In Canada, many people take vitamins and nutritional supplements to improve their overall health. For seniors, vitamins are becoming increasingly popular.
In 2015, according to Statistics Canada, 45.6% of Canadians used at least one nutritional supplement in their daily lives. This number accounts for over 15.7 million people! Seniors are the age group most likely to take multivitamins and nutritional supplements, especially women.
Almost two-thirds (67.8%) of women aged 71 and older use supplements, compared to 51% of men. The most common supplement product for all Canadians is multivitamins.
What Vitamins Should Seniors Take?
The question of finding the best vitamins for seniors may actually be more about whether or not seniors need to be taking vitamins/nutritional supplements at all. There can be both benefits and negatives to taking vitamins. In truth, individual needs will vary for every person, and speaking to your doctor is best before starting to take any vitamins.
There are a few vitamins that may be beneficial for seniors to take.
Health Canada has stated that the need for vitamin D increases after the age of 50, especially for Canadian seniors. This is generally because, as we age, our skin stops absorbing nutrients the way it should. It’s also because many seniors spend a lot of time indoors, and often don’t get enough sunlight.
Vitamin D can help with the absorption of calcium, helping to prevent bone decay. The use of vitamin D supplements by older adults has increased by 13.1% between 2004 and 2015.
Vitamin B12 is another vitamin which everyone, seniors included, need to have in their diet. It helps to prevent anemia and keep red blood cells healthy. A deficiency in this vitamin leads to fatigue and feelings of weakness.
However, the reason these are important vitamins for the elderly is because many seniors can’t get enough of them in their diet. Most seniors can get the majority of their vitamin and mineral needs through food. It can be hard to get enough vitamin D from food alone, however, especially for older adults who need a higher amount.
Similarly, many older adults can’t properly absorb vitamin B12 because they don’t have enough stomach acid to do so. Vitamin B12 supplements are much more easily absorbed in this case.
Clearly, vitamin D and B12 are among the best vitamins for seniors. However, they are only ever necessary because if seniors can’t get enough of them in their diet (which only a doctor should decide). Most other vitamins are found in abundance in the average diet. Which leads us to the next point…
Should the Elderly take Multivitamins?
It’s not that vitamins aren’t helpful – they are essential for good health. However, as mentioned before, unless there are restrictions in your diet, most people get enough vitamins. Seniors don’t need supplements more than other age groups for most vitamins, other than the two previously mentioned.
This means that in general, taking multivitamins is unnecessary. The only exception to this is seniors who are recovering from injury/surgery, or who have restrictive diets. This includes those with food allergies or who are vegetarian.
There is insufficient evidence to suggest multivitamins can prevent chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, et cetera. Unless a doctor determines that supplements are necessary, it’s best for seniors not to take multivitamins. This is because:
- Certain supplements can interfere with other medications you (or your elderly loved one) are already taking;
- Getting an excessive amount of any vitamin can lead to toxicity;
- Having to pay for vitamins is an unneeded expense, as Canadians spend about $370 million on supplements every year;
- Many older adults can’t cook proper, nutritious for themselves, or don’t have someone who can cook for them;
- Some of the ingredients in supplements, such as the gel caps that contain them, can lead to side effects like nausea and loss of appetite.
While multivitamins aren’t harmful in all cases, they’re normally excessive, and the risk isn’t necessary.
Getting enough of the required vitamins for seniors can be done through diet alone. The best way to ensure a healthy amount of vitamins and minerals is by knowing about proper nutrition for the elderly.
So, why are so many Canadian seniors taking multivitamins?
Simple: because there is a large market, and many supplement companies promise things that are still unproven by science. Walk into any pharmacy and you will see vitamins and supplements directly marketed at the elderly.
In truth, ‘seniors formula’ multivitamins and products that claim to be the ‘best multivitamins for the elderly’ are actually just normal multivitamins with more vitamin D and B12.
Unless there is a serious lack of intake for certain vitamins, as determined by a doctor, older adults shouldn’t need to take multivitamins. Minor changes in diet are generally enough to cover the dietary needs of the elderly.
Speaking to a doctor is the best way to determine if supplements are right for you and your loved one. While a prescription isn’t needed for vitamins and multivitamins, it’s never a good idea to start taking them without first seeing a medical professional.