As we grow older, we must pay particular attention to maintaining nutritional health. Here are the final five of my top-10 vital nutrients (6 through 10) and what happens to them through the normal course of the aging process.
6. Vitamin B12
Important in the efficient use of fats, carbohydrates and protein, vitamin B12 helps maintain a normal nervous system, helps the formation of red blood cells, lowers the elevated blood level of homocysteine (dangerous amino acid) thus lowering the risk of heart disease, prevents anemia, and helps nucleic acid synthesis.
Vitamin-B12 deficiency is present in 12% of elderly living in the community and up to 40% of those in institutions or who are sick. There are many causes for this high prevalence including reduced intake, malabsorption due to atrophic gastritis, gut bacteria overgrowth, long-term use of antacids (H2-receptor antagonists or proton pump inhibitors), chronic alcoholism, and gastric surgery. For the above reasons, the older persons would require additional vitamin B12 supplements.
7. Vitamin C
Vitamin C functions as an antioxidant, is important in recycling vitamin E, has a major role in collagen formation, and is essential for the absorption of some proteins, folic acid and iron. It also blocks the oxidation of other vitamins, strengthens blood vessels, maintains strong bones, enhances stamina, and promotes wound healing.
It is not known if there is a greater vitamin-C requirement in older individuals. Reduced vitamin-C intake has been associated with illnesses (e.g. degenerative diseases, cognitive decline, lung diseases, cataracts, and cancer), institutionalization and hospitalization. Therefore, more than the RDA amount is recommended for older persons who are at much greater risk of chronic illness.
8. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is important for cellular health, lowers blood cholesterol, helps blood flow to the heart, prevents bodily loss of vitamins, preserves the bodily store of vitamin A, protects tissues or fat from free radical damage, strengthens blood vessel walls, and prevents the breakdown of red blood cells. There is no evidence of an increased vitamin-E requirement in older individuals.
9. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is active in the regulation of bone mass, calcium and phosphorus metabolism, and helps maintain a healthy heart and nervous system.
Vitamin-D deficiency is found in 30% of white, 42% of Hispanic and 84% of black elderly in Boston. Consequences of vitamin-D deficiency include fractures, cancers, multiple sclerosis, and hypertension. Recent studies show that, to prevent falls, increase bone mass, improve muscle performance and reduce fracture in the elderly, the daily vitamin-D intake has to be between 800 IU and 1,000 IU. Therefore, for the above reasons, it is prudent for those over 65 years who do not get enough sunlight exposure to take additional vitamin-D supplement to provide a total of 800 IU a day.
10. Vitamin K
Vitamin K helps control blood clotting and is essential for a strong, healthy bone. It is unknown whether older persons have a different vitamin-K requirement compared to younger individuals.