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    Vitamin Essentials as We Age

    By John Donovan
    WebMD Feature
    Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian

    The best way to get the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need isn’t with a shopping spree at your local drugstore. It’s through your diet.

    A good, balanced plan -- filled with fruits and vegetables, dairy, lots of fluids, healthy oils, good proteins, and whole grains -- should do the trick.

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    Still, many seniors struggle to maintain a healthy diet. There could be many culprits, including:

    • Diminished appetite
    • Trouble chewing
    • Fixed budgets
    • Trouble finding healthy foods

    Add the fact that your body become less efficient as you age, and climbing Mount Nutrition is tough.

    Supplements might be an option. Used as part of a plan that you and your doctor design, they can do just what their name says -- fill in the gaps in your diet.

    But they can be dangerous. Take vitamin A, important for healthy eyes, skin, and immune system, for example.

    “Vitamin A is somewhat of a controversial vitamin because you can get toxic from it," says Ronni Chernoff, director of the Arkansas Geriatric Education Collaborative. Too much of it can cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, and other symptoms. She adds that older people are more likely to ail when they take too much because their bodies don’t deal with the vitamin as well.

    So what do you do?

    “If you take a vitamin that is designed to be a once-a-day supplement, that’s OK,” Chernoff says. “But you don’t want to take five of them a day.”

    If, after talking with your doctor, you decide that you do need a multivitamin, get a complete supplement, one that provides 100% of the recommended doses of vitamins and minerals.

    Be careful of megadoses. Also take extra care when you:

    • Combine supplements
    • Take too much of one
    • Use one in place of a medication
    • Mix them with over-the-counter or prescription drugs

    “You want to make sure your left hand knows what your right hand is doing,” says Joan Salge Blake, a Boston nutritionist.

    Why Vitamins are Important

    They help your body work the way it should. Among other things, they boost your immune system, keep your nerves healthy, and help turn the food you eat into energy.

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