Most people can get a good amount of vitamins, nutrients and minerals through maintaining a balanced diet, but at times, may require a little help. However, when it comes to elderly nutrition, we might not always know when to take extra tablets and when not to bother.

Many of us choose to take supplements because we think we are not getting the right amount of vitamins through our diet alone. However, you might not realise that taking a high dosage or taking them for too long, can do more harm than good, especially if you already take prescription medicine. Vitamins can also be expensive and unnecessary. Your kidneys get rid of what your body doesn’t need, meaning your expensive supplements may be completely going to waste. Nevertheless, vitamin supplements are helpful for some people.

When you do take supplements, it is important you only take the recommended daily allowance (RDA) and inform your GP first before you start taking them. We have taken a look at the common vitamin supplements and share advice about taking them.

Vitamin D

Our bodies make most of our vitamin D in reaction to sunlight on our skin. It is also found in oily fish, eggs, margarine, yoghurt and some breakfast cereals. However, older adults are at risk of not getting enough vitamin D as they are often not exposed to the sun as much.

In the UK, it is difficult to meet our vitamin D needs through sunlight and diet alone. For this reason, it is recommended over 65s take a supplement of vitamin D of 10 micrograms per day and to get out in the sun for a minimum of 10-15 minutes a day without sunscreen.

You can buy vitamin D supplements at most pharmacies and supermarkets but be sure not to take more than 25 micrograms per day, as it could be harmful. Also, remember to cover up and protect your skin if you’re out in the sun for long periods, especially in the summer.

Iron

Iron is an essential mineral which helps make red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body. You can get iron in your daily diet from food like red meat, pulses and beans, eggs, wholegrain products, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit and fortified cereals.

Older patients should not have routine iron supplements unless they have a known reason for iron deficiency, such as an operation, suffered blood loss, anaemia or are vegan. Iron deficiency in patients over 50 could also be the first signs of another health problem so it should be investigated further when you find you have low iron levels.

There are ways to improve absorption of iron, such as drinking tea and coffee with a meal and boost iron absorption can be done by having vitamin C in your diet or drinking fruit juice with an iron-rich meal.

Calcium

Calcium is an important mineral as it helps build strong bones and teeth, maintains healthy muscle contractions, including your heartbeat and helps blood to clot normally. Milk, cheese and yoghurt are good sources of calcium, as well as green leafy vegetables, nuts and fish like sardines, where you eat the bones.

Eating three to four portions of dairy a day should provide all the calcium you need. It’s best to consult your GP before taking a supplement if you are concerned you are not getting enough, as high doses of calcium can cause stomach pain and diarrhoea.

Consequently, you should only take supplements if you have been advised by your GP to do so. Usually, patients who have a lack mobility are often encouraged to take a calcium supplement due to being increasingly at risk of fracture. 

B Vitamins

There are several types of vitamin B, and they all have different functions within the body, including breaking down energy from food, keeping the skin, eyes and nervous system healthy and helping to form red blood cells.

If you are eating a well-balanced diet that includes wholegrains and cereal, you should be getting all you need. However, in older adults it becomes harder to absorb vitamin B12 which is found in meat, cod, salmon, milk, cheese, eggs and some fortified cereals. People who are deficient are at an increase of anaemia and neurological problems such as memory loss.

There is evidence some older people can have B12 deficiency, and eating fortified breakfast cereals, yeast extract and meat can help. Alternatively, supplement doses at 2mg or less per day are usually safe to take.

Vitamin C

High-dose vitamin C supplements have become a popular way to ward off colds, but they are not always worth the money. It is true vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to fight disease infections and aids healing and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables should help you get what you need.

Aim for five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with only one of those being fruit juice. Citrus fruit, strawberries, mango, peppers and tomatoes are also good sources of vitamin C.

Cod Liver Oil

Cod liver oil can help your joints stay supple and healthy; it is particularly beneficial for people living with arthritis, but can also help with mobility in general terms. Healthy joints are key to staying mobile as you get older. Cod liver oil supplements also contain Omega-3, and vitamins A, D and E, and helps your body fight infections and viruses and keep your skin and hair healthy.

Taking high doses is unsafe as it could lead to blood thinning and chance of bleeding and nausea. Cod liver oil supplements can also lower blood pressure, especially when taken alongside medicine for high blood pressure.

Consult your GP before taking cod liver oil, as they can tell you how long you should take it for, and how much to take per day. They may also advise you an alternative you have not thought about.

If you need more information about health and nutrition for the elderly, take a look at our other posts, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us or leave a comment on our social media channels!