The Top 7 Essential Vitamins for Those Ages 40+
Essential vitamins are a key component in every day healthy life, especially when you do not or cannot consume the daily value of vitamins and minerals needed daily. Everyone can benefit from taking vitamins (and not just those over 40 years), in fact, many women will take vitamins to help improve their health and fitness. Those over 40 years old are particularly targeted in numerous studies because their bodies are most likely not working like they were 20 years prior. Age-related conditions and risk factors begin to arise the older you become. But there are some key target nutrients to look out for when deciding which nutrients are the best for you.
Recent studies show that a sufficient level of this essential nutrient is needed by the body to reduce homocysteine levels (an amino acid that is found in the blood and makes up protein), protect the heart and arteries, support the weight of brain matter, promote mental energy and good mood, nerve comfort, protect memory function, and support hearing health. Vitamin B12 is also required for energy, stamina, and blood cell formation and division. Those going through periods of stress may have increased demand for B12, as it is involved in the production of stress hormones, which means that our bodies need more of it during times of high stress.
The Framingham study found the prevalence of B12 deficiency (megaloblastic and pernicious anemia) to be much higher than previously expected, at 39% of the study population. A B12 deficiency can exhibit many symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, light-headedness, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, and skin pallor, and may lead to Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia and neurologic dysfunction. B12 deficiency can also lead to easy bruising or bleeding, as well as bleeding gums. Digestive symptoms include sore tongue, nausea, weight loss, diarrhea and/or constipation. Nerve cell damage can result when B12 deficiency is not corrected, leading to tingling or numbness to the fingers and toes, difficulty walking, frequent mood changes, occasional depression, memory loss and disorientation.
According to Prevention, calcium is needed for basic body functions like “muscle contraction, nerve and heart functioning and other biochemical reactions.” Studies have shown evidence that calcium may greatly support bone health and the reduction in the risk of bone fractures, weight loss, stroke and even breast cancer. Adequate intake of Calcium is linked to reduced risk of osteoporosis by slowing the rate of bone loss for anyone with a family history of the disease, post-menopausal women, and elderly men and women. Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, manager of wellness nutrition programs at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute explains, “Even though our bones absorb most of the calcium they need earlier in life (typically before age 30), the nutrient does play a role in maintaining bone health later in life. If you aren’t getting enough calcium from your diet, the body steals calcium from your bones and weakens them.”
Vitamin D has become one of the most highly recommended dietary supplements over the last few years by healthcare professionals. Vitamin D is not technically an essential vitamin, since the body naturally synthesizes the “sunshine vitamin” through a chemical reaction between the sun’s UV rays and the cholesterol on your skin. Nevertheless, it has been estimated that approximately 70% of North Americans have Vitamin D deficiencies. This is due to a combination of factors: low levels of sunlight for most of the year, obesity, sun avoidance, and low consumption of foods high in Vitamin D such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines). Inadequate Vitamin D in the body often leads to conditions such as rickets and osteomalacia, which trigger symptoms like bone and muscle pain, enlarged joints, and easily fractured bones. Given the high prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency, this could be the most essential of all the conditionally essential vitamins. Research suggests that an adequate supply of vitamin D can help maintain normal blood sugar levels and support blood pressure already within normal range, when taken as part of a well-balanced diet. Vitamin D may help promote a healthy immune response as well by activating T and B cells (white blood cells that circulate in the blood) of the immune system. In fact, without sufficient vitamin D levels, the immune system cannot function properly to resist infection.
Magnesium is among the top five most abundant minerals in the body. It is an essential nutrient, which means we must consume it in our diet in order to maintain consistent levels of it in our bodies. Since magnesium is not produced naturally in the body, we must consume an adequate amount of this nutrient from foods or supplements in order to maintain proper levels.
Magnesium is a co-factor in over 300 chemical processes in the body, including critical functions such as healthy nerve and muscle function, regular heart rhythm, maintenance of a strong and healthy immune system, and maintenance of strong bones and teeth. It is crucial for maintaining healthy heart rhythm, regulating blood pressure levels, and keeping blood sugar within a normal range.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for 98% of American adults ranges from 310mg to 420mg of magnesium per day. Still, it has been shown that 57% of the U.S. population do not meet the minimum RDA for magnesium. Fifty of the magnesium consumed will be stored in the bones, and the other 50% becomes stored inside the various organs, tissues and cells. Approximately 1% of magnesium is found in the blood, where the body works to maintain homeostasis.
Older adults have a higher risk for magnesium deficiency than younger adults, since the integrity of the kidneys is lower and more magnesium may be lost in the urine. “Deficiencies have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and inflammation,” Kirkpatrick says. It is very important for these groups of people to increase their dietary magnesium intake.
A key nutrient and mineral in the regulation of blood pressure, potassium, is needed to keep your organs like your heart and kidneys running smoothly. Low potassium is associated with a risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer, digestive disorders and infertility. For adults 18 years or older, the Institute of Medicine suggests consuming 4,700 mg of potassium per day.
Though omega-3s are technically not a vitamin, Kirkpatrick explains that they are essential because they help counteract some of the negative changes that come with aging – increased heart disease risk and cognitive decline. InVite® Health’s own Nicole Crane, BTS, NP, explains in a recent article published on our website, “Most people do not get nearly enough omega-3 fats in their diet and, as a result, miss a significant opportunity to protect their heart, brain and manage inflammation throughout the body.”
A recent study, led by Zaldy S. Tan, MD, MPH, medical director of the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program at UCLA, found that people who consumed more omega-3 fatty acids has larger brains and performed better on memory tests, planning activities and abstract thinking than individuals who had lower levels of omega-3rd in their blood. These results suggest that omega-3s play an important role in maintaining brain health through aging.
Bacteria that exists in your body is often thought of as unhealthy, but certain strains of bacteria in the intestines are crucial for proper digestion and overall health. Your intestines naturally hold about two pounds of bacteria in total, but this bacteria needs to be varied in species and abundant in the healthy strains. Research has shown that a certain amount of “good” bacteria in your intestines is necessary for proper digestion and overall health. The body needs certain strains of this healthy bacteria to counteract the negative effects of unhealthy bacteria in your system. These healthy strains of bacteria are released in the lower gastrointestinal tract while they are alive and active, allowing your body to take advantage of their many health benefits. Inadequate amounts of healthy bacteria in the intestines often lead to digestive problems such as bloating and gas. According to Prevention, “Foods typically will not contain as many strains as a supplement – and each strain comes with its own benefit, some for helping to control weight, other for helping prevent diarrhea. Plus, because probiotics are actually live and active cultures, you wont be able to get them from foods that are cooked or heated.”