Are Vitamins Vital After 50?
Q: Does it hurt to take vitamins after age 50? Is there a benefit of taking vitamins for this age group?
A: Yes, it may hurt to take too many vitamins. Many of today’s selections contain hundreds of percentages—if not thousands—of the recommended dietary allowances (RDA) of these organic nutrients. And, when combined with foods (even some sodas) that are already supplemented with these same vitamins, our bodies may be getting a toxic exposure. Complications may include bleeding, mental changes, physical weakness, kidney stones, vision, liver and bone abnormalities and potentially dangerous interactions with medications that could result in muscle, eye and bone pain, liver toxicity or other problems. These concerns are especially true for the fat-soluble vitamins known as A, D, E and K.
There are factors that can potentially put a person at nutritional risk. In cases such as these supplementing with vitamins may be very helpful. These conditions include but aren’t limited to:
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Limited ability to shop or afford foods needed for balanced and healthy meals
- Changes in the digestive system that makes it more difficult for the body to process certain vitamins such as B-6, B-12 and folic acid
- Newly single seniors may not know how to cook or prepare meals
- Poor appetite due to decreased sensations of taste or smell, depression or medical illness (cancer, kidney or liver disease, others)
- Restricted diets (diabetes, food allergies, kidney disease, others)
- Tobacco smoking or alcohol abuse
It is also important to know that certain medications can affect the body’s ability to absorb or utilize vitamins (or minerals). These include anti-seizure drugs, antacids, stomach acid-suppressing medications, diuretics, fat-blocking diet medications, anti-inflammatory drugs and mineral oil laxatives. Other medications may also increase one’s nutritional risk, which makes it especially important to speak with a doctor or pharmacist to find out if vitamin supplementation is right for you.
There are 13 vitamins that are essential for our bodies to function in a healthy manner. These include fat-soluble vitamins (stored in body fat) and water-soluble vitamins (used very quickly with excess amounts cleared through our urinary system). For most people, these essential vitamins can be obtained through a healthy and well-rounded diet.
Vitamin A may be found in liver, eggs, fish liver oil and dairy products. Dark red, green or yellow vegetables also contain a form of this vitamin known as beta carotene.
B-1 (thiamine) is found in many food sources including pork, fortified cereals, nuts and oatmeal.
B-2 (riboflavin) is present in liver, dairy products and fortified cereals, as well as some dark green leafy vegetables.
B-3 (niacin) has a large presence in fish such as mackerel, salmon and swordfish, chicken, veal and many fortified cereals.
B-5 (pantothenic acid) is in many whole grains, milk, eggs, liver and beans.
B-6 (pyridoxine) may be found in oily fish, whole grains, soybeans and fortified cereals, baked potatoes with their skin, chicken, meat, peanuts, watermelon, avocados and bananas.
B-12 (cobalamin) is only found naturally in animal products, eggs, dairy and fish (clams, oily fish). It may also be found in many cereals due to added vitamin supplementation.
Biotin is naturally contained in mushrooms, milk, eggs, nuts, whole grains, liver, tomatoes and brewer’s yeast. It is also produced naturally by the bacteria in our intestines.
Folate is found naturally in orange juice, bananas and many other fruits, green leafy vegetables, peas, dried beans, yeast and asparagus. The synthetic form, folic acid, is added to many of our grain products.
Vitamin C may be found in many citrus juices, papayas, bell peppers, hot chili peppers, broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes and many other fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) can be manufactured by our bodies after exposure to the sun three times per week, 15 minutes per exposure (exceptions are often those over 70 or with little exposure to sunlight). It is also found in fortified milk, egg yolk, liver and fatty fish.
Vitamin E is contained in corn, nuts, dark leafy vegetables such as spinach, vegetable oils and margarine.
Vitamin K is found in canola, olive and soybean oils, as well as cabbage, spinach, cauliflower and cereals.
If you do decide to choose a multiple vitamin, it’s “buyer beware” when it comes time to purchase them—vitamins and other dietary supplements are not required to undergo the same pre-market testing that’s mandatory for prescription medications. This makes it especially important to choose the type and brand of vitamin that is best for you. The following suggestions may help:
- Just because expensive products might have all kinds of “extras,” that doesn’t mean they are better.
- Do not buy “mega-vitamins” containing hundreds or thousands of times the recommended dietary allowances. A vitamin containing 100 percent of this amount is usually all that is needed unless suggested by your physician, registered dietician or health care specialist.
- Only buy from well-known manufacturers or trusted retailers (check with the Better Business Bureau if you have concerns, especially when buying from unknown companies over the Internet).
- Look for a stamp on the vitamin container stating U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF or ConsumerLab.com verification. If present, it indicates the product has been tested by one of these laboratories and contains the ingredients in the amounts listed on the label. However, it does not mean the products are safe or effective for any health benefit or claim as stated on the label.
Lastly, while a vitamin in small quantities is often helpful, when taken in large or unsupervised amounts they have the potential to cause harm. Always inform your physician or healthcare provider the type and quantity of any vitamin supplement you may take.
For further information, please visit the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
More From Dr. Rob:
- Unusual Food Allergies
- Silencing a Snoring Spouse
- Listening to the Female Heart
- When Menopause Dampens Desire
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