Dietary Supplements Essential to Health of Seniors


As the American population ages, a rapidly growing body of evidence shows that dietary supplements significantly improve the health of senior citizens. And diverse leaders - from the scientific community to the U.S. government - are recognizing the important contributions dietary supplements make to seniors' health.

The latest Census data reports that 35 million persons in the United States are over the age of 65 and that number is expected to grow to one in five persons over 65 by 2010. According to recent surveys, as many as 40 percent of the nation's elderly are afflicted with nutritional deficiencies. Conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, declines in memory, decreased immunity to illness and other maladies once viewed as normal signs of aging have now been linked to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals.

Three recent clinical studies find that dietary supplements can treat nutritional deficiencies in the elderly and boost their immune systems, combat short-term memory loss, reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and improve seniors' overall health.

Ranjit Kumar Chandra, M.D. of Memorial University of Newfoundland conducted a year-long study of 86 persons over the age of65. His findings, as published in the September 2001 issue of Nutrition,show that a supplement with moderate amounts of 18 vitamins, minerals and trace elements improves the short-term memory and overall cognitive abilities of seniors, and greatly strengthens their immune systems. Dr. Chandra also suggests that supplements may prevent serious neurological damage and disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

A separate study led by Hui-Zin Wang, M.D at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and published in the May 2001 issue of Neurology also links poor nutrition to Alzheimer's disease. This study followed 370 elderly adults aged 75 and over for three years, and found that seniors with low blood levels of folate and vitamin B12 have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

A study published in the August 2001 issue of Nutrition by Teresa A. Marshall, M.D. and colleagues at the University of Iowa found that nutritional deficiencies greatly increase with age, and that supplement use would eliminate these deficiencies in the elderly. Dr. Marshall studied 420 persons over the age of 78 and found 80 percent ofthose seniors consumed inadequate amounts of four or more nutrients. Eighty-three percent consumed too little vitamin D and 63 percent did not consume enough calcium, both necessary for preventing osteoporosis and fractures and preserving bone mass. Seventy-five percent reported not getting enough folate, important for heart disease and stroke prevention.

Despite this mounting evidence, many seniors are not seeking medical advice about supplementation. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive found that those over 65 are the age group that is least likely to discuss dietary supplements with their doctors.

"Older adults need to learn about the contribution that dietary supplements can make to promoting health and reducing the risk for chronic diseases," said Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D. Blumberg is a Professor of Nutrition and Chief of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University as well as a scientific advisory board member of the Dietary Supplement Information Bureau™. "These recent studies add to the growing body of evidence that demonstrates a beneficial role for dietary supplementation in the elderly."

At the same time, the federal government is also recognizing the importance of dietary supplements in senior's health. On August 2, 2001, U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the "Dietary Supplement Tax Fairness Act of 2001" (Bill S.1330) which calls for dietary supplements to be tax-deductible for employers and excluded from taxable income for employees covered by health insurance plans. Senator Harkin asserts that dietary supplements help to improve Americans' health and should be given parity with prescription drugs.

In addition to this pending legislation, the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), is also conducting research on dietary supplements' effects upon the elderly. Some of these studies are examining the role of antioxidants in preventing cataracts in people with diabetes, and the effects of melatonin and coenzyme Q10 in retarding the aging process.

"It is exciting to see the NIH and university scientists working together to define the role of dietary supplements in public health and substantiate the value of this approach to obtaining good nutrition," said Blumberg. "Research studies show that dietary supplements can help fight heart disease, enhance immune function, delay impaired vision and maintain bone density with age. The more older Americans know about these scientific discoveries, the better choices they can make to achieve optimum health."

The Dietary Supplement Information Bureau™ is a project of the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance™, an industry coalition created to promote the health benefits and responsible use of vitamins, minerals, herbs and specialty supplements. The information developed by the bureau is vetted by a scientific advisory board comprised of: Joseph Betz, Ph.D., American Herbal Products Association and former FDA staffer; Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D.,School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University; Jerry Cott,Ph.D., Psychopharmacology Consulting Services; David Heber, MD, Ph.D., UCLA Center for Human Nutrition; Sheldon Hendler, MD, Ph.D. University of California at San Diego; James LaValle, R.Ph., Central States College of Naturopathic Medicine; Barbara Levine, RD, Ph.D., The Rockefeller University; Forouz Ertl, DVM, U.S. Pharmacopeia; and Ronald Watson, Ph.D., University of Arizona Medical School.

The DSEA™ steering committee includes the following organizations: American Herbal Products Association, Corporate Alliance for Integrative Medicine, National Nutritional Foods Association, New Hope Natural Media/Penton Media, Inc., and Virgo Publishing Inc. Additionally, over 100 organizations and industry leaders are supporting the DSEA™ effort, including health food retailers such as Fruitful Yield; manufacturers such as Natrol, Inc. (NASDAQ: NTOL) and Twinlab Corporation (NASDAQ:TWLB); and distributors such as United Natural Foods, Inc. (NASDAQ:UNFI). Participation in DSEA™ continues to grow and fundraising efforts are ongoing.

Courtesy of DISB (Dietary Supplement Information Bureau)

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