Supplements For Seniors

Elderly in care homes may not be receiving enough vitamin B6

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Elderly adults usually eat less food and absorb fewer nutrients than their younger counterparts. As such, many seniors may not get enough nutrients like vitamin B6.

A recent study looked at vitamin B6 levels and diseases in elderly communities.

Researchers found that about 50 percent of all residents in the study had vitamin B6 deficiency, or lower than normal levels of vitamin ​B6.

Those taking supplements for vitamin B6 did not have a lack of the vitamin.

"Ask your local pharmacist about vitamin B6 supplements if you are over age 60."

Ida K. Kjeldby MD, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and colleagues studied 61 seniors living in 13 different nursing homes in two Norwegian counties. The participants were over the age of 60 and had lived in the nursing homes for longer than eight weeks.

The researchers gathered information on the seniors regarding diseases and illnesses, smoking habits, alcohol use, daily and physical activities, medications, types of nursing home department and general demographics.

Nutrition was assessed using the Mini Nutritional Assessment (MNA), a screening tool used to measure nutritional status in seniors.

Researchers determined the type of diet and the number of meals seniors ate per day. Calculations were made to determine the amount and type of liquid, dietary fiber and B6 in each diet.

Blood samples were taken from the study participants and analyzed.

The researchers found malnutrition in 11.5 percent of the study participants. A risk of malnutrition was seen in 61 percent of the study population.

Malnutrition was defined as scoring less than 17 out of 30 points on the MNA. Risk of malnutrition was defined as scoring between 17 and 23.5 out of 30 points on the MNA.

The recommended daily intake of vitamin ​B6 is 1.6 mg for men and 1.2 mg for women. The study found that men were receiving 1.6 mg on average and women were receiving 1.18 mg on average.

Although most seniors were consuming the recommended amount of vitamin ​B6, the results from the blood tests indicated that the patients were not getting enough of the vitamin. Forty-nine percent of the study participants had a vitamin ​B6 deficiency.

Twenty-three percent of the seniors in the study used vitamin ​B6 supplements. Seniors taking vitamin ​B6 supplements did not have a deficiency of the vitamin.

Those with a vitamin ​B6 deficiency were more likely to be older and less physically active. Seniors with vitamin ​B6 deficiency were also more likely to use fewer sedatives/hypnotics, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and anti-dementia drugs.

Other than hypertension, no diseases or conditions were linked to low levels of vitamin ​B6. The link between hypertension and B6 was deemed to be small and could have occurred by chance.

"The unfortunate truth is that for most older people, B vitamin absorption declines as their digestive forces in general decline, and then the lower vitamin levels further impair digestion," explained Deborah Gordon, MD, a dailyRx expert who specializes in nutrition.

"Although other B vitamins, such as B12 and folate, may receive more attention, vitamin B6 is crucial to many aspects of normal physiological function, such as immune function, metabolism of vital nutrients, detoxification and the synthesis of healthy mood- and sleep-maintaining neurotransmitters," added Dr. Gordon.

The researchers noted that low levels of vitamin ​B6 are a common problem among the elderly and suggested that vitamin ​B6 supplements be recommended for the elderly.

Dr. Gordon told the dailyRx that a multi-vitamin or B-complex vitamin is a reasonable addition even to a healthy diet.

"I always look for food-based vitamins that naturally include the complexity and benefit of real foods at the same time that they identify and boost specific nutrients," said Dr. Gordon.

The study received financial support from Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim and Department of Research, Innlandet Hospital Trust, Brumunddal; Norway.

The study was published in BMC Geriatrics.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 4, 2013
Last Updated:
August 15, 2013