Looking after our health is important at any age, but as the years tick by, it can seem extra vital.
Things like keeping active and eating healthily can really make a difference – especially if you have a history, or you’re at higher risk, of things like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis, which all become increasingly common with age.
Research by the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) however, reveals that the over-50s spend less than the national average on keeping healthy in terms of diet and supplements – spending an average £5.91 each, compared to overall average of £7.62 – and half this age group admit they never take a vitamin or mineral supplement.
Of course, spending less on food does not automatically equate to a less healthy diet, but the survey – which quizzed 10,000 Brits – does suggest there might be a lack of awareness about the role supplements can play.
Do I really need supplements just because I’m older?
There’s no denying there’s a lot of misleading information out there about health and nutrition. But links between our diets and health are well established, and supplements can play a role in supporting nutritional intake, particularly as we age. “We don’t tend to absorb nutrients as easily as we age.
Also, often people don’t tend to eat as much when they get older; dietary intake tends to go down,” notes Healthspan nutritionist Rob Hobson. And Michele Sadler, scientific advisor for the HFMA, points out that “periods of ill-health” could lead to reduction of appetite and nutritional shortfalls too.
Consider a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement
Unsure where to start with supplements? “I think the first thing you should think about is looking for a good multivitamin and mineral supplement that’s designed for your age group,” suggests Rob.
He and Michele both note this does not let anybody off the hook for eating a healthy, balanced diet – but a multivitamin could help support your health at those times when diet alone might not meet all your nutritional needs.
Don’t overlook Vitamin D
In recent years, studies have highlighted that vitamin D shortfalls are a ‘major problem’ in the UK. This can be a particular concern for older age groups, especially as the risk of fractures and bone health problems rises significantly with age. “We need vitamin D to absorb calcium,” explains Hobson, “and this is crucial for bones.”
Michele adds: “The current UK reference intake for vitamin D for 65s and over is 10 micrograms per day. A 10mcg supplement is recommended, as it would be extremely difficult to get this amount from the diet alone.”
Looking after your heart
Heart disease is one of the most common major diseases in the UK, and again, the risk rises with age. Overall, men have higher rates of heart disease then women, however Rob highlights that this balances out as women get older, particularly post-menopause.
“This is one reason the over-50s might want to consider taking an omega-3 supplement, especially if your diet is lacking in oily fish,” he says. As well as benefiting heart health, omega-3 has been found to play a role in supporting healthy joints, and has been linked with boosting brain function and possibly lowering the risk of dementia.
What else might I want to consider?
Hobson notes that ubiquinol – a form of CoQ10 - can also be particularly beneficial, especially if you’re taking statins. “Statins lower CoQ10 levels as its production shares the same pathway as cholesterol. Cholesterol’s also required to transport CoQ10,” he explains.
“If you’re on statins, taking a supplement can help ensure an adequate supply of CoQ10 and may help reduce side-effects such as fatigue and muscle weakness. I recommend using ubiquinal, the reduced form of CoQ10.”
Michele says: “Vitamin B12 may also be needed by some older adults, as absorption of this vitamin can be reduced with age, and deficiency becomes more common. It’s important for red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function and bone health.”
Always consult your GP before taking supplements.