The Most Important Vitamins as You Age

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.
  • 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.

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