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What to Know About Multivitamins for Seniors

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

Your nutritional needs change through each stage in life. When you’re a senior, it’s even more important to make sure you’re getting the right balance of vitamins and minerals. With so many senior multivitamins on the market, how do you know which one is right for you?

Understanding Multivitamins

Your goal is to eat a well-balanced diet that meets all of your nutritional needs through food. But you may not get enough variety from food every day. Senior multivitamins are designed to fill gaps in your diet by supplementing vitamins and minerals your body needs to thrive.

Pros of taking a multivitamin for seniors. As you get older, your body may not absorb nutrients as a natural consequence of age or because of medications you take. Multivitamins may help:

  • Provide extra nutrients where you need them
  • Boost your energy

Cons of taking a senior multivitamin. Some multivitamins may interfere with medications you take, so talk to your doctor before you try a supplement.

Other cons of taking multivitamins as a senior may include:

  • In otherwise healthy adults, there are no added benefits.
  • Multivitamins don’t prevent diseases or increase your lifespan.
  • You may have nausea, vomiting, or headaches.

What Vitamins and Minerals Do I Need and Why?

Vitamin B12. Adults of any age should get 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 each day. This helps your body make red blood cells and promotes nerve function. With age, your stomach lining may naturally thin, limiting your ability to absorb vitamin B12.

Low levels leave you at a greater risk for heart disease and weaken your cognitive abilities. Get vitamin B12 naturally in your diet by eating:

  • Animal products
  • Fortified grains and cereals
  • Nuts and seeds

Calcium. Men ages 51 to 70 need 1,000 milligrams per day, and women in that age range need 1,200 milligrams per day. All adults over 70 should also strive for 1,200 milligrams per day.

Calcium is vital for strong bones. As you age, you become more likely to get osteoporosis, or thinning bones. Weak bones break more easily if you fall, and calcium helps lower this risk. You can get calcium from food by eating.

  • Dairy products 
  • Eggs 
  • Leafy greens 

Vitamin D. Adults 51 to 70 years old need 15 micrograms each day. If you’re older than 70, you need 20 micrograms per day. Don’t get more than 100 micrograms a day, though.

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, aiding in bone health. It also benefits your body’s defenses, or immune system. Your skin absorbs vitamin D from the sun, but if you live somewhere with less sun, you may need to supplement. You can get vitamin D naturally in your diet by eating:

  • Egg yolks 
  • Fatty fish like salmon 
  • Fortified cereals and grains 
  • Fortified milk 

Magnesium. Men of any age need 420 milligrams per day, and women of any age need 320 milligrams per day. Magnesium is good for your muscles, promotes healthy nerves, and balances blood sugar levels. You can get magnesium from food by eating:

  • Whole grains 
  • Green, leafy vegetables 
  • Beans 
  • Nuts and seeds

Potassium. Men of any age should get 3,400 milligrams per day, and women of any age should get 2,600 milligrams per day. Potassium is good for your heart, kidney, and nerves:

A lack of potassium may lead to kidney stones and high blood pressure. Get potassium from food by eating:

  • Bananas 
  • Fish, meat, or poultry 
  • Spinach, tomatoes, and broccoli 

Choosing a Multivitamin for Seniors

No single brand of multivitamin is best. Many have flashy labels and make strong claims to entice you to choosing one brand over another. Don’t fall for marketing tricks. You don’t even have to buy a multivitamin that is labeled “for seniors.” Read the ingredient labels and consider your individual needs.

Safety concerns with multivitamins. The FDA does not approve supplements like multivitamins, but there are independent organizations that set standards. Look for a label approved by the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) or NSF (National Science Foundation). These independent groups ensure:

  • There are no harmful ingredients, like arsenic or heavy metals.
  • Vitamin amounts and daily values are correct.

Talk to your doctor. If you’re not sure that you’re getting enough nutrients from food, your doctor can help. They may suggest that you add specific foods into your diet. They may also tell you to take a supplement of a single nutrient instead of a complete multivitamin.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

British Nutrition Foundation: “Older Adults.”

Consumer Reports: “Choosing the right multivitamin supplement for you.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Should you take “senior” multivitamins?”

National Institute on Aging: “Vitamins and Minerals for Older Adults.”

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