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Supplements for health in older age


WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Some older people may be advised to take some nutritional supplements to help protect their health or correct any vitamin or nutritional deficiencies.

Nutritional supplements may not only 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 consume fewer calories.

Always seek medical advice before taking new supplements. A high dosage, or taking supplements for too long, may be harmful. Some supplements can also interfere with prescription medication.

Some supplements are specifically recommended for older people, others are not.

Age UK also cautions that vitamin supplements can be expensive, and for many people, unnecessary.

Vitamin D and calcium

Taking a daily vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms (mcg) should be considered by everyone during autumn and winter.

Vitamin D works with calcium to help maintain bone health and protect against broken bones. Most vitamin D comes from safe exposure to the summer sun, and from foods like oily fish and fortified spreads and some breakfast cereals.
Older people tend to get less sun exposure, and people who rarely get out in the sun are recommended to have vitamin D supplement all year round.

The NHS says adults need 700mg of calcium a day. Good sources of calcium include milk, cheese and other dairy products, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, and nuts.

Seek medical advice before taking calcium supplements, as taking too much can cause stomach pain and diarrhoea.

Vitamin B12

Older people may be more likely to have vitamin B12 deficiency.

B12 deficiency is linked to anaemia and neurological problems, including memory loss.

B12 is found in fortified breakfast cereals, yeast extract and meat.

A daily supplement of 2mg or less a day of vitamin B12 is unlikely to cause any harm.

Iron

Iron is an important mineral for healthy red blood cells.

Most people get enough iron from the food they eat, including red meat, pulses, beans, eggs, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit and fortified breakfast cereal.

Unless there is a medical or nutritional reason most older people don’t need iron supplements. Doctors may advise taking iron supplements after an operation involving blood loss, or for people who follow a vegan diet.

Vitamin C

Some people take high-dose vitamin C supplements to help ward off colds, but evidence for this this being effective is weak.

Most people will get all the vitamin C they need from a healthy balanced diet with 5-a-day portions of fruit and veg.

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Reviewed on July 26, 2016

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