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50+: Live Better, Longer

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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.

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.

B-12 Basics

Another vitamin that we tend to get less of as we age is B-12, which is naturally found in animal foods and proteins including meat, eggs, milk, fish, and poultry, as well as in fortified cereals. Adults of all ages should get 2.4 micrograms of B-12 daily (pregnant and breastfeeding women need a little more).

"Research has shown that as we grow older, we tend to make less stomach acid, and stomach acid is required for the efficient absorption of vitamin B-12," says Rosenberg. That's because B-12 needs to be separated from the protein it's bound to in your food before you can start making use of it." The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults over 50 get most of their vitamin B-12 from supplements or fortified food because of impaired B-12 absorption.

So what can B-12 do for you? Quite a lot, if you're concerned about your memory and cognitive (mental) function. "This vitamin is one of the important requirements for the maintenance of healthy central nervous system function [brain and spinal cord]," says Rosenberg. "In the absence of that vitamin, you're likely to see some decline in memory and cognitive function as well as other neurologic abnormalities."

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