The findings come from the KORA-Age study, a population-based study out of Augsburg, Germany, which reviews the impact of environmental factors, lifestyle factors, and genes on health. The researchers at the Helmholtz Zentrum München based their findings on examining vitamin D, folate, vitamin B12, and iron levels in more than 1,000 blood samples from participants 65 to 93 years of age.
“The results are very clear,” lead author Romy Conzade told sciencedaily.com. “Fifty-two percent of the examined older adults had vitamin D levels below 50 nmol/L, meaning a suboptimal vitamin D status.”
Research shows that low levels of vitamin D can lead to health problems including bone and muscle pain, high blood pressure, and depression, according to everydayhealth.com. And while you can and should try to get vitamin D from foods, once you get older, it’s more difficult to absorb B12 from food, as reported in the New York Times.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to symptoms of depression among other cognitive impairments such as dementia. Here are more nutrients you could be missing if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
“Depression, dementia, and mental impairment are often associated with a deficiency of B12 and its companion B vitamin folate, especially in the elderly,” Dr. Rajaprabhakaran Rajarethinam, a psychiatrist at Wayne State University School of Medicine, told the National Institute of Health.
The results of the German study confirmed earlier findings from a German National Nutrition Survey that the deficiencies may be the result of “insufficient intake of micronutrients from foods,” which is why seniors should consider taking supplements to maintain their vitamin D and B12 levels.
“Our study also shows that regular intake of vitamin supplements goes along with improved levels of the respective vitamins,” says Barbara Thorand, MPH, Nutritional Scientist and Epidemiologist at the Helmholtz Zentrum München. She adds, however, that “vitamin-containing supplements are not a universal remedy, and particularly older people should take care to maintain a healthy and nutritious diet.”
If you’re thinking of popping supplements instead of looking for vitamin-rich food sources, keep in mind that some vitamins are a waste of money—and can even be dangerous.