Growing older is a given, but becoming frail in the process doesn’t have to be. How you eat has a lot to do with your risk of becoming frail as you age, and certain vitamins in your diet — not your medicine cabinet — could cut that risk quite a bit.
Frailty is generally diagnosed in an older person when they show evidence of three of the following five criteria: low grip strength, lack of energy, slowed walking speed, decreased physical activity and/or unintended weight loss. When one or two of these criteria are present, a person is considered at high risk for becoming frail, but they have a good chance of reversing its course.
Researchers in Chile studied over 1,600 adults 65 years old and older who didn’t already suffer from frailty. Seniors in the study provided detailed information about their diets and were followed for about three and a half years. They were assessed for frailty based on weight status, level of exhaustion, grip strength and walking speed. Over the course of the study, 89 people became frail.
Seniors who had the least vitamin C in their diets were 93 percent more likely to become frail than those whose diet was rich in foods like tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and citrus fruits that contain vitamin C.
Vitamin E also seemed to be protective against frailty — people who consumed the least were twice as likely to develop frailty as those who ate the most foods that were good sources of vitamin E like nuts and seeds.
Vitamin C had the biggest effect. Seniors who had the least vitamin C in their diets were 93 percent more likely to become frail than those whose diet was rich in foods like tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and citrus fruits that contain vitamin C.
Other factors also affected a person's likelihood of becoming frail. Folks who spent more time watching TV and those with chronic health problems like heart disease, stroke and diabetes were more likely to become frail; so were women, obese individuals, the more elderly and the less educated.
People who took vitamin supplements were not part of the study. There is no evidence that taking multi-vitamin supplements prevents older people from becoming frail, but a healthy diet may provide protection from these potential difficulties of aging.
So if you’re trying to age well — and who isn't — ditch the vitamin supplements and improve your diet instead. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and make sure you get enough protein.
Regular physical activity is also an important factor in preventing frailty. If you’re not active, start walking or simply moving more. Not only might it reduce the risk of becoming frail, it could reverse some of the early signs of frailty.
The study is published in Age and Ageing.