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Dietary advice doesn't improve nutrition of elderly - supplements do

Of course it's better to get all the vitamins, minerals and proteins you need from the food you eat every day than from supplements. But sometimes that's just really difficult to do - and in some situations downright impossible. So hooray for the supplements industry. That's the take-home message from a human study that nutritionists at the University of Southampton in England will publish soon in Clinical Nutrition.

Forgotten malnutrition
You don't hear about it much, but many elderly residents of care homes suffer from malnutrition. Because of their old age and lack of movement their appetite decreases so much that they don't consume sufficient nutrients. In addition, their nutrient uptake is no longer optimal. Deficiencies of crucial nutrients such as folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, zinc, potassium and magnesium occur alarmingly often among the over seventies, octogenarians, nonagenarians and people over a hundred.

The deficiencies are so serious that we the witless and ignorant compilers of this free webzine wonder what would happen to life expectancy of the average planet-dweller if everyone over seventy were to take a sensible multi-vitamin every day.

The researchers wanted to know what the best strategy is to combat this invisible malnutrition. Providing information on a healthy diet? Or supplements in the form of soups, pudding and shakes?

The researchers performed a 12-week experiment with a few dozen residents of care homes. The average age was 88, and all subjects showed signs of malnutrition.

Half of the subjects were given information about the importance of a good diet, and practical information on the composition of a healthy diet. They were given information sheets and a dietician visited them to explain to them how they could make sure they consumed enough calories, and which foods were good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals.

The other half of the subjects was given supplements. These were mostly in the form of fluid foods that contained high amounts of protein and added vitamins and minerals. The products were manufactured by Nutricia.

In the last week of the experiment the supplementation group [ONS] consumed significantly more vitamins and minerals. The intake of the group that had been given information [Dietary advice] had not changed.

ONS (VFI) = minerals and vitamins from regular diet in the supplementation group; ONS (VFI+ONS) = total mineral and vitamin intake in the supplementation group.

Dietary advice doesn't improve nutrition of elderly - supplements do

Dietary advice doesn't improve nutrition of elderly - supplements do

The figure above left shows you how the protein intake rose in the supplementation group. The grey part of the bars represents the protein intake from supplements. Above right shows the protein intake of the group that had been given dietary advice. There was no change.

"This study in malnourished care home residents indicates that oral nutritional supplements can improve [...] nutritional intake more effectively than dietary advice alone", the researchers concluded.

Two the co-authors of the study are on the payroll of Nutricia, the manufacturer of the supplements used. Nutricia also sponsored the study.

Clin Nutr. 2016 Jan 11. pii: S0261-5614(16)00003-0.

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