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Healthy ageing: nutrients for preservation of physical & cognitive function

Healthy ageing: nutrients for preservation of physical & cognitive function

26 August 2021

To remain healthy and fit during ageing is a natural top priority for a growing global senior population. But how can we manage to stay healthy as we age?

Ageing is a normal and inevitable part of life which can lead to challenges with one´s health e.g. mental agility and the ability to maintain an active lifestyle, keep good vision and a healthy heart. The good news is that following a healthy lifestyle may increase our health span, reduce the risk of disease and improve our quality of life.


One of the pillars to health and longevity is nutrition. As we get older the needs of  our body change and certain nutrients become more important for maintaining a good health. Ageing is linked to a variety of changes in the body such as muscle loss, thinner skin and less stomach acid. Some of these changes might lead to nutrient deficiencies, while others might affect our senses and quality of life. Fortunately, eating a variety of nutrition-rich foods and taking the appropriate supplements can help us meet our nutrient needs and keep us healthy as we age. In addition, it may help prevent age-related diseases. Here is an extract of some important nutrients, actives and other ingredients which can support healthy ageing:


Vitamins & minerals are important during ageing

The most important vitamins and minerals when we get older are: Vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, and selenium. 


Vitamin A (retinol) is important for vision, immune system and it helps many organs work properly. It is also an antioxidant that might help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. There are two forms of vitamin A, preformed vitamin A and provitamin A. Provitamin A such as the β-carotenes are broken down in the intestine to vitamin A. A natural way of getting β-carotenes is from the palm fruit, which contains up to 300 times more β-carotene than leafy vegetables and tomato. Recent research shows that high intake of β-carotene, β-cryptoxanthin and lutein/zeaxanthin reduces the risk of hip fractures in the middle-aged and elderly population [1]. Furthermore, vitamin A supplements may help to protect against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) [2,3]. 


Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is involved in maintaining metabolism, immune function and it is significant for creation of red blood cells and neurotransmitters. Some people have trouble getting enough B6 from the food, especially people with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, celiac or Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or inflammatory bowel disease or people with kidney problems. Research has shown that deficient blood levels of vitamin B6 are associated with higher depressive symptoms in older adults [4, 5]. 
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) helps keep our nerves and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA. The nutrient is also involved in helping the body release energy from food and using folate. Furthermore, it helps prevent a type of anaemia called megaloblastic anaemia that makes people tired and weak. People over 60 years might have trouble absorbing B12 from food since they do not have enough hydrochloric acid in their stomach [6,7]. Strict vegetarians and vegans are also at higher risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiencies due to the fact that natural sources of vitamin B12 are limited to animal food.


Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble essential vitamin needed for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues. It is a powerful antioxidant supporting the immune system. Vitamin C is also needed for the body to produce collagen, which is one of the major building blocks of bones, skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Several studies have reported that maintaining healthy vitamin C levels can have a protective func- tion against age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease [8]. A natural way of getting vitamin C is from acerola, sea buckthorn and dog rose, which have a high content of ascorbic acid. 

 

Sea buckthorn is a good source of vitamin C


Vitamin D is important to keep our bones, teeth, muscles and immune system healthy. Vitamin D also helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. Vitamin D and calcium are important to keep our bones strong and healthy, and vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis in adults. Research has shown that vitamin D may help prevent diseases that cause cognitive decline, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes [9]. 


Vitamin E is a family of eight fat-soluble substances which are subdivided into two classes; tocotrienol (α, β, γ, δ) and tocopherol (α, β, γ, δ). Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant helping protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Furthermore, it helps maintain healthy skin and eyes, and strengthen the immune system. It also helps widen blood vessels and keep blood from clotting within them. Most of us get less vitamin E than recommended, however, vitamin E deficiency is rare in healthy people but might occur in people with diseases like Crohn’s disease or cystic fibrosis that inhibit the ability to properly digest or absorb fat. Palm oil derived from Elaeis guineensis represents the richest source of the vitamin E, α-tocotrienol. All the four tocotrienols (α, β, γ, δ) are potent antioxidants, but the analogue α-tocotrienol also possesses unique biological activity that is independent of its potent antioxidant capacity. Current developments in α-tocotrienol research have demonstrated that it has neuroprotective properties, which might protect the human brain against neurodegenerative conditions including acute ischemic stroke [10].   


Vitamin K exists in two forms: Vitamin K1 is found in plant foods, while Vitamin K2 is found in animal and fermented food. Vitamin K activates proteins that play a role in blood clotting, calcium metabolism and heart health. The most important function is to regulate calcium deposition. Vitamin K promotes the calcification of bones and prevents the calcification of blood vessels and kidneys [11, 12]. Studies have shown that vitamin K2 supplements generally improved bone and heart health, while K1 had no significant benefits [13]. In addition, research suggests that vitamin K2 can help to prevent osteoporosis and fractures [14, 15]. 


Calcium is vital for bone health, blood circulation, muscles, releasing hormones and transmission of nerve pulses. As we get older we need more calcium, magnesium and vitamin D to help maintain bone health and to prevent osteoporosis. This is because when we get older the bone is broken down faster than it is built. In addition, low stomach acid can affect the absorption of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc [6, 7]. Especially post-menopausal  women are at risk of developing osteoporosis if the calcium intake is too low. Fortunately, several studies have shown that calcium supplements might help to reduce bone loss and prevent fractures[16]. 


Magnesium is involved in hundreds of cellular reactions in the body [17]. It contributes to bone health, proper brain, heart and muscle functions. Unfortunately, older adults are at risk of magnesium deficiencies because of low stomach acid [6, 7]. Magnesium is also important to prevent osteoporosis. Research has shown that magnesium deficiency could weaken the bones directly, but could also lower the blood levels of calcium [18]. Thus, both calcium and magnesium are needed to build strong healthy bones.


Selenium is important for the immune system, thyroid function and DNA synthesis. Selenium is also a powerful antioxidant which can help reduce oxidative stress [19]. Oxidative stress is believed to be involved in neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Several studies have also shown that selenium supplementation has anti-ageing properties and might prevent age-related diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases [20]. Furthermore, a large study with more than 6,000 people found that low serum levels of selenium were associated with an increased risk of autoimmune thyroiditis and hypothyroidism [21]. Hypothyroidism is a common condition in which the thyroid does not create and release enough thyroid hormone into the bloodstream. This condition is more common among people older than 60 years [22]. 

 

Dietary fibre for digestive health

As we get older, the amount of beneficial bacteria in the intestine tends to decline, which may expose us to gastrointestinal discomfort, constipation, and other diseases. A way to strengthen the gut and enhance the overall health is to take prebiotic fibres such as chicory root fibres, inulin and oligofructose. These fibres promote a healthy gut by feeding beneficial bacteria. In addition, research has shown that oligofructose-enriched inulin can enhance the intestinal absorption of calcium and magnesium in postmenopausal women [23]. 

 

Chicory root is naturally rich in inulin prebiotic fibre


Isomaltulose – Blood sugar management

Isomaltulose is like sucrose a disaccharide carbohydrate composed of glucose and fructose, but the bond between glucose and fructose is stronger than in sucrose. This slows down the digestion and isomaltulose has a low effect on blood glucose levels. However, it is a fully digestible carbohydrate and tastes similar to sucrose with half the sweetness. 


When we get older the body’s capacity to handle rising blood sugar levels declines and the body’s cells get less sensitive to insulin [24, 25]. Therefore, it is important to maintain normal blood sugar levels, and for this isomaltulose can be used as an effective tool to keep the blood glucose at a lower, more balanced level. In addition, research has shown that blood sugar management using isomaltulose instead of sucrose or glucose may help to improve cognition and mood in those middle age and older (45-85 years) [26].


 


 

Ageing & the immune system

Ageing is accompanied by a decline in immune system function and the immune alteration during ageing increases susceptibility to infections [27]. That is why it is very important to keep the immune system in good balance to ensure the optimal conditions. 
Read more: “Keeping the immune system strong & healthy”.

 


 


Phytoceramides – Skin health

Ceramides are a family of lipids that play an important role in the skin barrier. Together with cholesterol and saturated fatty acids, ceramides create a water-impermeable, protective organ that prevents water loss, and hampers the penetration of undesired substances, allergens and microbes from the environments. Based on weight, the ceramides account for approximately 50 % of the lipids in the skin barrier [28]. As we age, the epidermis (the skin’s outer layer) gets thinner and weakens. In addition, we start losing ceramides resulting in dry and itchy skin and wrinkles. 


Phytoceramides, which are plant-based ceramides found in for example wheat germ, are similar in structure to the ceramides found in the skin. They might help restore the water barrier and protect the skin. A small study from 2020 showed that phytoceramide supplement helped to reduce skin dryness, hyperpigmentation, itching and oiliness [29]. 

 

As we age the epidermis gets thinner and weakens

 


Plant extracts supporting healthy ageing

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) – Curcumin – Brain health: Turmeric has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is known to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, and anti-microbial activities. Curcumin also has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Intake of turmeric has been associated with a reduced risk of age-related mental decline in humans [30]. Recent research also indicates that application of curcumin might help in prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease [31].

 
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) - Catechin, caffeine & L-theanine – Brain health: Green tea contains bioactive compounds such as the polyphenol catechin called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). Catechins are natural antioxidants that help prevent cell damage and provide other benefits. Furthermore, green tea contains the brain-boosting compounds, caffeine and L-theanine, which are able to cross the blood-brain barrier. Several reports indicate that green tea extract or its main ingredients have a beneficial impact on cognitive functioning in people over 55 years [32] and older adults [33, 34]. In addition, intake of green tea has been associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality, diabetes, stroke, and heart-disease-related death. 


Red grapes (Vitis vinifera L.) – Resveratrol – Brain health: Red grapes contain the polyphenol, resveratrol, which is an antioxidant. Research indicates that resveratrol might prevent the deterioration of the hippocampus, an important part of our brain associated with memory[35]. A study on healthy older adults (50-75 years) also reported that taking resveratrol improved memory performance [36]. 


Marigold, Rosehip, Goji – Lutein & zeaxanthin – Eye health: AMD (age-related macular degeneration) is a common eye disorder that usually develops in people aged 60 years and older. It is caused by deterioration of the macula, a small pigmented area in the centre of the retina in the back of the eye and can lead to central vision loss [37]. 

 

Gojiberries


Lutein and zeaxanthin (yellow-red pigments) are the predominant carotenoids which accumulate in the retina of the eye [38] and are not naturally created in our body. Research suggests that dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin might enhance eye health and protect against disorders such as AMD [39]. Lutein and zeaxanthin are produced by plants such as Marigold (Calendula officinalis L.), Rosehip (Rosa canina L.) and Goij (Lycium barbarum L.). They are antioxidants that are able to cross the blood–retina barrier and to accumulate in the macula of the eye where they can protect the eyes from harmful free radicals. Lutein and zeaxanthin also act as natural sunblock by absorbing excess light energy and protecting the eyes from harmful blue light [40]. There are two promising studies with goji berry supplements. One study in 150 adults aged 65-70 years showed that supplementing with goji berries increased blood zeaxanthin level, total antioxidant level, prevented hypopigmentation of the macula and helped soften fatty protein deposits under the retina [41]. Another study in 114 people with early macular degeneration (aged 51-92 years) found that daily goji berry supplements improved the density of macular pigment, which may protect against the progression of macular degeneration [42].

 

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