Older adults commonly take vitamins and nutritional supplements with the goal of improving overall health and to delay the onset of age-related disease. But which ones should you add to your diet? Do older adults typically need certain supplements or vitamins? Here’s a look at vitamin and supplement considerations for older adults.
An abstract provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health shares that randomized controlled studies on those questions have “yielded mixed results.” This institute reviewed studies that tested the effects of adding folic acid, vitamins B12 and B6 and omega-3 fatty acids through supplementation with these conclusions:
- The B vitamins have been studied with “regards to primary and secondary prevention of a number of major age-related chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke, cognitive decline, and cancer.”
- Encouraging findings have arisen with stroke and depression, and in one study about macular degeneration.
- Little evidence has been found that these vitamins help to slow age-related cognitive issues or cardiovascular disease.
- Mixed results exist with the cancer studies. There are benefits but this vitamin may also enhance the growth of already-existing cancers.
- Health benefits have been shown when people take fish oil supplements or make modest increases in fatty fish intake, including less risk of sudden cardiac death. Plus, these supplements may lower serum triglyceride levels.
Even though some supplements are helpful to some older adults, they also can come with unanticipated risks. If you are taking both medicines and supplements, for example, the FDA cautions that a combination can have “harmful, even life-threatening results.” As just one example, if you are taking the prescription drug Coumadin and are also taking the herbal supplement ginkgo biloba, plus aspirin and vitamin E, you are taking four products that thin the blood, which may lead to internal bleeding or even stroke.
So, the FDA warns, don’t fall into the trap of believing that, if a little bit of a particular vitamin is good, then having a lot is even better. If you take in more than the daily recommended value of vitamins and minerals through a combination of food and supplementation, that can actually have a harmful effect, and perhaps interfere with your prescribed medications. So talk to your doctor about your specific needs.
More about Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 helps your body to create red blood cells and maintain appropriate nerve function. A lack of this vitamin can lead to nerve damage, anemia and problems with reasoning and memory, according to a Harvard publication. So, it’s important to avoid developing a deficiency.
This vitamin is water soluble and found in animal products, such as fish and meat, dairy products and eggs. As you eat these foods, the vitamin is separated from the protein through stomach enzymes and hydrochloric acid; combines itself with intrinsic factor, which is released by stomach cells; and then is absorbed into the small intestine. Synthetic B12 exists in some fortified foods, and also can be found in dietary supplements and some medications. This can be absorbed without needing the separation process.
Most adults should get 2.4 micrograms daily. People who are more at risk for deficiency include those over the age of 50, as stomach cells become less efficient, which leads to reduced absorption. Others at risk include strict vegans, people with gastrointestinal disorders (such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease) and those who have had weight-loss surgery.
Medications also can play a role in vitamin B deficiency. These medicines include (but are not limited to) Prilosec, Prevacid, Tagamet, Pepcid and Zantac, as well as Glucophage. Yet another risk factor: pernicious anemia.
Deficiency symptoms include fatigue and weakness, plus loss of appetite and weight loss, constipation, and numbness and tingling in extremities. If you have some of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about testing for B12 deficiency. This is especially important if you also have a low red blood cell count.