Doctors instruct people 65 years and older to get flu shots, eat a high-fiber diet and do strengthening exercises to stay healthy.
But of all the things older people can do, taking nutritional supplements ranks as one of the easiest.
Nutritional supplements not only help decrease the risk of certain diseases, but they also fill up what’s missing in a typical elderly person’s diet. It usually doesn’t have a sufficient number of calories to cover the essential nutrients.
The supplement that nutritionists have been promoting most recently is vitamin B-12. People who don’t get enough of the vitamin can suffer from anemia, other blood-cell disorders, and neurological disorders including memory loss and changes in gait. Nutritionists recommend that all adults get at least 2.4 micrograms per day of vitamin B-12, which is found mostly in meats. People 51 years of age or older should get most of the vitamin from supplements or fortified cereals.
The B vitamin folate reduces levels of homocysteine, a molecule that is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke. Elderly people should take 400 micrograms per day to supplement the amount of folate they may get from their diet.
Folate is found in dark green, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and fortified grain products such as pasta and flour. Foods with a high concentration of folate include spinach, orange juice, and lentils.
Research studies show evidence that vitamin E reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other conditions. Vitamin E is found in fatty foods such as nuts and oils. People 14 years and older should take 15 mg per day.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Finally, elderly people need to keep their bones strong by supplementing their diet with calcium and vitamin D. Many older people lack enough calcium in their diets because they can’t digest dairy foods, the primary source for calcium.
For patients who don’t eat any dairy products or calcium-fortified orange juice, the full 1,200 milligrams from supplements is recommended. Supplements made from calcium carbonate or calcium citrate are best.
The Food and Nutrition Board recommends that people 51 years or older receive 10 to 15 micrograms of vitamin D each day. Taking supplements is a good way to meet the daily requirement.
Still, however convenient supplements may be, they shouldn’t take the place of eating a well-balanced diet. Taking supplements is “just another healthy thing you can do for yourself.”
By Laura Lane, WebMD, January 2006