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3 Functional Medicine Labs That Help Personalize Geriatric Patients Nutritional Needs

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3 Functional Medicine Labs That Help Personalize Geriatric Patients Nutritional Needs

Aging is a natural process that comes with its own set of unique challenges. As the world's geriatric population continues to grow, there is an increasing need to address the specific nutritional needs of older adults. According to the World Health Organization, the number of people aged 60 and older is expected to reach 2 billion by 2050, making up 22% of the global population. Given the significance of nutrition in overall health and well-being, adopting an integrative and functional approach to nutrition becomes essential for geriatric patients.


What is Functional Nutrition?

Functional nutrition considers the interconnectedness of various bodily systems, such as the digestive, immune, and endocrine systems, recognizing that imbalances in one area can impact overall health. By incorporating comprehensive assessments, including detailed health histories and advanced laboratory testing, functional nutrition practitioners can identify specific nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, and other factors that may be contributing to health issues. This approach often involves collaboration with other healthcare providers to ensure a comprehensive, integrative care plan. Ultimately, functional nutrition empowers individuals to take charge of their health by making informed dietary and lifestyle choices that support long-term wellness and vitality throughout the lifespan.

How Do Nutritional Needs Change With Aging?

As we age, our bodies undergo various changes that can impact our nutritional needs and overall health. Understanding these changes is crucial for maintaining a well-balanced diet and promoting a healthy lifestyle. Some key factors contributing to shifting dietary needs with aging include decreased metabolism, changes in body composition, reduced nutrient absorption, and altered taste and smell.

Decreased Metabolism

As we age, our metabolic rate declines, resulting in reduced energy requirements. Older adults may need to consume fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight. To meet nutritional needs while managing calorie intake, geriatric patients should consume nutrient-dense foods that provide essential vitamins and minerals without excessive calories.

Changes in Body Composition

Aging is often accompanied by a loss of muscle mass and increased body fat, which can further affect nutritional needs. Older adults should incorporate lean protein sources, such as fish, poultry, beans, and legumes, to maintain muscle mass and support overall health. Additionally, regular physical activity, including resistance training, can help combat age-related muscle loss in this population.

Reduced Nutrient Absorption

The body's ability to absorb or take in adequate amounts of certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, calcium, and iron, can decline with age, making it essential for older adults to consume nutrient-dense foods. To ensure adequate nutrient intake, geriatric patients should incorporate foods rich in these essential nutrients or supplement them when necessary.

Altered Taste and Smell

Changes in taste and smell can affect appetite and food preferences in older adults, leading to inadequate nutrient intake. To address this issue, older adults can experiment with new flavors, herbs, and spices to enhance the taste and appeal of their meals.

Age-Related Concerns Associated With Poor Nutrition in Geriatric Patients

The importance of proper nutrition cannot be overstated, especially for geriatric patients who face unique age-related concerns that can significantly impact their health and well-being. Some of the key issues associated with poor nutrition in older adults include reduced immune function, increased risk of chronic diseases, a decline in cognitive function, and decreased bone density.

Reduced Immune Function

Inadequate nutrient intake can weaken the immune system in geriatric patients, increasing their susceptibility to infections and illnesses. While 70-80% of immune cells are found in the gut, the gut microbiome plays a crucial role in both local mucosal immune responses and systemic immunity, making it essential to maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria. As people age, their immune system naturally declines, making consuming a nutrient-dense diet to support immune function even more crucial. Essential nutrients, such as vitamins C and D, zinc, and selenium, play vital roles in maintaining a robust immune response and protecting against various pathogens.

Increased Risk of Chronic Diseases

Poor nutrition can contribute to the development of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis in older adults. A diet high in saturated fats, refined sugars, and processed foods can lead to overall bodily inflammation, obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of these chronic diseases. Mitochondrial health is also a critical factor in geriatric nutrition and has been linked to an increased risk of chronic illnesses. As we age, mitochondrial function declines leading to decreased cellular function and increased risk of developing chronic diseases.  

Decline in Cognitive Function

Nutrient deficiencies can negatively impact cognitive function in geriatric patients and increase the risk of dementia. Essential nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B12 are vital for maintaining brain health and preventing cognitive decline. A diet rich in these nutrients can help support brain function and overall health, potentially reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Decreased Bone Density

Insufficient intake of calcium and vitamin D can lead to weakened bones and an increased risk of fractures in older adults. As people age, bone density naturally decreases, raising the risk of osteoporosis and related fractures. Consuming adequate amounts of calcium-rich foods, such as dairy products, leafy greens, fortified cereals, and vitamin D through sunlight exposure or supplementation, can help maintain bone strength and reduce the risk of fractures in geriatric patients.

Functional Medicine Labs To Help Geriatric Patients Achieve Balanced Nutrition

As geriatric patients navigate the complexities of age-related nutritional needs, functional medicine labs offer valuable tools to help them achieve balanced nutrition and optimize their overall health. Some of the most beneficial functional medicine tests available for older adults in geriatric nutrition include the Micronutrient Test, GI-MAP, and Organic Acids Test (OAT). These comprehensive tests can provide essential insights into each individual's unique nutritional needs, helping healthcare professionals develop tailored dietary plans and interventions that address deficiencies and imbalances.

SpectraCell Laboratories' Micronutrient Test

The Micronutrient Test by SpectraCell is a comprehensive test that assesses the levels of various vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids in the body. This test can help identify nutritional deficiencies in geriatric patients and guide healthcare professionals in developing personalized dietary plans or recommending supplements to address these gaps. As discussed above, addressing nutrient gaps may lead to an improvement in immune function, energy production, and overall health.

Diagnostic Solutions' GI-MAP

The Diagnostic Solutions GI-MAP test evaluates gastrointestinal health, immune status, and inflammation markers, which can play a significant role in geriatric nutrition. This test can help identify imbalances in the gut microbiome, digestive enzyme deficiencies, or inflammation, which can impact nutrient absorption and overall health.

Mosaic Diagnostics' Organic Acids Test (OAT)

The Organic Acids Test (OAT) by Mosaic Diagnostics measures various organic acids, which are metabolic byproducts that can provide insights into nutritional status, energy production, and detoxification processes. This test can help identify imbalances or deficiencies that may impact geriatric nutrition, such as issues with mitochondrial function or nutrient metabolism. Based on the results, healthcare professionals can recommend targeted interventions, such as dietary modifications or supplementation, to address these imbalances and support balanced nutrition in older adults.


What Does Healthy Eating Look Like For Geriatric Patients?

Proper nutrition is essential for geriatric patients, as they face unique age-related concerns that can significantly impact their health. As stated above, key issues associated with poor nutrition in older adults include reduced immune function, increased risk of chronic diseases, cognitive decline, and decreased bone density. To address these concerns, geriatric patients must consume a nutrient-dense diet rich in essential vitamins and minerals.

Healthy eating for geriatric patients should focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods that provide essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in a balanced diet. Older adults should aim for at least five servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables daily to ensure adequate intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Whole grains are rich in fiber and essential nutrients. Lean protein sources, like fish, beans, and poultry, are necessary for maintaining muscle mass and supporting overall health. Healthy fats from avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil should be incorporated to support brain function and cardiovascular health. Additionally, adequate hydration through plenty of water and other hydrating fluids is essential for digestion and overall health. Probiotics from foods such as kimchi can help promote overall health by improving the microbiome, positively impacting bodily inflammation, and improving the immune system (30,31).

A calorie-restricted diet can be particularly beneficial for older adults, as it can help address several age-related concerns. Excessive calorie intake and subsequent obesity are associated with multiple chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, coronary heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancers. Calorie restriction, defined as reducing calorie intake below usual intake without malnutrition, has been shown to slow aging and increase lifespan and health span.

For example, the traditional Okinawan diet, low in calories yet full of nutrients, is thought to contribute to the remarkable longevity of the Okinawan people. Geriatric patients should focus on consuming essential nutrients like vitamins C, D, zinc, selenium, B vitamins, B-6, and B12. These nutrients are vital for maintaining a robust immune system, supporting mitochondrial function, promoting brain health, preventing cognitive decline, and preserving bone density. Older adults should avoid foods high in saturated fats, refined sugars, and processed ingredients, as they can lead to obesity, hypertension, raised blood sugar levels, and a heightened risk of chronic diseases.

To prevent the adverse health effects of saturated fats, refined sugars, and processed foods, geriatric patients should emphasize whole, nutrient-rich foods. Opt for lean protein sources, healthy fats from avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Curb refined sugar intake by relishing naturally sweet foods like fruits and using natural sweeteners sparingly. Prioritize whole, unprocessed foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

By preparing meals at home and carefully reading food labels, older adults can avoid added sugars and artificial additives found in processed foods. These dietary changes can support overall health, help prevent obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated blood sugar levels, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Supplements For Balanced Nutrition in Geriatrics

As older adults face unique nutritional challenges, supplements can play a crucial role in ensuring they receive the essential nutrients needed to maintain overall health and well-being. Some key supplements for geriatric health include vitamin D, calcium, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. By incorporating these supplements into their daily routine, older adults can address potential nutrient deficiencies, support bone and cognitive health, and promote a longer health span.

Vitamin D for Geriatric Nutrition

Vitamin D is essential for the proper absorption of calcium and the maintenance of strong bones. As people age, their skin becomes less efficient in producing vitamin D from sunlight which can be further impacted by decreased dietary consumption. Additionally, older adults may spend less time outdoors, further limiting their exposure to the sun. These factors put geriatric populations at a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium- which is necessary for strong bones. It also plays a role in immune function, helping to defend the body against infections and diseases. Supplementing with vitamin D can help older adults maintain healthy bones, reducing the risk of fractures and falls while also supporting the immune system.

Calcium for Geriatric Nutrition

Calcium is a crucial mineral for building and maintaining strong bones. As people age, their bone density naturally declines, making them more susceptible to osteoporosis and fractures. Older adults may need more calcium from their diet, especially if they have dietary restrictions or difficulty chewing and swallowing food. Supplementing with calcium helps older adults maintain strong bones and decrease the risk of fractures and osteoporosis, which can significantly impact their quality of life.

B Vitamins for Geriatric Nutrition

B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12, play an essential role in producing energy and maintaining cognitive function. As people age, their ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food sources may decrease, putting them at risk for deficiency. For instance, numerous reversible causes of dementia have been linked to B vitamins such as B9, B12, B1, and B6. These nutrients are critical for maintaining cellular health and methylation processes; when their levels are deficient or suboptimal, they can compromise brain function.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Geriatric Nutrition

Omega-3 fatty acids, essential fats the body can't produce, are vital for brain health and combating inflammation. Older adults might not consume enough omega-3s from their diet, especially if they don't consume fish regularly. Fish oil supplements offer a convenient way for geriatric populations to obtain these necessary fatty acids, promoting cognitive function and overall health and potentially reducing heart disease.


In conclusion, the unique nutritional needs of geriatric patients must be addressed to ensure overall health and well-being. Functional nutrition offers a personalized approach to identifying and addressing nutrient imbalances in older adults. By focusing on nutrient-dense foods, incorporating evidence-based supplements and herbs, and working closely with a functional medicine practitioner, geriatric patients can achieve balanced nutrition and support their overall health as they age.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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