These are the Vitamins and Minerals Older Adults Need
November 1, 2020
Your body may need some extra vitamins and minerals for optimal health as you get older.
The Importance of Vitamins and Minerals
As you age, the amount of vitamins and minerals your body needs to function at optimal health changes. As you reach your 60s and 70s, for example, your body may need more of certain vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins and minerals are two types of nutrients that help support the body’s function. Vitamins are essential micronutrients that come from plants or animals and that your body needs in small amounts each day. Some examples of vitamins include:
The minerals needed by the body also help it to function properly, but minerals come from the soil and water, not plants and animals. Your body needs all types of vitamins, but not all types of minerals. Examples of minerals your body needs include:
There are many reasons for the body to need changing levels of nutrients. During pregnancy, for example, women need more calcium, folic acid, iron, and vitamin D. Similarly, as a person ages, changes in the body require different levels of vitamins and minerals. Some reasons include:
- Absorption: Your body isn’t able to absorb or process vitamins and minerals as quickly as when you were younger, says registered dietitian Sonya Angelone, a San Francisco area-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Medications: Certain medications used more commonly among older adults may change the way your body absorbs certain vitamins and minerals. For example, proton pump inhibitors, which are a common type of medication used for heartburn, may lower your absorption of vitamin B12, calcium and iron, as well as other nutrients, Angelone says.
- Diet: You may be eating less than before because you don't feel as hungry due to a lower metabolism or food tastes different because your sense of taste is diminishing, says Chicago-based Melissa Prest, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The ability to taste salty and sweet flavors are often the first tastes that are lost, making a lot of food taste blander. Losing a sense of taste is common with age, but it's still something you should mention to your doctor to rule out other causes for it, such as sinus problems or effects from certain medications.
- Food Access: Access to food sometimes becomes more difficult with age due to mobility or economic challenges, which may mean that older adults are not able to get fresh produce or enough nutritious food.
Vitamins and Minerals You May Need to Supplement
Dietary supplements do just what their name implies – they supplement a healthy diet but don’t replace it, says Colleen M. Chiariello, a chief clinical dietitian at Syosset Hospital in Syosset, New York.
It’s always best to get your nutritional needs from fresh food sources and to eat a wide variety of healthy foods. If you can’t obtain everything your body needs from your diet, then your doctor or a registered dietitian may recommend certain vitamin or mineral supplements to help. Here are some vitamins and minerals your body may need in your 60s and 70s.
Vitamin B12 helps your body form red blood cells. It also assists with nerve function. As you get older, you may absorb less B12 because of age-related inflammation of the stomach lining. In fact, B12 deficiency is common in older adults, Prest says. Having a low B12 level can put you at a higher risk for heart disease and cognitive impairment.
The recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12 for adults of any age is 2.4 micrograms/day.
Some good food sources for vitamin B12 include:
- Animal products.
- Fortified grains and cereals.
- Nutritional yeast, which is a type of deactivated yeast that is dairy-free and gluten-free.
- Nuts and seeds.
Calcium is crucial for better bone health. As you get older, you can be at higher risk for osteoporosis or a thinning of the bones, especially if you’re female. You also are at a higher risk for bone fractures from falls. Adequate calcium can help offset this risk.
The RDA for calcium is 1,000 mg/day for males age 51 to 70 and 1,200 mg/day for females age 51 to 70 and all adults over age 70.
You may naturally think of dairy foods as a major calcium source, but there are a number of plant-based foods that also are good calcium sources, says registered dietitian Amylee Amos, founder of the Amos Institute in Los Angeles.
Food sources for calcium include:
- Dairy products.
- Green, leafy vegetables.
- Hard tofu or soy processed with calcium.
- Nondairy milks that are fortified with calcium.
Like calcium, vitamin D helps support bone health. Vitamin D also helps the body absorb calcium and support your immune system. You can get vitamin D both from food and from sun exposure. However, your body’s ability to convert vitamin D so it can be used efficiently decreases with age, Prest says. Additionally, some older adults get less sun exposure than they did at a younger age. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with:
- A higher risk for fractures.
- Muscle weakness.
- Rapid bone loss.
The RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU (15 mcg) a day for adults 51 to 70 years old and 800 IU (20 mcg) daily for those over age 70. Neither group should exceed 4,000 IU (100 mcg) a day of vitamin D. Too much vitamin D can lead to serious kidney problems, Amos says.
The RDAs for vitamin D are based on having only a minimal amount of sun exposure, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements. The NIH doesn't specify how much sun exposure they have in mind with their vitamin D recommendations. The American Academy of Dermatology advises people to get their vitamin D from food sources, not the sun.
Some good food sources for vitamin D are:
- Egg yolks.
- Fatty fish such as salmon.
- Milk and milk products fortified with vitamin D.
- Cereals fortified with vitamin D
Magnesium helps your muscles function properly. It also assists nerve function and blood sugar levels. Many older adults are deficient in magnesium, Prest says.
The RDA of magnesium for adults is 420 mg/day for men and 320 mg/day for women. That’s for any age group.
Food sources for magnesium include:
- Breakfast cereals.
- Green, leafy vegetables.
- Legumes such as beans.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Whole grains.
Potassium helps your body perform many functions, from heart health to kidney function to nerve transmission. Getting too little potassium can raise your risk of kidney stones, deplete calcium and increase your blood pressure.
Some people have trouble getting enough potassium, including those with inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Some older adults may actually have higher potassium levels due to the use of certain medications, such as ACE inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers, both of which are used for high blood pressure.
The RDA for potassium is 3,400 mg for male adults and 2,600 mg for female adults.
Some foods rich in potassium include:
- Fruits such as bananas, prunes, and raisins.
- Fish, meat, and poultry.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, acorn squash, and tomatoes.
Before You Start a Dietary Supplement
Always check with your health provider before starting a dietary supplement. Don’t take a supplement just because it has a celebrity endorsement. “They don’t know your medical history, so they’re not a good resource for supplement recommendations,” cautions Chiariello.
Your actual need for a supplement depends on your unique health needs and other medical conditions, and that’s something your health provider or a registered dietitian can help assess. Your local pharmacist also can be a good resource, as they can check what other medications you're using and alert you to any possible interactions, Chiariello says.
Certain vitamins and minerals may interact with other medications you take. This is yet another reason to check with a trusted health source before trying vitamin and mineral supplements. For instance, calcium can decrease your absorption of bisphosphonates, which are used to treat osteoporosis. If you take both a calcium supplement and a bisphosphonate, your health provider may ask you to take them a few hours apart.
Your health provider may want to order a lab test to assess your level of a certain vitamin or mineral before recommending that you use a supplement for it.
Look for Supplements That Are Third-Party Verified.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expectations of how dietary supplements are manufactured, the FDA doesn’t actually analyze the supplements themselves. That means that dietary supplements may vary in the way they are prepared and in the ingredients they include. Some supplements don't contain what they claim on their labels, Amos says.
The best approach: Look for a supplement that says “USP” or “NSF” on the label. This means they have been verified by an independent third party to contain only and exactly what’s listed on the label. You can also verify what ingredients are in supplements using the National Institutes of Health’s Dietary Supplement Label Database.
Watch for Side Effects.
At higher doses, there could be dangerous side effects. Some side effects that could indicate excessive intake of certain vitamins and minerals include:
- Bone pain.
- Constipation or diarrhea.
- Dry, rough skin.
- Nausea or vomiting.
Let your health provider know of changes to your health after you start to use a vitamin or mineral supplement. “More isn’t necessarily better with dietary supplements,” Prest says.
The Best Supplements for Older Adults
- Vitamin B12.
- Vitamin D.
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