As we age, dietary supplements are more important than ever. For seniors, supplements help meet nutritional needs when intake is low and absorption becomes more difficult.
Why doctors recommend supplements for seniors
Medications interfere with nutrient status
The older you get, the more pills you take. You know the side effects, but nutrient depletion is not listed on the label. Medications, even common over-the-counter ones like antacids and acetaminophen, deplete vital nutrients. LivOn Labs is gradually adding to a comprehensive resource of articles on medication-induced nutrient depletion. Learn more about drugs that deplete vitamin C, B vitamins, and magnesium, as well as how blood pressure medications deplete nutrients.
Aging makes it harder to absorb nutrients from food
As you age, stomach acid production naturally declines. Certain nutrients need stomach acid to be extracted from food. B12 is one of those nutrients, so it’s no surprise that more than 20% of older adults are deficient in this vitamin.
Malnutrition among the elderly is a major concern
While rare among healthy, independent seniors, malnutrition ranges from 12–50% in hospitalized elderly and from 23–60% among those residing in institutions. Surveys of community-dwelling seniors indicate that 16% consume less than 1000 calories per day. Malnutrition in seniors is often a result of one or a combination of factors, including low food intake, poor food choices, and illness that interferes with nutrient absorption or causes increased nutrient needs. The inability to shop and prepare food, decreased senses of taste and smell, and difficulty swallowing and digesting can cause poor nutrition in the elderly population.
Commonly recommended supplements for seniors
Bone health supplements
Osteoporosis is common among older adults, particularly women with post-menopausal increases in estrogren. Calcium is critical for maintaining bone density with age. The mineral needs Vitamin D to assimilate into bone tissue, which is why these two nutrients are often combined. Aside from this role, Vitamin D is also important for immune system health and seniors who spend less time in the sun are at risk of deficiency.
To absorb B12 from food, you need stomach acid to extract it. A protein called intrinsic factor picks up the free B12 and delivers it for absorption. Supplements contain B12 in the free form, so you do not need stomach acid. However, about 30% of adults have atrophic gastritis, which causes low intrinsic factor and can lead to difficulty absorbing B12 even from supplements. Supplements that use liposomal encapsulation may increase B12 absorption by using liposomes instead of intrinsic factor for nutrient delivery.
In addition to antacids and acid blockers that block stomach acid production, other common medications are known to deplete B12. Hormone replacement therapy, antibiotic, anticonvulsant, anti-gout, cholesterol, psychiatric, and diabetes medications can also interfere with B12 absorption.
B6 deficiency is common in older adults living in nursing homes. The presence of multiple diseases as well as low nutritional intake and absorption difficulties that occur with age can intersect to deplete B6. This vitamin is crucial to maintaining nerve, metabolic, and cardiovascular health. The NIH recommends a higher daily dose for people 51+.
You can often find B6 with B12 in B Complex supplements. Some pharmacists recommend supplementing with the entire B vitamin family to avoid causing a relative deficiency, which can occur when taking only certain B vitamins.
Acetyl L-Carnitine supplements
Several studies suggest acetyl l-carnitine helps to maintain cognitive health in older adults. With so much consistently compelling data emerging, acetyl l-carnitine supplements are becoming almost as common as l-carnitine supplements. Carnitine is a naturally occurring molecule in your body that plays a vital role in converting fat to energy. When attached to an acetyl group, it performs this function in the brain.
Acetyl l-carnitine is the only substance shown to raise carnitine levels in the brain. The studies were performed with this particular substance in supplement form, not l-carnitine.
Our bodies require both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids to manage inflammation. Ideally, we get them in a 2:1 omega 6: omega 3 ratio. Unfortunately, the average American consumes a 20:1 ratio of 6:3, contributing to a state of heightened inflammation without the necessary anti-inflammatory omega-3s.
Omega-3 supplements are often a combination of EPA and DHA fatty acids. They are critical for long-term cognitive function, but brain cells lose the ability to absorb DHA with age.
How to start taking supplements for seniors
Make sure you supplement the nutrients you need. Doctors can order blood tests for vitamin deficiencies and recommend optimal daily doses from there. Supplementing nutrients you do not need is, at best case, a waste of money. In the case of nutrients like B6, chronic excessive doses can damage nerves.
One major complaint about supplements for seniors is the difficulty in swallowing massive pills. B12 is often available as a dissolvable sublingual supplement. Bone supplements are often in gummy form, though these contain ample amounts of sugar. Liposomal supplements offer a pill-free alternative as they come in liquid form and can be easily added to a shot of a cool beverage.