The Blue Zone Way to Healthy Diets

Micronutrient Needs of Older Adults

Source: Smolin and Grosvenor. Nutrition: Science and Applications, Third Addition

Changes in digestion, absorption, and metabolism affect micronutrient status and may contribute to the development of some of the disorders that are common in older adults.    

This may be a concern especially for the B vitamins, and vitamin D, iron, and zinc.

B vitamins 

The only B vitamins for which recommendations differ between older adults and younger adults are vitamins B6 and B12. The  RDA for B6 is greater to maintain levels while the RDA for vitamin B12 is not increased, but is a nutrient of concern because of both reduced absorption and low dietary intakes among some groups like vegans. Also as we age, many people develop a condition called atrophic gastritis from a lack of acid in the stomach necessary for the absorption of vitamin B12. Eating fortified foods or taking a supplement under the guidance of a physician are the best way to counter this situation. 

Folate is another B vitamin of concern. Low folate along with inadequate levels of B6 and B12 may result in an elevated homocysteine level which increases the risks of cardiovascular disease. The fortification in grain products began in 1998 has increased the intake of this vitamin, however, when folate is consumed in excess, it can mask signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency and go untreated. Again, consuming any vitamin is unnecessary in excess and should be supervised by your primary care doctor or a trained dietitian.

 Vitamin D 

Vitamin D is necessary for adequate absorption of calcium which is also a concern in elderly people.  Intake is often low and synthesis  in the skin is reduced due to limited exposure of sunlight and because the capacity to synthesize vitamin D in the skin decreases with age. 


The iron needs in women decline sharply at menopause when blood loss has ceased.The iron needs of men do not change., Nonetheless, iron-deficiency anemia is common in the elderly often due to chronic blood loss from disease and medications and poor absorption due to low stomach acid and antacid use. 


The RDA for zinc has not changed in older adults, but low energy intakes as well as absorption, stress,  trauma, muscle wasting  and OTC medications can all contribute  to poor zinc status. The consequences can  contribute to malnutrition by reducing food intake, Reduction in immune function and wound healing increases the risk of infection, which can also impair  nutritional status.

Food Guidelines: The Blue Zones Way

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