We’ve all seen ads for multi-vitamins on TV and other places, and we’ve probably all wondered how much good they really do. If you happen to be over 65, you may have also noticed ads for vitamins designed especially for people in your age group.
You may have even asked your doctor if you should take vitamin supplements. Let’s talk about whether it’s a good idea to take vitamins as you age, and if so, what benefits you should expect.
What’s Different About Senior Vitamins?
Vitamin products designed specifically for seniors typically contain a greater amount of B vitamins than other vitamin supplements. This is because B vitamins, especially vitamin B12, are associated with enhanced energy and activity and are sometimes deficient in older individuals.
Senior vitamins may also be heavy in vitamin D, which is frequently lacking in people who don’t often go outdoors. A major activator of vitamin D in the body is sunlight, and the general theory is that many older adults remain indoors for much of the day and aren’t exposed to the recommended level of natural light.
Calcium is also often included in senior supplements. Calcium is important for strengthening and solidifying bone mass, which naturally diminishes as one grows older.
Senior vitamins don’t contain the levels of some vitamins and minerals frequently found in other daily supplements. Iron, for instance, is usually lacking or reduced in senior vitamin products.
Studies have shown that senior-aged adults don’t generally need as much iron as younger individuals, and an over-abundance of iron can occasionally be harmful to a small percentage of those over 65.
Do You Really Need Vitamin Supplements?
The opinions on the value of vitamin supplements have varied over the years. The normal human body is capable of manufacturing only a certain amount of vitamins and minerals. Many over-the-counter products contain levels of vitamins that far exceed what the body is able to produce.
Some evidence suggests that the mega-doses of vitamins and minerals in most supplements simply can’t be absorbed by the body and therefore provide no major benefit.
Other studies indicate that most people’s eating habits don’t provide enough essential vitamins and minerals, and therefore any vitamins obtained from supplements are valuable, even if much of the product is not absorbed.
The Pros and Cons of Senior Vitamins
While all of the above is true for seniors, there are also other factors that are unique to people over 65. The first question is, do vitamins work for seniors? Let’s look at what some of the unique issues are, and weigh them against the benefits.
Vitamin D Supplements
As noted, most senior vitamins provide high levels of vitamin D in order to improve bone density and prevent osteoporosis, which makes bones brittle and can lead to breaks, especially during senior falls or other accidents. There are two forms of vitamin D (D2 and D3), and vitamin D3 is the most recommended.
D3 is the form normally produced by your body and is considered the best choice for that reason. Side effects are seldom associated with taking vitamin D supplements, and additional vitamin D is increasingly recommended by doctors.
A very small percentage of the older population may experience isolated problems such as difficulty sleeping, headaches, and nausea, but these are rare and do not outweigh the benefits of taking vitamin D.
Calcium in the body diminishes as one gets older. Since it’s important for maintaining sturdy bones and preventing bone softening, calcium supplements are often suggested for older individuals.
The presence of vitamin D enables the body to absorb calcium, so vitamin D and calcium are often combined in senior supplement products. Several forms of calcium are available over-the-counter, with calcium carbonate containing more pure calcium than other varieties. Your doctor or pharmacist can guide you in selecting the calcium choice that’s right for you.
Some people experience constipation and bloating when taking large doses of calcium. If you experience these symptoms, particularly if they are severe and prolonged, consult your doctor.
Iron is important to avoid anemia, which causes fatigue and is brought on by a lack of healthy red blood cells. Older adults may not consume as much meat or certain iron-rich vegetables as younger individuals, and thus may lack the amount of iron their bodies need.
On the other hand, older adults are typically not as active as younger people and don’t often require the same levels of iron. In general, a moderate level of iron supplementation is good for those over 65.
Some people over 65 may experience constipation or stomach upset from taking iron. This is not extremely common and should only be considered a problem if it persists or becomes severe.
Vitamin B Supplements
Vitamin B12 boosts alertness, energy, and promotes effective brain function. It prevents confusion and other conditions associated with poor brain and nervous system activity and is thought to somewhat offset certain effects of aging. For that reason, it is widely prescribed for older individuals.
There are few side effects associated with B12 supplements. Mild itching has been reported in some instances, but that is not the norm and should not prevent the use of B12 for most people.
Should You Take Vitamins for Seniors?
Earlier, we asked the question, do vitamins work for seniors? For most over 65, taking vitamins is an excellent way to ensure the levels of vitamins and minerals the body needs to maintain healthy energy and activity.
As noted, there are different types of vitamins, as well as limited side effects associated with some supplements. First and foremost, talk to your doctor. He or she can advise you on the need for vitamins as you age and suggest what’s best for you.
The best choice is a healthy lifestyle, and vitamins can definitely further that goal for most over 65, but you also want to focus on staying active and preventing any injuries. Luckily, there are plenty of devices for seniors available that will help you stay happy and healthy in your Golden Years.