Micronutrient Deficiencies in the Elderly

Posted by Lindsey Davis on 06/17/2019


“Macros” has become an almost commonplace phrase in the health and wellness community lately.  Anyone on a weight loss journey who has visited you as a Registered Dietitian, has probably asked you to assess his or her macro intake. Although “macros” or macronutrients have a large impact on energy availability, muscle structure and lipid levels; micronutrients play an equally important role in sustaining human life. More often than not though, it’s the micronutrients that are ignored and forgotten about. 

A population of individuals that is particularly at risk of micronutrient deficiencies is the elderly.  Some of the leading causes of micronutrient deficiencies include 1) age related physiological changes such as forgetfulness, and loss of appetite, resulting in poor dietary intake, 2) financial factors that limit food purchasing and 3) medications that decrease the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Common micronutrient deficiencies you will see in this population include calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin B6. 

These micronutrients play a powerful role in the human body. Calcium is needed for strong bone density. Low calcium levels can lead to osteoporosis and subsequent bone fractures from lowered mobility and falling. Vitamin D is calcium’s best friend and helps calcium to be absorbed. Magnesium is the jack of all trades mineral that plays a part in blood pressure regulation, muscle contraction, making DNA and participating in hundreds of cellular reactions. Deficiency in this mineral can manifest as fatigue, muscle weakness/twitching and even depression. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of proteins, increases immunity and is an antioxidant helping to prevent cellular damage. Deficiency in this micronutrient can lead to delayed wound healing. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant that supports immune function. Vitamin B6 is largely involved in promoting adequate cognitive function, but also play a part in protein absorption like our friends, Vitamin C and E. 

Where are good sources of these micronutrients? Well, I’m glad you asked!

Calcium: dairy products, dark leafy greens

Vitamin D: absorbed by the body through sunlight but can also be found fortified foods like orange juice or milk

Magnesium: dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains

Vitamin C: citrus fruits, bell peppers, tomatoes

Vitamin E: nuts, seeds, vegetable oils

Vitamin B6: organ meats, fish, starchy vegetables (like potatoes)

If you are an RD working in a LTC facility, make sure your menus contain a variety of these foods to ensure adequate nutrition for this age group. Community RDs can focus on education, or better yet, host a grocery store tour for this age group and show them where to find these foods! There are many ways to get the word out there and help our fellow neighbors. Check out the most recent recipe page for an example of a calcium rich meal/snack!