Getting the right nutrition through a healthy diet is a key component of staying fit as we age. Proper nutrition, however, is more than just watching our carb, fat, and sugar intake. As we get older, our bodies tend to have different nutritional needs, and we have to be proactive to ensure that we meet them.
Supplements shouldn’t be considered a substitute for a healthy diet, but they can help make up for the nutrients and vitamins that we struggle to work into our diets. Here are the most important supplements for those over 50.
Important Daily Supplements
With a good multivitamin, you can boost your energy, strength, eyesight, heart health, bone strength, and more.
Don’t skimp and buy typical drugstore vitamins. These are almost always synthetically created, and your body won’t be able to absorb any nutrients. Look for multivitamins that are made with organic fruits and veggies, contain phytonutrients/phytochemicals, and come from a brand that adheres to FDA/GMP standards of quality.
An optimal multivitamin will contain magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin B-complex. A quick trick to test your multivitamin is to try dissolving the vitamin in a glass of room temperature water. It should completely dissolve in no more than 20 minutes.
Calcium deficiency puts you at risk for osteomalacia and osteoporosis, the softening and loss of bone, which is the leading cause of breaks for the elderly. Weight bearing exercises such as weight lifting, power walking, running, hiking, and dancing all help your body to build bone density.
Dairy products, kale, broccoli, and fortified juices are all good sources of calcium. However, the recommended daily calcium intake increases to 1,200 to 1,500 mg after age 50, and getting enough from your diet alone can be difficult.
Don’t exceed 2,500 mg, since the excess can cause other health problems, such as kidney stones. If you experience constipation with your calcium, make sure to drink extra fluids and take extra fiber in your diet.
[Related: Seniors’ Complete Guide to Hydration]
Vitamin D is necessary for your body to properly absorb calcium — it’s not effective without vitamin D. Vitamin D is also essential for the production of tons of proteins and enzymes that your body needs to fight disease. Some of the benefits of vitamin D include increased muscle strength and bone density, and it has some anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties as well.
Since it’s basically impossible for our bodies to get enough vitamin D from food, sun exposure and supplements are the primary sources. 10 to 20 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen is said to be enough to help your body manufacture vitamin D. If that’s not possible, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends 800 to 1,000 international units (IU) per day for all adults over age 50. Do not go above the recommended levels, since over 4,000 IU per day can be toxic.
Vitamin D3 is the most potent, optimal supplement to take, but Vitamin D2 will suffice if your drugstore doesn’t carry D3.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
While you can get this supplement from eating good fish such as salmon, you’re probably not getting enough.
Omega-3s help decrease inflammation (and pain associated with it) and improve blood pressure, cognition, strength, flexibility, and the health of skin, hair, nails, and more. The most beneficial forms of omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Look for omega-3 supplements and fish oils that contain those acids.
These beneficial fats reduce arthritis symptoms (see more information below), the progression of macular degeneration, and even the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin B12 is necessary for all the cells in your body, especially the brain and spinal cord cells. When people are deficient, agitation, confusion, or hallucinations can occur.
The best sources of B12 are in animal proteins. Vegans or vegetarians can become deficient easily, and this can lead to anemia. However, vegetarian or not, older adults are at higher risk of deficiency, as our bodies become less effective at absorbing vitamin B12 as we age.
Magnesium is critical to a healthy immune system, strong bones, and a healthy heart. Older adults have a higher risk of magnesium deficiency, so taking magnesium supplements regularly is important. However, supplements don’t contain 100% of the daily value for magnesium, so you’ll still need to include plenty of sources in your diet, such as seeds and nuts, whole grains, beans, and leafy green vegetables.
Beware of medications that can reduce magnesium absorption, such as diuretics. Always mention magnesium absorption when your doctor is prescribing new medications.
Healthy digestion and protection from heart disease are the two top reasons to get enough fiber in your diet. Raw foods, whole grains, and beans are all high in fiber. Sometimes, our appetites or ability to chew and swallow change as we get older, and getting enough fiber through our diets becomes more difficult. In this case, taking fiber supplements is necessary.
A great fiber supplement is psyllium, which keeps your digestive tract strong. This is found in powder or capsule form in most health food departments.
Critical to healthy cell function and strong bones, potassium also helps to reduce high blood pressure. Bananas, potatoes (with skin), most fruits and vegetables, plums, and prunes are all good sources of potassium, but reaching the recommended daily amount of 4,700 mg per day can still be challenging.
Too much potassium can be detrimental to your health, so make sure to talk with your doctor before taking a potassium supplement.
[Related: Choosing the Right Foods After Age 50]
Supplements to Help Relieve Arthritis
We’ve already mentioned that omega-3 fatty acids help relieve arthritis symptoms. Here are some additional supplements to reduce swelling and joint pain and improve joint mobility, potentially even reducing your prescription drug dosage needs:
- Curcumin: The chemical in turmeric, curcumin, blocks the enzymes and cytokines that cause inflammation to reduce swelling and joint pain.
- Glucosamine: Since it helps protect your cartilage from deterioration, glucosamine is a great supplement to help prevent arthritis. It also helps improve the mobility of your joints. The sulfate preparation of glucosamine has been shown to help reduce existing arthritis pain.
- SAM-e: Studies have shown that SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine) works as a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory supplement that is sometimes as effective as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Cartilage growth stimulation and reduced pain perception are additional benefits of SAM-e.
- Capsaicin: Several studies have revealed the pain-relieving properties of capsaicin, which is a supplemental cream or gel that works by reducing a pain transmitter called substance P.
[Related: Exercises for Reducing Arthritis Pain]
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