Do multivitamin and mineral supplements help to keep us healthy in older age?

Multivitamin and mineral supplements containing zinc and vitamin C reduce the length and severity of symptoms of illness in older adults, according to a study.

Eating a balanced diet including a wide variety of healthy foods is considered the best way to get the nutrients we need for good health.

Nevertheless, every autumn many of us stock up with supplements such as vitamin C and zinc to stave off those pesky winter colds.

Are they doing us any good?

Researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University measured the effects of taking a supplement containing zinc, vitamin C and D on the immune system in healthy older people.

In the twelve-week study, forty-two adults aged between 55 and 75 took a daily vitamin and mineral supplement and answered questions about their health. In addition, the scientists took blood tests at the start and finish of the study to measure changes in vitamin and mineral status and immune function.

The results published in the journal Nutrients found although immune system indicators remained unchanged, vitamin C and zinc status in the blood of the group taking supplements improved, compared to a placebo group.

During the twelve weeks, the same percentage of people in both groups reported symptoms of illness; however, the people taking supplements averaged fewer than three sick days compared to more than six for a control group.

“Supplementation was associated with significantly increased circulating levels of zinc and vitamin C, and with illness symptoms that were less severe and shorter lasting,” author Adrian Gombart said in a press release.

As people get older, the risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies that contribute to age-related immune system deficiencies rises. Across the United States, Canada and Europe, more than one-third of older adults are deficient in at least one micronutrient, often more than one, wrote Steve Lundeberg in a press release.

That likely contributes to a decline in the immune system, most often characterized by increased levels of inflammation, reduced innate immune function and reduced T-cell function. Since multiple nutrients support immune function, older adults often benefit from multivitamin and mineral supplements. These are readily available, inexpensive and generally regarded as safe,” said Gombart.

Study link


Oregon State University. Original written by Steve Lundeberg.


Mary L. Fantacone, Malcolm B. Lowry, Sandra L. Uesugi, Alexander J. Michels, Jaewoo Choi, Scott W. Leonard, Sean K. Gombart, Jeffrey S. Gombart, Gerd Bobe, Adrian F. Gombart. The Effect of a Multivitamin and Mineral Supplement on Immune Function in Healthy Older Adults: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Controlled Trial. Nutrients, 2020; 12 (8): 2447 DOI: 10.3390/nu12082447

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