Higher levels of vitamin E may protect against frailty among older individuals
The March 2006 issue of the Journal of Gerontology, Series A reported the finding of researchers at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and scientists in Italy that having a higher plasma level of vitamin E is associated with a reduced risk of frailty in men and women sixty-five years of age and older.
Luigi Ferruci, MD, PhD, of the NIA's Laboratory of Epidemiology, Demography and Biometry and his colleagues examined data obtained from InChianti, a large epidemiological study of older individuals conducted in Italy. Eight hundred twenty-seven participants were evaluated in the current study. Frailty was diagnosed as having at least three of the following conditions: weight loss, low energy, slow gait, low grip strength, or low physical activity. Subjects with one to two features were considered intermediate frail.
The participants' blood was analyzed for plasma alpha-tocopherol, serum creatinine, total cholesterol, and other factors. Frailty syndrome was determined to exist in 6.5 percent of the participants, and intermediate frailty was found in 37.8 percent. Vitamin E levels were found to decrease gradually from nonfrail patients to those considered frail. Men and women whose plasma vitamin E was in the top third among participants were 59 percent less likely to be frail than those whose levels of the vitamin were in the lowest third. Adjustment for other factors increased the strength of the association.
"To our knowledge, this is the first study showing a relationship between frailty and a component of the antioxidant system," the authors announce. They note recent theories that suggest that oxidative stress may be involved in inducing a frail state. Inadequate protection from excessive free radicals could be responsible for dysregulation of mechanisms maintaining homeostatic equilibrium in older individuals. If having a higher plasma level of vitamin E is inversely related to its utilization during oxidative processes, frail individuals with low vitamin E levels might be assumed to have a higher amount of oxidative stress. The damage caused by oxidative stress "might be accelerated in frail individuals and contribute to reduced efficiency of the cellular processes," the authors suggest. They conclude, "Our findings suggest a possible involvement of oxidative stress in the genesis of frailty."
Catabolic wasting or cachexia is a clinical wasting syndrome that is characterized by unintended and progressive weight loss, weakness, and low body fat and muscle. At least 5% of body weight is lost. Cachexia is not caused by poor appetite and nutritional intake, but rather by a metabolic state in which a "breaking down" rather than a "building up" occurs in bodily tissues no matter how much nutritional intake occurs. Additionally, whether a patient receives nutrition orally or intravenously makes no difference. The patient simply cannot gain weight, so eating more is not an answer.
It is estimated that half of all cancer patients experience catabolic wasting, with a higher occurrence seen in cases of malignancies of the lung, pancreas, and gastrointestinal tract. The syndrome is equally common in AIDS patients and can also be present in bacterial and parasitic diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic diseases of the bowel, liver, lungs, and heart. It is usually associated with anorexia and can manifest as a condition in aging or as a result of physical trauma.
Catabolic wasting can be counteracted by proper nutrient supplementation. A daily dose of 2000 mg of glutamine is suggested to prevent glutamine depletion in the tissues and the ensuing catabolic effect. Fish and borage oil supplementation, in the dose of 1300 mg of DHA, 500 mg of EPA, and 1200 mg of GLA a day, should be considered to suppress inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins that can destroy tissue. Two 1000-mg CLA capsules should be taken 2 times a day to facilitate the transport of glucose into muscle cells. The intake of 30 grams a day of biologically active whey protein concentrate, 10-20 grams of arginine, 2400 mg of L-carnitine, and a branched-chain amino acid complex may produce a dramatic anticatabolic tissue-sparing effect and regulate immune system cytokines that are thought to cause cachexia.
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