Once the celebrations for hitting your half-century mark fade and you’ve had a chance to take a good look at yourself in the mirror, maybe, just maybe, you’ll think: “Gee, it’s time to start taking better care of myself!”
You know that the risk for many chronic health problems tends to increase with age. And, after 50, if you’re realistic, you’re playing on the back 9 of life. Not to bum you out, of course. On the contrary, the years after 50 will be some of your best, especially if, as you said, you start taking better care of yourself by eating healthier, exercising, and reducing stress. There’s another proactive step you might consider: Start taking dietary supplements to ensure that your body is getting the nutrients that you may lack now that you’re a little older.
We asked doctors and dietitians for their suggestions for the best dietary supplements for people over 50. Grab a glass of water and read on. And if you’re looking specifically for supplements that may help you lose weight, check out these that dietitians recommend.
While most of us get all the vitamins and minerals we need from our food, occasionally dietitians will recommend a multivitamin supplement to plug micronutrient gaps. But not every multivitamin is a good multivitamin. First, if you’re over 50, the multi you take should be free of iron unless your physician tells you otherwise. Iron can mask symptoms of anemia and may inhibit the effectiveness of certain drugs.
A quick way to find the best multivitamin is to be sure it contains B12 and folic acid. “It should be the bioactive, natural forms of B12 (look for methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin on the package) and the natural form of folic acid (L-methylfolate),” says Sheldon Zablow, MD, a psychiatrist and author of Your Vitamins Are Obsolete. “Most supplements contain the artificial forms of these that are hard to metabolize and absorb. These two are critical because all other vitamins are dependent on them to function.”
B12 and folic acid are particularly important for a healthy brain. “These nutrients are required to produce neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that allow communication between brain cells,” says Dr. Zablow. “Low B12 and folic acid can result in depression, anxiety, fatigue, decreased concentration, and poor sleep. Taking optimal amounts will also reduce chronic inflammation, which leads to nine out of 10 leading causes of illness and unhealthy aging.”
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Collagen is a protein that may improve the elasticity of your skin, helping to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. “As we age, our collagen decreases and should be replenished,” says Anna Reisdorf, RD, a registered dietitian nutritionist for Wellness Verge. “A collagen peptide supplement is simple to add to your routine; you can just add them to any beverage. I also recommend vitamin D for anyone over age 50 because you produce less of it with age. It’s important for immunity and bone health. Take at least 1,000 IU daily.” For more, check out Sure Signs You’re Lacking Vitamin D, Say Experts.
This plant compound found in red wine and red grapes has antioxidant properties. “Much of aging is due to damage caused by free radicals,” says Reisdorf. “Getting a hefty boost of antioxidants from resveratrol and green tea extract can help.” Resveratrol also has been shown to lower blood pressure and offer other heart benefits. One placebo-controlled human study found that participants who took a resveratrol-enriched grape extract capsule daily for six months had a 2.6% reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol compared to no reduction in the blood fat in the placebo group.
Largely due to the reduction in dairy food consumption in recent decades, calcium is considered a nutrient of concern in the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “After 50, women need more calcium — 1,200 milligrams a day versus 1,000, and men may not get enough calcium to meet their needs,” says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, an expert in nutrition after 50 and co-author of The Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Managing Hormones, Health, and Happiness. Calcium from a dietary supplement is best absorbed in doses of 500 milligrams or less at a time, says Ward. Calcium carbonate is absorbed best when taken with food, while calcium citrate can be consumed with or without food.
Research has suggested a link between low levels of the omega-3 fatty acids mostly found in fish oil and increased risk for age-related cognitive decline, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), omega-3 fats help to keep the heart beating properly and reduce the risk of erratic rhythms that can lead to sudden death from a heart attack or stroke.
“Omega-3 fats are also useful in decreasing elevated triglycerides in the blood, slowing plaque formation in the arteries, and possibly lowering blood pressure, which tends to increase with age,” says Ward. “Fish and seafood are the best food sources of DHA and EPA, but most people don’t eat the suggested 8 ounces of fish weekly to help prevent heart disease and will likely benefit from omega-3 supplements with DHA and EPA.”
The FDA recommends no more than 2,000 milligrams of DHA and EPA daily from dietary supplements, and possibly less if you take certain medications.
Most informed vitamin takers swallow a comprehensive multivitamin, vitamin D, and vitamin C. The next supplement on the top four list of nutritionist Marie Ruggles, RD, CDE, for people over 50 is the mineral zinc. “This is an essential nutrient for preventive health and overall immune function,” says the author of Optimize Your Immune System: Create Health and Resilience with a Kitchen Pharmacy. “The only good source of zinc is oysters, which most people don’t eat regularly so taking supplementation is important.”
This nutrient has antioxidant properties and is believed to be helpful for conditions such as asthma and arthritis, and some (but not all) clinical evidence suggests it may help prevent prostate cancer. While you can take a selenium supplement, whole foods can provide it, too. Ruggles suggests that eating just one Brazil nut daily will provide the selenium you need.
Choline is an essential nutrient that supports the liver and the muscles and is part of cell membranes, which protect the inner workings of cells. It’s also the raw material for producing a neurotransmitter that allows cells in the nervous system to communicate with each other.
Some studies (not all) suggest that choline is associated with better memory retention with age. Animal foods, such as eggs, meat, poultry, and seafood, supply the most choline. “Men need 550 milligrams of choline daily while women need 425 milligrams of choline daily, but research from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows that women consume an average of just 278 milligrams,” says Ward. “Research suggests that the choline needs of postmenopausal women are higher than during their premenopausal years.”
Ward says multivitamins contain little, if any, choline, so she recommends buying choline bitartrate supplements to get the most choline for your money.