With age, your body and brain change. These changes often require that you make certain changes to your lifestyle, such as adding age-appropriate exercise to your daily schedule, reducing or eliminating your consumption of alcohol, and changing what and how you eat.
However, as your digestive tract alters with age, you may also make changes to your eating habits without realizing it. For example, older people often eat less and eat differently than when they were younger.
Because the elderly are prone to eat less and get fewer calories, they might start missing out on nutrients necessary for proper functioning of their brains and their bodies, including vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, and zinc, as well as the B complex vitamins and vitamins E and D.
According to an article in Nutrition Reviews, “Elderly patients at particular risk owing to reduced appetite and response to thirst, existing medical problems, increased medications, oral and swallowing problems, depression, decreased income, and social isolation.” This leaves them “at greater risk for adverse medical outcomes, including death, than well-nourished elderly patients.”
With age, the esophagus isn’t as strong as it used to be and the stomach is more susceptible to irritation. The small intestine isn’t able to handle dairy products as easily and the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas have to work harder to process food. Some people suffer from frequent constipation and the bladder loses elasticity, meaning older people have to urinate more often.
Vitamins and Minerals to Consider to Supplement Your Diet
The most effective way to meet your nutritional needs at any age is to eat a well-balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, as well as lean meats, green leafy vegetables, and lots of fiber. However, many people benefit from supplementing their diet with the following vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 are important because they help your body maintain a healthy supply of blood cells and they keep your nerves functioning properly. Vitamin B12 and vitamin B9, also known as folic acid, are crucial to many body functions, including the creation of protein and DNA.
If you don’t get enough vitamin B9 and B12, it can increase your risk of anemia, which is common in older people. Anemia can also be caused by an iron deficiency, a mineral that is necessary for the creation of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the bloodstream. Iron is also a necessary ingredient in the creation of other proteins necessary for optimal health.
An iron deficiency has symptoms that many people associate with getting old, including:
- Feeling weak
- Getting fatigued easily
- Feeling cold
- Being more susceptible to colds and flu
- Having shortness of breath or experiencing chest pains
Ironically, many people suffer from iron deficiencies because they are told to take calcium as they grow older. Too much calcium, which is necessary for strong bones and the proper functioning of organs, can limit the absorption of iron.
In addition to the B complex vitamins and vitamin D, the best everyday vitamins include A, C, E, and K.
Calcium also plays a vital role in how your muscles and blood vessels operate, helps your cells communicate, and aids in the secretion of hormones.
So while adding a calcium supplement to your diet might be prudent, it should be taken with the consultation of your healthcare provider to prevent it from interfering with how iron is absorbed by your body. Adding calcium-rich foods to your diet is also a great idea. Here are just some foods that are good sources of calcium:
- Leafy greens
- Ricotta cheese
But just taking calcium by itself might not be enough. In general, most people don’t get enough vitamin D, which is created when sunlight hits the skin. Vitamin D aids the body in absorbing calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D has also been shown to help protect people from chronic diseases, including those that frequently strike older people, such as:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Autoimmune disorders
Increasing the intake of both calcium and phosphorus has been proven effective in helping to curtail osteoporosis in older people.
Potassium is another mineral that helps keep bones strong and resilient. It is also necessary for the proper functioning of cells and has been shown to lower the risk of kidney stones and reduce high blood pressure.
The absorption of magnesium decreases with age. Magnesium is incredibly important for a number of different physiological processes. Along with potassium and calcium, it helps keep bones strong, but it does much, much more than that. It helps keep your heart healthy, it helps your body synthesize proteins, it keeps your blood glucose under control and your muscles working properly, and it moves calcium and potassium across cell membranes.
You’ve probably heard before how important it is to get enough fiber in your diet, but all that talk is for a good reason. Fiber is important because it promotes healthy digestion. How? It facilitates the movement of food through the digestive tract. The best way to get fiber is by eating nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains. Fiber supplements are also a good way to get more fiber in your diet.
At any age, increasing the consumption of essential fatty acids is always a good thing. Foods containing omega-3s and omega-6s include oily fish and certain vegetable oils, such as the oil derived from olives, flax seed, and hemp seed. Seeds and nuts, avocados, and leafy greens are also good sources of essential fatty acids. Supplements that supply essential fatty acids are abundant and can be found in almost any corner market or drug store, but purity can be problematic, so it’s important that the supplements you purchase are from a reliable supplier who can guarantee that they are pure and free of toxins.
Herbal Supplements to Support Health in the Elderly
Various herbal supplements have also shown promise in slowing or reversing the effects of aging. The herbs do this by activating a group of proteins known as sirtuins, which regulate a number of biological functions, including metabolic rate, inflammation, cell defense and reproduction, and brain plasticity. Sirtuins also regulate the function of mitochondria, which are often described as the powerhouses of the cell. Sirtuin activation shows promise in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease as well.
Foods that are high in sirtuin activators include:
- Green tea
- Red grape juice
- Dark chocolate
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Red onions
Resveratrol, which is found in grapes, nuts, and red wine, activates sirtuins that help prevent diabetes and heart disease. Resveratrol also aids in the production of nitric oxide, which helps maintain blood vessels and other smooth muscles.
Some natural sources that do this include:
- EGCG (found in green tea)
- Red grape juice
- Red palm oil
- Anti-aging supplements like nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), R-alpha-lipoic acid, ubiquinol, CoQ10, and ginseng
Centella asiatica, known in China as gotu kola, has been called a “miracle elixir of life.” It has been studied for its promotion of wound healing and is used in traditional medicine to recharge the brain, to increase concentration and attention, and to combat aging. It has also been shown to fight the oxidative stress that is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. As if that’s not enough, gotu kola has shown it can help treat pain and gastric ulcers and reduce inflammation, which has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis. A 2013 study has also shown that gotu kola assists in the production of sirtuins.
While we all know and love garlic as one of the most exquisite food flavorings, it also aids in the production of sirtuins. Garlic also has known antioxidant effects and contains vitamin C, beta carotene, and selenium, which also have their own antioxidant effects. Garlic has also been shown effective in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
Ginseng has a long history of use for the treatment of various ailments. Recently, though, ginseng has been shown to be yet another sirtuin activator. It stimulates cell growth, helps maintain skin health, and may help in the production of hormones, especially the sex hormones.
If all of this seems too much to wrap your mind around, you’re not alone. That’s why it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional when it comes to your anti-aging needs. The health and wellness experts within the BodyLogicMD network are here to listen to you, evaluate your symptoms and body functions, and craft a treatment plan that is as unique as you are.
Talk with Your Healthcare Provider Before Starting Supplements
It’s no wonder that with all these concerns, you might turn to dietary supplements to get the necessary nutrients. But take care as some supplements can have a negative interaction with many prescription medicines. So before you listen to what worked best for a friend or take the advice of a clerk at the local drug store, talk with your healthcare provider about your concerns. It’s important to speak with a professional who specializes in elder care or can point you in the right direction.
You might also want to consider consulting with an endocrinologist or hormone specialist to determine if a hormonal imbalance might be contributing to your symptoms. Whatever your concerns, the anti-aging experts within the BodyLogicMD network can help you restore and maintain your health for years to come.
Dr. Jennifer Landa is Chief Medical Officer of BodyLogicMD and the owner and operator of BodyLogicMD of Orlando. Dr. Landa dedicates her practice to bioidentical hormone therapy, customized nutrition and fitness programs to help women and men resolve menopausal and andropausal symptoms, including weight gain, sexual dysfunction, declining energy levels and stress. As a former gynaecologist, Dr. Landa has always desired to help patients achieve wellness through hormone balance and preventive medicine.