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Do Older Adults Need Vitamins, Supplements?

Older-Adult Nutrient Needs continued...

In his report, McCormick says supplements for cancer patients are not recommended. (His report was finalized before recent research linked the use of a daily multivitamin to decreased cancer risk modestly in male doctors age 50 and older.)

For older adults, McCormick has this advice: "If you are still eating fairly well, you are getting more micronutrients than you probably really need to function as well as you can."

Boosting nutrients above what can be gotten from a well-balanced diet won't necessarily lead to better health, he says.

At very high levels, some vitamins and minerals can be toxic, he says.

Perspectives: Vitamins, Supplements for Older Adults

''The adequate intake of vitamins in the elderly is a concern," MacKay of the Council for Responsible Nutrition says.

In particular, he says, older adults may lack calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, potassium, and fiber.

Changing the diet can be difficult for older people, he says. Living on fixed incomes may make fresh produce too costly.

Some older adults don't know how to cook. For others, ill-fitting dentures or a reduced appetite may make eating difficult.

"Where dietary changes are difficult, a dietary supplement can be a responsible, reasonable solution," he says.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says older adults should pay special attention to their intake of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, potassium, and fiber.

Fortified milk and yogurt can boost calcium and vitamin D. Lean meat, fortified cereal, and some fish and seafood have vitamin B12. Fruits and vegetables have potassium and fiber.

"It's always best to obtain your nutrients from food," says Andrea Giancoli, RD, MPH, a spokeswoman for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She reviewed the report for WebMD.

When she counsels older adults, Giancoli first figures out what nutrients are lacking in the diet. Often, it's vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin B12.

"I try to fix it with food," she says. For instance, she suggests someone with calcium deficits increase their dairy products.

"I don't think we should be recommending supplements blindly without assessing their food intake," she says.

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