In part two of my series on nutrition in the older adult, I’ll hone in on the vitamins that are extremely important in shielding the body against disease.
Nutritional deficiencies are quite common among older adults. Getting improper nutrition for less than one year can lead to full-fledged deficiencies in vitamins B and C. More than a year spent not getting proper nutrition would result in deficiencies in vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as B12. The more frequent chronic illnesses and medication use further compromise the nutritional status in older individuals. One study found that there was a high number of vitamin deficiencies found even among those who claimed to be taking multivitamin supplements on a daily basis.
Here are the main vitamins all adults, particularly older adults, must consider on a daily basis.
— Vitamin A: A powerful antioxidant, important in the prevention of cancer and immune function; reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, and macular degeneration; a deficiency is uncommon. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables containing carotenoids, including beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A, and organ meats, milk, oysters, and mackerel is recommended.
— Vitamin B1 (thiamin): Essential for carbohydrate digestion, a healthy nervous system, strong muscles, and proper functioning of the heart; a deficiency occurs alongside other B-vitamins, with poor intake of dairy products, meat and cereals; deficiency symptoms include weight loss, apathy, weakness, confusion, and loss of appetite.
— Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Important in the synthesis of amino acid and fatty acids, as well as tissue repair; deficiency occurs with other B-vitamins; symptoms of deficiency include sore mouth and tongue or cracked lips, irritability, moodiness, depression and nervousness.
— Vitamin B6: Critical for metabolizing amino acids and essential fatty acids, and for the formation of neurotransmitters in the brain; deficiency occurs with other B-vitamins, especially in those with dementia, stroke, or rheumatoid arthritis, as well as anyone living in a nursing home; symptoms of deficiency include nervousness, insomnia, dizziness, confusion, depression, and irritability. Good food sources include banana, leafy greens, beef, chicken, fish, and avocado.
— Folate: Plays a role in reducing the risk of heart attacks and stroke; deficiency is often seen with poor nutrition, alcoholism, or certain medications; deficiency symptoms include depression and anemia. Dietary sources of folate include leafy greens, orange juice, liver, legumes, and brewer’s yeast.
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— Vitamin B12: Important in the efficient use of fats, carbohydrates and protein; helps maintain a normal nervous system; helps body form and make red blood cells; also breaks down homocysteine (thus lowering the risk of heart disease); deficiency can be due to impaired absorption (which occurs in 15% of the elderly), a “Helicobacter pylori” infection in the stomach, gastric resection, or long-term use of acid suppression treatment (e.g. proton-pump inhibitors); symptoms of deficiency include anemia, numbness in the extremities, difficulty walking, mental confusion, and even dementia.
— Vitamin C: Functions as an antioxidant; important in recycling vitamin E; major role in collagen formation; lowered intake of this vitamin is associated with memory loss, lung disease, senile cataracts, cancer, and hardening of the arteries; deficiency is more common in nursing homes; deficiency readily responds to increased intake of fruits, fruit juice and vegetables or to vitamin supplements.
— Vitamin D: Produced by sun exposure; dietary sources include fortified dairy products, fatty fishes, and shrimp; deficiency symptoms include muscle weakness, functional impairment, and increase in fractures and falls.