Personal data to coach the elderly toward better health

28 Sep 2017

Manfred Eggersdorfer: Personalised information on nutritional status can work as a kind of health coach for the elderly, improving both the quality and length of life.

Personalised information on nutritional status can work as a kind of health coach for the elderly, improving both the quality and length of life, according to Manfred Eggersdorfer, Professor for Healthy Ageing and SVP of Nutrition Science & Advocacy at DSM Nutritional Products. Manfred Eggersdorfer is one of the keynote speakers during the Food Valley Summit Personalised Nutrition: Food for the Elderly on 12 October 2017.

While most Europeans could benefit from increasing their intake of certain nutrients, personal feedback is an important motivator for many people to take action. A simple finger prick test can now measure vitamin D, for example, and let someone know if they are deficient – and potentially at risk of sarcopenia or osteoporosis.

“These tools are a kind of coach for the elderly,” said Eggersdorfer.

While good nutrition over a lifetime is the best approach to safeguard health in old age, the effect of dietary improvements later in life can still be significant.

“If you reduce the number of fractures due to osteoporosis – or delay the onset of osteoporosis through vitamin D and vitamin K – you can delay the onset for a couple of years, which is improving your quality of life and also helping with your muscle mass.”

As few Europeans get enough vitamin D, especially in old age, this could represent a big shift in public health. Other age-related conditions, such as dementia and macular eye disease, may also be prevented or delayed with targeted nutrition.

“Our brain starts to shrink at a rate of about 0.5% per year from about the age of 65,” Eggersdorfer said. “In Alzheimer’s, this shrinking is about 3% per year. We know now that B vitamins, especially B6, B9 and B12, and omegas, can help prevent this shrinking…And we know that a combination of vitamin E, vitamin C, lutein and zinc can help prevent age-related macular eye disease.”

However, when dietary recommendations are generalised, people often find them easy to ignore. Although there is a lot of interest in the best diets for energy and nutrients, Eggersdorfer claims that tailored dietary advice could make an enormous difference, particularly for those with specific risk factors, such as obesity, diabetes or high blood pressure.

“On the one side, give feedback and guidance to people with normal health, but I see a huge potential if we differentiate between people with different phenotypes,” he said, adding that actually measuring nutritional status is most likely to spark long-term dietary change. This can be particularly effective if the person can see how adjusting nutrient levels affects their blood pressure or how fast they can run, for example.

Rather than very high dose supplements, Eggersdorfer advocates using recommended daily allowances (RDAs) as targets for nutrient intake, because of the many ways in which nutrients can interact. He also backs dietary change as a first step in encouraging optimum nutrition, followed by adding nutrients to commonly fortified foods like yoghurt, cereal and nutrition bars, and finally supplements.

“The role of personalised nutrition is it provides a person the opportunity to have feedback and to act and improve the quality of life,” he said.

“All of us have a mobile phone that gives us information. I think the development in personalised nutrition is going in the same direction…In future everyone will have personalised feedback.”

About Manfred Eggersdorfer:
Dr Manfred Eggersdorfer is Professor for Healthy Ageing at University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) and Senior Vice President of Nutrition Science & Advocacy at DSM Nutritional Products. He joined Roche in 1999 as Head of R&D Vitamins, where he continued after it was acquired by DSM in 2003.

His scientific work focuses on the role of essential nutrients, especially on the impact of inadequate micronutrient status over the lifecycle, with a focus on long-term health and healthy ageing.