According to a 2019 survey from the CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, an estimated 76 percent of retired adults in the US are taking supplements. There are a few questions many people ask. Do older adults really need to take supplements? If so, what supplements older adults need to take? What factors contribute to nutrient deficiencies? This article answers these questions.
Do older adults really need to take supplements?
While some articles on the Internet claim that supplements offer no benefit, there is a lot of evidence supporting the use of supplements, particularly for elderly.
Older adults are more likely to experience nutrient deficiencies for a few reasons:
- The aging process is associated with decreased ability to absorb nutrients from food. Digestive problems including stomach ulcers, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, and liver diseases can further promote nutrient deficiency.
- The elderly are more likely to take multiple medications, including blood pressure, acid blockers, cholesterol lowering agents, antidepressants and sleeping pills.
- Prescription drugs are associated with multiple nutrient deficiencies. For example, anti-diabetes drugs are known to cause B12, CoQ10 and folate deficiencies. Blood pressure medications are associated with CoQ10, certain B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and other mineral deficiencies. Statin drugs cause CoQ10 deficiency. Anti-inflammatory drugs are linked with folate, iron and various mineral deficiencies. Check this website to see specific drugs and associated nutrient deficiencies.
- Last, but not least, the elderly may suffer from a lack of appetite, or not have nutritious foods available. Some have limited mobility and can’t go shopping regularly. Others may be unable to afford fresh fruits, vegetables and good quality foods each and every day.
Taking a few supplements can fill the nutritional gaps and help correct deficiencies related to the aging process, chronic illnesses, prescription medication and diets that don’t provide enough nutrients. Below is the list with the best supplements for elderly.
What supplements do older adults need to take?
- A multimineral-multivitamin formula. Taking a good quality multimineral and multivitamin formula is a good start. Not all supplements are created equally. For optimal benefits, consider a formula from a reputable company, that says that the nutrients are in an “active” form, highly bioavailable or with superior absorption.
- Extra vitamin D. Multivitamin formulas typically contain 200 to 400 IU vitamin D, while high quality brands contain 1,000 IU vitamin D. Unfortunately, many Americans have lower than optimal levels of vitamin D. Foods have limited amounts of vitamin D. This nutrient is made in the skin when exposed to sunlight, however, most people avoid sun exposure or use sunscreen. Sunscreen blocks the UVB rays, and prevents the formation of vitamin D in the skin. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), older adults are at increased risk of having lower levels of vitamin D because the skin’s ability to make vitamin D declines with age. Older adults are likely to spend more time indoors compared with younger people and may not eat enough vitamin D rich foods. The vitamin D blood tests can help the doctor recommend specific doses of vitamin D needed daily but typically the dose is increased during colder seasons.
- Extra magnesium. Many older adults may benefit from taking additional magnesium, since the multimineral formula typically contains small amounts. Magnesium is essential for brain, muscle, heart health and promotes healthy blood sugar levels and metabolism. According to the NIH, as older adults tend to consume less magnesium in their diet, the absorption of this mineral decreases while the kidneys eliminate higher quantities as we age. Prescription medications and conditions like diabetes and digestive conditions further lead to magnesium deficiency.
- CoQ10. CoQ10 is a vitamin-like compound with strong antioxidant effects and particularly important for the brain, heart and muscle health. CoQ10 is also one of the best supplements for elderly, because the levels of this nutrient significantly decrease with age. Common medications for high cholesterol and hypertension further lead to CoQ10 deficiency.
- Protein shakes. Many older adults do not consume enough protein to maintain optimal muscle mass. Muscle mass is closely related to a healthy metabolism, reduced risk of injuries, staying mobile and having the ability to perform daily activities. Research also shows that muscle mass index is a predictor of longevity in older adults. The problem is that muscle mass, along with strength and power decline with age. Sarcopenia, defined as age-related muscle loss, starts around age 35 and occurs at a rate of one to two percent per year and after age 60, to about three percent a year. Regular strength exercise and consuming enough protein are both essential to maintain muscle mass. There are various protein powders available in supplement stores. Whey protein isolate is a highly absorbable, complete protein powder. For those looking for a vegan or dairy-free option, a combination of pea and hemp protein provides all essential amino acids for muscle health. Individuals who need to limit protein intake due to kidney disease or other conditions should seek professional advice to use protein shakes safely.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain, heart, eye, bone and joint health. They also help maintain healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels and to fight inflammation. Many older adults do not consume the recommended two servings of omega-3 rich fish per week, and therefore could benefit from omega-3 supplements.
- Digestive enzymes may be a great addition to support digestive health, because the aging body has less efficient digestion. Older adults are more likely to experience digestive symptoms because they produce fewer digestive enzymes and thus absorb poorly the nutrients from foods.
- Other supplements may be considered based to support various organs. For example, herbs like ginkgo biloba, ashwagandha and bacopa support a healthy brain. Glucosamine, chondroitin and collagen promote skin and joint health. Resveratrol has documented anti-aging qualities and promotes heart health. Probiotics can be very helpful to support a healthy digestion and are particularly important after taking antibiotics. Some supplements could be useful during the flu season to strengthen the immune system, for example extra zinc, vitamins C and D.
When to seek professional advice
It is best to seek professional advice to get a personal plan. There are doctors who specialize in diet and nutrients, and also nutritionists and dietitians who can help with a diet and supplement protocol that takes into account not only your age but also associated conditions and health goals.
A healthcare professional can advise about the best dosage, how and when to take the supplements and if these supplements may interact with one another or with prescription medication. Supplements can be a great addition to a healthy lifestyle to maintain physical and mental health.
National Institutes of Health. Magnesium Fact Sheet.
National Institutes of Health. Vitamin D Fact Sheet.
Pharmacy Solutions. Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion.
Harvard Health Publishing. Age and Muscle Loss.
American Journal of Medicine. (2014). Muscle mass index as a predictor of longevity in older adults.