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Vital vitamins: How your nutritional needs change as you age

Nov 14, 2011, 8:53 a.m.

As we grow older, our nutritional needs change along with our bodies. Though many of us already know that we need to consume fewer calories after our fortieth year, this doesn't mean that we need fewer nutrients. In fact, we even need more of certain nutrients in order to keep our bodies healthy and strong.

While you may need fewer carbohydrates and fats as your metabolism slows down, you still need the same amount of minerals, vitamins and protein. But when it comes to nutrients, your body's ability to absorb vitamins and minerals can decline, meaning that you'll need to pay special attention to getting more of them in your diet. You can also add them in the form of supplements in order to get your recommended dietary amount. So which vitamins do you need to add, and why?

The B-vitamins, especially vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid, are essential for normal brain functioning, and deficiencies may affect alertness and memory. A lack of B-vitamins may also increase your risk of thrombosis, stroke or coronary vascular disease, as well as macular degeneration, an incurable and degenerative eye condition that causes blurred central vision. To avoid this, make sure to take a vitamin supplement that includes a B-complex, or take a separate vitamin B-complex.

Vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting and protecting against Alzheimer's disease and osteoporosis. Medications for heart disease and other conditions may interfere with your body's ability to coagulate blood, so your physician may prescribe a Vitamin K supplement. Research shows that seniors who already suffer from osteoporosis may benefit from a Vitamin K supplement, so if this is a concern for you, discuss it with your doctor.

Vitamin D plays a vital role in preventing osteoporosis. It helps the body absorb the calcium necessary to keep the bones healthy and strong. According to new studies, it may also protect against coronary disease.

A well-balanced and varied diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, animal or vegetable protein, unsaturated fats and sufficient water goes a long way in providing you with all of the nutrients you need to stay healthy. You can also buy multivitamin complexes that are specifically designed for seniors at most drug stores or health food stores. The advantage of taking a multivitamin for seniors is that unless you have a specific condition, you'll get the correct dosage of each nutrient.

Though there are many dietary supplements out there that boast anything from enhanced sexual functioning to age reversal, it's important to choose supplements with care. Just like when you were younger, the foundation for a healthy life lies in healthy dietary habits--including chewing well and not skipping meals--regular exercise, and personal well-being achieved through social contacts and a sense of purpose. If you are concerned that your diet and multivitamin aren't providing you with enough nutrients, talk to your doctor.

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