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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.

Vitamin E and Vitamin C continued...

"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.

The (Vitamin) A Team

Found primarily in animal products like liver and eggs, vitamin A has a number of health-promoting functions particularly important as we get older: It plays an important role in vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell division, and cell differentiation; helps to regulate the immune system; and promotes eyesight.

Can it also help prevent cancer? Researchers had theorized that dietary vitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene (an antioxidant) might well be a cancer-fighter, but clinical trials showed just the opposite. The Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial, a lung cancer chemoprevention trial that provided randomly selected patients with supplements of beta-carotene and vitamin A, was stopped after researchers discovered that subjects receiving beta-carotene had a 46% higher risk of dying from lung cancer than those who did not receive beta-carotene. "We'd done a lot of studies on beta-carotene in animal models and cell culture, but we found that when we gave it as a supplement to high-risk people, their risk of cancer actually increased," says Demark.

So while it's important to get your recommended daily intake of vitamin A (3,000 IU for men and 2,330 for women) for all its known benefits, the Institute of Medicine does not recommend beta-carotene supplements for the general population.

Supplementing Wisely

Of course, you can get too much of a good thing. "There is no substance, including water, that is safe at any dose," says Rosenberg. Vitamin D, for example, in too-large doses can lead to side effects like vomiting and diarrhea, and long-term consequences like kidney damage. Too much folate can mask the damage being done by a vitamin B-12 deficiency. Researchers are now investigating evidence that an excess intake of vitamin A may contribute to osteoporosis, although the evidence remains inconclusive. Some vitamins, like B-12, don't have much potential for toxicity in high doses, but it's generally safest to avoid supplementing with more than 100% of the recommended daily intake of any vitamin.

"To get the vitamins and other nutrients we need, food should always be first, and in a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables, whole-grain bread, and cereals -- especially those that are enriched," says Smith Edge. "Any decision to supplement ideally should be based on professional input from a health professional."

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