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Originally published February 2 2011

Lack of vitamins C and E linked to metabolic syndrome

by S. L. Baker, features writer

(NaturalNews) What do millions of Americans who have plenty to eat have in common with poverty level Ecuadorians consuming a limited diet? A lot, when it comes to poor health. A new epidemiological study has revealed that low-income, older residents of Ecuador have high rates of metabolic syndrome -- a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, elevated insulin and cholesterol levels, and excess fat around the middle -- just like countless folks in the U.S. who consume too much junk food and too little fruits and vegetables.

Researchers from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University and the Corporacion Ecuatoriana de Biotecnologia found that metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, was wide-spread in a low-income urban community in Ecuador. The scientists believe a diet low in micronutrients and especially lacking vitamins C and E is the cause.

The investigators reached this conclusion after studying the relationship between metabolic syndrome and micronutrients such as folate, zinc and vitamins C, B12 and E. They enrolled 225 women and 127 men, all 65 or older, who lived in three low-income neighborhoods on the outskirts of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. During biweekly interviews, the research subjects reported what they ate and they also provided blood samples.

Using the International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) definition of metabolic syndrome, the research team found that 40% of the research participants had metabolic syndrome, with far more women (81%) having the condition compared to men (18%). The scientists believe this is because the women in the study group tended to be more obese than their male counterparts.

"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. Our blood analyses indicate a significant number of participants weren't consuming enough of a range of micronutrients," senior author Simin Nikbin Meydani, PhD, DVM, director of the USDA HNRCA and the Nutritional Immunology Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA said in a statement to the media. "After adjusting for age and sex, we observed significant relationships between the metabolic syndrome and two of the micronutrients, vitamins C and E." Dr. Meydania added that having higher blood levels of vitamin E may offer protection from metabolic syndrome.

The low blood levels of vitamin C, found in 82% of the participants, are believed to be the result of not eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead, the research subjects lived mostly off white rice, potatoes, sugar and white bread. The researchers found that, overall, 55% of the women and 33% of the men were overweight.

While the study of older, poor and urban Ecuadorians, which was just published online in the journal Public Health Nutrition, does not directly discuss the U.S. epidemic of metabolic syndrome, the research bolsters the idea you can be fat and yet malnourished -- as are countless American junk food junkies of all ages -- and that can result in poor health.

"With high-calorie foods lacking essential nutrients serving as pillars of the diet, it is possible to be both overweight and malnourished," stated Dr. Meydani, who is a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University. "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 the metabolic syndrome."

Dr. Meydani's research team concluded that sound nutrition was the best strategy for curbing the growing metabolic syndrome 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,"Dr. 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.".

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