Senior Health Supplements: Should You Be Taking Vitamins?

Senior Health Supplements: Should You Be Taking Vitamins?

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vitamin-supplementsGood nutrition is an essential part of senior health but, if you are like millions of Americans, you may not be getting all the vitamins and minerals you need through what you eat. The convenience—and never-ending variety— of packaged and fast foods can make it difficult to eat nutritious foods at every meal and even when you make a conscious effort to eat more healthfully, there are other factors that can keep you from getting the nutrients you need:

  • Special diets
  • Busy schedules that make meal planning difficult
  • Light appetites
  • Reduced sense of taste or smell that make many healthy foods seem bland or boring
  • Difficulty chewing or loss of appetite
  • Certain medical conditions and medications that prevent proper absorption of nutrients from food
  • Age-related changes that mean your body does not process and absorb certain vitamins and minerals as well as it used to

The bottom line is this: even if you think you’re eating healthy meals, you don’t know if you’re actually getting all the nutrients you need to keep living a happy and independent lifestyle.

What Vitamins Are Most Important for Older Adults?

Vitamin B12, a nutrient that occurs naturally in animal products, plays an important role in senior health. Getting enough of this little nutrient is critical in reducing your risk for heart disease—and it’s even been shown to prevent cognitive decline.

While most adults are able to get all the vitamin B12 they need by eating a balanced diet, the Institute on Aging acknowledges that “as people grow older, some have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 naturally found in food.” So, some older adults may need to take a supplement—especially if they adhere to a vegan diet.

Vitamin D—the sunshine vitamin—is a necessary nutrient that helps your body process calcium that keeps your bones strong. Most people get enough vitamin D through sunshine and from food. You might need vitamin D supplements if you do not get outside very often.

And speaking of calcium, most seniors do not get enough of the mineral for solid bones, strong muscles and healthy nerve function. Low calcium levels can lead to osteoporosis, which causes bones to be thin, frail, and prone to fracture. Certain medications, such as prednisone, can prevent proper absorption of calcium and increase risk for osteoporosis.

Certain antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, beta carotene, and lycopene, can help slow the aging process and help fight cancer and heart disease. Fortunately— or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it—you can only gain these particular health benefits when you get these antioxidants through food.  Supplements do not provide the same levels of protection against cancer and heart disease.

How Much Is Enough?

You may need nutritional supplements if you are not getting all the vitamins and minerals you need each day for good health. The University of Rochester Medical Center lists the following recommended daily intake levels for seniors over 71:


  • Vitamin A, 900 mcg
  • Vitamin C, 90 mg
  • Vitamin D, 20 mcg
  • Vitamin E, 15 mg
  • Vitamin B6, 1.7 mg
  • Vitamin B12, 2.4 mcg
  • Folate, 400 mcg
  • Iron, 8 mg
  • Calcium, 1,200 mg
  • Niacin, 16 mg


  • Vitamin A, 700 mcg
  • Vitamin C, 75 mg
  • Vitamin D, 20 mcg
  • Vitamin E, 15 mg
  • Vitamin B6, 1.5 mg
  • Vitamin B12, 2.4 mcg
  • Folate, 400 mcg
  • Iron, 8 mg
  • Calcium, 1,200 mg
  • Niacin, 14 mg

More Isn’t Always Better

As many as 10 percent of older adults get ten times the recommended daily amount of certain vitamins. And, unfortunately, some vitamins and minerals— especially iron and vitamins A, D, E, and B6— can be harmful when consumed in excess or by people with certain medical conditions.

If you worry about getting all the vitamins and minerals you need for a long and healthy life, speak with your doctor or nutritionist. Your senior healthcare team can assess your medical condition, lifestyle and current nutritional intake and then help you decide whether you should be taking supplements.

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Bryan Reynolds
November 01, 2014
Bryan Reynolds is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Bryan is responsible for developing and implementing ERS' digital marketing strategy, and overseeing the website, social media outlets, audio and video content and online advertising. After originally attending The Ohio State University, he graduated from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a Bachelor of fine arts focused on electronic media. Bryan loves to share his passion for technology by assisting older adults with their computer and mobile devices. He has taught several classes within ERS communities as well as at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute run by the University of Cincinnati. He also participates on the Technology Team at ERS to help provide direction. Bryan and his wife Krista currently reside in Lebanon, Ohio with their 5 children.

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