How to maintain healthy nutrition by adding supplements in old age

October 2, 2015

Many of the classic signs of aging — including fatigue, aches and pains, memory lapses, fuzzy thinking, balance problem, and more — may actually be symptoms of easily reversible nutritional shortfalls. Here are some tips on adding supplements to your diet as you age.

How to maintain healthy nutrition by adding supplements in old age

Vitamin B12

B12 is a vitamin crucial for maintaining healthy nerves and red blood cells. As you grow older, your stomach produces less hydrochloric acid, and as a result, your body absorbs less B12 from food.

  • Taking an acid-suppressing drug to protect against stomach ulcers may cut absorption even further, experts suspect.
  • The result: One-fourth of people age 50 are low in B12; by age 75, the number rises to 40 percent.
  • Most don't know it, but they may be experiencing troubling signs of low B12, such as memory lapses, tiredness, joint pain and tingling hands and feet.
  • Healthy foods are a big part of the answer, but so is a multivitamin, since the form of B12 in supplements is easier for your body to absorb than the form found in foods.

Vitamin D

In your seventies, your skin synthesizes 60 percent less D than it did when you were a child, Harvard Medical School researchers have found. (Staying indoors or wearing sunblock cuts it even further.)

  • About one-fourth of people over age 60 have low vitamin D levels; as a result, they may be at higher risk for brittle bones, muscle weakness and a stunning variety of cancers.
  • Healthy foods come to the rescue, in the form of low-fat milk, seafood and greens.
  • A multivitamin is the perfect form of insurance.


A whopping nine out of 10 older people don't get enough calcium from food, and plenty don't take calcium supplements.

  • Inexpensive calcium pills can bridge the gap for women and may help men, though some experts warn that extra calcium could raise prostate cancer risk.

Prescription medicines and other remedies

In addition, many prescription medicines and over-the-counter remedies can also create nutritional shortfalls by blocking absorption or speeding up the excretion of vitamins and minerals. Among the big culprits are acid-suppressing drugs that target heartburn and other gastrointestinal problems. But antibiotics, antidepressants, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, diabetes drugs, diuretics, pain relievers, laxatives and tranquilizers all can cut levels of many vitamins and minerals, research shows. Two landmark studies, the Framingham Heart Study and the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging, found that older people often face these nutritional shortages as well:

  • Thirty percent of people ages 67 and older don't get sufficient folic acid, a vitamin that may play a role in heart health.
  • Twenty percent are low in B6 — a vitamin that plays a role in sleep, appetite and mood.
  • In addition, most older women and men may not get enough magnesium — important for healthy blood pressure and zinc — important for wound healing, immunity and maintaining your sense of smell and taste.

For all these reasons, a trio of daily supplements — a multivitamin, a calcium supplement, and fish-oil capsules — offer sufficient benefits to justify making them part of your daily routine. Studies prove that these can fill real nutritional gaps — sometimes, as is the case with B12 and vitamin D, even better than food or sunshine.

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