If you're in your 50's then its a good time to look at how dietary support can help you to be as healthy as you can be. As your body gets older your nutritional requirements change, you need more of certain vitamins and minerals and less of others. This is why supplements formulated for mature women are different to your average daily multivitamin - women over 50 require a higher daily intake of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D3 for example.
In an ideal world you would get all of your nutrients from a balanced diet of whole foods but as you enter your 50's, hormonal changes make hitting your target amounts for certain vitamins and minerals more difficult. Science cannot re-create what nature has packed into whole foods, however supplementing your diet with key nutrients should help you stay on top form; particularly by increasing vitality and energy levels, supporting the immune system, ensuring optimal bone strength, supporting the body through menopause and maintaining healthy digestion.
Vitamin D3 is made by the body from the action of sunshine on the skin. It helps your body take in calcium and phosphorus, so is key for healthy bones and teeth. Older adults do not synthesise vitamin D3 as well as their younger counterparts, so supplements can help decrease the likelihood of bone loss and broken bones.
Bone loss also accelerates through your 50's, since estrogen helps maintain bone mass, women become more vulnerable to bone loss after menopause. Adding multivitamins rich in calcium and vitamin D3 to your diet can help strengthen them, reducing your chances of fractures, breaks or developing osteoporosis.
Vitamin D is vital to the proper functioning of the immune system, therefore adequate levels protects against illness and infection.
As well as helping to maintain healthy bones Vitamin D3 also aids mood regulation and supports the brain and nervous systems.
Osteoporosis gets quite a bit of attention, and most older women understand that the risk of developing this bone disease increases with age.
Osteoporosis affects men too but at much lower rates. Women absorb less calcium as they age, and some women's ability to tolerate dairy, the best sources of calcium, also decreases as they get older.
The NHS Knowledge Service reviewed a report in the Guardian of a study that concluded people aged over 50 should take calcium tablets to reduce their risk of bone damage. It deemed it a well-conducted study examining the effects of calcium supplements across multiple trials.
The study concluded that taking pills every day could prevent one in four fractures from falls and that taking supplements “reduced the risk of fractures by 12% but when the proper dose of 1,200mg was taken every day the risk was reduced by 24%”.
CoQ10 / Ubiquinol
Co-Enzyme Q10 is important for the optimal function of the body and is required by every single one of our cells. One of the most important benefits of Co-Enzyme Q10 is its ability to enhance energy production.
It is also a very powerful antioxidant, which helps to neutralise free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that are known to damage the tissues and possibly genetic material within the cells.
Co-Enzyme Q10 has been shown to help improve heart health and blood sugar regulation and also helps lower blood pressure.
The oxidised form of CoQ10 (ubiquinone) is converted by the body into the active form, ubiquinol. In this reduced form the body can utilise it for its benefits. This conversion process works well when we are young but gets less efficient as we age. This means that CoQ10 levels in the body, particularly in the brain and heart decreases in older adults.
In fact by the time you reach your forties, levels of CoQ10 are half what they should be. There are a number of reasons for this, including the ageing process which results in diminished conversion. Also to blame is insufficient dietary intake of CoQ10, nutrient deficiencies which hinder the conversion process and potential effects from illness and disease.
Cardiovascular disease, as we all know, is a common age-related problem. There is a considerable amount of evidence supporting a role for CoQ10 in cardiovascular function. An improvement in lipid profiles (a major contributor to cardiovascular disease) has also been reported with CoQ10 treatment.
Co-Enzyme Q10 has also been shown to help mental alertness. Studies have shown a 56% increase in cellular energy production by the brain when supplementing with this nutrient.
There are many cited studies on the additional benefits of Co-Enzyme Q10, including helping to prevent and treat gum disease, support the immune system and aiding weight loss by improving metabolism.
Due to the fact that the conversion process of ubiquinone to the active form ubiquinol becomes affected with age, it is highly recommended over 50's supplement with Ubiquinol.
Chromium stimulates the action of insulin, the hormone that helps blood sugar gain entry into cells. Chromium is needed for the body to properly metabolise fat and to keep blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in check. As you age, chromium levels in the body drop, which may contribute to higher blood sugar levels.
As well as the ageing process being to blame for a decrease in chromium stores, eating a lot of refined carbohydrates, such as those found in sweets, cookies, cakes, and soft drinks, also depletes your body’s stores of this important mineral. So step away from the processed junk food to ensure you get the most from the chromium in your diet or your chromium supplement.
Selenium is another antioxidant power house, it works in two major ways to fend off the disease-causing damage of free radicals.
It works side by side with vitamin C, sparing the vitamin while sharing the antioxidant burden. It also is needed for the production of an enzyme called glutathione peroxidase, which is a major player in the body’s defense system. Fortunately, selenium is easily absorbed, experts recommend that you do not get more than 400 micrograms a day.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3's may help prevent irregular heartbeats, reduce plaque buildup in the arteries, keep blood sugar levels in check and inhibit inflammation. In fact, omega-3's are important for reducing inflammation wherever it comes up in the body. As chronic inflammation is a common 'ageing' related problem it stands to reason that taking omega 3's for their anti-inflammatory properties is a good idea.
Studies have linked omega-3 fatty acids to brain benefits ranging from better blood flow and increased growth of brain cells to improved mood and enhanced memory. Unfortunately, as you age, your brain cells gradually lose the ability to absorb DHA, ultimately compromising both brain function and memory retention.
OnePoll survey of the over 50's commissioned by Equazen, manufacturers of the evidence-based brain health supplements, found that seven out of 10 over 50's have some degree of memory loss and more than half have a friend or family member whose memory is failing. Cognitive problems include issues with memory, language, thinking and judgment and whilst some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse and indeed may get better, for some people this does increase the risk of later progressing to dementia.
Our usual diet does not contain enough omega-3's and we need to eat fish at least once a week to get this nutrient. Even then, we may not get enough so an intake of omega-3 from fish oil capsules is highly recommended. For vegetarians and vegans, there are capsules that contain omega-3 from algae.
When it comes to getting herbal support, turmeric is amazing for health. It is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and been used for its health benefits for thousands of years.
Curcumin, the bioactive substance within turmeric, is one of nature’s great antioxidants and recent research has revealed that curcumin supplementation may have a positive impact on cognitive health - supporting memory, attention and mood in healthy adults.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect your cells. It defends the skin against ageing, inflammation and sun damage. It is also great for healthy hair and scalp and helps to strengthen the immune system.
The recommended intake for vitamin E doesn’t increase with age, but many people over the age of 51 do not get the recommended intake so a supplement is advisable if you don't feel your levels are optimal.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 different enzymatic reactions in the body, affecting most of our tissues and organs. Amongst other things, it helps keep blood pressure and blood sugar levels steady and is also absolutely crucial for the health of our bones. It ensures the parathyroid glands work normally, these glands control levels of calcium, which in turn is essential for strong, healthy bones.
Unfortunately, magnesium levels start going down with age, mainly due to dietary deficiencies and problems with absorption. Alcohol, caffeine and some medications can also deplete the body of magnesium. At risk groups for deficiency include those suffering from diabetes, chronic diarrhoea and hyperthyroidism.
It is not advisable to take more than 350 mg of magnesium per day, but you may take more when treating deficiency. You will know if you’re overdoing it because you'll likely develop diarrhoea. As always, when in doubt, run it by your doctor.
Lutein & Zeaxanthin
If you're 50 or over then now is the time to protect your eyes from issues such as age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness and vision impairment, whilst also doing what you can to improve your day-to-day eyesight.
Quality supplements designed to improve and protect eyesight contain scientifically proven ingredients such as zeaxanthin and lutein. These two carotenoids are found in very high concentrations in the macula of the eye and have been shown to not only reduce symptoms of age-related macular degeneration but to prevent it if taken early enough.
Unfortunately, the human body does not naturally make the lutein and zeaxanthin it needs so taking a daily supplement is a a highly effective way of protecting the health of your eyes.
Probiotics & Prebotics
Gut health is very important for your immune system and the older you are, the more vulnerable your system is to unhealthy bacteria.
Studies show that three of the most common health issues that can develop in your later years include malnutrition, constipation, and a weakened immune system. These are all things that can be improved with daily intake of a probiotic along with a supporting prebiotic.
A probiotic supplement gives a boost to your overall digestive region by encouraging the production of enzymes that break down food. The digestion of lactose and casein, which is a protein found in milk, is something that becomes increasingly difficult as we age.
One of the most important types of bacteria found in a healthy digestive system is Bifidobacteria. Unfortunately, the amount of Bifidobacteria found in the gut declines with age. This can lead to everything from occasional irregularity to an overall decline in nutritional absorption.
One of the most prevalent skin conditions among women over 50 is eczema. According to the National Eczema Foundation, the use of probiotics can help ease your flare-ups. While research is still ongoing, many studies have found that strains Lactobacillus Ramnonsus and L. Plantarum are particularly useful.
Lactobacilli are members of the lactic acid bacteria, and include L. Acidophilus, they are particularly useful for promoting vaginal and urinary health.
Vitamin B12 is important for keeping blood cells and nerve cells healthy. It increases energy levels, helps regulate moods and helps to improve sleep. It is also essential to those following a vegan diet.
Aging affects how well you take in and use B12 from foods, so if you’re over 50, it’s advisable to get your B12 from supplements and B12-fortified foods like cereals, as well as foods that are rich in it, such as meat dairy, and fish.
The body becomes less capable of absorbing B12 from food because stomach acid and stomach enzymes, which are required for the absorption process, begin to decline during your 50's. If you're worried about a deficiency then it's recommended that you get your B12 levels checked and supplement if necessary.
Vitamin B6, otherwise known as Pyridoxine, helps regulate hormonal activity. It is involved in the conversion of the amino acid L-DOPA to the neurotransmitter dopamine and the conversion of the amino acid 5-HTP to serotonin. Dopamine and serotonin are signaling compounds in the body that help you feel good. These neurotransmitters help support balanced moods, a positive mental outlook, and a healthy response to stress.
Fluctuating serotonin levels may be a contributing factor in the mood swings and depression common in menopause. Taking a vitamin B6 supplement during and after menopause may help lessen or even prevent symptoms caused by low serotonin levels, including loss of energy and low mood.
Older women have a tendency to sit more, exercise less. This compounds a natural aging process called sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass and can be linked to functional decline and increased mortality.
The decline in strength and muscle mass begins after 30 years of age, after 50 years of age there is a lean body mass and strength loss of 1.5-5% per year. By the time women near 80 years old, they may have lost as much as half of their skeletal muscle mass. Eating enough protein reduces the impact of that muscle wasting.
For women over 50, experts recommend 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of weight (1 kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds). If you weigh 140 pounds, for example, you would need at least 63 grams of protein a day.
Decreases in lean mass appear to be more prominent in women compared to men, this is likely due to hormonal and body changes during menopause. Both diet and exercise are important to maintain lean muscle mass, and a diet plan for a 50-year-old woman should include protein to maintain muscle function.
A November 2013 study in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society showed women ages 50-79 who had an increased protein intake had better physical function and slower rates of decline.
Important things to remember when choosing a 50+ multivitamin
Your body does not need as much iron after the menopause as it did before it so make sure that the multivitamin you are taking doesn't include too much - not only is it no longer needed in as high amounts, it can become potentially harmful when taken in supplemental form. Woman over 50 need 8.7mg.
Calcium is very important for strong and healthy bones, woman over 50 should consume around 1200mg per day. Due to the fact that you can get this amount from from 3-4 portions of dairy products 50+ multivitamins generally don't contain significantly high doses of calcium.
The recommended intake of vitamin B12 per day is 1.5mg however targeted multivitamins for women 50+ tend to contain much higher doses. Don't be alarmed by this, at even very high doses vitamin B12 is safe and no upper level or dangerous intake has been set.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.