There has been a lot of discussion about the value of supplements in recent years. Many have claimed that it’s a waste of money and that people can consume all the vitamins and minerals they need from choosing a judicious diet. However, research is increasingly pointing to the fact that these claims may be age related and that there is a clear scientific argument for older people to supplement their diet with some important vitamins and minerals.
Here we explore the role of the main vitamins and minerals included in multivitamin supplements, show how you can include them in your diet and identify any issues relating to dosage.
Top Vitamins & Minerals for Over 50s
If you suffer from lack of energy or constantly feel tired, you may consider it an aspect of getting older. However, it is advisable that you have your blood levels checked by your doctor as these can be a symptom of iron deficiency, i.e. anaemia. If this is identified as the case, you may require additional B12 and folic acid. Other indicators of a lack of B12 could be breathlessness and dizziness, sensations of Pins and Needles, mood changes, mouth ulcers and pale or jaundiced skin.
Research indicates that older adults may not absorb up to 30 percent of the vitamin B12 in their food. Scientists have discovered that as you get older your body often produces less stomach acid, which liberates B12 from food sources. Consequently, some experts advise people over 50 to supplement their lack of B12 through taking multivitamins. By adding these supplements to your diet you will help to keep your red blood cells and nerves healthy and consequently feel more energetic.
In terms of building up your B12 through your diet, this can be done through eating meat, fish, poultry, eggs, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese (all animal product have some B12) and fortified breakfast cereal to bulk up your stores.
As Vegan diets are growing in popularity there is a concern about the deficiency of vitamin B12 in the diet. Therefore, for Vegans a supplement of B12 is a good idea.
Vitamin D is important for both bone and muscle development and their function and preservation. It is for this reason that it is a vital component in the maintenance of bone strength and in the prevention of falls and osteoporotic fractures.
Vitamin D can be found in milk, salmon, eggs, and mushrooms, although it’s hard to get what you need from diet alone. Going out into the sun helps, because exposing your skin to the sun for just a few minutes a day causes your body to generate Vitamin D.
However, for older people it can be difficult to meet the vitamin D requirements through sunlight and diet alone, especially in the UK. Furthermore, it has been shown that, as we get older, our body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D from exposure to the sun decreases. This reduction in Vitamin D production can rise to as much as 25% in the over 70s.
It is therefore a good idea for the over-65s to take a supplement of vitamin D of 10 micrograms per day. You shouldn’t take more than 100 micrograms of vitamin D a day as this could be harmful.
It is also recommended that you try to get out in the sun for 10-15 minutes a day without sunscreen, too. However, long periods in strong sun without a sunscreen or other protection should be avoided.
Low vitamin K intake is associated with low bone mass and an increased risk of fractures. Your body makes some vitamin K, with assistance from the bacteria in your gut. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble nutrient that plays an important role in blood clotting.
Some people have issues with blood clotting as they age and may need to avoid foods high in vitamin K to prevent interactions with medication. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned. A diet that contains adequate protein and vitamin K and is rich in fruit and vegetables and low in salt, may also help to delay bone ageing.
Vitamin K in multivitamins can interfere with blood-thinning medications like Warfarin, so if you take a blood thinner, you should talk to your doctor about your vitamin K needs before you start taking a multivitamin.
Part of the ageing process is a gradual slowing down of the immune system. Consuming the right amount of vitamin C ensures that the immune system continues working at its best and protects cells throughout your body.
As an antioxidant, Vitamin C neutralizes free radicals that destroy healthy cells. Free radicals can wreak havoc on all systems, elevating the risk of chronic diseases. Vitamin C also creates collagen which is a component of skin and connective tissue that is vital in healing wounds and supporting brain cell functions.
The recommended intake of Vitamin C is 75 daily milligrams for women and 90 daily milligrams for men, which doesn’t increase with age.
An alternative to taking multivitamins or a separate vitamin C pill is to eat more fruits, vegetables or juice in your diet. Medium oranges provide more than 70 milligrams, or you can get more than 90 milligrams through drinking 170 milligrams of orange juice. A medium kiwi provides around 65 milligrams while a half cup of steamed broccoli provides more than 50 milligrams.
Vitamin A is a support for the immune, vision, reproduction and cellular communication functions. With regard to it function in vision, vitamin A is an essential component of rhodopsin, which is a protein absorbing light in the retinal receptors.
Vitamin A also has a role in cell growth and differentiation. It plays a critical part in both the formation and maintenance of the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs.
Vitamin A can be found in different forms in our diet. “Preformed vitamin A” can be found in meat, fish, and dairy produce while “Provitamin A is stored in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products.
Unlike vitamin C, which is not stored by the body, vitamin A is stored by the body for future use and therefore it is not necessary to take as a daily supplement. Indeed, some research suggests that having more than an average of 1.5mg a day of vitamin A over time may affect your bones, increasing the likelihood of fracture as you get older.
This information is particularly important for older people and in particular women, who are at risk of osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones.
By consuming liver or liver pâté more than once a week, you may be already be ingesting too much vitamin A. If you take supplements that contain vitamin A, it’s important that you ensure that your combined daily intake from food and supplements doesn’t exceed 1.5mg. If you eat liver weekly, the advice is that you shouldn’t take supplements that contain vitamin A.
Lutein And Zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are types of carotenoids that appear to have an important antioxidant function in the body. Together with other natural antioxidants these pigments protect the body from the damage caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that destroy cells and play a role in many diseases.
As well as being found in many green leafy plants and colourful fruits and vegetables, lutein and zeaxanthin are also found in high concentrations in the macula of the human eye, giving the macula a yellowish colour. Research suggests that lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin in the macula block blue light from reaching the underlying structures in the retina. This reduces the risk of light-induced oxidative damage which could lead to macular degeneration (AMD).
The source of lutein in many of the lutein supplements is marigold flowers, while the source for zeaxanthin it is frequently red peppers
Roughly 99 percent of the calcium in the human body is stored in the bones and teeth, but the body also requires vitamin D to absorb the calcium. Calcium has several important functions which include helping to build strong bones and teeth. It also helps regulating muscle contractions, including the heartbeat and makes sure blood clots normally.
Calcium together with Vitamin D are two of the most important nutrients for bone health. Unfortunately, older people are especially vulnerable to calcium deficiency largely because the body changes with advancing age. For example there is often a decrease in the intestinal absorption of calcium (especially if Vitamin D levels are low) as well as a reduction in the capacity of the intestinal cells to adapt to a low calcium intake. A decrease in the efficiency with which the kidneys can retain calcium, leads to an increased loss of calcium in the urine.
The recommended daily allowance for calcium for those aged 50 and over (particularly women) is 1,200 mg per day. While this can be achieved through the diet, some older people, especially those with reduced appetite, may require a supplement to meet the recommended intake. A lack of calcium can lead to osteoporosis in later life.
Food sources of calcium include milk, cheese and other dairy foods, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, soya beans, nuts, bread and anything made with fortified flour and fish where you eat the bones as with sardines and pilchards
Iron is important in making red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. However, older patients should not routinely take iron supplements unless they have a known reason for any iron deficiency, such as if they have just had an operation, suffered blood loss or are a vegan.
Most over 50s get the iron they need from diet alone and having a surplus of iron is dangerous. In fact, most older adults shouldn’t really be taking iron supplements at all. Too much iron in the body can be toxic and may damage the liver, heart, and pancreas. An excess of iron may also be bad for your joints, leading to arthritis and chronic pain. Older adults who have high levels of iron are also at an increased risk from diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.
However, there may be cases where an older adult will need to take an iron supplement. You should therefore talk to your doctor if you are exhibiting symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia
The symptoms of this can include tiredness and lack of energy, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and pale skin.
Good sources of iron in the diet are meat, beans, nuts , dried fruit, wholegrains such as brown rice, fortified breakfast cereals and most dark-green leafy vegetables such as curly kale. In order to boost absorption have plenty of vitamin C in your diet and try having a glass of fruit juice with an iron-rich meal. Drinking tea and coffee with a meal reduces the amount of iron absorbed and therefore you should keep these drinks to in-between meals. .
Magnesium plays a part in more than three hundred bodily functions including turning the food we eat into energy and making sure that the parathyroid glands, which produce hormones important for bone health, work normally. A deficiency can lead to an abnormal heart rate, high blood sugar, and many other problems. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to several conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
Women should consume 320 mg per day and men need 420 mg. Eating a varied diet and cutting back on sugar, which can reduce magnesium absorption, is likely to provide sufficient magnesium. If, however, you’re not eating a diverse diet and you’re eating an excess of excess sugar, you’re more likely to be deficient in magnesium. A diet high in magnesium includes whole foods such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Though it’s possible to get the daily recommended amount of magnesium (400–420 mg for men and 320–360 mg for women) through diet alone, many modern diets are low in magnesium-rich foods.
If you can’t get enough magnesium through your diet you may want to take a supplement. The recommended level of magnesium supplements are 200–400 mg per day, depending on the brand. An upper limit of 350 mg per day for supplemental magnesium is advisable. If you take high doses of manganese over long periods of time this might cause muscle pain, nerve damage and other symptoms, such as fatigue and depression.
Zinc helps make new cells and enzymes and processes carbohydrate, fat and protein in food as well as helping with wound healing.
You should be able to gain all the zinc you require by eating a varied and balanced diet. Good sources of zinc are meat, shellfish, dairy foods, bread and cereal products such as wheatgerm.
If, however, you take zinc supplements, don’t take too much as this could be harmful. By taking too higher a dose of zinc you reduce the amount of copper the body can absorb. This in turn can lead to anaemia and a weakening of the bones. On average, men and women over 50 need approximately 10 mg of zinc per day and shouldn’t take more than 25mg of zinc supplements a day unless advised to by a doctor.
Many older adults lack zinc and if you’re deficient your immune system could suffer and your appetite could be suppressed. You may also have a hard time recovering from surgeries or even minor injuries.
Potassium helps control the balance of fluids in the body as well as helping the heart muscle work properly. Potassium is also essential for the kidneys and other organs to work normally.
A low level of potassium is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer, digestive disorders, and infertility. Doctors will sometimes recommend improved diets or potassium supplements in order to prevent or treat some of these conditions in people with low levels of potassium,
However, most people who have a balanced diet should get enough potassium naturally. Sources of potassium include bananas, broccoli, parsnips and brussel sprouts, pulses, nuts and seeds, fish, shellfish, beef, chicken and turkey.
People suffering with kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, Addison’s disease, stomach ulcers, should never take potassium supplements without speaking to a doctor first.
The Best Way to Use Multivitamins
You should always take the recommended dose of all multivitamins. While an excess of some vitamins is simply excreted there are others that could be detrimental to your health. Try to spread your supplements intake throughout the day. If you take them directly before or after a meal you will help avoid an upset stomach.
Many older people find that they lack appetite or cannot eat certain foods. As you get older you can find that you don’t want to spend time preparing complex, nutritious meals. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Multivitamins for the over 50 can be an important way to help attain the proper amount of nutrients.
When choosing multivitamins look for one that is specific to your age and gender. Needs change as you age and therefore the best vitamins formulated for the older adult are geared to the requirements of a person over 50yrs old. Since men and women have different needs you should also look for the supplement that matches your gender.
You will also need to decide in what form to take the multivitamins.. Most multivitamins are available in pills or capsules, but there are also liquids and injections available from your doctor. Liquids are absorbed faster, but may have an unpleasant taste. Pills may be more convenient, especially for those who travel frequently. You should fit your supplement to your lifestyle and needs.
The most important aspect of choosing multivitamin is to check the nutrients it contains. You should read the label carefully, and look for one that contains the basic nutrients.