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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 eat 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

A daily vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms (mcg) is recommended by the NHS for everyone aged 65 and over.

Vitamin D works with calcium to help maintain bone health and protect against broken bones. Most healthy adults get all the vitamin D they need from safe exposure to the summer sun and from their diet, but older people tend to get less sun exposure.

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 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 January 15, 2016

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