Elderly people should consider taking supplements of B vitamins as many are deficient in the nutrient, thought to protect against heart disease, argue German researchers in a new study.
The team from the University of Hanover in Germany report that a third of the women they tested were deficient in the B vitamins thiamine, pyridoxine, and cobalamin and many of these also showed raised blood homocysteine levels.
High homocysteine levels have been associated with an increased risk for certain diseases such as coronary artery disease and Alzheimer's.
Previous research shows that elderly people are at higher risk for B vitamin deficiency. Data has also linked decreased vitamin status with elevated homocysteine levels among the elderly.
The German team assessed the dietary intake and the blood status of various B vitamins and homocysteine and methylmalonic acid (MMA) concentrations in 178 women aged 60-70 years old.
Indexes of thiamine, pyridoxine, and cobalamin showed insufficient status in one-third of the women, whereas homocysteine and MMA concentrations were elevated in 17.4 per cent and 9.6 per cent of the women, respectively, reported the researchers in this month's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
An association between vitamin intake and vitamin concentration in the blood was found only for folate but this revealed that for those with the lowest blood folate levels, mean homocysteine concentration was 23 per cent higher than for subjects in the highest quartile of folate levels.
There was no association between riboflavin and homocysteine concentrations. The researchers also reported an assocation between MMA and age, and an inverse association between the marker and blood cobalamin concentration.
"Thiamine, pyridoxine, folate, and cobalamin supplementation should be considered," conclude the authors.
As evidence grows showing the benefits of B vitamins - thought to be essential for mental health, protect heart health and also fight cancer through folate's role in DNA synthesis and repair - researchers are also looking further at the vitamin's bioavailability in foods. Many factors prevent absorption of the B vitamins and further research should look at increasing the body's uptake of these nutrients to gain the maximum benefits.