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
"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.