Vitamin needs at every age
Feeling overwhelmed by the vitamin section at the drugstore? Best Health has your guide to vitamins at every ageBy Astrid Van Den Broek
Walked by the vitamin shelf at a drugstore lately? If you have, then you’ve probably noticed the shoulder-to-shoulder selection of vitamin supplements you could add to your daily intake. But what do you really need when it comes to supplementing your diet? Is calcium still a concern once you’ve entered your 50s? Should we swallow handfuls of vitamin D daily? Here’s your guide to vitamins at every age.
In a perfect world, all of our nutrient needs would come from the best source: food. However if your diet isn’t exactly a perfect copy of Canada’s Food Guide recommendations, then take your “nutritional insurance” a.k.a. a multivitamin, suggests Gina Sunderland, a Winnipeg-based registered dietitian. “Research shows taking a well-balanced multivitamin throughout your lifespan helps fill in nutritional gaps in your diet,” says Sunderland.
In your 20s and 30s
• Calcium: These are the decades to bone up, as in, maintain your bone mass. Toronto-based Osteoporosis Canada recommends adults aged 19-50 years take 1,000 milligrams of calcium, daily. If you don’t receive enough calcium from your diet, you may need to take a supplement containing elemental calcium. Elemental calcium refers to the actual amount of calcium in a supplement that's available for your body to absorb—the rest are compounds making up the supplement. But when supplementing your calcium, read the labels carefully, cautions Dr. Jonathan Kerr, a Belleville, Ont.-based family physician. “For example, if you buy tablets such as calcium carbonate, each tablet contains 1,250 milligrams of calcium,” he says. “Unfortunately, only 500 milligrams is elemental calcium.”
• Vitamin D: Consistent vitamin D recommendations are still mixed—organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Dermatology Association recommend talking to a doctor about taking as much as 1000 IU of vitamin D supplements per day in the fall and winter when sunlight exposure is limited, and Osteoporosis Canada recommends 400 IU of vitamin D daily, for adults aged 19 to 50. Sunderland notes that Health Canada’s recommendations are currently being reviewed. “The recommended amount may increase in the future, but for now it’s 200 IU of vitamin D daily,” she says. Getting your vitamin D (along with calcium) in your 20s will help boost your bone strength, and then maintain it once you enter your 30s and 40s.
• Folic Acid: For women in their childbearing years, folic acid is recommended if you’re planning on conceiving anytime soon. “You should take it before you get pregnant to ensure your levels are high because low rates of folic acid can cause a number of birth defects,” says Dr. Kerr. “The recommended dosing of folic acid is 400 micrograms per day if you are age 14 or older.”
• Iron: Iron is another key consideration for menstruating women. “Iron deficiency commonly occurs in pregnant women, causing anemia, which can result in fatigue and weakness,” says Sunderland. “Iron enables red blood cells to carry oxygen and deliver it to body cells.” If you’re pregnant and not getting your daily 27 mg. of iron from sources such as iron-fortified cereals and eggs, then look for it in a supplement containing 16 to 20 mg, or speak to your physician about iron supplementation specifically.
In your 40s
• Calcium: Once you reach 40, it’s all about preventing osteoporosis. Make sure to get 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. “A nutrition shortfall I frequently see in my practice in women over 40 years is they don’t eat and drink enough calcium-rich foods such as milk and milk products,” says Sunderland. “That puts them at a greater risk for osteoporosis, falls, and possibly certain cancers.”
• Vitamin D: Recommendations for vitamin D intake in your 20s and 30s (as explained above) still apply in your 40s. If you are unsure how much vitamin D you actually need, ask your doctor about taking a vitamin D test.
• Folic Acid: Pregnant? Up your daily intake of folic acid to 600 mcg. To meet this need, women should continue taking a multivitamin containing 400 mcg of folic acid throughout their pregnancy.
• Iron: As in your 20s and 30s, be sure to get 27 mg. of iron daily if you are pregnant, whether through your diet or a combination of diet and supplements. Non-pregnant women should aim for 18 mg a day of iron.
In your 50s
• Multivitamin: It’s time to switch to multivitamins designed for adults 50 years and older, says Sunderland. “These multivitamins have significantly less iron than multivitamins for younger women, she says. “For example Centrum Forte for women up to the age of 49 years has 10 mg of iron per tablet and Centrum Select 50+ designed for those over 50 has only 4 mg of iron per tablet, but has additional vitamin B12 to reflect changing nutrient needs.”
• Calcium: For women over 50 years, Osteoporosis Canada recommends bumping your calcium intake to 1,500 mg. daily.
• Vitamin D: Like calcium, Osteoporosis Canada also recommends increasing your vitamin D intake to at least 800 IU per day. “There is an increasing amount of research on the benefits of vitamin D, particularly for bone health,” says Sunderland. “It’s challenging to consume the recommended daily amount of vitamin D through diet alone.” Health Canada notes that women over 50 have a reduced capacity to produce vitamin D through sun skin exposure.
• Vitamin B12: “Your vitamin B12 needs increases after 50 because the gastrointestinal tract does not absorb vitamin B12 as well as a younger digestive tract,” says Sunderland. Health Canada advises those older than 50 get 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily, mainly by consuming foods fortified with vitamin B12 or a supplement containing vitamin B12.
In your 60s
While the overall needs are similar to those in your 50s, check your multivitamin again to be sure it’s meeting all your nutrient needs because newer health issues such as eye health and heart disease might be manifesting. “Some multivitamins contain key antioxidants such as lutein which may protect against age-related macular degeneration, and lycopene, which may help prevent heart disease,” says Sunderland.
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Web exclusive, May 2010