.


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