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A guide to supplements and vitamins

20th April 2015

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

As we get older it can prove more difficult to obtain all the vitamins and minerals that we need to remain healthy. Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that the body needs in order to work, but as we get older sometimes it is harder to absorb some particular vitamins and certain vitamins can prove a real life transformer for the older body.

Here we look into some of the vitamins and supplements that are often recommended for elderly stairlift users and the older generation to help improve mobility and overall health.

Do I need supplements?

Perhaps understandably, many people are cautious about taking supplements and vitamins. Rather than taking extra pills and tablets, the majority of the public would far rather ensure that they are getting the correct amount of vitamins and minerals from their diet. This is for good reason; there are many warnings by medical professionals that taking too many supplements or taking them for too long could cause more harm than good. So how do you answer the question ‘do I need supplements?’

Firstly, it is always recommended that you see your GP before starting on any course of supplements or vitamins as they can test to see if you have a deficiency in the vitamin you are looking to take and can recommend the correct course of action. As we get older, sometimes we need more of certain minerals and vitamins than we did when we were younger, additionally certain minerals and vitamins can help strengthen bones and support joints to work towards avoiding many of the accidents and conditions associated with old age, such as trips and falls. Here we set out the main vitamins and supplements you may think about taking as you approach old age, but bear in mind this is an overview and no replacement for medical advice.

Vitamin D

It may be a running joke that Britons don’t get enough exposure to the sun due to the notorious weather in our country, but as we get older this can have an increasingly damaging effect on our bodies. People over the age of 65 are particularly at risk of not getting enough vitamin D, the vitamin secured through exposure to sunlight on our skin and also found in a small number of foods such as oily fish, eggs, fortified fat spreads, fortified breakfast cereals and some powdered milks.

A lack of vitamin D in adults can lead to bone pain and tenderness as a result of a condition called osteomalacia as it helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body to keep bones and teeth healthy.

The recommended daily dose of vitamin D supplements for over 65s is 10 micrograms a day according to British Dietetic Association spokesperson Priya Tew in this Age UK article.

Calcium

Similarly, calcium is particularly important as we get older as it is an important mineral that helps build string bones, regulates muscle contractions and ensures that blood clots normally. It is recommended in cases where there is an increased risk of fracture in those who are frail and housebound, however a supplement should only be recommended by a medical professional as too much calcium can lead to stomach pain or diarrhoea.

In most cases, 2-4 portions of dairy a day is enough to ensure that you are getting the recommended daily allowance of calcium. Good sources of calcium include:

  • Milk, cheese and other dairy foods.
  • Green leafy vegetables. This includes broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach.
  • Soya beans.
  • Tofu.
  • Soya drinks with added calcium.
  • Nuts.
  • Bread and other products made with fortified flour.
  • Fish where you eat the bones, including sardines and pilchards.

Magnesium

The absorption of magnesium decreases with age and absorption can be affected by certain medications, which could prove damaging. Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, brown rice, fish, meat and dairy, among other foods, and helps make sure the parathyroid glands work normally.

Despite this, most people should get the recommended about of magnesium (300mg a day for men and 270mg for women) from their diet. If you are concerned that you may not be getting enough, be sure to consult your doctor.

Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fats are fatty acids that are important for good health. They can be found naturally in your diet and most people get enough from their daily dietary intake. Among their benefits it has been suggested that they can help reduce symptoms associated with old age such as rheumatoid arthritis and slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is a condition that reduces vision in older people.

Two portions of fish a week, including salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel, which are especially high in omega-3 fats, should be enough to reach your recommended amount, but if you are thinking about taking omega-3 supplements, be sure to consult your GP.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is important for making red blood cells and keeping the nervous system healthy, but as we get older it is harder for our bodies to absorb this vitamin from our food. A deficiency in B12 can lead to an increased risk of anaemia and neurological problems. Vitamin B12 is found naturally in meat, cod, salmon, milk, cheese, eggs and some fortified cereals, and adults need around 0.0015mg a day of vitamin B12, but taking 2mg or less a day of vitamin B12 in supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

Glucosamine

Glucosamine is an amino sugar that is found naturally within the joints, where taking a supplement can help maintain the joints and stimulate the production of connective tissues. While the size of the effect of taking glucosamine supplements is modest, it could work towards maintaining joints. Speak to your doctor if you have any questions or think you might start taking such supplements.

As with all vitamins and supplements, it is always recommended that you speak to a medical professional before you start taking them. We may be able to give expert advice on walk in showers and mobility equipment, but there is no replacement for expert medical advice when it comes to your health.

Think you know a thing or two about vitamins and supplements? Why not take our quick quiz?

 

 

Image Credit: Steven Depolo (flickr.com)

This content was written by Emily Bray. Please feel free to visit my Google + profile to read more stories.