Journal of the American College of Nutrition 1998; 17: 511
Spiller G, Whittam J, Bruce B, Morse S, Chernoff M, Jensen C. J
Why was this study done?
Taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement is commonly thought to help fill in nutritional gaps and prevent deficiency diseases, but what additional health benefits are associated with supplement use are less defined. This study was designed to help understand the association between multivitamin use and common infections (cold and flu).
What This Study Found
The study found a significant association between multivitamin/mineral use and reduced incidence of cold and flu (over the course of a year) in a group of elderly adults.
Background: Specific micronutrients such as the vitamins A, B6, C, E, folic acid and the
minerals zinc and iron, are known to affect immune function. A previous study reported
significantly less infection-related illness in healthy, elderly men and women given a
daily multiple vitamin and mineral supplement. This finding had not been independently
confirmed by other investigators.
Objective: To determine whether a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement can impact
immunocompetence in healthy, older individuals.
Design: 1 year, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
Subjects: 39 healthy men and women between the ages of 60 and 80 years.
Intervention: Subjects were randomly assigned to receive either a complete vitamin and
mineral supplement, or a placebo consisting of calcium and vitamin D only. The subjects
were asked to maintain their normal dietary exercise, and lifestyle habits. Illness reports
were completed and evaluated every time illness occurred and subjects were seen
quarterly to review compliance, physical activity, diet, medications and general health
reports. Blood samples were drawn at the end of one year, and selected vitamin, mineral,
and immune parameters were measured.
Results: Compared to placebo, those taking the supplement experienced a significant
65% fewer days of infection-related illness over the study period compared to placebo
(p <0.01). Serum levels of folate and zinc were negatively correlated with days of illness
(p <0.05), suggesting a salutary effect of the supplement on immune function. In
addition, the percent of lymphocytes as well as levels of helper T-cells and suppressorcytotoxic T-cells all were positively correlated with days of illness (p<0.005; p<0.06).
The dietary composition of both groups remained unchanged.
Conclusions: These results confirm that adding a multiple vitamin and mineral
supplement to the typical diets of healthy older individuals may lesson infection related
illness and enhance immune function. These findings are in agreement with previous
research (Chandra et al. JAMA 1992; 340:1124), and suggest that the addition of a
multiple vitamin and mineral supplement to the typical diets of healthy older individuals
may help maintain normal immune function.