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What Vitamins and Supplements Do Older People Need Most?

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Supplement use is common in seniors.

Studies show that more than half of seniors take one or two over-the-counter supplements, and that almost a third of seniors take four or more supplements.

In addition, seniors are also more likely to have chronic medical conditions for which they take prescription medications. 

In some cases, an over-the-counter supplement can counteract prescription medications, or even worsen chronic medical conditions. For this reason, it is important for older adults to know which vitamins and supplements are safe to take. 

To minimize the risk of side effects and drug interactions, seniors should always inform their doctor and pharmacist about any over-the-counter supplements they take.

Omega-3 fatty acids

More than 20% of seniors take omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Several different types of omega-3 fatty acids exist, including:

Omega-3 type

Where it is commonly found

Eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA

Fish, shellfish, krill oil

Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA

Fish, shellfish, krill oil, algae oils

Alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA

Flaxseed, soybean oil, canola oil, chia seeds, black walnuts

Many seniors take omega-3 supplements to try to support cardiovascular health.

After all, people who eat seafood up to four times weekly are less likely to die of heart disease or have a stroke than those who do not. 

Cardiovascular disease is also very common in seniors, with more than 75% of people over age 60 having evidence of the disease. However, research shows that omega-3 supplements do not have the same effect in preventing cardiovascular problems as eating fish. 

Further, one of the biggest risk factors for cardiovascular disease is high low density lipoprotein, also known as LDL, or bad cholesterol. 

Unfortunately, DHA, which is present in many over-the-counter omega-3 supplements, can raise bad cholesterol levels.

However, omega-3 fatty acids can be very useful for some seniors. Omega-3 fatty acids, especially those containing DHA, can help to lower triglyceride levels. 

Elevated triglyceride levels, especially when over 1000 mg/dL, are linked to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation of the pancreas. 

Fish oil, in combination with a low-fat diet, quitting alcohol, and controlling blood sugar, is one of the main treatments for high triglyceride levels. 

If you have a history of pancreatitis, your doctor may recommend fish oil therapy to help keep your triglyceride levels well-controlled. Although some fish-oil products are prescription-only, most fish oil therapies are over-the-counter.

One of the best over-the-counter fish oil products on Amazon.com is:

Nature Made 1000 mg Fish Oil Softgels

  • Contains EPA
  • Contains DHA
  • Oil from wild-caught ocean fish
  • Purified to remove mercury

Nature Made fish oil supplements are taken as a dose of 2 softgels twice daily. Each 2-softgel serving contains 2000 mg of fish oil, including 500 mg of EPA and DHA, and 100 mg of other omega-3 oils. The softgels are 20 calories per serving, which include 20 mg, or 7% the daily value, of cholesterol. Because the product is made from fish, it is not vegan-friendly, although it may be suitable for pescatarians. The supplement is free of artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, yeast, starch and gluten. It has also been purified to remove chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, dioxins, furans and mercury.

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Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency impacts more than 20% of seniors.

The condition is usually caused by poor Vitamin B12 absorption in the stomach from a condition called gastric atrophy, where the stomach cells become abnormal after inflammation. More than 40% of people over age 80 years have gastric atrophy.

Your doctor can measure Vitamin B12 levels in your blood. Notably, there is no gold standard for defining the Vitamin B12 level at which deficiency takes place – the level varies from lab to lab. Your doctor will be able to tell you when your lab level is low.

Although some seniors have no symptoms of this deficiency, others can have severe symptoms.

Symptoms can include:

-Nerve cell damage, which may be permanent in severe cases

-Blood cell abnormalities

-Mood changes

-Intestinal problems

-In women, vaginal dryness

More than 25% of seniors take Vitamin B12 supplements.

Vitamin B12 is water soluble, meaning that it is difficult to take too much, as your body excretes any Vitamin B12 you do not need in your urine. With severe deficiency, your doctor may recommend Vitamin B12 injections. For less severe deficiency, and for chronic use, you may be able to use Vitamin B12 oral supplements.

One of the best Vitamin B12 supplements on Amazon.com is:

EZ Melts Vitamin B12 2500 mcg Dissolvable Vitamins

  • No sugar
  • Vegan friendly
  • Cherry flavor
  • Non-GMO

EZ Melts Vitamin B12 supplements are dissolvable tablets, meaning that they melt in your mouth.

This can be useful for those who have a hard time swallowing tablets and capsules. The tablets are cherry flavored, but contain no sugar and only natural colors and flavors.

Each tablet contains 2,500 mcg of Vitamin B12, and the recommended dose is one tablet once daily.

They are labeled non-GMO, meaning they contain no genetically modified ingredients. In addition, they are vegan-friendly and gluten-free.

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Multivitamins

Around half of seniors take a multivitamin product. Multivitamins come in many different formulations and contain different amounts of various vitamins.

Studies have shown that people with a high intake of vitamins either in food or in supplements tend to have a lower rate of chronic disease.

However, each senior’s nutritional needs will be different from other seniors. For example, a senior who has low blood levels of iron and has anemia may benefit and show good results from an iron-containing multivitamin, while another senior may not require this, and may instead only have side effects like constipation with no benefit from the iron.

As such, your doctor or a dietitian will be able to tell you based on your food intake and bloodwork whether you may benefit from a multivitamin.

Some seniors, especially those with a history of stomach or intestinal surgery like gastric bypass, may need to be on a multivitamin, while others may not. It is important to note that while many multivitamins contain vitamins only, others also contain herbal supplements.

Before buying a multivitamin that contains herbal supplements, it is important to check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure that the supplements do not have any drug interactions.

One of the best multivitamin products available on Amazon.com is:

Puritan’s Pride ABC Plus Senior Multi

  • Contains no iron
  • Gluten-free
  • No artificial flavor
  • Contains no herbs

Puritan’s Pride multivitamin contains a variety of standard vitamins, such as Vitamins A, C, D, E, B-12, B-6, B-1, Folic Acid and Calcium.

Notably, it contains no Vitamin K, meaning that it is less likely to impact seniors who are on the blood thinner warfarin.

Further, it contains no iron, making it appropriate for those without an iron deficiency. The serving size is one caplet once daily.

Although the product contains artificial colors, it is free of artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and herbs. It also contains no sugar, milk, lactose, soy, gluten, wheat, yeast or fish.

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Vitamin D

Up to 44% of older adults are deficient in Vitamin D.

One of the biggest reasons that this medical problem is so common is that older adults are more likely to have impaired kidney function.

The kidneys are an important organ for helping to regulate Vitamin D levels in the body. Vitamin D has a key role in a healthy bone structure, immune system and central nervous system.

Data also suggest that Vitamin D may protects from cancers like colon, breast and prostate cancer.

Vitamin D can be obtained in the diet, from sun exposure and as supplements.

More than a quarter of seniors take a Vitamin D supplement. It is important that your doctor regularly check your blood levels of Vitamin D, as both deficiency and excess can be harmful.

One of the best Vitamin D products available on Amazon.com is:

Carlson Super Daily D3 Drops

  • Non-GMO
  • Vegetarian
  • Unflavored
  • Can be mixed with liquids or food

A liquid form of Vitamin D is a good option for those who have trouble swallowing tablets and capsules.

Each drop of this liquid supplement provides 1000 IU of Vitamin D, with a recommended dose of one drop daily.

For convenience, the drops can be mixed with liquid or put on food. As the drops contain no genetically modified organisms, they carry a non-GMO label.

Further, they are vegetarian-friendly and unflavored. They are also free of dairy products, gluten, preservatives and soy.

Seniors can have different vitamin and supplement needs than younger adults.

As such, it is important to make sure that your vitamin and supplement choices reflect your medical history and nutritional status.

Your doctor, pharmacist and dietitian can help guide you towards the safest supplements that will give you the biggest benefit as you age.

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