By: Talking Nutrition Editors
The decline in immune function as we age, also referred to as immunosenescence, is evidenced by the increased vulnerability of elderly individuals to infections and poorer responses to vaccinations.1,2,3 COVID-19 may have put the spotlight on immune health for the elderly, but this is an issue that was evident long before the pandemic emerged. For instance, seasonal influenza causes an estimated three to five million cases of severe illness globally every year, resulting in 290,000 to 650,000 deaths, with older adults at increased risk of severe outcomes.4
The need for improved nutrition as we age is a result of immunosenescence which refers to the disbalance between components in the immune system and causes increased inflammation with increasing age.5 The importance of nutrition for optimal immune health is widely recognized, and existing observational data shows how specific nutrients can support immunity in older people.6 However, just as the importance of adequate nutrient intake increases, a range of age-related physical, physiological and cognitive changes means that senior adults are also less likely to achieve the intakes of essential nutrients required to support immune function.7 Combined with a decline in ability to absorb some nutrients, loss of appetite, reduced energy requirements and an increased likelihood of non-communicable diseases, meeting nutritional requirements can become a serious challenge. This is where medical nutrition, fortified foods and supplements play a significant role in improving nutritional status and supporting the immune system.
Evidence has shown that optimal status of nutrients such as vitamins C, D and E, selenium and zinc as well as the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are essential to address the age-related changes that can lead to a decline in immune response.8 So, while adequate intake of all essential nutrients is important to optimal immune function, what benefits could be realized by combining these micronutrients in a way that provides them in adequate amounts?
A recent expert roundtable – of which the key takeaways were published in Advances in Nutrition – discussed the latest science behind of the role of nutrition in supporting the aging immune system and ways in which manufacturers can support the adequate intake of essential nutrients in older people. Alongside an existing paper by Calder et al, these two publications provide a comprehensive review of evidence from a range of available literature on the benefits of nutrients in combination, vitamin C, D and E, selenium and zinc, as well as DHA and EPA, for immunity.1
Barbara Troesch, Senior Scientific Affairs Manager of Global Pharma Solutions & Clinical Nutrition at DSM, confirms the significance of the recent publication, “This is a crucial compilation highlighting the importance of optimal intakes of a number of essential nutrients to support immunity in the elderly. It also acts as a call for action for various players from across the nutrition industry to find ways to ensure that older adults receive these necessary nutrients.”
Adequate intake of micronutrients is recommended for all individuals, particularly those at increased risk of COVID-19 infection such as older adults.2 In line with this, Calder et al recommend multivitamin and trace elements supplements in combination with at least 200 mg/d vitamin C, 2000 IU/d vitamin D, 8 to 11 mg/d zinc and 250 mg/d DHA + EPA to support a well-functioning immune system in the general population.3 Critically, the recent expert panel published in Advances in Nutrition provides more specific data related to the elderly and the benefits of combining immune-supporting nutrients in one supplementation. For nutrients where data is lacking in this field, the advice is to provide them at the recommended daily allowance (RDA).
Optimal nutrition to support the immune systems of older adults will remain a priority beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Specialized nutrition products should be considered in circumstances where these more senior individuals are having difficulties reaching an adequate nutritional status with the diet alone. DSM’s Barbara Troesch highlights that, “There is clearly an opportunity for specialized nutrition manufacturers to utilize these insights and help people stay healthy; reducing the rising costs associated with the care of older adults.”
At DSM, we are passionate about raising the standards of care and supporting healthy aging and optimal nutritional status amongst older populations worldwide. That’s why we take a targeted approach to medical nutrition innovation; enabling manufacturers to develop unique and appealing solutions that will address the specific nutritional and immunity requirements of older adults.
Download our immunity whitepaper to discover how key micronutrients can support immunity in older adults.