micronutrient deficiencies

You might be surprised to learn that even in developed countries like the United States malnutrition is a serious problem. It’s especially prevalent among senior citizens. In fact, one in three older adults who are admitted to the hospital are malnourished.

When it comes to fighting malnourishment, many people focus solely on increasing consumption of macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates).

These are certainly important, but there also needs to be a focus on making sure seniors get plenty of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well.

Micronutrient deficiencies present a variety of problems and can severely hinder your quality of life as an older adult. Read on to learn more about five micronutrient deficiencies that affect the majority of seniors.


Research shows that only a very small percentage of seniors (14.6 percent) are meeting or exceeding the daily calcium recommendation. Researchers have also argued that this number is, at best, a generous estimate.

Calcium is necessary for bone growth and bone density maintenance. And even though they are in the risk factor age group, seniors typically tend to consume less calcium than their younger counterparts. As a result, their body begins to leach calcium from their bones to function properly.

Calcium supplements can help seniors meet the daily recommendation (1,200 milligrams). They can also get plenty of calcium from dairy products, leafy greens and broccoli.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a role in proper bone health and improved immune system function. It is also necessary for proper calcium absorption. If you’re deficient in this vitamin, it doesn’t matter if you’re consuming enough calcium because you won’t reap all the benefits.

One study found that approximately 60 percent of seniors were deficient in vitamin D, with dark-skinned seniors being more likely to experience a deficiency.

The skin produces vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun, and people with darker skin typically need more sun exposure in order to increase their vitamin D levels to the desired amount (600-800 IU).

Spending more time outdoors can help seniors increase their vitamin D levels, but most can also benefit from consuming a vitamin D supplement on a regular basis.


Folate is an essential B vitamin that most people associate with pregnant women. Pregnant women do need to consume sufficient amounts of folate to prevent neural tube defects in their babies. But, they’re not the only ones who benefit from consuming this vitamin.

Folate can help reduce the signs of aging and improve cognition in senior citizens. Adequate levels of folate are also associated with lower rates of depression.

One study found that approximately one in seven seniors is deficient in folate. A B-vitamin complex can help seniors meet their daily folate recommendation (400 micrograms per day). Folate is also found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, and many juices and breakfast cereals are fortified with it.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays a major role in creating healthy DNA and red blood cells. It’s also necessary for proper nerve function.

Approximately one in eight seniors are deficient in vitamin B12. Many seniors actually consume sufficient amounts of B12, but they are still deficient because they don’t absorb enough of it.

Consuming a B12 supplement can help make up for poor absorption, as can eating more B12-rich foods. Some of the best food sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Milk and other dairy products

Vitamin E

A whopping 92 percent of adults over the age of 51 are not consuming sufficient amounts of vitamin E.

This vitamin is a fat-soluble antioxidant that helps reduce oxidative stress in the body and can delay the onset of chronic disease. It also plays a role in immune system function, metabolic processes and gene expression.

Seniors should try to consume at least 1,000 milligrams of vitamin E each day. It’s abundant in foods like leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats, legumes, eggs and soy products.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, micronutrient deficiencies can be just as problematic as their macronutrient counterparts.

If you think you’re experiencing a deficiency in any of the nutrients mentioned above, get yourself tested right away. Then, start making the dietary and supplementary changes you need to improve your levels and increase your quality of life.

Have you tested yourself for any nutrient deficiency? What modifications have you made to get more vitamins and minerals in your diet? Please share in the comments below.

Editor’s note: Nothing in this article should be considered medical advice. Always consult a doctor before making any changes to your diet, medical plan, or exercise routine.