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Vitamin D and omega-3 could help elderly fight the coronavirus and other infections

How can we prevent disease at older ages? An EU-backed trial has investigated the effects of vitamin D, omega-3 and home exercise on the health of senior citizens.

Health

We’ve all heard or read about the health benefits of vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and exercise. In Europe’s rapidly ageing population, it becomes increasingly important to see if these three strategies are effective in improving the health of our more senior citizens. To answer this question, the EU-funded DO-HEALTH project has studied the impact of vitamin D, omega-3 and a strength-training exercise programme on relatively healthy adults aged 70 years or older. The study has been published in the ‘Journal of the American Medical Association’.

Largest European study on old age

Led by Heike Bischoff-Ferrari, professor of geriatric medicine and ageing research at project coordinator University of Zurich, the DO-HEALTH study included 2 157 participants from 5 European countries: Austria, France, Germany, Portugal and Switzerland. The senior citizens recruited for the study had no major health problems in the 5 years preceding the trial, were sufficiently mobile and had good cognitive function. The purpose of the double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised trial was to determine whether vitamin D, omega-3 and simple exercise alone or in combination could significantly improve senior citizens’ health in the following areas: systolic or diastolic blood pressure, non-vertebral fractures, physical performance, infection rate or cognition. In the course of the 3-year trial, the DO-HEALTH project partners held comprehensive full-day visits to monitor the participants’ health. They also conducted phone surveys every 3 months and recorded any new infections, diseases, falls, doctor visits and hospital stays. “Our findings suggest that supplementation of vitamin D and omega-3s in adults aged 70 or older who lead an active lifestyle and have no pre-existing conditions does not provide any benefits when it comes to bone health, memory and muscle function. However, we believe there is an effect on infections, such as Covid-19,” stated Prof. Bischoff-Ferrari in a news item posted on the ‘News Medical’ website. According to the news item, omega-3 fatty acids reduced the risk of infection in the upper respiratory tract by 10 % and the urinary tract by 62 %. Additionally, vitamin D decreased the risk of infection in 70 to 74 year olds by 16 %, while also lowering systolic blood pressure in men by 2.5 mmHg. “Given the high safety and low costs of these supplements as well as the high mortality associated with infections in older adults, these findings are very relevant for the health of the general population,” observed Prof. Bischoff-Ferrari. Although the trial’s results showed no statistically significant improvement in any of the six monitored health areas, this could be attributed to the participants’ overall good health. “The results therefore do not contradict the Federal Office of Public Health’s current recommendation on vitamin D supplementation and fall prevention for older people, nor the proven preventive effects of exercise programs,” Prof. Bischoff-Ferrari noted in the same news item. The DO-HEALTH (VitaminD3-Omega3-Home Exercise- HeALTHy Ageing and Longevity Trial) biobank created for the study will be used for future research on chronic diseases amongst the elderly and for improving preventive procedures. “Ultimately, the goal of DO-HEALTH is to enable more people to age in a healthy and active way,” Prof. Bischoff-Ferrari concluded. For more information, please see: DO-HEALTH project website

Keywords

DO-HEALTH, vitamin D, omega-3, exercise, senior citizen, coronavirus

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