Some nutrition supplements can be dangerous for seniors


Daily servings should include:

  • 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables. Have fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals that help prevent and manage many age-related disorders.
  • 3 servings of whole grains.
  • 3 servings of low-fat milk products. Helps maintain bone health and may lower risk of other age-related disorders.
  • 5 to 6 ounces of protein-rich foods. Choose lean meats.

Eat salt, sugar and fat in moderation. Choose no-salt or low-sodium foods and avoid adding salt to foods. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages, processed desserts and snack foods. Avoid foods with transfat.

Consider taking a multivitamin, a calcium supplement and a vitamin D supplement. Should only be done after consulting with physician.

People who consume less than 8 ounces of fatty fish weekly should consider taking 1 to 3 grams of fish oil supplements daily.

Source: Department of Foods and Nutrition, University of Georgia

To the untrained eye, shelves filled with vitamins and herbal supplements can look more like alphabet soup, with a bunch of numbers tacked on to make them even more confusing.

While supplement pushers often prey on the elderly with feel-good health claims, don’t believe the advertising without doing some investigating yourself, say nutrition experts with the University of Georgia.

Their advice, for seniors especially, is if your doctor didn’t recommend it, don’t take it.

Adding vitamins or herbal supplements to your daily diet could be dangerous if you’re also taking prescription medications, said Cynthia Sweda, UGA Family and Consumer Sciences agent with the Cobb County Extension office.

Sweda tells seniors to eat a healthy diet and follow their doctor’s advice on nutrition supplements. And above all, be completely honest and tell your physician and pharmacist what supplements you are taking on your own, especially when being prescribed new medications.

This is particularly important before having elective surgery to avoid dangerous interactions between supplements and drugs.

For example, ginkgo biloba, an herbal supplement, vitamin E and even a common over-the-counter aspirin, if taken with Coumadin, a prescription blood-thinner, could pose a risk of internal bleeding because each can thin the blood, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Another herbal supplement to be wary of is Saint-John’s-wort, which can interfere with drugs for heart disease, depression, seizures and other medications, according to the FDA.

Maintain a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy and some nuts, seeds or healthy oils and you probably won’t need to add much more to get the recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals, nutritionists advise.

“No matter what age group we are addressing, we always recommend that they get their nutrition primarily from food,” Sweda said.

Sweda’s program assistant Kathy Harper recently spoke to seniors at the Cobb County Wellness Center who were all eager to learn more about vitamins and supplements and what amounts they should be taking.

Harper instead showed them what a “healthy plate” should look like, and gave cautionary advice about anything supplemental.

“Supplements are not regulated, and they won’t be regulated unless somebody gets sick and complains,” Harper told the group. “And we know that when that happens, it’s usually more than one person who has gotten sick.”

Seniors also should be aware of packaged foods with added vitamins, minerals, herbs and amino acids and know how much of the product they’re eating. Eating too much of these fortified processed foods also could affect the body in a negative way, Harper said.

The most common doctor-recommended supplements for seniors are calcium and vitamins D and B-12, which can be taken from a good multivitamin.

It is OK for seniors to exceed the daily value for these nutrients because older people have a high need for them, according to UGA’s Department of Foods and Nutrition.