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Vitamin Essentials as We Age

As we age, our dietary requirements change, and we're also more focused on the diseases and disorders that accompany aging -- conditions that getting the right nutrients may help to prevent.

WebMD Feature

Mom may have worried about you getting the vitamins you needed when you were a child (remember those Flintstone's chewables?), but who's keeping track of your essential vitamins and other nutrients now that you're getting older? As we age, our dietary requirements change, and we're also more focused on the diseases and disorders that accompany aging -- conditions that getting the right nutrients may help to prevent.

So if you're in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, with things like menopause, retirement, and creaky bones looming a little larger in your daily life than they did in your 20s and 30s, what vitamins should you be getting to make the most of your health? And how should you be getting them -- on your plate or in a handy supplement?

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Concentrating on Calcium

Osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disease that most commonly affects postmenopausal women, results from bones that have lost calcium and thickness.

"Osteoporosis has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S.," says Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, PhD, RD, associate professor of surgery and director of the Cancer Prevention, Detection and Control Research Program at Duke University. "There's a variety of reasons for that: We get too little calcium in our diets, for one, and we don't get enough weight-bearing exercise."

If you're over 55 -- and especially if you're a woman -- you're likely to be at risk for osteoporosis, since 55% of people in this age group have low bone mass - a thinning of the bones. Men shouldn't ignore their calcium intake either: 20% of osteoporosis sufferers are male. "Getting sufficient calcium as we age is critical, especially for women but also for men," Demark-Wahnefried says.

"Over the age of 50, women have an escalated rate of bone loss," says Marianne Smith Edge, RD, president of the American Dietetic Association. "The recommended daily value of calcium jumps to 1,200 mg daily for women and men over 50. Obviously, first you should focus on calcium sources within your diet, but calcium supplementation may be necessary to meet your increased needs and prevent bone loss."

You can get your daily dose of calcium from milk and milk products like yogurt; fish with bones that are eaten, like canned salmon or sardines; broccoli; and juices and cereals that are fortified with calcium.

Don't Forget Your D

Vitamin D is calcium's indispensable partner. It's essential for proper absorption of the calcium you get in your diet. But as we get older, our ability to synthesize vitamin D in sunlight through our skin diminishes, says Irwin Rosenberg, MD, professor and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. "Therefore, our dependence on dietary sources of Vitamin D goes up. We either have to get it through our food, especially in the winter, or we have to get it through supplements."

Adults between 50 and 70 should be getting 400 IU (international units, the measurement usually used on vitamin D labels) of D per day. Once you're over 70, the recommendation goes up to 600 IU daily. That's not always easy to get through dietary sources, which are primarily fortified milk and cereals, liver, and fish. "As we age, D is one of those vitamins I think we're unlikely to meet our needs for through diet alone, especially during the winter months," says Rosenberg.

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