If you’ve ever strolled along the section of a drugstore devoted to dietary supplements, you’re well aware of the dizzying variety of possibilities that are at your disposal for stocking your medicine chest. The majority of those who take dietary supplements do so consistently, as indicated by the results of a consumer survey on dietary supplements conducted by the Council on Responsible Nutrition in 2022.
It is essential to keep in mind that supplements are, in fact, just that: additional. The best way to acquire the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you need is by eating a diet that is both healthy and nutritious. While supplements can help make up for nutrient deficiencies, the best way to receive the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you need is through a balanced diet.
Kara Burnstine, RD, a nutrition expert at the Pritikin Longevity Center, argues that “supplements will never give you what actual, real food will,” and she is right. “They merely help you along the way. They are not intended to be used in place of regular meals.
However, Burnstine is aware that there are potential drawbacks to relying only on food for adequate nutrition, and she acknowledges that there are circumstances in which supplements might be beneficial.
“It would be wonderful if we all ate all of our fruits and vegetables as well as our lean proteins and our whole grains and got everything that we needed from the food supply, but unfortunately, our food supply is sometimes not the highest quality either,” she says. Therefore, despite doing many of the beneficial activities, we might not be absorbing all of the nutrients that are in the food we eat.
She claims that as you get older, the shortcomings can become even more evident.
Because we are machines, as we become older, the things that previously functioned well start to lose some of their effectiveness. When that happens, we might have to rely more heavily on dietary supplements.
Not all supplements are appropriate for everyone. Always with your doctor before beginning any supplement to ensure that it will not interfere with any medications you are taking or put you at risk of additional complications. However, Burnstine suggests the following for most adults nearing or in their golden years:
Calcium is important for bone strength
Calcium performs numerous roles for your body, including blood clotting, muscle contraction, and the regulation of proper heart rhythms and neuron activities. It also helps to grow and maintain strong bones. When you don’t get enough calcium from your diet, your body borrows calcium from your bones to keep things operating properly. A daily calcium intake can help you replace this calcium and maintain your bones strong.
When you reach the age of 50, your daily calcium requirement increases. Prior to then, 1,200 milligrams per day will suffice, but once you reach the half-century mark, it’s time to increase to 1,500 milligrams each day. Women who have reached menopause are at the greatest risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle. Calcium deficiency increases these odds even higher.
According to Burnstine, if you know you’re not getting at least two servings of calcium every day, a calcium supplement is an excellent idea. However, the supplement is only one part of the picture.
“In addition to the calcium supplement, I’m also going to recommend that you get at least two servings of dairy or that you eat a lot of green leafy vegetables, and you do resistance training, which protects bones more than anything else,” she said.
Vitamin D boosts immunity
In terms of strong bones, your body can only absorb calcium when vitamin D levels are high. Furthermore, vitamin D is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective. It helps with immunological function, muscular function, and brain cell functioning.
Because your body does not produce vitamin D, you must obtain it from outside sources. Food, the sun, and supplements are examples of them. Your daily requirement before the age of 70 is 600 IU. It rises to 800 IU after 70. Your body may require a boost in your latter years to reach these objectives.
“As we age, most of us no longer absorb vitamin D as well,” Burnstine says. This is especially true if you live in a location with little sunlight or if you regularly apply sunscreen.
Probiotics for digestive health
Probiotic supplements—the “good” bacteria that reside in your digestive tract and help keep “bad” bacteria in check—may help prevent age-related variations in gut microbiota, enhancing your immune health and promoting healthy digestion as you age, according to new research.
“We know that if our gut health is good, everything else follows, in terms of inflammation, brain fog, weight loss, sleep, depression,” Burnstine said. “Our gut is tied to just about everything.”
Probiotics, like other nutrients, are best obtained through the foods you eat. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, refrigerated sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and miso are high in them. However, a supplement isn’t a bad idea.
Some supplements contain up to 50 billion CFUs (colony-forming units), which may appear to be a large quantity, but according to Burnstine, your body only absorbs 20% to 30% of that amount.
Magnesium improves mood
Magnesium is linked to immunological function and enzymatic activities, and it helps to reduce inflammation. It also plays an important role in mood stability. Magnesium levels decline with age, putting you at risk of mental health issues.
“People who are low in magnesium tend to have higher depression,” Burnstine said. Chronically low levels can also increase your risk of hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Anyone over the age of 30 should have 320-420 mg of magnesium each day, according to Burnstine, but not all magnesium supplements are the same.
“For example, you could take a magnesium carbonate, but you could also take something called magnesium glycinate, which is slightly easier on the stomach,” she said. “The combination of how it’s formulated causes sort of different responses.” Consult your doctor about the appropriate magnesium supplement for you.
To cover all bases, take a multivitamin
A daily multivitamin, while not a cure-all, can provide an overall nutritional boost. At the very least, it won’t hurt, according to Burnstine.
“I always say that a multivitamin is sort of like an insurance policy,” she said. “I would recommend a general multivitamin at any age.”
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