While aging might be an inevitable part of life, losing your vim and vigour isn’t. In fact, many of the ailments that commonly affect the quality and length of our twilight years can be mitigated against through proper, comprehensive nutrition. Weaker appetites and poor digestion can make this hard to attain however, so it’s important that older individuals are aware of the benefits offered by supplementation. Not only are nutritional supplements often easier to absorb, they’re also much less intimidating than plate after plate of stodgy vegetables and chewy meats.
Our bodies change as we age, so it’s helpful to know what supplements offer the greatest benefits and which are just icing on a candle-laden cake. Here’s a selection of some of the most crucial and why they should be part of your diet and supplementation plan.
Vitamin B-12 is crucial for the creation of red blood cells and DNA, as well as maintaining healthy nerve function. Unfortunately, although B-12 is abundant in animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy, getting the right amount can be a challenge, particularly for the elderly.
This is because the body’s ability to extract B-12 from food is dependent on stomach acid, which our bodies produce less of as we age. Fortified foods and supplements are typically less reliant on stomach acid for absorption, meaning they’re an excellent choice for older individuals as well as those who regularly take proton-pump inhibitors, H2 blockers or other medications that affect digestion.
Zinc is an essential mineral nutrient, integral to the functioning of the immune system, cell division and growth, healing, and even taste and smell. While red meat is an excellent source, due to poor absorption and consuming smaller portions due to appetite, it can be hard for older people to regularly meet their needs. Vegetarians and vegans should be particularly aware of their zinc intake — while some vegetables, nuts, and grains are high in the mineral, it is less easily absorbed from such sources. If you’re not eating much meat, high-quality supplementation is an excellent solution to ensuring your intake of this valuable nutrient.
A proper intake of calcium — around 700mg per day for most individuals — is critical to building and strengthening bone mass no matter where you are in life. While some recent research has suggested that calcium is not the be-all and end-all of preventative measures for fall-induced bone fractures, it is by no means ineffective either. In fact, many of the more commonly prescribed treatments for the strengthening of bones, such as bisphosphonates, require calcium and vitamin D supplementation to produce their full effect.
Vitamin D is key when it comes to ensuring the health of bones and teeth by regulating the body’s phosphate and calcium levels. In fact, without sufficient vitamin D, calcium absorption can become significantly compromised, leading to increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis. Because vitamin D is synthesized by the skin through sunlight exposure, older people, who typically go out of doors less and whose skin is less efficient producing vitamin D, can be at serious risk of deficiency. This is why many medical and nutritional organisations recommend a 10μg daily dose for anyone over the age of 65.
Potassium is both an essential mineral and electrolyte, necessary for all human cells, tissues, and organs, as well as for normal metabolic, cardiac, muscular, and nerve function. As we age and kidney function declines, the body’s capacity to excrete potassium through urine is reduced. Conversely, absorption lowering factors such as gastrointestinal distress, magnesium deficiency, and the use of certain medications such as diuretics, insulin, and steroids, can lead to potentially critical deficiencies. As either too much or too little potassium can be harmful and even fatal, it’s important to ensure your potassium levels are on target — both by checking with a medical professional and considering supplementation if necessary.
Magnesium is involved in more than 300 different physiological processes so getting enough is crucial for normal immune and cardiac function as well as bone health. While abundant in whole foods such as vegetables, magnesium content is often significantly reduced during processing. Because magnesium absorption decreases during age and is affected by common medications such as diuretics, it’s worth investigating supplementation if you’re concerned you may not be getting enough in your diet.
Fiber promotes healthy digestion, helping food move smoothly through the digestive tract. As we get older and our intestinal motility decreases, fiber also helps to stop the relatively common problem of constipation. But despite its importance, many Americans, including the elderly, aren’t getting enough. As well as eating whole grains, nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables, older individuals who are having problems with the frequency of their bowel movements should consider a fiber supplement. Fiber may also help lower the risk of heart disease.
While ensuring proper nutrition in older age can be a challenge, smart, informed use of supplements offers a tremendous opportunity to take charge of your health. By doing your research and understanding your body, it’s possible to make the most of your golden years and make later life is as productive, satisfying and active as you deserve.