The Complete Guide to Vitamins & Supplements for Seniors
Author: Jillian Foster Date Posted:2 October 2018
Our bodies have different needs at different stages of our lives. As we grow older we have different health needs that come with aging, it’s important to ensure you are taking the right supplements for your needs. Whilst we always advocate talking to a health professional to establish if certain supplements are right for you and your current health needs, there are certain vitamins for seniors that are often used for common ailments at this stage of life. Diet and lifestyle measures can also have a significant impact on healthy ageing.
We always recommend you eat a balanced healthy diet with fresh seasonal produce, but a good multivitamin can help fill in the gaps in your diet if your needs aren’t being meet. For many people, as they age they find their appetite reduces often leading to a reduced intake of vital nutrients. In addition to this, many turn to simple, quick and easy meals as they are no longer cooking for a large family or don’t wish to spend the time cooking elaborate meals. We often see older people consuming a ‘tea and toast’ diet which is void of nutrients. Usually a multivitamin contains the recommended daily intake of many vitamins and minerals such as B-group vitamins and zinc which can aid general health and wellbeing and immune function. Overall, a multivitamin can help improve the nutritional status of older people.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in seniors with up to 38% of older adults displaying mild deficiency and depleted vitamin B12 stores. [i] The ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food decreases with age as older adults have diminished stomach acid secretions making it harder to extract vitamin B12 from food. One well documented symptom of B12 deficiency is cognitive decline[ii]. A simple blood test through your doctor can identify vitamin B12 deficiency. Foods to enjoy in your diet that are high in B12 include: organ meats particularly liver and kidney, mutton, eggs, sardines, oysters, fish, meat, milk, cheese and poultry.
Glucosamine which is commonly derived from shellfish but can also be derived from corn, may help relieve the symptoms of mild osteoarthritis and supports healthy cartilage. Osteoarthritis is common in older people and it is estimated about 15% of the world’s population suffer from osteoarthritis; it is also three times more common in women than in men. [iii] Some of the most common complaints associated with mild osteoarthritis are joint pain, inflammation and swelling which can occur with the loss of cartilage in the joint. Glucosamine provides the nutritional building blocks for healthy cartilage aiding in the regeneration, repair and healthy maintenance of cartilage.
The bright yellow culinary spice turmeric contains an active constituent called curcumin which is an anti-inflammatory and potent antioxidant and has been shown to be beneficial for mild osteoarthritis. Regular curcumin is not absorbed very well by the body and requires very high doses to get the benefits. It is important to use a curcumin that is combined with phospholipids or some kind of fat to boost bioavailability and enhance absorption.
Omega-3 – EPA &DHA
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot make; we therefore need to gain these through diet or supplementation. The body requires a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats for optimal health. However, the standard western diet is very high in omega-6 fats which throws this balance out, leading to increased inflammation which can contribute to poor health. Omega-3 is made up of two constituents called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA is the main anti-inflammatory component of omega-3; DHA is essential for brain, eye and nervous system health. Omega-3 predominantly found in fish oil may provide symptomatic relief from mild osteoarthritis; may help maintain a healthy heart and cardiovascular system, aid peripheral circulation, support cognitive function and eye health.
With age can come some natural cognitive decline. Ginkgo helps support healthy brain function with ageing and may help improve mental alertness, memory, cognitive function and concentration. Additionally, Gingko may help with cold hands and feet and tired, painful legs as it supports capillary function and peripheral circulation. Its ability to boost blood flow may also assist sexual function.
Your Vitamin D status is extremely important as Vitamin D is a crucial nutrient for your health. It is involved in promoting strong healthy bones, aiding the absorption of calcium, maintaining muscle strength and supporting healthy immune function. Vitamin D may even help decrease the risk of falls and fractures in the elderly. In Australia, it has become apparent there is widespread vitamin D deficiency, approximately 1 in 4 of the Australian population are vitamin D deficient. The sun is the number one source of vitamin D but can also been found in oily fish, dairy, eggs and meat. It can be difficult to gain sufficient vitamin D from food sources alone and due to sun safety long periods of sun exposure are not recommended, therefore supplementation may be necessary. We recommend speaking to your doctor about your vitamin D status before supplementing.
As the most abundant mineral in the body, calcium is an essential nutrient necessary for many functions in health. Seniors have an increased risk of calcium deficiency mainly due to dietary habits and changes in bone health with age. Calcium can assist in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and support the growth, development and maintenance of strong healthy bones. With age there is a gradual decline in bone strength, starting as early as the mid-thirties. Women who have gone through menopause see a greater rate of bone loss as oestrogen plays a major role in maintaining bone strength and this will fall rapidly during menopause. Speak to your doctor about having your bone density checked today.
A beneficial nutrient for older people as the body’s own levels of coenzyme Q10 diminish with age. CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant that can help offset damage caused by free radicals which are created by environmental pollution, poor diet, cigarette smoke and some metabolic processes in the body. CoQ10 also plays an important role in a healthy cardiovascular system, where it can help inhibit harmful oxidation of LDL-cholesterol, often referred to as the ‘bad’ cholesterol. In addition to playing a role in supporting a healthy heart and cardiovascular and immune system function, CoQ10 is involved in the production of energy in the cell that fuels all bodily processes.
Lutein & Zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are believed to play a key role in the health of the macular region of the eye due to their antioxidant properties. Unfortunately the human body does not produce sufficient lutein and zeaxanthin making it necessary to gain these nutrients through a diet of green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli and green beans as well as yellow vegetables like corn and egg yolks are a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin. If you are finding it hard to get those nutrients from your diet, lutein and zeaxanthin are available in supplement form. Speak to your doctor before starting on a new supplement.
Diet & Lifestyle
In growing older it is still important to maintain a healthy, well-rounded diet. Appetite does reduce with age and your energy needs will also lessen as you become less active. Although your kilojoule needs reduce your need for nutrition does not; this is where quality over quantity applies in your daily diet. Choose nutrient dense foods such as seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, eggs, pulses, beans, nuts and seeds. If it is difficult to eat some of these foods you can opt for milled grains, soft-cooked vegetables and nut pastes. Whilst the occasional sweet treat is o.k., try to limit sweet biscuits, pastries and lollies where possible and remember moderation is key. These kinds of foods offer little to no nutrition and you may find yourself filling up on these rather than eating more nutritious foods. Also remember to stay hydrated, drinking water is the key here!
It is also important to remain active to maintain general health and well-being. Physical activity can also assist in aiding bone strength, support cardiovascular health and help maintain cognitive function. Social activity will also have a significant impact on overall health in aging.
There is no doubt that with aging comes many changes to challenge our health. There is however a lot you can do to help support your body and health as you age.
Vitamin supplements should not replace a balanced diet. If symptoms persist please consult your healthcare professional.
- Thomas, D.R. 2006. Vitamin in Aging, Health, and Longevity. Clin Interv Aging 2006 Mar; 1(1):81-91 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2682456/
- Stover, P.J. 2010. Vitamin B12 and older adults. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2010 Jan; 13(1): 24-27 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5130103/
- Appold, K. 2012. Dangers of Vitamin B12 Deficiency. Aging Well Vol.5 No.1 p.30 http://www.todaysgeriatricmedicine.com/archive/012312p30.shtml
- Baik, H.W. Russell, R.M. 1999. Vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly. Annu Rev Nutr. 1999;19:357-77 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10448529
- Andres, E. et. al. 2004. Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency in elderly patients. CMAJ. 2004 Aug 3; 171(3): 251-259 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC490077/
- Huskisson, E.C. 2008. Glucosamine and Chondroitin for Osteoarthritis. The Journal of International Medical Research 2008; 36(6) 6 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/147323000803600602
- Salazar, J. Bello, L. et. al. 2014. Glucosamine for Osteoarthritis: Biological Effects, Clinical Efficacy, and Safety on Glucose Metabolism. Arthritis. Vol 2014, Article ID 432463, 13 pages https://www.hindawi.com/journals/arthritis/2014/432463/
- "Glucosamine," Examine.com, published on 9 August 2014, last updated on 14 June 2018, http://examine.com/supplements/glucosamine/
- Beto, J.A. 2015. The Role of Calcium in Human Aging. Clin Nutr Res. 2015 Jan; 4(1):1-8 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4337919/
- American Optometrist Association. 2018. Lutein & Zeaxanthin. AOA Diet & Nutrition. Accessed 12/9/18 https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/diet-and-nutrition/lutein
[i] Stover, P.J. 2010. Vitamin B12 and older adults. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2010 Jan; 13(1): 24-27 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5130103/
[ii] Appold, K. 2012. Dangers of Vitamin B12 Deficiency. Aging Well Vol.5 No.1 p.30 http://www.todaysgeriatricmedicine.com/archive/012312p30.shtml
[iii] Huskisson, E.C. 2008. Glucosamine and Chondroitin for Osteoarthritis. The Journal of International Medical Research 2008; 36(6) 6 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/147323000803600602
|Written by Jillian Foster|
Jillian (BHSc Naturopathy) is a qualified naturopath who believes through a healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle, we have the power to influence our health and the health of future generations. With a passion for herbal medicine, Jillian loves helping people find the right solution for their health needs and educating people on how they can lead a healthy and happy life.
Jillian enjoys keeping active with her two young children and baking them delicious and healthy treats.