We have all been told that taking a daily multi-vitamin can be helpful. The body needs vitamins and minerals to function at its best and as we age, our intake of food can decline or change in such a way that we may be afraid we are not getting enough of what we need to stay healthy.
But, today, if you go to a drug store, you will find not just a few different brands of multi-vitamins; you will find a pharmacy of amino acids, minerals, hormones, herbs, and individual vitamins on the shelf. Some will come in different forms – like “Vitamin D” or “Vitamin D3.” What does it all mean? Do you need all these things? And can some be harmful?
Vitamins are Not Always Necessary
It is important to stress that the very best way to get your necessary vitamins is through natural foods. The closer you stay to a food’s original whole state (like eating old fashioned oatmeal, salads, vegetables steamed or raw, etc.) the more nutritional content they retain. Heavily processed foods like baked goods and most things found in a box are usually stripped of their original nutritional content. Sometimes, this nutrition is added back in after the processing – like in dry breakfast cereals.
However, the closer you stick to whole foods, the better your body will be able to actually use the vitamins and minerals in the food. For some vitamins, many people are able to get the required amount with relative ease in their normal diets.
If you or someone you love is having trouble eating nutrient rich foods because of a lack of appetite or other type of problem like difficulty chewing – supplements could help along with tried and true tips for healthy senior nutrition.
Are Supplements Safe for Older Adults?
Not all supplements are made with the same quality and unlike prescribed medications, the Food and Drug Administration does not put over the counter supplements through the same rigorous testing as medications a doctor would prescribe. Also, unlike medications from the pharmacy, nutritional supplements are not necessarily even effective. So, while someone on tv or in a magazine article may have said that taking a certain vitamin can help with a certain problem, it may not actually be the truth.
And many supplements can interact negatively with other medications you are taking and with each other. For instance, some people hear that they need some type of B vitamin – like B6. But, the B vitamins work best when they are in a certain ratio with each other. So, taking a really high dose of one may offset the other B vitamins causing a deficiency in some other B type vitamin.
Taking a certain supplement can just make a needed medication from your doctor ineffective at best and dangerous in the worst-case scenario. One herbal supplement called St. John’s Wort can cause serious side effects when taken with certain medications.
Many dosage levels are also not tested on elderly people. Often, they are tested on young men! This is true of all medications – prescribed or over-the-counter. So, it is important to understand that a supplement’s intended effect and known side effects and dosage may not be exactly right for a frail thin elderly person.
Speaking of dosage, some vitamins can be harmful at higher levels. Vitamin A is one of those vitamins that can cause problems if you take too much of it.
Side Effects of Supplements
Some of the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other types of herbal formulas can come with odd side effects in some people. You may also have allergic reactions to some. And, as stated above, some can cause problems when interacting with other supplements or medications.
It is important to know that the manufacturers of supplements do not need to prove that their product is safe, nor do they need to inform you of possible side effects or drug interactions. So, the best thing to do is to avoid supplements unless your doctor thinks you need them.
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)
One way to judge if it is too much is if a supplement shows an extremely high “RDA” percentage. On the label is will say how many milligrams of the vitamin you get with each daily dosage and then give a percent of its “RDA.” One hundred percent RDA means you are getting the full amount recommended for that vitamin from the supplement. You will get more than that from the food you take in that day as well.
If a supplement says it is giving you a thousand percent of a certain vitamin or mineral – that is a warning sign that you may be getting too much of it. If you are trying to select a multi-vitamin, it is not necessary to get an “elderly” formula – but it is a good idea to look and see that most of the components of the formula are closer to a “100%” RDA level.
Talking to Your Doctor is Best
The very best thing you can do is ask your doctor if taking supplements is even necessary. If so, ask for a recommendation of brand and levels and bring it in next time you see him or her to make sure you are taking the right things for you. Your doctor knows about the other medications you are taking. If for some reason, you feel it is necessary to take supplements but do not know much about them and cannot see your doctor, ask a pharmacist – making sure to give information about your food habits and other drugs you are taking. But, your physician is best for helping you make the right choices for you since he or she also knows of any other health problems you may have.
Again, the very best way to ensure you are getting the nutrition you need is through natural foods. If your doctor wants you to take a supplement, ask for help selecting the exact right one and only take what you and your doctor think you need. For instance, if you need just calcium, don’t purchase a bottle of vitamins with “calcium, magnesium, and zinc.” Just buy the calcium! Working closely with your doctor is the best way to ensure that your supplements are both needed and safe!