One in four elderly people is at risk of malnutrition and that makes them more fragile

As we age, we often lose our ability to sense taste and smell, as well as having more difficulty chewing. All this can cause a decrease in appetite.

If we also take into account other psychological and social changes that happen to us with old age, such as living alone, feeling depressed or losing purchasing power, there is a greater risk that the quality and quantity of food eaten will be compromised.

Other changes at the physiological level that accompany aging, such as a decrease in the elasticity of the stomach walls, bacterial overgrowth, other common diseases such as atrophic gastritis and even the use of medication, can also compromise the intake and absorption of nutrients.

Hence, the risk of malnutrition increases with age.

What is malnutrition?

The different international institutions specialized in nutrition (such as the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN), describe malnutrition (or malnutrition) in older people as imbalances in caloric intake and nutrient deficiencies developed from some disease ( with or without inflammation) But it also covers situations of hunger for other socioeconomic or psychological reasons.

In figures, the number of people with malnutrition in Europe represents 2.1% in those people with an autonomous life, and those who are at risk of malnutrition rise to 26.5%. As expected, the number of elderly people with malnutrition who have help at home is lower (8%) than that of those who are in residences or hospitals (22% and almost 29% respectively).

Malnutrition makes us sick

Malnutrition in older people has serious consequences. Fundamentally, it weakens the immune system, increases cognitive deterioration and promotes serious chronic diseases (osteoporosis, sarcopenia or fragility, among others). In fact, in a study we observed that older people who do not have frailty, when they are at risk of malnutrition, are more likely to develop frailty compared to those who are well nourished.

Malnutrition seems to weaken a person’s functional capacity and increases their risk of being dependent, preventing them from doing what is important to them.

There are differences in nutrient intake between non-frail older people who are well nourished and those who are at risk of malnutrition. This may be giving us a clue about the nutrients that cause us to lose functional capacity and develop frailty as we age.

Specifically, health worsens with a higher consumption of alcohol and a lower consumption of protein and other nutrients such as vitamin D or magnesium, involved in protein synthesis, muscle maintenance and the immune system.

In addition, if we do not eat well, the intake of other substances involved in inflammation and oxidation processes, such as vitamin C or omega-3, is reduced. And also others involved in circulation, such as group B vitamins. According to other studies, all these nutrients seem to be equally involved in sarcopenia -muscle loss- and fragility, so they could be a cornerstone of different syndromes that affect us as we age.

More protein and exercise

One of the main treatments for malnutrition is to ensure that we eat enough and a variety of foods, both in terms of energy, protein and other nutrients. However, the exercise could also be useful. Physical activity increases muscle mass, decreases inflammation, and can also increase appetite. Therefore, it is very important to understand how nutrition and exercise interact, because it can help to understand what happens with aging.

Some of our research has already looked at the influence of certain nutrients on the effects of multi-component exercise on body fat or bone health. Specifically, an increase in the consumption of alcohol and vitamin A could interfere with bone health in these people who train. On the contrary, polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin D make it easier for the bone to improve after a period of training.

However, much remains to be investigated about this diet-exercise tandem and about the possibilities of intervention that open up after these results.

What should the elderly eat?

First of all, alcohol should be avoided and ensure that protein sources such as meat, fish or eggs appear at all meals, which can help achieve recommended protein intakes. Without forgetting the legumes that, in addition to providing protein, help to cover the recommendations for other vitamins and minerals.

In addition, it is important to encourage the consumption of oily fish and the use of healthy fats such as olive oil to help reduce a possible inflammatory state.

Without forgetting that moving or even training can make a difference, and that institutions should be involved in preventing malnutrition and the problems derived from it.

Related articles

Woman would have been murdered by her romantic partner, who set her on fire...

The residents of the city ​​of Torreón, Coahulia (Mexico)are dismayed after the murder of a 19-year-old girl, after being violently attacked by her romantic...

The United Kingdom recognized the cover-up of blood contaminated with HIV and hepatitis

An investigation revealed the biggest public health scandal in the UK: the deliberate cover-up by the British authorities between 1970 and 1991 of blood...