New testing strategy can detect population-wide vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Vitamins and minerals are essential for good health and are an important factor in preventing conditions such as high blood pressure. Traditionally, trying to determine which are lacking in the body means testing for each individually ― a time consuming and expensive exercise. Researchers, however have now found a way to estimate vitamin and mineral blood levels in one go without having to test for each individually.

The strategy, developed by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, can estimate levels of multiple essential vitamins and minerals in multiple people by indirectly checking levels of certain proteins in the bloodstream. This advance should make it possible in the future to rapidly detect nutritional deficiencies of an entire population, apply remediation efforts and test their worth within months instead of years, they said in a press statement.

“Currently, levels of each vitamin or mineral are measured by different tests which are often performed in different labs, so the whole process can take three or four years to detect widespread deficiencies,” said Keith West, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., the George G. Graham Professor of Infant and Child Nutrition. “That’s too long to wait when the proper growth and cognitive development of children are on the line.”

The goal is to create a simple, portable test kit that would measure many proxy proteins from a single sample in a single test for under $100 per sample. “That would allow us to determine the level of nutrient deficiencies in a whole population within a few months. Then we could implement a remedy, like fortifying foods with particular nutrients — something tailored to the needs and habits of the particular population — and then follow up with more tests later to make sure the remedy is working,” West concluded.

The lure of easily and cheaply monitoring many nutrient-related proteins at once also opens the possibility that the new method could be used to monitor nutritional changes in a population over time. The team expects this technique could also be used to measure natural changes, like hormone levels, in healthy subjects and to track changes in protein levels that occur due to the progression of difficult-to-define diseases like Alzheimer’s.


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