Prioritizing our health through exercise, diet, and lifestyle choices can impact how we age and our quality of life. However, how we take care of our bodies will start to change, especially as we age. According to the World Health Organization, “requirements for some nutrients might be reduced, and some data suggests that requirements for other essential nutrients may rise later in life.” As we age, it’s important to reevaluate our diets and make changes to meet the evolving needs of our bodies. While we all age differently, there are a few common changes that happen to our bodies as we age.
How Our Bodies Change as We Age
Our bodies are constantly changing throughout our lives. Our needs as teenagers are drastically different from the needs we have as small children. Similarly, as we age, our bodies require different amounts of vitamins and other nutrients for many different reasons. Here are a few of the most common reasons, as reported by U.S. News and World Report.
In addition to a slowed metabolism, older adults often become less active, which can cause them to eat less or not feel as hungry. Aging adults can also experience a diminished sense of taste, which can take some of the pleasure out of eating. While older adults require less food in general, this also means they need to meet their nutritional requirements in smaller quantities of food which can be challenging.
• Medications can often interfere with the way our bodies absorb nutrients and vitamins into our bloodstream. For example, long-term use of diuretics can inhibit the absorption of folate, which generates red blood cells and DNA.
• Findings have suggested that as we age, our bodies’ ability to absorb and utilize nutrients becomes less efficient, which can cause our nutrient requirements to increase over time.
Other physical changes can affect hunger cues and the ability to eat and digest food. For example, many older adults experience a decline in their oral health, such as reduced saliva flow, which can make it difficult to chew and swallow.
Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Older Adults
These changes in our bodies can cause nutrient deficiencies, which can impact our overall health, quality of life, and longevity. Here are a few of the most common deficiencies in older adults:
• Vitamin B12. It can be difficult for older adults to absorb this vitamin from food as well as they could in younger years. Vitamin B12 is responsible for creating red blood cells, DNA, and maintaining nerve function. Even if your diet contains enough B12, which is found in fish, meat, milk products, and eggs, it’s not uncommon for older adults to miss their daily requirements.
• Folate. Too little of this vitamin can lead to anemia, which can cause a variety of health issues. Older adults whose diets don’t include fresh vegetables, fruits, or breakfast cereals may be falling short on folate.
• Calcium. We need calcium to maintain bone strength, which is especially important as older adults are more at risk of fall-related injuries. Too little calcium, which is found in dairy products, can lead to brittle bones and fractures.
• Vitamin D. We produce Vitamin D when we’re exposed to the sun, but we can also consume it through Vitamin D fortified foods like some juices, yogurt, and milk. Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium, maintain bone strength, and protects us from chronic diseases.
• Potassium. This mineral is also important for keeping our bones strong, in addition to reducing high blood pressure and kidney stones. Potassium is found in fruits and vegetables.
• Magnesium. The absorption of magnesium reduces in age and can be difficult to absorb when taking certain medications. Magnesium is extremely important for older adults as it helps to build our immunity, keep our hearts healthy, and build strong bones.
• Fiber. Fiber helps our digestive system function properly and can also protect against heart disease. Most people only get half of the recommended levels of fiber from their diets. Foods like whole grains, nuts, beans, vegetables, and fruits are high in fiber.
Managing Your Needs through Supplements
Many of the deficiencies we might experience as we age can be addressed by making changes to our diet. However, sometimes even that might not be enough. Supplements can help you achieve your daily nutritional requirements in addition to making small changes to your diet. It’s important to note that supplements can interfere with certain medications, so it’s crucial to consult your doctor before adding in supplements. Here are a few supplements that can be helpful for older adults:
Fish Oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids and support cardiovascular health. Some researchers suggest that this supplement can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, prostate cancer, and depression.
Calcium is stored in our bones and teeth and plays an important role in preventing bone decay in older adults. Calcium is found in dairy products, but it can be hard to consume the proper amount, especially for those who have food allergies.
Probiotics are a class of bacteria that help the digestive system function properly. They also work to keep the gut healthy, which some researchers suggest is linked to our brain health.
Potassium can be hard to absorb, especially for people with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Some medications can also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb potassium. Potassium supplements can help reduce the risk of kidney stones and monitor blood pressure levels.
Tips for Taking Dietary Supplements
Before you start taking dietary supplements, it is strongly advised to check with your healthcare provider because some supplements can react with medications and can actually be detrimental to your health if you have other health concerns. Be sure to take the correct dosage. Purchase from third party verified sources to ensure they are safe and high quality.
Products marked with USP or NSF on the label are more reliable. And, be sure to monitor any side effects. If you experience vomiting, bone pain, constipation, diarrhea, or headaches, be sure to consult your healthcare provider.
Aging Gracefully at Maplewood Senior Living
Health is always a priority at Maplewood Senior Living. Our culinary teams in our communities provide healthy, well-balanced meals designed to meet the various needs of our residents. Our medical team is also available to answer any dietary or nutrition-related questions. If you are interested in learning more about our communities, please contact us.