Smart About Supplements


For Health Aging, Be Smart About Supplements

Supplements make a wide variety of health claims that have undeniable appeal, especially as we age. After all, who doesn't want to prevent illness and chronic diseases like cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, stroke and heart attack?

By some estimates, the supplement industry in the United States makes more than $36 billion per year, which includes sales of vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements. But health experts say you might want to put a cap on that bottle: it turns out, many people are spending money on pills and powders they don't need. Worse, over consumption of some supplements can actually cause serious health issues.

It's true that as our bodies age and change our nutritional needs may change too. However, you may want to save your money rather than spending it on over-the-counter dietary supplements. The key, according to many experts, is to balance those bodily needs through a healthy diet. If you’re eating a healthy diet that includes a lot of vegetables (especially leafy greens), it’s far less likely you’ll have deficiencies that need to be corrected by supplements.

People over age 50 may need larger amounts of some vitamins and minerals than younger adults need, including vitamins B12, D, B6 and calcium. Of course, your medical provider can check for specific deficiencies. If you do decide to explore dietary supplements, you'll want to keep the following recommendations from the National Institute on Aging in mind.

  • Do your research. Know what you are taking, how much you should take and the side effects. Study supplements by gathering information from reliable health sites.
  • “Natural” is a meaningless term. It's unregulated, as are herbal supplements. Keep in mind that just because something is called natural, doesn't mean it's safe or recommended.
  • Be a wise consumer. Select trustworthy brands and stay away from supplements you don't need. Your health, and your wallet, will thank you.

According to an article on, “Do Older Adults Need Vitamins, Supplements?” experts say people waste a lot of money on supplements they don't need. “A supplement does not cure the aging process,” said Donald B. McCormick, PhD, a professor at Emery University, And in some cases, they can cause harm. He suggests minor diet changes can often satisfy nutrient needs for seniors, and supplementation may be considered for serious deficiencies.

Consult with your physician for more information, and always be sure to tell your medical provider which vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements you are taking.