For those wondering if there was actual evidence that ample amounts of key nutrients make you healthier, a recent study provides the answer. Researchers at Oregon State University found older adults who took a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement with high amounts of zinc and vitamin C had less severe symptoms and shorter periods of illness than those given a placebo.
A total of 42 healthy people between the ages of 55 and 75 participated in the study conducted by scientists at OSU's Linus Pauling Institute. The randomized, controlled trial was designed to measure the impact of supplements on specific immune system indicators and the findings were published in the journal Nutrients.
Researchers found elevated levels of zinc and vitamin C in the bloodstream of study participants, micronutrients important for proper immune function. But they found no impact on the immune indicators they looked at such as white blood cells’ ability to kill invading pathogens.
However, the supplements proved to have a direct impact on illness. Those taking the supplements reported symptoms that were less severe and disappeared quicker than those reported in the placebo group. The same percentage of subjects in each group reported symptoms of illness but they went away in the supplement group in less than three days while they averaged more than six days in the placebo group.
"The observed illness differences were striking," said Adrian Gombart, professor of biochemistry and biophysics and a principal investigator at the Linus Pauling Institute. "While the study was limited to self-reported illness data and we did not design the study to answer this question, the observed differences suggest that additional larger studies designed for these outcomes are warranted—and, frankly, overdue.
"Supplementation was associated with significantly increased circulating levels of zinc and vitamin C, and with illness symptoms that were less severe and shorter lasting," Gombart added. "This supports findings that stretch back decades, even to the days of Linus Pauling's work with vitamin C. Our results suggest more and better designed research studies are needed to explore the positive role multivitamin and mineral supplementation might play in bolstering the immune system of older adults."
Gombart says as people get older there is an elevated risk of vitamin and mineral deficiency that could lead to compromised immune function. Research shows many adults are deficient in one or more key micronutrients.
"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," Gombart said. "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."