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Dietary Supplements

Dr. Jeffrey B. Blumberg

National surveys consistently reveal that older adults often fall far short of meeting their nutritional requirements from their diet. This is partly due to their dietary choices, age-related impairments in their ability to absorb and utilize some nutrients, medication-induced nutrient deficiencies, and increased nutrient requirements due to common chronic conditions. While dietary supplements should never be considered as substitutes to a healthy diet, a typical multivitamin supplement with minerals can help substantially to fill the gap between usual nutrient intakes and requirements. Several leading nutrition authorities feel that a daily multivitamin is a prudent and pro-active health behavior for most people and especially for older adults. Sometimes additional supplementation beyond a multivitamins may be necessary; for example, most multivitamins do not contain enough calcium or vitamin D for older adults though there are products available that are formulated specifically for seniors. Inadequate blood levels of vitamin D are common among older people in part because of age-related changes in the skin that impair its synthesis by ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, low intake of vitamin D fortified milk, spending more time inside, and using topical sun screen when outside. Several clinical trials have demonstrated that supplements of calcium and vitamin D can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and lower the incidence of bone fractures. Emerging research suggests that vitamin D may play a role in supporting immune function.


Over the last decade, research has been emerging that suggests generous intakes, often readily obtained only via supplementation, may play a role in promoting health among older people. For example, studies indicate that supplementation with vitamins C and E, lutein (a dietary carotenoid), omega-3 fatty acids (particularly from fish oil), and zinc may support eye health. Emerging research also suggests that people with high concentrations of folic acid and vitamin B12 in their blood may be less likely to develop certain health problems. High intakes of fish or supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids have been associated in several studies with healthy blood lipid levels. In this new age of personalized nutrition, research is being conducted on which genotypes may be associated with benefits from vitamin E.

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