Aging & Dietary Supplements (cont.)

For example, a vitamin A intake of 100% DV (Daily Value) means the supplement is giving you the full amount of vitamin A you need each day. This is in addition to what you are getting from your food.

Some people might think that if a little is good, a lot must be better. But, that doesn't necessarily apply to vitamins and minerals. Depending on the supplement, your age, and your health, taking more than 100% DV could be harmful to your health. Also, if your body cannot use the entire supplement you take, you've wasted money. Finally, large doses of some vitamins and minerals can also keep your prescription medications from working as they should.

Anything Special For People Over 50?

Even if you eat a good variety of foods, if you are over 50, you might need certain supplements. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. Depending on your needs, he or she might suggest you get the following amounts from food and, if needed, supplements:

  • Vitamin B12-2.4 mcg (micrograms) of B12 each day. Some foods, such as cereals, are fortified with this vitamin. But, up to one-third of older people can no longer absorb natural vitamin B12 from their food. They need this vitamin to keep their blood and nerves healthy.
  • Calcium-1200 mg (milligrams), but not more than 2500 mg a day. As you age, you need more of this and vitamin D to keep bones strong and to keep the bone you have. Bone loss can lead to fractures, mainly of the hip, spine, or wrist, in both older women and men.
  • Vitamin D-400 IU (international units) for people age 51 to 70 and 600 IU for those over 70, but not more than 2000 IU each day.
  • Iron-extra iron for women past menopause who are using hormone replacement therapy (men and other postmenopausal women need 8 mg of iron). Iron helps keep red blood cells healthy. Postmenopausal women who use hormone replacement therapy may still experience a monthly period. They need extra iron to make up for that loss of blood.
  • Vitamin B6-1.7 mg for men and 1.5 mg for women. This vitamin is needed for forming red blood cells and to keep you healthy.

What Are Antioxidants?

You may have heard about the possible benefits of antioxidants, natural substances found in food. Right now, there is no proof that large doses of antioxidants will prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, or cataracts. Eating fruits and vegetables (at least five servings a day) rather than taking a supplement is the best way to get antioxidants. Vegetable oil and nuts are also good sources of some antioxidants. Non-dairy calcium sources are especially good for people who cannot use dairy products.

Sources of Calcium
  • dairy products like milk and cheese and foods made with them,
  • canned fish with soft bones like salmon and sardines,
  • dark green leafy vegetables,
  • calcium-fortified products such as orange juice, and
  • breads and cereals made with calcium-fortified flour.

What About Herbal Supplements?

You may have heard of ginkgo biloba, ginseng, Echinacea, or black cohosh. These are examples of herbal supplements. They are dietary supplements that come from certain plants. It's easy to think they are safe because they come from plants. And, although herbal supplements are not approved as drugs, some are being studied as possible treatments for illness. But, it's still too soon to tell. Remember some strong poisons like hemlock and prescription medicines such as cancer drugs come from plants as well. You need to be careful.

When you use any dietary supplement, including herbals, for a health problem, you are using that supplement as a drug. Because their ingredients may have an effect on your body, they can interfere with medications you may already be taking. Some herbal supplements can also cause serious side effects such as high blood pressure, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, fainting, headaches, seizures, heart attack, or stroke.

What's Best For Me?

If you are thinking about using dietary supplements for any reason, remember:

  • Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. Just because something worked for your neighbor, doesn't mean the same will be true for you.
  • Use only the supplement your doctor or dietitian and you decide on-don't buy combinations that have things you don't want or need.
  • If your doctor does not suggest a dietary supplement, but you decide to use one anyway, tell your doctor. Then he or she can keep an eye on your health and adjust your other medications if needed.
  • Learn as much as you can about the supplement you are thinking about, but be aware of the source of the information. Could the writer or group profit from the sale of a particular supplement?
  • Buy brands you know from companies you, your doctor, your dietitian, or your pharmacist know are reputable. Remember that many of the claims made about supplements are not based on enough scientific proof. If you have questions about a supplement, contact the firm and ask if it has information on the safety and/or effectiveness of the ingredients in its product.