Plasma antioxidant concentrations in a population of elderly women: Findings from the Nun Study

Myron D. Gross, David A. Snowdon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Low plasma alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene concentrations have been associated with an increased risk of numerous degenerative diseases, including cancer. Several characteristics that accompany aging, including changes in dietary habits and physiologic capacity, may place elderly populations at a high risk of low plasma antioxidant concentrations. Thus, the present study was undertaken to characterize plasma concentrations of alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene and several other carotenoids in elderly subjects, to describe the relationship between age and plasma antioxidant concentrations in this population and to compare the concentrations of plasma antioxidants in middle-aged and elderly individuals. The study recruited 94 participants from the Nun Study, a longitudinal study of aging and Alzheimer disease. Women in this population were unique for their advanced age, 77-99 years old, and their comparability across age groups due to the absence of several potential confounders of plasma antioxidant concentrations. The population mean and standard deviation of several plasma carotenoids and alpha-tocopherol concentrations (μg/dl) were as follows: lycopene, 15.0 +/- 10.0; beta-carotene, 30.0 +/- 19.7; alpha-carotene, 15.0 +/- 9.6; zeaxanthin plus lutein, 22.0 +/- 7.4; beta cryptoxanthin, 14.0 +/- 8.6 and alpha- tocopherol, 980 +/- 310. Concentrations of all analytes, except lycopene, were similar to or higher than those reported for several middle-aged American populations. Lycopene concentrations were significantly lower in the population of sisters as compared with the middle-aged populations and tended to decrease across age groups within the population of sisters. Age appeared to be a relatively minor determinant of plasma alpha-tocopherol and the concentrations of carotenoids, other than lycopene, in this population. Importantly, the plasma concentrations of most carotenoids and alpha- tocopherol in this population of independent elderly women were apparently adequate on the basis of population comparisons. Further studies of this population may define determinants essential for the maintenance of antioxidant status in elderly populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1881-1890
Number of pages10
JournalNutrition Research
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - Nov 1996

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by grants from the National Institute on Aging (grant no. ROl AGO9862 and K04 AG00553).


  • carotenoids
  • elderly
  • tocopherol and plasma
  • women


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