Supplements have become big business in the last couple of decades. No matter at which stage of life you are, ensuring you have the right nutritional intake is important. But there is some argument as to whether it is merely a matter of good diet, or if supplements do truly boost our energy and immune systems. For older people however, there is definitely evidence to suggest that as we age, a good diet on its own may not be enough.
As the body ages, it slows down on the intake and uptake of various vitamins and minerals. This also varies from person to person. There is no doubt that if you are deficient in one or another nutrient required for good health, you will feel this in fatigue, disinterest, digestive problems, aches and pains and general lack of vitality.
Most people who swear by the supplements they take will always express feelings of stronger health and better outlook. In the end supplements, whether they are merely in the mind or truly boosting your well-being, are a matter of individual requirement and response.
Four vital nutrients
From the bewildering array of extra nutriments on offer, you can, as you age, hone down to four vital ones you should consider. These are the ones you should do anyway, anyhow, all the time.
- Vitamin B12: Important for creating red blood cells and maintaining a healthy nerve function. Older people don’t absorb it from food as well as they did when younger. Sources: fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk.
- Folic Acid: This is an essential B vitamin which helps to prevent anemia. Sources: fruits and vegetables and fortified cereals.
- Vitamin D: Vital for assisting the body to absorb calcium, maintain bone density and prevent osteoporosis. It has also been linked in preventing some chronic diseases such as cancer, Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases. Sources: produced by the skin when exposed to direct sunlight, milk, salmon, tuna and eggs.
- Magnesium: A very busy nutriment that plays a crucial role in nearly 300 different physiological processes. It helps to keep your immune system in shape, your heart healthy and your bones strong. Magnesium is often lost during food processes and as we age becomes more difficult to absorb. So supplementing with this one would be good. Sources: fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans and seeds.
- Exercise: the vital extra: You can take as many supplements as you like, if you are not complementing this diet with exercise you are probably wasting your time. Exercise is necessary for all the right nutrients to work optimally in an active body.
Taking things further
Then there are supplements that you may want to add to the above although the jury is still out on whether you are really adding anything of value to your diet or not. Again, it is a matter of what your doctor considers deficient in your diet and what you genuinely feel as beneficial:
- Calcium: Key for building and maintaining strong bones. As we age, we tend to consume less calcium in our diets and if the body doesn’t get enough it tends to take it from our bones, leaving the bone structure brittle and weak, with increased risk of fracture. Sources: chiefly dairy products and fruit and vegetables.
- Potassium: Important for strong bones, efficient cell function, high blood pressure and keeping the risk of kidney stones at bay. Sources: again our old friends fruit and vegetables. But also speak to your doctor to check if your levels are sufficient.
- Omega-3 fats: These unsaturated fats, found primarily in fish, have a wide range of benefits including keeping the brain sharper as we age. They are also beneficial in reducing rheumatoid arthritis, slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration, and may even be useful in reducing the risk of Alzheimers. Sources: salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel. Some vegetable sources include soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil.
Powder drinks and cereals
- The powder supplements that bolster diet: These are probably more beneficial than any tablets because they couch the nutrients in a fully absorbable food source designed to literally sustain the body without food. They are very useful for patients who are unable to eat normally – and just as valuable as a supplement to a small meal or food that may be deficient in vitamins and minerals.
- Fortified cereals: Modern breakfast cereals today are guaranteed to contain an added range of vitamins and minerals in addition to what the cereal itself contains. Always read the boxes before purchase. These additives may be more than enough to sustain the body’s needs without too many other additional (and expensive) supplements.
The ongoing discussion
There are many doctors against the lengths to which vitamin supplements have developed, stating that manufacturers’ claims of tangible effect have not been proven, and that some supplements may actual damage your health if you do not really need them or if you take them in too higher dosage. Good health is, and always has been, about a good diet. But one thing everybody is clear on – and that is as you age, iron is not a good one to be taking – and yet it seems to be in every vitamin package on offer – making it difficult for elderly people to find the right combination.
In the end, health is our most important asset – and whether supplements carry the value they claim is not important because everyone is different and certainly many of the products are genuinely designed to assist health and give you greater quality of life. What you take, and what results you enjoy, is still a matter of individual experience and choice – and careful discussion with your doctor before embarking on any course.
The Helderberg Society for the Aged
The Helderberg Society for the Aged provides a variety of secure lifestyle options for elderly people in an environment of compassion and care. Good health is high on our list of priorities and we encourage our members to actively engage in exercise and as well as many activities for mental alertness. We believe a well-balanced, nutritional diet is the power factor in all the good things and good health our residents enjoy. Our services encompass Independent Living, Assisted Living, Home-based Care and Frail Care.
Find out more about us: www.hsfa.org.za