As a nation, we spend billions buying vitamin and mineral supplements. But despite this, up to one in two older Americans may be lacking in at least one of the nutrients we need to maintain good health as we age, the latest medical research shows.
A new study published in Nutrients finds that one in every two people age 65 and over may lack vitamin D and one-quarter of us may be deficient in vitamin B12.
Research shows vitamin D is necessary to build bones, while vitamin B12 deficiency can result in memory problems that may even be mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease.
“As people age, they can become deficient in some key vitamins, which can have a real impact on their health,” Dr. Marc Leavey tells Newsmax Health.
The study points to vitamins D, B12, iron, and folate as key nutrients, which, if not present in sufficient amounts, can result in older people becoming frail, suffering bone loss, and result in memory problems and confusion.
For the study, a German research team looked at blood samples of 1,079 older adults aged 65 to 93.
In addition to the findings about vitamin D and B12, they also found 11 percent had low iron levels and nine percent lacked adequate folate.
Leavey, an internist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, finds similar problems in his older patients.
He cites three reasons:
Problems in nutrient absorption.
“As people age, they become set in their ways, and they only eat foods they like, so they may miss out on vitamins contained in vegetables, or salads, or other food groups,” he says.
As we age, our body’s ability to absorb vitamins, and other nutrients, from food lessons, says Leavey. This is also true of vitamin D, which our body synthesizes from sunlight.
“Vitamin D deficiency is rampant in the elderly population,” he says
Medications can also block vitamin absorption; one example is antacids and vitamin D, he says.
Supplements can help, but Leavey is a believer in getting as much nutrition as possible through eating whole foods.
“When you eat broccoli, you not only get the vitamins in it, but also phytochemicals and other substances, and these all work together,” he notes.
Phytochemicals, or phytonutrients, are bioactive chemical compounds found in plants, such as antioxidants, considered to be beneficial to human health.
Although vitamins D, B, folate, and iron are sold over the counter, you should be tested before taking them to find out if you’re deficient. Then, you should follow your doctor’s recommendation, says Leavey.
Here are Leavey’s recommendations:
Vitamin D: Essential for bone health, and some studies associate a deficiency with hiking heart disease risk. Too much vitamin D can cause toxicity, which is why following your doctor’s instructions is important.
Vitamin B12: Used to make nerves, blood, and carry out other vital functions. Also, as this vitamin is in meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy products, vegans may develop a deficiency, as also can people with celiac or Crohn’s disease. Vitamin B12 supplements are available over-the-counter; the recommended dosage is 1,000-5,000 micrograms. Although vitamin B12 is not toxic, people shouldn’t take a supplement unless they are shown to be deficient.
Iron: It’s common for younger women to become iron deficient from loss of blood due to menstruation, but in older people, this can indicate a medical problem, like anemia. Iron supplements are available over-the-counter, but if you suspect you are iron deficient, it’s best to see your doctor.
Folate: A folate deficiency results in anemia, which can cause fatigue and mouth sores. Deficiency can result from medication interactions, such as rheumatoid arthritis drugs. Supplemental folate should only be taken with a doctor’s okay because too much can mask vitamin 12 deficiency.
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