For children, taking multi-vitamins can be fun. Kids get to pick out a favorite character that tastes more like candy than it does a vitamin. Senior multi-vitamins may be less attractive, but multi-vitamins provide people of all ages with minerals and nutrients that aid in developing a healthier life.
It becomes harder with age to maintain proper nutrient levels, whether it is because of a poor diet or other health conditions that limit the body’s ability to absorb vital nutrients such as calcium, B vitamins, and iron. Nutrient requirements also change as we get older. Seniors can easily become deficient in essential components necessary for healthy living, but taking a multi-vitamin can help fill in the gaps to prevent illness and, as some studies are showing, even improve cognitive functioning in older people with mild impairments.
Picking a Good Vitamin
Vitamins are considered dietary supplements, and it is always recommended to consult with a physician before adding or removing them to a daily routine. Even though they are sold over the counter, vitamins may affect any number of prescription medications that are being taken at the time. Not all vitamins are created equal, not even senior multi-vitamins. When picking the right multi-vitamin, it helps to understand their components and if they will accomplish the desired ends.
The most common ingredients found in senior multi-vitamins are:
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Folic Acid
- Omega – 3’s
Some multi-vitamins will also include herbal and botanical ingredients that the FDA does not approve or endorse. That is why it is important to check with a doctor before going on a specific vitamin regimen.
Vitamin B Group Deficiency
One of the most common nutrient deficiencies in older people is the vitamin B group, B6 and B12. These nutrients are key to cognitive health and metabolism. They keep blood cells healthy and DNA routinely repaired and created. They help to prevent anemia, depression, loss of appetite and constipation. Pretty much every function in the body depends on adequate levels of Vitamin B.
Scientists with the School of Nursing at Korea’s Suwon Women’s University have analyzed the effect of B6 and B12 on elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment associated with dementia. They concluded that oral vitamin ingestion by senior citizens with mild cognitive impairments prevented additional losses of cognitive functions, including dementia, and yet were comparatively inexpensive and easy to take relative to other medicines.
Vitamins with Aging Bone Support
It has long been known that calcium is important for building strong bones. Yet it isn’t the only nutrient able to help prevent fractures. One study still in the clinical phase is looking at some promising initial results with supplementing Vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids to work together in preventing early fractures in older men and women by strengthening bone structure and improving bone density. While multi-vitamins should never be a replacement for a well-balanced diet, sometimes prescribed medications can supplement what an older person eats. Having a multi-vitamin with nutrients that may be missing from a daily diet can provide the missing link to improved health such as stronger bones and improved cognitive functioning.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
The idea of more is better doesn’t hold true when it comes to taking multi-vitamins. In fact, taking too much of a certain nutrient can cause adverse effects. Iron is commonly used to treat anemia and alleviate fatigue, but when too much is ingested it can lead to digestive trouble and eventually jaundice, a drop in blood pressure, and seizures. When Vitamin A is absorbed beyond the recommended daily amount, a person can experience dizziness, nausea, and even coma or death. When taken in the proper amount, however, it can improve the immune system and help the organs to function properly.
Take Caution to Avoid Unintended Side Effects
Some ingredients should be avoided when a person is taking certain prescription medications. Vitamin K interferes with the body’s ability to effectively reduce blood clots while on the blood thinner Coumadin. Certain anti-oxidants (Vitamins C and E) can reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy. and St. John’s Wort, a popular herbal supplement, can make prescription drugs less effective (and thereby dangerous).
Because taking multi-vitamins means putting powerful substances in the body, it is always a good idea to check with a physician to make sure the supplements will not cause more harm than good. With so many different types on the market, there is bound to be one right for any specific person’s needs when coordinated with that person’s physician.
Any vitamin claiming it can “cure disease” or “shrink tumors” should be approached with extreme caution and should never be taken against a doctor’s advice. There is no such thing as a miracle multi-vitamin, but with all of the confirmed benefits they have to offer to older people, they are worth looking into and finding the right one to improve health and quality of life.
LeBoff, M.S., Yue, A. Y., Copeland, T., Cook, N. R., Buring, J. E., Manson, J. E. (March 2015). VITAL-Bone Health: Rationale and design of two ancillary studies evaluating the effects of vitamin D and/or omega-3 fatty acid supplements on incident fractures and bone health outcomes in the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL). Contemporary Clinical Trials, 41, pp. 259-268. Available at http://www.contemporaryclinicaltrials.com/article/S1551-7144(15)00019-1/abstract. Last visited May 30, 2016.
Lee, H. K., (2016). Effects of Orally-taken Vitamins on Blood-Homocysteine Levels and Cognitive Functions: Focusing on Senior Citizens with Mild Cognitive Impairments. International Journal of Bio-Science and Bio-Technology, 8(2): 255-264. Available at http://www.sersc.org/journals/IJBSBT/vol8_no2/24.pdf. Last visited May 30, 2016.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tips for Older Dietary Supplement Users. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/UsingDietarySupplements/ucm110493.htm. Last visited May 30, 2016.