In part two of my three-part look at how older adults can stay healthy, I address the reasons we can become deficient in essential nutrients. I then explore one thing that proper nutrition and supplements may help protect: your vision.
There are four main reasons why we might be deficient:
— Digestion: reduced absorption, problems in small and large intestines, stomach issues causing reduced appetite and diarrhea, reduced pancreatic enzymes
— Oral health: ill-fitted dentures, difficulty swallowing or chewing, reduced amount of eaten meat, vegetables and fruits
— Taste: reduced taste and smell means smaller appetite
— Increased oxidative stress: body needs more beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E
— Higher homocysteine levels: bigger need for folate, vitamins B6 and B12
— Decreased bone density: need more calcium and vitamin D
— Lower immune function: need more vitamin B6, vitamin E, zinc
2. Reduced Energy Intake
While we need fewer calories when we age, the nutrients stay the same, and even increase (e.g. vitamins D and B6, and calcium). So we don’t eat as much, thus possibly not getting the required nutrients.
3. More Illness
People get sick and need medication. The side effects of some mean your body can’t absorb nutrients as easily, or you have less of an appetite.
— Limited finances
— Cognitive impairment
— Social isolation
Now that we know the main reasons for nutrient deficiencies, let’s take a look at a major area that can be affected by the lack of proper nutrition: eyesight. Over 90% of visual disability in older adults is caused by cataracts or macular degeneration (MD). Both may be related to nutrition. Low levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoids increase cataract risk — and supplements may be beneficial.
One study looked at about 4,600 people with MD (aged 55 to 80) who were given vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, and copper. While they had no effect on cataracts, the antioxidants did slow down the progression rate of MD.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoids found in your retina. Exciting results recently came out of a study on 90 patients taking 10 milligrams (mg) of lutein, 10 mg of lutein plus other nutrients, or placebo. Those taking lutein had significant improvement in their vision.
Click here to read the first part of my series that reveals the nine critical nutrients we need as we age.