Your nutritional needs change as you age, especially around menopause. The best vitamins for women over 50 should come from whole foods. However, dietary supplements can help, too. A quality multivitamin can fill nutritional gaps and protect your overall health.
Women over 50 need large doses of calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin D. These nutrients support bone health and may protect against osteoporosis.
Additionally, a balanced diet and regular exercise are essential for preventing weight gain during and after menopause. Make sure your daily nutrients come from whole foods. The role of multivitamins is to supplement your diet, not to replace it.
Are Multivitamins Worth It?
The research on multivitamins is conflicting. A March 2012 review published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine states that multivitamin supplements have little or no benefits. In fact, they can do more harm than good. Yet, about 40 to 50 percent of Americans over age 50 take these supplements regularly.
The scientists reviewed several large-scale studies assessing the effects of multivitamins on health. A study conducted on 36,282 postmenopausal women found that calcium and vitamin D supplementation doesn't reduce the risk of colorectal cancer as it was once thought. On the contrary, it may contribute to the onset of heart disease.
Another study mentioned in the same journal, which involved 39,876 healthy women over age 45, indicates that neither beta-carotene nor vitamin E protects against cancer, cardiac events and all-cause mortality.
A third study conducted on both men and women suggests that dietary supplements containing beta-carotene, selenium and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) may lower cancer mortality rates by 13 percent and total mortality risk by 9 percent over six years. Supplements containing retinol and zinc, on the other hand, have shown to increase the risk of death from all causes.
As the researchers note, multivitamins may affect your overall health in the long run. However, they appear to be safe when used for short periods.
Read more: The 10 Best Supplements
The experts at Harvard Medical School state that there's little evidence to support the benefits and risks of taking a daily multivitamin. The best thing you can do is to consult your doctor and ask for his opinion. If you're deficient in certain nutrients, these supplements might help.
Assess Your Nutritional Needs
A woman in her 50s has different nutritional needs than one in her 20s or early 30s. Your body changes during and after menopause. Estrogen levels decline, leading to a greater risk of osteoporosis and fractures. You may also experience bone loss, irregular heartbeat, night sweats, fatigue, poor sleep and other common menopause symptoms.
Another problem is weight gain. Menopause causes changes in body composition and fat distribution, which may lead to obesity. Abdominal fat mass increases by about 32 percent and visceral fat mass by 44 percent, according to a research paper featured in Menopause Review in June 2017. Visceral fat, or active fat, wraps around your internal organs, contributing to the onset of insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer.
Additionally, lean mass decreases as you age. Muscle loss slows your metabolism, which further contributes to weight gain. Over time, these changes can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, the primary cause of death in postmenopausal women.
A balanced diet and regular exercise are crucial for preventing these issues. As the British Nutrition Foundation points out, healthy eating may help reduce the risk of heart disease and improve the symptoms associated with estrogen decline.
Read more: The Truth Behind 20 Diet and Exercise Myths
The best multivitamin for women over 50 should address these challenges and fill nutritional gaps. Certain nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D, are particularly important at this point in your life.
Vitamins for Women Over 50
Multivitamins are not a cure-all. However, they may help prevent nutrient deficiencies, leading to better overall health. Vitamin D supplements, for example, may reduce the risk of falls and fractures, as reported by the journal Women's Health in November 2014. Low levels of this nutrient increase bone turnover rate and may worsen osteoporosis symptoms.
According to the same source, calcium is essential for menopausal women. This mineral helps increase bone mineral density, reduces bone loss and may protect against fractures. It works best when combined with vitamin D.
Choose a daily multivitamin that provides adequate doses of these two nutrients. The daily recommended allowance of calcium for women aged 51 to 70 is 1,200 milligrams, while the daily recommended vitamin D intake is 600 International Units (IU), or 15 micrograms.
Supplemental calcium absorption is highest in doses below 500 milligrams, according to the National Institutes of Health. The more calcium you take at once, the less will be absorbed into the body.
Increase Your Magnesium Intake
Postmenopausal women also need larger doses of magnesium to prevent bone loss and inflammation. Approximately 60 percent of magnesium is stored in the bones, according to a July 2013 research paper published in the journal Nutrients.
Under normal circumstances, your body gets this mineral from food. Magnesium deficiency can affect bone health and contribute to osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, diabetes, heart disease and sudden cardiac death.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July 2014 found that magnesium supplements may improve physical performance and muscle function in elderly women in as little as 12 weeks. Subjects who took 300 milligrams of magnesium daily for three months experienced significant improvements in gait speed and chair stand, a test that assesses lower-extremity function.
The daily recommended magnesium intake for women over 51 years old is 320 milligrams. Ideally, choose a liquid multivitamin containing magnesium citrate, lactate, aspartate or chloride. These forms of magnesium have the highest absorption rates. Beware that zinc may interfere with this mineral when consumed in large doses.
Fill Up on Vitamin C
The best multivitamin for women over 50 should also provide vitamin C. The daily recommended dose is 75 milligrams, but higher intakes are considered safe for healthy individuals. When consumed in adequate doses, this nutrient may increase bone mineral density in postmenopausal women, according to a review published in the April 2015 edition of Osteoporosis International.
Another research article, which appeared in the British Journal of Cancer in July 2013, suggests that adequate dietary intakes of vitamin C before breast cancer diagnosis may increase survival rates, especially in women aged 65. Furthermore, supplementing your diet with vitamin C and E may reduce oxidative stress and raise antioxidant enzyme levels in the bloodstream.
Considering these facts, it makes sense to take a daily multivitamin after age 50. Beware, though, that dietary supplements cannot replace whole foods. What you eat and how much you eat has the biggest impact on your health.
Cut out junk food, sugary treats, soft drinks, refined grains and other foods with little or no nutritional value. Fill up on lean protein, vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Engage in regular exercise to maintain your weight and prevent age-related muscle loss. Consider increasing your protein intake, especially if you're physically active.
- NCBI: "Vitamin and Mineral Supplements: Do We Really Need Them?"
- Harvard.edu: "Do Multivitamins Make You Healthier?"
- Osteoporosis International: "Estrogen Therapy for Osteoporosis in the Modern Era"
- The North American Menopause Society: "Changes in Hormone Levels"
- Menopause Review: "Obesity in Menopause – Our Negligence or an Unfortunate Inevitability?"
- Harvard.edu: "Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It"
- Mayo Clinic: "Menopause Weight Gain: Stop the Middle Age Spread"
- Mayo Clinic: "Weight Gain in Women at Midlife: Unique Issues in Management and the Role of Menopausal Hormone Therapy"
- British Nutrition Foundation: "Menopause"
- Women's Health: "Nutrition and Bone Health in Women After the Menopause"
- NIH: "Calcium"
- NIH: "Vitamin D"
- NIH.gov: "Sources of Calcium"
- Nutrients: "Magnesium and Osteoporosis: Current State of Knowledge and Future Research Directions"
- Nutrition Reviews: "Suboptimal Magnesium Status in the United States: Are the Health Consequences Underestimated?"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effect of Oral Magnesium Supplementation on Physical Performance in Healthy Elderly Women Involved in a Weekly Exercise Program: A Randomized Controlled Trial"
- Tufts University: "Chair Stand Test"
- NIH: "Vitamin C"
- Osteoporosis International: "Favorable Effect of Dietary Vitamin C on Bone Mineral Density in Postmenopausal Women (Knhanes Iv, 2009): Discrepancies Regarding Skeletal Sites, Age, and Vitamin D Status"
- British Journal of Cancer: "Vitamin C Intake and Breast Cancer Mortality in a Cohort of Swedish Women"
- The Journal of Applied Research: "Supplementation Effects of Vitamin C and Vitamin E on Oxidative Stress in Post Menopausal Diabetic Women"
- NIH: "Magnesium"