Fruit & veg may top up declining carotenoid levels in elderly: Study

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The influence of a carotenoid- and antioxidant-rich diet on the aging process is of increasing interest since life expectancy is steadily increasing in Western countries. ©iStock
The influence of a carotenoid- and antioxidant-rich diet on the aging process is of increasing interest since life expectancy is steadily increasing in Western countries. ©iStock

Related tags: Nutrition

A high intake of fruits and vegetables has been linked to increased carotenoid concentrations as a study reveals a simple way of maintaining levels that naturally reduce with age in men and women.

The findings discuss how carotenoids such as alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, alpha- and gamma-tocopherol, and retinol can play a major role in the prevention of age-related conditions such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

Elderly people in particular have been advised to increase their carotenoid levels either through diet and/or dietary supplements to receive the health benefits that can also include protection against certain cancer types.

Lowered carotenoid levels due to age may be a combination of a change of dietary habits, impaired bioavailability of nutrients, and/or increased demand of antioxidants with age.

These factors all contribute to approximately 20 million people with AMD living in Europe.   In the UK for example, AMD is the cause of blindness in almost 42% of those who go blind aged 65–74 years.

Seven country sample

eyes-macular-old-elderly-ageing-pensioner
The Lancet projects the number of people with age-related macular degeneration in 2020 at 196 million, increasing to 288 million in 2040.©iStock

Here, researchers from the University of Hohenheim, the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Germany, and the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment in The Netherlands carried out a cross-sectional study of 2118 women and men, aged between 35 and 74.

These volunteers were recruited from the general population of Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Poland and were asked to complete a questionnaire on self-reported lifestyle characteristics and dietary intake. Blood samples were also taken each morning.

The team concluded that age was an independent predictor of plasma lycopene, alpha-tocopherol, and alpha-carotene.

Age was inversely associated with lycopene (-6.5% per five-year age increase), whilst the positive association of alpha-tocopherol with age remained when certain variables including cholesterol and use of vitamin supplements were included (1.7% vs. 2.4% per five-year age increase).

There was an inverse association of alpha-carotene with age (-4.8% vs. -3.8% per five-year age increase).

Carotenoids complex with alpha-carotene and beta-carotene has been shown in published studies to be beneficial for AMD and elongation of telomeres,” ​said Dr CheeYen Lau, nutritionist at carotene producers ExcelVite.

“Therefore, it is important to increase plasma alpha-carotene through dietary supplements or foods with high content of alpha carotene in the body for promoting night vision and cardiovascular health.​”

Age-related bioavailability

Previous studies have demonstrated the effects of a higher fruit and vegetable consumption on raising plasma carotenoid levels higher in females compared to males.

In addition, a number of studies have already identified the inverse association of age with lycopene after adjusting for gender, smoking status, BMI, supplement use, and serum cholesterol.

Various factors influence the circulating concentrations and bioavailability of micronutrients, the study said.

These include the lifestyle, metabolism, energy intake, food preparation, fat intake (plasma lipid concentration), and interactions between nutrients and drugs that increase with age.

Source: Nutrients

Published online ahead of print, doi:10.3390/nu8100614

“Plasma Carotenoids, Tocopherols, and Retinol in the Age-Stratified (35–74 Years) General Population: A Cross-Sectional Study in Six European Countries.”

Authors: Wolfgang Stuetz et al.

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1 comment

But what about Astaxanthin?

Posted by Mark JS Miller,

Astaxanthin is also an important carotenoid. Its structure is unique and brings special benefits to cell membranes. But it is not in fruit or vegetables. It is in salmon and also in shrimp/crabs at lower levels. So let's broaden our recommendations - think PINK

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