You might think of a daily vitamin-mineral pill as a health step only kids need. Or maybe you just don’t make the time to take it every day and don’t worry about your hit-or-miss approach. But recent research has found that low levels of key nutrients—even modest vitamin and mineral deficiencies—can put seniors at risk for serious diseases.
Having a severe deficiency of essential vitamins and minerals is relatively uncommon in countries like ours, but slight deficiencies are very common and often not taken seriously, say researchers from the Nutrition and Metabolism Center at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute in Oakland, California. Their research, published online in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology FASEB Journal, may change this thinking. Their work looked at how the damage from moderate selenium and vitamin K deficiency accumulates over time as a result of vitamin and mineral loss, leading to age-related diseases.
"Understanding how best to define and measure optimum nutrition will make the application of new technologies to allow each person to optimize their own nutrition a much more realistic possibility than it is today." said Joyce C. McCann, PhD, a co-author of the study. "If the principles of the theory, as demonstrated for vitamin K and selenium, can be generalized to other vitamins and minerals, this may provide the foundation needed."
Dr. McCann and her colleagues reached their conclusions by compiling and assessing several general types of scientific evidence. They tested whether selenium-dependent proteins that are essential from an evolutionary perspective are more resistant to selenium deficiency than those that are less essential. They discovered a highly sophisticated array of mechanisms at cellular and tissue levels that, when selenium is limited, protect essential selenium-dependent proteins at the expense of those that are nonessential. They also found that mutations in selenium-dependent proteins that are lost on modest selenium deficiency result in characteristics shared by age-related diseases including cancer, heart disease and loss of immune or brain function.
"This paper should settle any debate about the importance of taking a good, complete multivitamin every day," said Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal. "As this report shows, taking a multivitamin that contains selenium is a good way to prevent deficiencies that, over time, can cause harm in ways that we are just beginning to understand."