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The best food supplements for the elderly

As we age, the changes in our bodily functions increase the need for good nutrition. Our bodies become less efficient at digesting, absorbing and metabolising nutrients from the foods we eat and if we also have a health condition or take medications, the demand for nutrients increases further. A healthy diet should be the first port of call, however as we get older, many of us struggle to prepare, shop and cook as we once did.

Nutritional supplements can be a great support in ‘supplementing’ your diet and filling in the nutritional gaps, especially if your daily intake of food doesn’t contain enough vitamins or minerals needed to maintain good health. We’ve put together our top evidence-based food supplements for the elderly in this article, however, it’s always important to check with your GP before taking anything new in addition to any prescribed medications.

1. Digestive Enzymes & Bitters

Our digestion capabilities change as we age and one of the most common complaints is that of reflux, heartburn or indigestion. You may think this is due to too much stomach acid, however, the opposite is often true. As we get older, we have reduced amounts of gastric, pancreatic and other digestive secretions. With low stomach acid, food cannot be broken down properly and causes problems further down the tract. It is often, in fact, low stomach acid (not high) that also causes the pain of heartburn and reflux.

Luckily the supplement industry has stepped in to help with this. Digestive enzymes are available from online & high street health stores. Frequently, these will hold extracts of pineapple and papaya, which can encourage stomach acid to be produced help to break down foods. Some stronger supplements also contain pepsin and hydrochloric acid; however, these should only be used when recommended by a health professional.

2. Probiotics

Other common digestive complaints in the elderly often also include IBS, bloating or constipation. Our digestive systems are often more vulnerable as we age and can benefit from more ‘healthy bacteria’ in our gut. Not only can a healthy gut prevent digestive upset, it also supports the immune system, mood and skin health.

Probiotics are a popular way to ensure our gut is able to produce good amounts of beneficial bacteria. Some people prefer to use probiotic foods rather than the supplement form. These include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, live yogurt and miso. However, many studies show more benefits of taking a regular probiotic supplement whereas the evidence is lacking for fermented foods.

3. Vitamin D

Health experts agree that the majority of the population in the UK would benefit from taking a Vitamin D supplement, especially through the winter months. However as there is a higher risk of deficiency as we get older, it is a must-have food supplement for the elderly.

Many people know the benefits of Vitamin D for bone health, but the role of vitamin D in the body goes well beyond your skeleton. Vitamin D is a key component for the immune system. It can help us to fight viruses and prevent heart disease. It is also an important vitamin for our mental health, regulating our mood and keeping depression at bay.

We get the majority of our Vitamin D from exposing our skin and eyes to the sun, however due to our dark winter months, layers of clothing and sun cream, we often do not get enough vitamin D to sustain us all year round. Adults over the age of 70 are recommended to supplement 800IU per day.

4. Zinc

Whilst many research papers and news reports point to the benefits of zinc for supporting our immune system and fighting colds and flu, zinc deficiency may also lead to many health problems from Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Due to different dietary factors, older people may intake less zinc and potentially take in less of what they do eat. Therefore, it is extremely important for the elderly to take note of their zinc intake.

The benefits of zinc are wide-reaching. From modulating the immune system, supporting brain health and memory, improving wound healing and tissue repair and reducing the risk of inflammatory diseases. You can find zinc in food sources such as shellfish, meat, eggs, legumes and seeds or in supplement form via capsule or spray.

5. Omega 3

Omega 3 are essential fatty acids, named essential due to the fact our body cannot make them so we must eat them - and many of us simply aren’t eating enough. Found primarily in fish and seafood, the standard western diet is distinctly lacking in this essential nutrient and the effects on the body are significant. Omega 3’s play an important role in balancing cholesterol, preventing cognitive decline, reducing inflammation and supporting eye health.

In an ideal world, your diet would provide you with all the omega 3 fatty acids you need, but even those who are eating three portions of oily fish per week are only reaching the minimum recommendation for good health. Supplementing a high strength fish oil allows you to reap the benefits, even if you don’t like fish. Quality is important however as fats can easily become rancid and therefore cause more harm than good. Aim for a sustainably sourced high-quality fish oil from a trusted supplier.

6. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is known as a potent antioxidant as it protects the body from ‘oxidative stress’. This can damage cells in our body and the rate of oxidative stress often increases as we age. For this reason, studies show that vitamin C intake of at least 400 mg daily may be particularly important for older adults who are at higher risk for age-related chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cataract. It also plays a huge role in our immune response and is often considered when experiencing cold symptoms, however, would be much more beneficial as a preventative.

We find Vitamin C in abundance in fresh vegetables and fruits such as red peppers, kiwi fruit, broccoli, tomatoes and citrus fruits. However, when required taking a Liposomal Vitamin C can be extremely effective.

Whether you are taking note of your diet, supplement intake or including more acts of self-care such as using our walk-in baths, walk-in showers or wet rooms, it’s never too late to improve your health!