The fresh food you eat is loaded with nutrients necessary for good health, such as magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A and C. But many older adults aren’t getting enough nutrients from their diets.
The typical American diet is heavy in nutrient-poor processed foods, refined grains, and added sugars—all linked to inflammation and chronic disease. Yet even if you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, you may still fall short of needed nutrients. That’s a consequence of aging. “As we get older, our ability to absorb nutrients from food decreases. Also, our energy needs aren’t the same, and we tend to eat less,” explains Dr. Howard Sesso, an epidemiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Can a supplement make up the difference? “It’s a touchy subject, and you need to look at your individual needs first,” says Dr. Sesso.
Evidence about supplements
Dietary supplements would seem to be the obvious way to plug gaps in your diet. But taking too much can actually harm you. For example, you can get too much of a particular nutrient without realizing it. “Extra vitamin A supplements can lead to dangerous, toxic levels if taken too frequently,” notes Dr. Clifford Lo, an associate professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The evidence about the benefits of multivitamins is mixed. Dr. Sesso was a lead researcher in one of the largest studies to date on multivitamins, the Physicians’ Health Study II, which found that multivitamins were associated with a small reduction in the risk of cancer and cataracts in men, but did not reduce deaths from heart disease. A study published March 1, 2015, in TheJournal of Nutrition found that a multivitamin with minerals lowered the risk of death from heart disease in women, but not in men. However, a review of a number of studies, published in Annals of Internal Medicine in 2013, found that multivitamins showed no benefit in preventing early death. Because the findings from these and many other studies conflict, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force doesn’t support vitamin and mineral supplements to ward off disease.
What you should do
Both Dr. Sesso and Dr. Lo advise that you try to improve your diet before you use supplements. That’s because nutrients are most potent when they come from food. “They are accompanied by many nonessential but beneficial nutrients, such as hundreds of carotenoids, flavonoids, minerals, and antioxidants that aren’t in most supplements,” says Dr. Lo.
Plus, “food tastes better and is often less expensive than adding supplements,” says Dr. Sesso. “Work with a dietitian, and try to get a sense of what’s missing from your diet and what changes might be considered.”
If you are unable to make dietary changes, or if you have a genuine deficiency in a particular nutrient, such as vitamin D, both doctors say that a supplement may be helpful. Just be careful; the manufacture of supplements isn’t monitored by the government in the way that the manufacture of pharmaceuticals is—so you can’t be sure exactly what you’re getting.
Bottom line: “Look for a multivitamin with D and B vitamins (especially folate), iron, magnesium, and calcium,” says Dr. Sesso, “and go for a well-known brand that’s been around for a long time and is likely well tested.”
Good food sources of important nutrients
Lean beef, turkey, tuna, sunflower seeds, spinach and other
leafy greens, eggs
Salmon, tuna, lean beef, vitamin D-fortified milk and yogurt,
fortified orange juice, egg yolk
Liver, oysters, lean beef, chickpeas, beans, lentils, and sesame seeds
Spinach, kale, and other leafy green vegetables; unrefined grains;
Dairy products, fish such as salmon and sardines, and dark, leafy greens.
Researchers have found that nutrients from food may be linked to lower risks of death, while excess intake of certain supplements may have the opposite effect.
Research examines the effects of nutrients from food and supplements.
Taking supplements leads to an increased level of total nutrient intake.
Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and enzymes.
Suppliers sell them in different forms, including tablets, capsules, powders, and liquids.
Common dietary supplements include calcium, fish oil, and vitamin D.
Dietary supplements should not replace complete meals, which are essential to nurturing the body. Talking to healthcare providers before making the decision about whether to take supplements is a good practice. Doctors can help people achieve a balance between nutrients from food and supplements.
Many supplements also contain active ingredients that may have strong biological effects. Any of the following actions could be harmful or even life-threatening: combining supplements, mixing supplements with medicines, or taking too much of some supplements, especially vitamin A, vitamin D, and iron.
When buying supplements in the United States, it is important to read labels and get information about the manufacturer. The Food and Drug AdministrationTrusted Source (FDA) are responsible for taking action against any adulterated or misbranded supplements — but not before the products are available on the market.
Supplement consumption in the US
According to the 2018 consumer survey conducted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), consumer confidence in products and trust in the dietary supplement industry is strong among people in the U.S.
The survey found that 75 percent of U.S. individuals take dietary supplements, as opposed to just 65 percent in 2009.
“This year’s data provide further evidence that dietary supplements are mainstays in modern-day health and wellness regimens,” explains Brian Wommack, the senior vice president of communications at the CRN.
Vitamin and mineral supplements such as vitamin D and calcium remain the most popular types. However, the use of herbals and botanicals — especially turmeric — has significantly increased during the past 5 years.
The main reason that U.S. individuals take dietary supplements is overall health and wellness, according to the survey.
Nutrients from food vs. supplements with heart disease
Although many people use dietary supplements, a recent study found that multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C showed no advantage or added risk in the prevention of cardiovascular disease or premature death, however, folic acid alone and B vitamins with folic acid may reduce the risk of heart disease. If you enjoyed this post, why not check out the 60 Day Diet & Workout Plan?
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