A poor diet low in micronutrients contributed to metabolic syndrome in an epidemiological study conducted by researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University and the Corporacion Ecuatoriana de Biotecnologia (Public Health Nutr. 2010 Oct 19:1-10). Metabolic syndrome, a condition that increases a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) and type 2 diabetes, was prevalent in a low-income urban community in Ecuador.
The study enrolled 225 women and 127 men aged 65 years and older, living in three low-income neighborhoods on the outskirts of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The authors examined the relationship between the metabolic syndrome and micronutrients such as folate, zinc and vitamins C, B12 and E. The participants reported their food intake in biweekly interviews and provided blood samples.
Using the International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) definition, the authors determined that 40 percent of the population had the metabolic syndrome, with a disproportionate number of women affected: 81 percent compared to 19 percent of the men, which the authors attribute to more of the women being overweight. The authors noted 55 percent of the women and 33 percent of the men were overweight.
According to the IDF, metabolic syndrome is present in centrally obese men and women, as defined by hip and waist measurements, with at least two of the four following metabolic risk factors: raised triglycerides, reduced high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, raised blood pressure, and raised fasting plasma glucose (blood sugar).
“In this population of low-income Ecuadorians, we observed a pattern of high-carbohydrate, high-sodium diets lacking in healthy fats and good sources of protein," said senior author Simin Nikbin Meydani, Ph.D., DVM, director of the USDA HNRCA and the Nutritional Immunology Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA. “Our blood analyses indicate a significant number of participants weren’t consuming enough of a range of micronutrients. After adjusting for age and sex, we observed significant relationships between the metabolic syndrome and two of the micronutrients, vitamins C and E."
Meydani continued, “The association suggests that having higher blood levels of vitamin E may protect against metabolic syndrome." Low blood levels of vitamin C were seen in 82 percent of the participants, which the authors suspect was due to limited intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. The bulk of the participants’ calories came from white rice, potatoes, sugar and white bread.
“With high-calorie foods lacking essential nutrients serving as pillars of the diet, it is possible to be both overweight and malnourished," Meydani said. “Our data suggests that limited consumption of nutrient dense foods such as chicken, vegetables and legumes makes this small population of Ecuadorian elders even more susceptible to metabolic syndrome."
Additionally, Meydani and colleagues observed a significant relationship between the metabolic syndrome and C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of low-grade inflammation that has been associated with CVD risk. High CRP blood concentrations were seen in almost half of the population.
Meydani and colleagues view nutrition intervention as a potential strategy for curbing metabolic risk in Latin America. “Presently, there are about 59 million Latin American and Caribbean men and women over the age of 60 and the United Nations predicts the population will reach 101 billion by 2025," Meydani said. “Medical resources are minimal in developing countries and those that are in place are usually not directed toward older adults. Nutrition interventions, such as encouraging older adults to consume more nutrient dense foods, for example, locally grown produce, could reduce the strain on the health care system."