Decoding Vitamins and Supplements for Older Adults

Perusing the vitamins aisle at the store can seem like a confusing bowl of alphabet soup. How do you begin to make sense of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, and so on?

Each vitamin plays an important role in our body’s functions and fighting off potential health problems like constipation, heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. In this article we’re focusing on five which are essential to older adults, and which are more difficult for our aging bodies to absorb properly:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B6
  • Folate
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium

B Vitamins

You might recognize some of the more well-known B Vitamins that support your blood cells and nervous system – such as B12 (vital for red blood cell development, B6 (regulates red blood cell metabolism) and Folate (needed for cell growth).

B Vitamins are water-soluble, meaning that your body does not store them. That means you need to get an adequate amount through your daily diet. B Vitamins are found in foods such as beans, meat, poultry, and fish. Many cereals and breads are also fortified with B vitamins and/or Folic Acid.

Common problems related to Vitamin B deficiency (when you have low levels in your body) include:

  • Anemia: low red blood cell count, causing fatigue or shortness of breath due to lack of oxygen.
  • Neuropathy: tingling, numbness, or poor balance due to your nerves not working well.
  • Cognitive Impairment: memory problems, irritability, or dementia caused by nerves in your brain not working well.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, ask your doctor to order a blood test to check for Vitamin B deficiency. He or she may recommend a supplement, or even higher-dose vitamin shots.

 

Vitamin D and Calcium

This vitamin and mineral work together to maintain strong bones. Your body needs Vitamin D in order to absorb Calcium.

You probably know that our bodies produce Vitamin D from exposure to the sun. But as our skin ages, it also gets less efficient at converting sunlight into Vitamin D. Not to mention many older people develop an intolerance to dairy products, so you might be avoiding foods that include Calcium.

But will an over-the-counter supplement help prevent osteoporosis? Recent studies say there aren’t any proven benefits of low-level supplements, and that exercise and fall prevention efforts in the home are much better ways to avoid broken bones.

A healthy and balanced diet can also make up for a lack of sun exposure. Vitamin D can be found in many foods, including seafood, egg yolks, and fortified grains. And for those who are lactose-intolerant, there are lots of non-dairy, calcium-rich foods to choose from. If you are still concerned, consult with your doctor to see if a supplement is necessary.

 

Getting What Your Body Needs

The USDA's MyPlate guidelines show healthy eating portions for older adults.

The best way to get vitamins and nutrients is through a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods. In fact, colorful fruits and veggies should make up at least half of your plate at each meal.

But many older adults find shopping, preparing and cooking food to be daunting. This could be due to health problems, a lack of transportation to the store, or just not having the energy to be in the kitchen like before. Some creative solutions might include signing up for a meal delivery program, hiring in-home help, or moving to a retirement living community.

A conversation with your doctor and a simple blood test can reveal whether you still need additional supplementation. Providence Solutions is always available to answer questions and provide guidance on this, and many other aging-related topics. Give us a call at (708) 342-8090 to see how we can help!