Do Older Adults Need Dietary Supplements?

According to the CDC, use of dietary supplements increases with age and finds the highest use among women aged 60 and over (80.2%). Among older adults, 29 percent take four or more supplements, according to a 2017 Journal of Nutrition study. Adults over the age of 50 may need more vitamins and minerals than younger adults do, as their body ages and their bodies have a harder time absorbing nutrients.

There are so many vitamin supplements to choose from in so many different doses that it can be hard for older adults to decide what’s right for them. They are accessible to any consumer and can be found in grocery stores and pharmacies. They do not require a doctor’s prescription; however, it is always wise to consult a doctor before taking vitamin supplements to make sure there are no adverse reactions to a person’s health.

What is a dietary supplement?

Dietary supplements add nutrients to a person’s diet if they have a deficiency or are otherwise lacking those nutrients. Depending on someone’s personal medical history, taking a dietary supplement can reduce risks to their health such as heart disease, osteoporosis, high cholesterol, or arthritis. They can be taken in the form of pills, powders, capsules, tablets, and liquids. They contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, essential amino acids, enzymes, or herbs that promote strong health.

Are dietary supplements necessary?

are dietary supplements necessary

A balanced diet is the best way to give the body the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that it needs to stay healthy and strong. In a situation where a person can’t get the dose of nutrients they need, then dietary supplements may be helpful. In those cases, doctors can recommend the right supplements based on their patient’s medical history. When considering what dietary supplements an older adult should take, there are some important steps to follow.

Research. Different people can have different reactions to dietary supplements depending on their personal medical history. That is why performing background research on what kind of dietary supplements to take is always recommended. Also, it is possible to do more harm than good by taking too high of a dose. Older adults should not only understand what kind they need but also the proper dosage, side effects, and adverse reactions to medication. Consulting with a doctor, pharmacist, or registered dietitian is always the best source of information, and thoroughly read the fact sheets.

Make good purchasing choices. At the end of the day, companies that manufacture dietary supplements are looking to make a profit, and advertising can be a powerful tool to drive sales. Relentless marketing on television, radio, websites, or social media can make consumers fear that their health will suffer if they fail to take the supplements. While supplements may be safe for public consumption and come with many health benefits, whether an older adult should take them is a personal decision and should be made with their primary care physician.

Another thing to keep in mind is that marketers have become sophisticated at advertising products as “all-natural” or “organic.” Just because a product comes with those labels doesn’t mean it’s a better, healthier, or more effective choice. Some dietary supplements may be unnecessary, or people could take them in excess without consulting a professional. Doctors, dietitians, and pharmacists will have better knowledge about which brands provide the best quality and value.

Consult a medical professional. Your body will flush out vitamins and minerals that it does not use, and for the consumer, that means they’re wasting their money on a product that doesn’t benefit their health. Dietary supplements could cause an adverse reaction to prescription medication, and research and data are constantly changing. Before taking any over-the-counter dietary supplements, older adults should always talk with their doctor.

What dietary supplements should an older adult take?

what dietary supplements should an older adult take

There are several factors to take into consideration when an older adult is deciding what kind of dietary supplements to take. Factors such as medical history, family history, prescriptions, and diet can have an impact on the right kind of supplements to take.

Dietary supplements are an additional cost, and most older adults can get everything they need from a healthy, well-balanced diet. Below are some of the most common vitamins and minerals that older adults need to stay healthy and strong.

Calcium improves bone and dental health and can prevent fractures and osteoporosis. It’s most found in milk, cheese, yogurt, canned, fish, and dark-green leafy vegetables such as kale and cooked spinach.

Vitamin C is most widely known for preventing the common cold and influenza viruses, and people who make fruits and vegetables a regular part of their diet should get enough Vitamin C to fight disease. Citrus, strawberries, mango, and peppers are all great sources of Vitamin C.

Vitamin D works with calcium to promote bone health and reduce the risk of disease. It can also regulate mood and support weight loss. Vitamin D-fortified milk, fortified cereal, oily fish, eggs, and yogurt are good sources of Vitamin D.

People primarily get their intake from exposure to sunlight absorbed by the skin. However, if they live in an urban environment, an area with high pollution, or spend most of their time indoors, then they could be depriving their body of an essential vitamin. Many Americans are deficient in Vitamin D and seeking a professional opinion can help older adults decide if they need to take Vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin B6 forms red blood cells in the body, improves brain health, reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s, and reduces the risk of anemia. Vitamin B6 can be found in potatoes, bananas, chicken breasts, and fortified cereals.

Vitamin B12 strengthens red blood cells and nerves. Vegetarians and vegans have a higher risk of developing a Vitamin B12 deficiency because B12 can only be found in animal proteins such as red meat, salmon, cod, milk, cheese, and eggs.

Iron is a mineral that helps red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, and an iron deficiency can cause other health problems. Red meat, beans, eggs, whole grains, nuts, leafy green vegetables, dried fruit, and seeds are the best sources of iron.

Fiber is good for digestion and gut health and is essential for regular bowel movements. It can also reduce the risk for heart disease by clearing the plaque in clogged arteries, and it can reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Whole grain bread and cereals, beans, peas, lentils, and whole fruits and vegetables are rich in dietary fiber.

Potassium lowers your risk of high blood pressure (in addition to limiting sodium intake), and it plays a vital role in the functioning of the body’s cells, muscles, and nerves. Fruits, vegetables, beans, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products are good sources of potassium.

Melatonin is a hormone released by the brain that makes a person sleepy when it starts to get dark outside. People often take it as a supplement to induce the body to sleep. While melatonin can be a helpful sleep aid when needed, it doesn’t address larger health issues such as anxiety or being overweight. That is why experts strongly urge people to consult their primary care physician before taking melatonin. Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, limiting alcohol consumption, and reducing screen time before bed can address many sleep problems for people.

Healthy fats are also an important distinction when creating a well-balanced diet. The difference between good fats and bats is that good fats are liquid at room temperature and bad fats are solid at room temperature. This means that good fats are less likely to clog your arteries, and bad fats are more likely to clog your arteries.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are considered “healthy fats,” as they may reduce your risk of heart disease and help minimize weight gain. They are found in nuts, seeds, avocados, vegetable oils, and fish and are healthier than other fats to consume. Saturated fats are found in cured meats, cheese, butter, cakes, biscuits, bacon, sausages, ice cream, and chicken and pork skin.

Are dietary supplements safe?

are dietary supplements safe

Just because a dietary supplement is available for purchase on the shelf does not mean that it is safe for consumption, provides the benefits claimed by the label, or contains the ingredients that the manufacturer claims.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs, they do not have any authority over dietary supplements, and supplement manufacturers are not required to be approved for safety before being sold for public consumption.

Also, the FDA does not regularly test the contents of dietary supplements, and companies are not required to disclose information about the safety of their products before they make them available to consumers. If they receive reports of supplements harming people, then they may act to investigate the claims.

While some studies suggest that there are benefits to taking dietary supplements, there is no conclusive data that it can prevent chronic disease or improve longevity for most people. If they decide to take dietary supplements, then they should make an informed decision and consult their doctor. No matter what someone’s medical history is, it is always a good idea to have a balanced diet with fresh fruit, leafy green vegetables, and lean meats. A licensed dietician can help someone develop a diet that makes the most sense for their needs.

Resources for dietary supplements

Office of Dietary Supplements
National Institutes of Health

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
866-464-3615 (TTY)

Department of Agriculture
Food and Nutrition Information Center

Federal Trade Commission
866-653-4261 (TTY)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

NIH National Library of Medicine

Dietary Guidelines for Americans
(703) 305-2881

United States Pharmacopeia (USP)