Physical decline in older people is linked to a low concentration of vitamin E in the blood, according to researchers at the Yale School of Medicine.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers analysed blood samples from 698 people aged 65 and over in two municipalities close to Florence (Italy).

Benedetta BartaliThe researchers recorded the levels of a number of micronutrients in the blood, including folate, iron and vitamins B6, B12, D and E.

Physical decline was assessed over a three-year period by conducting objective tests on tasks such as walking, rising from a chair and standing balance.

“The odds of declining in physical function was 1.62 time greater in persons with low levels of vitamin E compared with persons with higher levels,” said lead author Benedetta Bartali (pictured).

“It is unlikely that vitamin E is simply a marker for poor nutrition because our results are independent of energy intake, and the effect of low levels of other micronutrients was not significant.”

Vitamin E is an antioxidant and may prevent or reduce the spread of free radicals, which are associated with physical decline.

But Vitamin E was the only antioxidant measured in the study and the researchers said further studies were needed to determine whether low levels of other antioxidants would produce similar results.

Good sources of Vitamin E include sunflower seeds, wheatgerm, sesame seeds and peanuts.

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