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.
Folate: Not Just for Pregnancy
Almost every pregnant woman knows that a daily dose of folate is essential for preventing neural tube defects in the developing fetus. More and more, research is indicating that folate may be just as important as we age as it is during pregnancy.
"Folic acid helps to metabolize a substance called homocysteine, which has been clearly associated with the risk of heart disease and stroke," says Rosenberg. "If you don't have enough folate, you're likely to have high homocysteine levels. In recent years, there's been increasing evidence that these levels are also associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia."
Folate may have cancer-fighting properties as well. "Harvard studies suggest that folate can play an important role in cancer prevention; the evidence is strongest for colorectal cancer," says Demark. "The Harvard group has reached the point of suggesting that all adults ought to be taking folate supplements; other groups are a little less emphatic about how much we should use folate. There's no real consensus yet."
The current recommended daily allowance of folate for adults is 400 mcg per day, raised to 600 mcg if you're pregnant. Many fortified grain products like pasta, bread, breakfast cereals, and rice contain folate, as do dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and citrus juices and fruits.
Vitamin E and Vitamin C
Vitamin E and vitamin C are both powerful antioxidants; studies have suggested that they may help protect against diseases of aging as varied as cancer, Alzheimer's, and cataracts. But other studies have found that increased E and C intake does nothing to prevent these diseases. "We still don't have really strong evidence from randomized, controlled trials," says Demark.
"It's been suggested that E and C, as antioxidant nutrients, are associated with countering the oxidative events that occur with age that are likely to lead to some of these conditions," says Rosenberg. "Those effects appear to be well demonstrated in test tubes, but in some of the clinical studies they're not so well borne out. The jury is out on whether we need to be supplementing with E and C, but there is certainly a theoretical basis for wanting to make sure we have an adequate intake of both of these as we get older."
We get most of our vitamin C (RDA 60 mg for adults) from citrus fruits, tomatoes, and vegetables like peppers, broccoli, and asparagus. Vitamin E (RDA 15 mg for adults) is found most commonly in nuts, seeds, and oils. You can boost your daily dosage of both with fortified cereals.