a1 Unité Maladies Métaboliques et Micronutriments, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Theix, 63122 Saint-Genès Champanelle, France
The number of elderly individuals is growing rapidly worldwide and degenerative diseases constitute an increasing problem in terms of both public health and cost. Nutrition plays a role in the ageing process and there has been intensive research during the last decade on B vitamin-related risk factors in vascular and neurological diseases and cancers. Data from epidemiological studies indicate that subclinical deficiency in most water-soluble B vitamins may occur gradually during ageing, possibly due to environmental, metabolic, genetic, nutritional and pathological determinants, as well as to lifestyle, gender and drug consumption. Older adults have distinct absorption, cell transport and metabolism characteristics that may alter B vitamin bioavailability. Case–control and longitudinal studies have shown that, concurrent with an insufficient status of certain B vitamins, hyperhomocysteinaemia and impaired methylation reactions may be some of the mechanisms involved before a degenerative pathology becomes evident. The question that arises is whether B vitamin inadequacies contribute to the development of degenerative diseases or result from ageing and disease. The present paper aims to give an overview of these issues at the epidemiological, clinical and molecular levels and to discuss possible strategies to prevent B vitamin deficiency during ageing.