Lots of changes happen as you age — some good and some not so good. For one thing, your risk of certain health conditions increases, and it becomes more important than ever to stay on top of your nutrition.
Even the best multivitamin for women over 60 can't stand in place of a healthy diet, but can give you a little "nutritional insurance" and provide extra amounts of the most important vitamins and minerals for women of a certain age.
Multivitamins Over 60
First things first: Do you even need a multivitamin? If you're eating a healthy diet, then probably not. According to the National Institute on Aging, most older adults can get all the nutrients they need for good health from a balanced, calorie-sufficient diet.
Whole foods are always a better source of nutrients than even the best vitamins for women over 60 because they come loaded with other good things you need, like protein for strong muscles and fiber for healthy digestion. Furthermore, there isn't any clear evidence that taking a multivitamin improves health or fights disease, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Still, there are reasons why a multivitamin might be necessary. Calorie needs decrease with age and, often, activity levels decrease as well. This can make it difficult to meet your nutrient needs in a smaller amount of calories. Certain health conditions can also make it difficult for you to get all the nutrients you need through food. The takeaway, however, is that if you do decide to take a multivitamin, make sure you're still staying focused on eating a healthy diet.
Before choosing a multivitamin, talk with your doctor. A specific condition or nutrient deficiency may require that you take a single-nutrient supplement, not a multivitamin.
Read more: Top 10 Multivitamins for Women
The Most Important Nutrients
Each of the 13 essential vitamins and 15 minerals plays an important role in optimal physiological function, and most multivitamins contain some amount of each vitamin and many of the minerals. So, you could pick up almost any multivitamin on the shelf and be assured of getting at least some of what you need. But several nutrients are of increased importance for women as they age, so make sure that the multivitamin you choose is a good source of these.
Vitamin D and Calcium
Vitamin D and calcium are two of the most important nutrients older women should look for in a multivitamin. Calcium builds strong bones, and vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium.
As you age, bone mass decreases, and the rate at which bone is regenerated, or remodeled, slows down as well. Osteoporosis, characterized by brittle bones that break easily, occurs when the pace of bone loss exceeds the pace of remodeling.
Older women have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than older men. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, out the 10 million Americans who have osteoporosis, 8 million are women.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Medicine recommends that women over age 51 get 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day. But most multivitamins fall short of that — considerably short, in some cases. This is because fitting the entire recommended daily amount (RDA) for calcium into a multivitamin would make it so large it would be difficult to swallow, explains UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Therefore, you should look for a multivitamin that has as much calcium as possible; otherwise, you'll need to take a separate calcium supplement or ensure your diet is providing all you need.
For vitamin D, the RDA for women over 51 is 10 micrograms per day. Most multivitamins provide 100 percent or more of this amount.
Vitamin B12 plays important roles in blood cell formation, bone health, cellular metabolism and nerve function. Deficiency in B12 can cause forgetfulness, tingling in hands and feet, unsteadiness and weakness.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, many people over the age of 50 don't get enough vitamin B12. The National Institute on Aging explains that older people may have trouble absorbing enough of this nutrient from food.
Additionally, vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning your body can't store it. Any excess you consume is excreted in urine, so your stores must be replaced on a daily basis. Multivitamins tend to contain large amounts of B12 — sometimes thousands times the RDA.
The mineral magnesium also plays a role in bone health. Both low and high blood levels of magnesium may compromise bone integrity, according to a research review published in the journal Nutrients in August 2013. In addition, magnesium plays roles in protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control and blood pressure regulation.
According to the National Institutes of Health, older adults tend to have lower magnesium intakes. With age, magnesium absorption in the gut decreases, and excretion from the kidneys increases. In addition, chronic health conditions and medications can affect mineral absorption and lead to deficiency. Chronically low intakes can increase the risk of not only osteoporosis, but also Type 2 diabetes and hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
The RDA for magnesium is 320 milligrams per day. Most supplements are low in magnesium, providing less than 15 percent of the RDA. Therefore, if your diet is low in the mineral, a multivitamin isn't going to be a reliable source to fulfill your daily needs.
The Bottom Line
If you decide to take a multivitamin, look for one that contains the key nutrients for women over 60 in amounts at or close to the RDA. For minerals such as calcium and magnesium, you may need to consider taking a separate supplement, if your doctor recommends it.
UT Southwestern Medical Center suggests choosing a multivitamin with USP verification, an official seal provided by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, an independent nonprofit organization that determines the purity of dietary supplements and confirms they contain the ingredients listed on the label.
UT Southwestern cautions consumers to not be fooled by the letters "USP" on labels, but to look for the actual seal. To be sure, it's a good idea to look up the verification online at USP.org before purchasing.
In addition, make sure you're adding these dietary sources of each nutrient to your daily menu:
- Calcium: Dairy, broccoli, kale, canned fish with bones, fortified cereals and plant milks.
- Vitamin D: Fatty fish, fortified dairy products, fortified cereals.
- Vitamin B12: Meat, fish, poultry, milk, fortified cereals.
- Magnesium: Leafy, green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes.
These foods also contain complex carbohydrates including fiber, protein, healthy fats and antioxidant phytonutrients that do more to support good health than any pill from a bottle.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Is There Really Any Benefit to Multivitamins?"
- International Osteoporosis Foundation: "What Is Osteoporosis?"
- National Osteoporosis Foundation: "What Women Need to Know"
- National Academies of Medicine: "Summary Tables, Dietary Reference Intakes"
- UT Southwestern Medical Center: "5 Signs You’ve Chosen the Right Multivitamin"
- Mayo Clinic: "Vitamin B-12 Supplements Recommended for Older Adults"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Special Nutrient Needs of Older Adults"
- NIH: "Vitamin B12"
- Nutrients: "Magnesium and Osteoporosis: Current State of Knowledge and Future Research Directions"
- NIH: Magnesium