Elderly Nutrition and Anti-Aging Antioxidants
Aging is a normal process, which must be supported by proper nutrition to maintain good health. Although inevitable, the body undergoes a process of normal degeneration due to constant stress brought about by lifestyle and environmental factors. We produce fewer healthy cells and smaller amounts of hormones, while the normal wear-and-tear process takes its toll on our bodies. On top of these, many of us develop various medical problems because of poor health habits and exposure to environmental toxins. It is therefore important to support our aging cells and tissues with nutrients that can help boost our immune system and maintain proper body functions.
Our nutritional needs change as we age. Although eating the right foods and taking health supplements cannot prevent aging, many people over the age of 50 may benefit from improving their nutrition to help balance their hormones, correct their nutritional deficiencies, and prevent chronic disease. For example, one survey found that 60% of older adults have a deficient dietary intake of calcium, folate, vitamin D, and vitamin E. Their dietary patterns show that less that 10% of these older individuals meet the daily recommendations for grains and dairy products, while only about 50% meet the Food Pyramid recommendations for fruits and vegetables. Some factors that contribute to poor nutrition among the elderly include their inability to buy and prepare a variety of healthy, nutritious meals, isolation, poor health, lack of appetite, and use of dentures.
Studies show that many elderly individuals visit their doctors more often because of infections, and they are more likely to use medications or become hospitalized because of poor resistance to infectious diseases. However, studies also suggest that nutritional intervention, including the use of health supplements, may help support a stronger immune system and reduce their susceptibility to infections. Aside from infections, research shows that:
- Inadequate intake of calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and phosphorus may predispose them to bone loss and fracture, which has been found to be common in the nursing homes.
- Inadequate intake of iron, copper, folate, and vitamin B-12 can lead to anemia.
- A deficiency in zinc increases their risk of altered mental status, slow wound healing, and dermatitis.
- A deficiency in pyridoxine (vitaminB-6) can cause anemia and increase the risk of convulsions.
- Low intake of thiamin and niacin can increase the risk of dementia and abnormal behavior.
- Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration, which is linked to blindness.
- Low fiber intake is associated with constipation, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
Nutritional Supplements for the Elderly
Many health care providers recommend supplementing the diet of older adults with multivitamins and minerals to make up for their deficiencies from loss of appetite or poor diets. The most common nutrients recommended include:
- Vitamin D. This “sunshine vitamin” is naturally manufactured in the skin with sufficient exposure to the sun. However, many elderly individuals do not get enough sunlight exposure. Furthermore, their skin are not able to produce enough vitamin D the way younger individuals can make it. The NHS therefore recommends a daily supplemental dose of 10 mcg of vitamin D for people who are at least 65 years old.
- Together with vitamin D, calcium helps maintain bone health and prevents fractures. The NHS recommends taking at least 700 mg of calcium daily.
- Vitamin B12. Older people are more likely to have a deficiency in vitamin B12, which is linked to anemia and memory loss. A daily intake of 2 mg is recommended. It is also found in many foods, such as meat, yeast extracts, and fortified cereals. Other important B vitamins that elderly people often lack include folic acid or folate and vitamin B6.
- This is important for the health of red blood cells. Although it is found in many foods such as meat, beans, eggs, nuts, leafy green vegetables and fortified cereals, some people lack iron because of poor eating habits.
- Vitamin C. Eating five portions of fruits and vegetables may give adequate amounts of vitamin C in your diet, but poor appetite and unhealthy food choices can result in deficiencies.
- These are substances that fight free radicals (by-products of metabolism), which can speed up the ageing process. These are found in most fruits and vegetables, and are composed of various nutrients such as vitamin A, C, and E, resveratrol, green tea, and other phytochemicals from plants.
Other supplements that are touted for their anti-ageing effects include:
- Anti-inflammatory supplements. Studies show that inflammation plays an important role in various diseases, such as arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. Supplements that fight against chronic inflammation, such as fish oil, which is rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, may help reduce inflammation and symptoms of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Glucosamine sulphate. Although evidence has not proven claims, many people believe that glucosamine supplements relieve joint pains, strengthen damaged cartilages and may slow down the progression of joint diseases such as osteoarthritis.
- This herbal supplement is believed to have anti-ageing properties, which can improve cognitive function and improve symptoms of dementia. Other anti-ageing herbal supplements include apricot, ashwagandha, and cordyceps, which are believed to promote health and long life. However, more studies have to be done to prove their beneficial effects.
Experts recommend eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercise, and managing stress as the best methods to maintain health in ageing individuals. The ideal nutrition for seniors must include a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, and lean protein sources. Taking nutritional supplements may be beneficial for some, but it is best to consult a doctor before taking these, especially if one has a medical problem or is taking other medications that may interact with the supplements.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
WebMD. How to Eat as You Age.
WebMD. Older Adults: 9 Nutrients You May Be Missing.
WebMD. Anti-ageing supplements: Do they exist?
CRN. Benefits of Nutritional Supplements: Immune Function in the Elderly.
WebMD. Supplements for health in older age.