Should you take a vitamin? And which are the most important nutrients in later life?
There are lots of supplements that can support your health in your fifties and beyond. Here’s the golden rule, though: if you have a chronic health condition, whether that’s asthma or diabetes, or you’re on any medication, always speak to your doctor or pharmacist before you take a supplement, to make sure it doesn’t affect the way your medicine works. For example, a multivitamin containing Vitamin K may interfere with the action of warfarin.
There’s no real way of knowing you’re deficient in a vitamin or mineral, without blood tests to check levels. So the key is to look at your diet and lifestyle, plus any symptoms you may have, and think about what you might be missing out on. Here are some of the key supplements to think about taking at 50+:
The supplement: a multivitamin
Can help if: your diet isn’t all it should be, or you’re under stress.
In an ideal world, we’d get all the nutrients we need from our diet. Vitamins and minerals don’t work in isolation – their health protective effect comes from the combinations of nutrients found in foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, whole grains and lean meat. But if you’re not managing to eat at least five portions a day of fruit and veggies, or you’re under stress, which can put extra demands on your body, it may be worth topping up with a multivitamin and mineral supplement.
The supplement: phytoestrogens
Can help if: you have menopausal symptoms.
Phytoestrogens are naturally-occuring plant chemicals that mimic the action of hormones and can help ease menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. “They’re most beneficial when they are found in legumes, such as soya, lentil, peas and chickpeas,” says women’s health expert Dr Marilyn Glenville. “A phytoestrogen supplement, containing soya, red clover, hops, dandelion, alfalfa and flax can also be helpful at this stage.”
The supplement: Vitamin D
Can help if: you’re not getting enough sun.
We make Vitamin D from sunlight and it’s essential for overall health. Crucially, at this age it’s vital for bone health as it helps your body absorb the calcium in your diet. “Loss of bone density speeds up after the menopause as estrogen levels decline,” says Marilyn. That’s why one in three women develop osteoporosis at some point in their lives. A draft Government report found that while normal sun exposure gives us enough Vitamin D in the summer, we should all be taking 400 iu of Vitamin D through the winter.
The supplement: omega-3
Can help if: you don’t eat oily fish.
We should be eating two portions of fish every week, at least one of which should be oily fish, such as salmon. If you don’t hit that target, you may be lacking in omega-3 fats, which are important at this age. Some research has shown omega-3 could help reduce women’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, and another study suggested it may help slow osteoarthritis, too. "Omega-3 oils are important for overall health, particularly around menopause," says Marilyn. “Dry skin, lifeless hair, cracked nails, fatigue, depression, dry eyes, lack of motivation, and aching joints can all be signs you may be deficient,” she says.
The supplement: Vitamin B
Can help if…you don’t eat meat.
There are many different B vitamins, including folic acid and B12, which are vital for central nervous system health and producing healthy blood cells. Most of us should get enough through diet, as they’re found in a wide range of foods, including whole grains, fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables and lean meats. Vegans may miss out on B12, though. And if your diet’s mainly veggie, you could benefit from topping up.
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