CORVALLIS, Ore. - Participants are being sought for a study at Oregon State University that hopes to answer a long-overdue question - does the use of multivitamin supplements really improve the nutritional status, and ultimately the health, of elderly adults?

Oddly enough, almost no research has been done that measures what improvements in nutritional status actually occur when people take a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Even less is known about effects in the elderly, a time of life when substantial evidence shows that vitamin and mineral demands are higher and more difficult to meet.

In this research, which will be a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 40 men age 70 or older, in generally good health, will be tested to measure their response to the use of a multivitamin, or lack of one.  Men are being chosen because, even more than women, their diet as older adults is known to often be deficient in vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, as well as calcium, magnesium and potassium.

For four months two groups of men will receive either a placebo or the multivitamin Centrum Silver, and measurements will be made of any changes in their nutritional status as well as markers of health, such as activity levels, energy reserve and cognitive function. The study is being funded by a grant from Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, the company which markets that product.

"It's clear that older individuals have even higher nutritional deficiencies than the general population, at a time in their life when those nutrients may be more important than ever," said Tory Hagen, the Helen P. Rumbel Professor for Healthy Aging Research in OSU's Linus Pauling Institute.

"Older adults often have poor nutrition, they lose some of their sense of taste and flavor, and they absorb micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals less effectively. They are getting fewer of these nutrients even as the demand for those nutrients increases with age. This can increase their risk for chronic disease."

Hagen, a biochemist in the OSU College of Science, said it is worth noting that almost all research to establish the recommended daily allowance for micronutrients is based on the needs of younger adults, ages 18-48. As aging takes its natural toll and the ability to absorb micronutrients decreases, the amounts needed may increase significantly in older adults, he said. This study will examine how well a multivitamin and mineral supplement can improve markers that reflect optimal metabolic status.

"We'll finally learn more about how these micronutrients are being used in the body, especially in older adults, and whether or not the levels being taken will help address health issues," Hagen said.

Measurements will be made on the effect of supplements on a complete metabolic panel using plasma or blood cells, on such issues as antioxidant status, lipoprotein profiles, metabolic health, and inflammation. Individuals will also be required to wear an activity monitoring device,  along with other measurements made of "cellular energy transduction" that show general energy reserve, and cognitive testing will assess common functions that do or do not decline with age.

Any eligible men interested in participating in the study may contact Alex Michels in OSU's Linus Pauling Institute, via email at

Individuals will be eligible if they have no current or past history of serious chronic illness, such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. Men who are already taking a multivitamin supplement are eligible, if they are willing to stop taking it for a period before the study begins.

Older adults are at increased risk of various chronic diseases, Hagen said, in which inadequate levels of vitamins and minerals may play a significant role, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, liver disease and cancer.

The Linus Pauling Institute offers recommendations for supplements that could be of value to older adults, in some cases at levels substantially higher even than those found in a multivitamin. It can be found online at

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