Definitive Guide to Supplements for Healthy Aging
Not only can aging affect the way you look and feel, but it can also influence the specific nutrients and amounts of them that your body needs.
Fortunately, supplements are available that can make it much easier to meet your nutritional needs to support healthy aging and help keep you feeling your best.
This in-depth guide will explore everything you need to know about supplements for healthy aging.
How your nutritional needs change with age
Your body goes through several changes as you age, many of which can alter your nutritional needs and increase the risk of deficiencies.
For example, your stomach produces less acid, which can reduce your bodyâ€™s absorption of micronutrients such as vitamins B6 and B12, iron, and calcium. For this reason, adults over 50 may need to take in more of these nutrients (1, 2).
Many older adults also experience reductions in bone mass, which is why calcium and vitamin D requirements are higher for those over age 70 (3, 4).
Adults over age 65 may also need to consume larger amounts of protein to help prevent sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss (5).
Additionally, postmenopausal women need less iron because they lose less blood once they stop having regular periods (6).
Because many people experience a decrease in appetite as they get older, meeting their nutritional needs can become even more challenging. This is another reason some turn to supplements.
Decreased nutrient absorption, loss of bone mass, muscle loss, menopause, and reduced appetite can all change your nutritional needs as you age.
Do you need supplements?
Supplements arenâ€™t necessary for everyone. In fact, many people can meet their nutritional needs simply by consuming an overall nutritious, balanced diet.
However, some people may benefit from taking certain supplements.
For example, supplements may be recommended for those who have health conditions that impact nutrient absorption or who take medications that increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies.
People with certain dietary restrictions may also need to take a supplement to meet their nutrient needs.
For instance, vegans and vegetarians may find it more difficult to consume enough iron, vitamin B12, or omega-3 fatty acids because these nutrients are more abundant and easier to absorb in animal foods (7).
Vegans may also experience deficiencies in calcium, iodine, and zinc. Calcium is of particular concern for older adults who may be at risk of osteoporosis.
Individuals who are lactose intolerant should also be mindful of calcium intake. Increasing age is associated with a greater likelihood of lactose intolerance, and an inability to consume dairy products could contribute to a calcium deficiency.
Additionally, vitamin D is not commonly found in food sources, meaning that people who donâ€™t get regular sun exposure may require supplementation (4).
Studies show that vitamin D deficiency is common among older adults in assisted living facilities and nursing homes (8, 9).
Still, itâ€™s best to work with a healthcare professional to determine whether you need supplements or can meet your nutritional needs through diet alone.
While supplements arenâ€™t necessary for everyone, they can be helpful for older adults who have difficulty meeting their nutritional needs through diet alone.
10 supplements for healthy aging
The following is a list of supplements that may help with certain aspects of aging.
Calcium is an important mineral that plays a key role in bone health (10).
Women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis, or bone loss, as they get older. A calcium supplement may be beneficial to help preserve bone density, especially if youâ€™re not consuming enough calcium from foods (11).
Taking vitamin D can help improve your bodyâ€™s absorption of calcium. Some supplements contain both calcium and vitamin D.
The form of calcium a supplement contains also makes a difference.
Calcium carbonate supplements should be taken with meals to improve absorption. Many older adults take stomach acid reducers, which may prevent adequate absorption of calcium carbonate.
Calcium citrate supplements, on the other hand, are easier to absorb and do not need to be taken with meals.
However, while studies show that increasing your intake of calcium may be linked to increased bone density and decreased bone loss, itâ€™s unclear whether it can also help prevent fractures (12, 13, 14, 15).
Although calcium is an important factor in bone density, itâ€™s not the only one. Smoking, not getting enough weight-bearing exercise, and decreases in estrogen and testosterone that occur with age can also negatively affect bone density.
2. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of heart-healthy fat known for their ability to fight inflammation (16).
Impressively, some research even shows that omega-3s could slow declines in brain health and protect against conditions such as Alzheimerâ€™s disease (17, 18).
Whatâ€™s more, omega-3s may reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis and could aid in the prevention of heart disease (19, 20).
Although you can meet your omega-3 needs by consuming foods like fatty fish, you can also use a supplement such as fish oil, krill oil, or algal oil.
Collagen is a protein found throughout your body, including in your skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
As you get older, your body begins to produce less of it. As a result, some older adults consider adding collagen supplements to their daily routine.
Studies show that collagen supplements can improve skin hydration and elasticity to support healthy skin aging (21, 22).
Collagen may also help reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis, including joint pain and stiffness (23, 24).
4. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is an important compound that aids in energy production.
Low levels of CoQ10 have been associated with several health conditions, including heart failure, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and progressive brain conditions such as Alzheimerâ€™s disease (25).
Because your body tends to produce less CoQ10 as you get older, increasing your intake through foods or supplements is often recommended to help ensure healthy aging and protect against disease (26).
5. Vitamin D
Sometimes called the â€œsunshine vitamin,â€ vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your skin produces in response to sun exposure (27).
However, because itâ€™s found naturally in very few food sources, many people are at risk of deficiency (4).
Older adults may also be at risk of vitamin D deficiency because they may avoid sun exposure to reduce the risk of skin cancer or may otherwise spend more time indoors than younger people (4).
Studies show that in addition to boosting the absorption of calcium, vitamin D supplements may help increase muscle mass, enhance immune function, and decrease symptoms of depression, particularly in those with a vitamin D deficiency (28, 29, 30, 31).
6. B vitamins
B vitamins are involved in multiple aspects of health and are crucial for energy production, DNA repair, immune health, and brain function (32).
Whatâ€™s more, some research even suggests that a B vitamin deficiency could be linked to a higher risk of cognitive decline, osteoporosis, and heart disease in older adults (32).
While most healthy adults can meet their needs for certain B vitamins, such as folate, riboflavin, and thiamine, by eating a balanced diet, others may require a supplement.
This may be especially important for those who follow restrictive diets or have health conditions that impact nutrient absorption.
Additionally, adults over age 50 may be at an increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency and should speak with a healthcare professional to determine whether they need a vitamin B12 supplement (33).
Not only do adults over age 65 require higher amounts of protein, but studies show that eating more protein may also be linked to increased muscle mass and improved muscle function for older people (34, 35, 36).
This is partially because adults begin losing muscle mass and strength as they get older, which can increase the risk of falling and make many daily activities more difficult. Protein needs also increase due to a reduction in muscle protein synthesis with age (5, 34).
While not everyone needs a protein supplement, adding a scoop of protein powder to smoothies, pancakes, and baked goods can be an easy and convenient way to bump up your intake.
8â€“10. Herbal supplements
Several herbal supplements could also be beneficial for healthy aging, including:
- Ginkgo biloba. Although more research is needed, some studies suggest that ginkgo biloba could help improve cognitive function and reduce symptoms of dementia and Alzheimerâ€™s disease (37, 38).
- Saw palmetto. This supplement is often used to support prostate health and reduce symptoms of benign prostate hyperplasia, which is especially common among older males (39, 40).
- Curcumin. In addition to giving turmeric its vibrant hue, the compound curcumin has been well-studied for its anti-inflammatory properties, which could help protect against chronic disease (41).
Many supplements are available that can support healthy aging by improving bone health, increasing muscle mass, preserving brain function, and protecting against disease.
Things to consider
While certain supplements can be beneficial as you get older, itâ€™s important to remember that not everyone needs to take supplements.
Furthermore, some products can interfere with medications or cause serious side effects in people with certain health conditions.
For this reason, itâ€™s best to work with a healthcare professional to determine whether supplements are right for you.
Also, keep in mind that not all supplements are created equal.
Be sure to buy supplements from reputable brands and opt for products that have undergone third-party testing to ensure safety, purity, and quality. Look for a seal on a supplementâ€™s packaging from a third-party organization such as NSF International, USP, or ConsumerLab.
To get the most bang for your buck, read ingredients lists carefully and steer clear of products with high amounts of sugar, artificial additives, or fillers.
Finally, be sure to use supplements only as directed and talk with a healthcare professional to address any concerns, especially if you experience adverse side effects.
Not everyone needs supplements, and some products may be harmful for those who are taking medications or have certain health conditions. Itâ€™s also important to buy high quality products from reputable brands and use supplements only as directed.
The bottom line
As you get older, your needs for certain nutrients, such as protein, calcium, vitamin D, iron, and B vitamins, can change.
While not everyone needs supplements, they can be useful for older adults who have difficulty meeting their nutritional needs through diet alone.
Just be sure to buy high quality supplements from a reputable brand, use them only as directed, and talk with a healthcare professional before trying new supplements.
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