Supplements to help maintain your health
Many older people may benefit from nutritional supplements.
Doctors frequently recommend people over the age of 65 have their flu injection, eat a high- fibre diet and exercise to stay healthy. But of all the things older people can do, taking nutritional supplements is one of the simplest, says Dr Jeffrey Blumberg, professor of nutrition at Tufts University School of Nutrition, Science and Policy in the US.
"It's one thing you can do that's not too hard to do", he says.
That's important as older people need to do what they can to protect themselves from heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death among older people.
Nutritional supplements not only may help decrease the risk of certain diseases, but they also fill up what may be missing in an elderly person's diet. Although many elderly people eat well, especially if they are supervised in care homes or by relatives, in many cases their diet doesn't have a sufficient number of calories to cover the essential nutrients. Older people tend to have smaller appetites and usually eat only about 1,200 calories of food. Compare that with the 2,000 calories required to follow a diet that includes a healthy balance of foods and the potential need for supplements in such cases becomes clearer.
The supplement that nutritionists often recommend is vitamin B-12, which in food depends on stomach acid to be absorbed. However, studies in the US have shown that 10% to 30% of people aged 51 and over have lower amounts of stomach acid and therefore can't absorb much of the vitamin.
But in supplement form the vitamin doesn't rely on stomach acid making supplements a good way to make up for the lack of this vitamin. Otherwise, people who don't get enough of the vitamin can suffer from anaemia, other blood-cell disorders and neurological disorders including memory loss and changes in the way they walk.
The NHS says adults need approximately 0.0015mg per day of vitamin B-12, which is found in meat, salmon, cod, milk, cheese, eggs and some fortified breakfast cereals. While you should not take too much vitamin B-12, the NHS says taking 2mg or less of vitamin B-12 supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm.
Folic acid or folate
The B vitamin folic acid, known as folate in its natural form, reduces levels of homocysteine, a molecule that is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke. The NHS says adults need 0.2mg a day and they should get this with a well balanced diet. But taking 1mg (1000 micrograms) or less of folic acid supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm and indeed Dr Blumberg recommends that elderly people take 400 micrograms a day to supplement the amount of folic acid they may get from their diet.
Folic acid 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 folic acid include spinach, orange juice and lentils.