By Charlann Staab MSN, RNP, AGNP-BC
Studies suggest that about 70% of adults age 60 and older take at least one dietary supplement and 30% take at least four! Do people who eat a balanced diet really need dietary supplements? Sometimes! Supplements can be expensive and overuse when a supplement is not needed can cause unwanted side effects and even become toxic. MORE is not necessarily better. That said, there are some age-related or disease processes that require dietary supplementation for people to maintain optimum health.
There are three main dietary supplements that are important as we age. Any guesses? If you guessed calcium, vitamin D and B complex (B-12), you are correct.
Calcium together with vitamin D support healthy bones. Post-menopausal women are at risk for osteopenia or progress to osteoporosis. In fact, 1 out of every 2 women will break a bone due to osteoporosis after the age of 50 (Beebe, 2021). In men the ratio is 1 out of 4. So both men and women should have their provider evaluate bone health as well as micronutrient levels prior to random supplementation.
Calcium-rich food should be a staple for everyone’s diet (think dairy, leafy dark green vegetables, broccoli, kale) but sometimes our bodies don’t absorb the calcium in our foods and a supplement is necessary to protect our bone health. Calcium absorption should be paired with vitamin D (sometimes milk has added vitamin D, fatty fish and mushrooms) for maximum absorption. Typically, young adults produce enough vitamin D intrinsically, however as we age, our body’s ability to produce vitamin D is impaired and may require supplementation. It is important to identify the proper dosage as too much calcium may have negative effects on the kidney, heart and prostate, though more research is needed to better understand the potential links (Beebe, 2021).
Vitamin D is important for heart health, blood pressure, the immune system, and avoiding some forms of cancer, but utilization should be guided and monitored by a health care provider. Vitamin D can also interfere with your prescribed medications such as Atorvastatin or orlistat in a way that reduces the effectiveness of those medications (NIH, 2020). High doses of vitamin D may cause vomiting, dehydration, fatigue or even kidney damage, so be sure your need the supplement and then make sure you are not taking too much.
B12 is another nutrient that is affected by the aging process. B12 is found in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, clams, and fortified cereal and breads, to mention a few. A deficit in B12 can cause anemia, neuropathy of hands and feet, confusion, poor memory, depression or even dementia. Patients over 50 who are vegetarian or vegan and take metformin or gastric acid inhibitors (PPIs such as Pepcid, omeprazole or the like), as well as people with celiac or Crohn’s disease are at risk for a B12 deficit.
Not all supplements are effective or needed. Before you add a supplement, be sure you need it and that your dose is therapeutic. More is not better or safe!
Beebe, J. (2021) The 3 Supplements You Might Actually Need After 50. Drugs and Supplements. https://www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2021/supplements-after-50.html?cmp=EMC-DSO-NLC-WBLTR—BAU-073021-F1-5670005&ET_CID=5670005&ET_RID=67665554&encparam=SJOSUGxJl8E1YzXrLKcB7PuPANLiLRne4PKCzB7aSfw%3d
Cleveland Clinic (2021). Vitamin D Deficiency https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases?q=dietary%20supplements&dFR[type]=Diseases