Corvallis, OR—Older adults who took a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement experienced sickness for shorter periods and with less severe symptoms than counterparts in a control group, according to a new study fromOregon State University.

The supplement contained zinc and high amounts of vitamin C.

The placebo-controlled study was conducted on 42 healthy people ages 55 to 75, and was designed to measure the effects of the supplement on certain immune system indicators, including white blood cells’ ability to kill incoming pathogens.

The multivitamin group had a higher amount of vitamin C and zinc in the blood. The same percentage of participants in each group reported becoming sick and experiencing symptoms, but whereas the placebo group reported symptoms lasting more than six days on average, the supplement group experienced symptoms for fewer than three days, and the supplement group experienced less severe symptoms.

“The observed illness differences were striking,” said corresponding author Adrian Gombart, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the OSU college of Science, in a press release. “While the study was limited to self-reported illness data and we did not design the study to answer this question, the observed differences suggest that additional larger studies designed for these outcomes are warranted—and, frankly, overdue.” Gombart is a principal investigator at the Linus Pauling Institute.
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The press release notes that risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies rises as people age, putting them at risk for immune system deficiencies. Research suggests that more than one-third of older adults in the United States, Canada, and Europe are deficient in at least one micronutrient, and often more.

"That likely contributes to a decline in the immune system, most often characterized by increased levels of inflammation, reduced innate immune function and reduced T-cell function," Gombart said in the press release.. "Since multiple nutrients support immune function, older adults often benefit from multivitamin and mineral supplements. These are readily available, inexpensive and generally regarded as safe."

The supplement used in the study contained 700mcg of vitamin A, 400 IU of vitamin D, 400mg of vitamin E, 6.6mg of vitamin B6, 400mcg of folate, 9.6mcg of vitamin B12, 1,000mg of vitamin C; 5mg of iron; 0.9mg of copper; 10mg of zinc; and 110mcg of selenium.

"Supplementation was associated with significantly increased circulating levels of zinc and vitamin C, and with illness symptoms that were less severe and shorter lasting," Gombart continued. "This supports findings that stretch back decades, even to the days of Linus Pauling's work with vitamin C. Our results suggest more and better designed research studies are needed to explore the positive role multivitamin and mineral supplementation might play in bolstering the immune system of older adults."