Anyone who has been to the vitamin aisle at the local grocery store won’t be surprised that the sale of multivitamins in the United States accounts for $4 billion in annual revenue. What’s more, nearly half of all dietary supplements were purchased by baby boomers.
The vast array of multivitamins, individual vitamins, and supplements is enough to overwhelm any consumer. The good news is it’s simpler than you might think. In fact, for most baby boomers, a multivitamin and perhaps a few carefully selected and doctor-approved additions should be all that’s needed.
Vitamins: What Is the Best Multivitamin?
As people age their bodies undergo an ironic transformation. Older adults generally need fewer calories and may eat less, yet at the same time their vitamin and mineral requirements increase due to less efficient digestion, among other physiological factors.
“For individuals over 50, a daily multivitamin supplement can provide all the micronutrients they aren’t getting in their daily food intake,” says Leticia Aliaga, RD, a dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.
Specifically, Aliaga recommends a multivitamin that meets the following Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for adults 51 to 70 years old:
Calcium: 1,200 mg Magnesium: 320 mg for women and 420 mg for men Zinc: 12 mg for women, and 15 mg for men Folate: 400 mcg B12: 2.4 mcg Vitamin C: 60 mg (100 mg for people who smoke) Vitamin D: 10 mcg Vitamin E: 8 mg alpha-tocopherol equivalents for women, and 10 mg alpha-tocopherol equivalents for men
Vitamins: What About Individual Supplements?
Since older people are at risk for osteoporosis, an individual calcium pill with vitamin D is also advisable. “Calcium is number one; you need to hang on to the bone you have because you won’t get any more,” says Susan B. Roberts, PhD, professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts University in Boston. She recommends one 500 mg calcium pill. Make sure to take calcium at a different time than your multivitamin, as calcium can interfere with zinc and iron absorption.
Other individual vitamins should be taken with care and ideally approved by a doctor or nutritionist. Too much of one kind of vitamin can affect the metabolismand the absorption of other vitamins.
Not only that, it can be dangerous. “Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K accumulate in the body and should never be taken in large amounts,” says Rose Clifford, RD, a clinical dietitian in the department of pharmacy services at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “Many older people take warfarin (Coumadin), a medicine that thins the blood, and large amounts of vitamin K can interfere with this. Always check with your pharmacist or read the drug label on medicines to check for nutrient and drug interactions.”
Vitamins: How to Choose?
“All multivitamin and mineral supplements are essentially the same, and the more expensive one does not necessarily impart any benefit above and beyond that of a generic product,” says Nancy Rodriguez, PhD, RD, professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
Check the expiration date and look for the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) seal. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements, but the USP seal assures the supplement actually contains what is listed on the label.
And buyer beware: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. “Supplements do not cure diseases” unless you have a diagnosed vitamin or mineral deficiency, says Clifford, “so if a supplement claims it can cure a disease like cancer, heart disease, or digestive problems, be wary.” Ditto for “memory improvement” supplements; there are no clinical studies to back up that claim.
Ultimately, while a multivitamin and a calcium supplement can be helpful additions, there’s no magic mixture that can replace a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.