Importance of vitamins as we age
Dr. Laura Hoffmann, Naturopathic Doctor
Affinity Health Clinic, New Hamburg
One of the most common questions I get asked is “what vitamins should I be taking”? The answer to that depends very much on your personal health goals, individual health concerns, any prescription medications you may be on (many deplete vitamins and minerals), and diseases you are working to prevent. Every person is different with what vitamins they should be taking, but there are some vitamins that are important to most people as they age. We’ll take a closer look into those more common vitamins that many older adults take.
Vitamin D: The sunshine vitamin
This is the #1 vitamin for people living in Canada. We are able to make vitamin D from the sun, but only over the summer months in Canada. In the winter months, we cannot make vitamin D from the sun anymore. Older adults are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency because as we age, the skin’s ability to make vitamin D reduces.
Why is vitamin D important?
- Supports the immune system
- Improves bone health
- Absorbs calcium
- Improves mood
- Supports muscle function
- Improves heart health
- Reduces blood sugar
- Improves memory
- And many more functions!
Blood testing for vitamin D is really important to know how much to take. In Ontario, vitamin D testing is only covered if you have osteoporosis, osteopenia, rickets, malabsorption syndromes, kidney disease, or certain medications. It is not covered for the general population, but you can still ask and have it tested for a fee of around $35.
Blood levels of vitamin D are the most accurate to know how much you should be supplementing. Based on your blood level, your health care team can help guide you with how much vitamin D to take. You can get some vitamin D from food, mainly fatty fish, liver, egg yolks, mushrooms, or foods with vitamin D added in.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means it needs to be taken with fat, or else your body cannot absorb it. Some supplements have the fat already in the capsule, others don’t. If you are taking one that doesn’t have fat in it, you’ll need to make sure you take it with a meal that has some fat.
Vitamin B12: The energy vitamin
As we age, our ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases. You need to have enough stomach acid and enzymes in the stomach to absorb vitamin B12. Older adults tend to have lower levels of stomach acid, and/or are on medications that may reduce stomach acid, so this is why we often see older adults becoming vitamin B12 deficient.
Vitamin B12 helps to:
- Form red blood cells
- Improves energy levels
- Reduces brain fog
- Improves memory and concentration
- Supports muscle function
- Improves mood
- Supports bone health
- And more!
Blood testing for vitamin B12 is really important, and it is covered for the majority of the population. Your blood level will tell your health care team how much you may need to supplement with vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 comes in a few different forms: oral, sublingual, or injectable. Oral is the most common, where you swallow a pill, then your stomach needs to release the enzymes to help absorb it. In older adults, this tends to be the least effective form of vitamin B12 since it relies on stomach acid. Sublingual forms get dissolved under your tongue, and this helps the vitamin B12 get absorbed into the bloodstream quickly without needing the stomach. Injections of vitamin B12 can be done as well, which goes directly into the muscle and is the most bioavailable.
You can get vitamin B12 from foods, mainly animal sources of food. Meat, fish, milk, eggs are the most common sources of vitamin B12, and it is often added into cereals and other products.
Other vitamins & minerals:
Other vitamins and minerals that tend to reduce with aging include:
- Vitamin B6
- Folic acid (vitamin B9)
It is important to talk to someone on your health care team about your vitamins and minerals before you start taking any supplements. Not all supplements are safe, and some can have significant interactions with medications. If you haven’t already, think about getting your blood tested for vitamin D and vitamin B12 to make sure your body has enough. Vitamins and minerals are really important with aging to help support mood, energy, memory, muscles & bones, and to help prevent certain diseases.
Have any questions about your health? Free 15-minute discovery calls are available with Dr. Laura, Naturopathic Doctor.