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?
When Nancy Levitt's mother was first diagnosed with dementia 14 years ago at age 78, the doctor told her she could safely drive to familiar places. But Levitt, 61, who volunteers at UCLA's Center on Aging in Los Angeles, was still nervous. Unexplained nicks and dents started appearing on her mother's car. She forgot where she parked. Levitt tried to discuss driving safety with her mother, but she angrily denied there was a problem. Then, she would forget their talks about driving altogether.
Osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disease that most commonly
affects postmenopausal women, results from bones that have lost calcium and
"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
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
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.