Even if you focus on eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods, making sure you’re scoring enough vitamins and minerals can be a tricky business. This is especially true as you get older, since—we’re sorry to say—your body’s probably not functioning as efficiently as it used to. (You know, back when you were walking five miles to school every morning.) Obviously, you want to grab as many nutrients as you can from your favorite eats, but you might need to consider taking supplements to fill in specific nutritional blanks that aren’t being met by your food intake. Of course, before beginning any new supplement plan, be sure to consult your healthcare professional to determine if it is right for your needs.
Now—where to begin? Glad you asked. Here are 20 important nutrients to chat with your doc about that all contribute to a healthy life in your 40s and beyond. And if you’re looking beyond your health and hope to drop a few after you’ve reached the big four-oh, don’t miss these 40 Weight Loss Tips for People Over 40.
Because aging can alter the functioning of our organs, getting enough B vitamins is an important part of keeping the cellular and organ system processes of your body running smoothly, says New York-based dietitian Alana Kessler, RD. B vitamins, in particular, work both together and individually to provide benefits like fighting free radicals, boosting good cholesterol, and improving energy, says Jeffrey Gladd, MD, integrative medicine specialist and member of the Care/of scientific advisory board. Looking for more ways to slow down the aging process? Don’t miss these 50 Best Anti-Aging Tips, Recommended By Doctors.
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Although vitamin B12 is part of the B-complex family, it deserves its own spin-off. As we age, we lose intrinsic factor: a protein made by the gut that enables the body to absorb the vitamin B12 naturally found in foods, says New Jersey-based dietitian Tina Marinaccio, RD. That spells bad news for your overall health considering this B vitamin supports brain, blood cell, and nerve health. People over 50 especially should consider scoring most of their B12 from fortified foods or supplements since, in most cases, the body can still absorb the vitamin from these sources, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
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Omega-3 fatty acids are lauded for their ability to fight inflammation, and can help counteract several of the changes that strike as we age, like increased risk of heart disease, cognitive problems, and joint pain, says Edwina Clark, RD, head of nutrition and wellness at Yummly. As for dosage, this should be tailored to the individual, says Clark, especially if you’re on other medications, for example, anticoagulant drugs.
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Besides helping the body absorb calcium, vitamin D is important to other bodily processes too, such as moving your muscles, carrying messages between your brain and body, and helping the immune system defend against pesky bacteria and viruses, according to the NIH. “Most people don’t get enough sunlight in the colder months to produce an adequate amount of vitamin D,” says Clark. “It’s also relatively scarce in food, so getting enough can be tricky without the help of a supplement.”
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Calcium becomes increasingly important as we age, says Clark, and not just because it keeps our bones strong and healthy. It’s also needed for our heart, muscles, and nerves to function, as well as help blood vessels transport blood throughout the body. Always take calcium in conjunction with vitamin D—the body needs vitamin D in order to form calcitriol, the hormone responsible for calcium absorption. Without it, your body will experience a calcium shortage, and in order to function, will have to take calcium from its stores (your skeleton), weakening your bones in the process, according to the NIH.
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If you’ve noticed your metabolism getting a little sluggish, chromium supplements might help. The mineral plays a role in regulating blood sugar, which can improve absorption and distribution of nutrients from the foods you eat. It may also increase muscle mass and fat loss, and decrease appetite and food intake, according to the NIH.
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Mounting evidence suggests that maintaining and protecting your gut health can impact everything from digestive health to immunity, weight management, mental health, allergies, and more, says Clark. And since the big 4-0 is the age when muscle mass starts to decrease and it’s easier to put on weight, a happy gut can help your body absorb the essential vitamins and minerals necessary to keep your metabolism and other organ systems running smoothly, says Kessler. “Though there are some probiotics in foods, there are never as many strains as you will find in a supplement, where each strain has its own benefit, like weight control or gastric health,” she says.
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Many people start to develop arthritis after the age of 40, says Ehsan Ali, MD, board-certified internist in Beverly Hills. Because the body uses glucosamine to produce the bevvy of chemicals responsible for building tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and the fluid surrounding the joints, taking a supplement might not only relieve joint pain but promote joint health by preventing the condition from getting worse—and may even help repair the damage that’s already been done, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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This trace mineral may be under the radar, but studies have shown that it plays an important role in several bodily processes linked to healthy aging, including brain function, strong bones, and immune response.
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As we get older, not only does soluble fiber keep the number two train running smoothly, it also helps control blood sugar and lowers the risk of coronary artery disease, according to a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Meanwhile, another study found that psyllium fiber may help lower cholesterol by latching onto fat and bile acids and kicking them out via your digestive tract.
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Our bodies take a beating as we age, as with more years on Earth comes even more exposure to DNA-damaging free radicals from toxins such as air pollution and ultraviolet light (sunlight). The negative effects of these free radicals can really start to pile up once we hit 40. Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect our cells from these style-cramping free radicals, according to the NIH. It also helps the immune system function properly and is needed by the body to make collagen, a protein that helps speed up the healing process.
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The body produces this antioxidant naturally; it’s used by our cells to make the energy they need to function properly and stay healthy. However, naturally-occurring levels of coenzyme Q10 (coQ10) decrease as we age, and the amount found in dietary sources (meat, fish, and whole grains) isn’t enough to significantly increase levels in the body, according to the Mayo Clinic. Supplementing with coQ10 might help treat—and ward off—certain conditions, such as heart disease, migraines, and muscle weakness attributed to taking statins.
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Produced by the pineal gland, melatonin is a hormone that works with your sleep-wake cycle, increasing when it’s dark to help you sleep, and decreasing when it’s light to keep you awake. Melatonin production decreases with age, according to the Mayo Clinic, and this shortfall could lead to health problems that go way beyond feeling perma-drowsy. A 2017 review published in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews found that adults who scored less than seven hours of shuteye a night were more likely to report 10 chronic health conditions—including heart disease, diabetes, and depression—compared to those who slept seven hours or more. Melatonin supplements can improve how long it takes you to fall asleep, as well as total sleep time and quality.
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Scoring more lutein is important at any age, but especially after age 50. The carotenoid nutrient is crucial for eye health, and may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). “AMD causes damage to a spot in the retina called the macula, which is important for sharp, central vision,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook. “Lutein seems to play a role in slowing down this damaging effect.”
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As we age, our skin and connective tissue begin to lose elasticity and lubrication—a change that can lead to wrinkles and osteoarthritis, respectively, says Kessler. Collagen supplements may bring renewed life to the joints and skin by providing improved joint and tendon flexibility, as well as improved circulation, which can boost both skin texture and firmness.
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Turmeric, the delish spice commonly used in Indian food, doubles as a powerful anti-viral and anti-inflammatory that can help declutter the body of some of the toxic buildup that accumulates from our diet and lifestyle. “This toxicity can lead to digestive, hormone, and weight issues,” says Kessler. The ingredient curcumin is the key component in this supplement, and 500 milligrams daily has been shown to activate these helpful benefits, she adds.
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Once you hit menopause, it can be tricky to figure out which supplements will be helpful sans side effects. “Black cohosh is often a recommended supplement because it may offer benefits such as reducing hot flashes, night sweats, and inflammation, while being hormone-free,” says Gladd. “Therefore, its side effects may be more manageable to absent.” A 2010 review published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine suggests that black cohosh might also help improve sleep quality and reduce hormonal imbalances related to fibroids and diabetes.
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This essential nutrient may keep your brain sharp—and most Americans aren’t getting enough, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. “Cognitive decline in aging is partly due to oxidative events, like DNA damage, that occur when large amounts of homocysteine (an amino acid) are present,” explains Newgent. “Choline reduces the amount of homocysteine in the blood, which is thought to help prevent age-related cognitive decline.”
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Magnesium is profoundly deficient in our diet—thanks to our soils being deficient of it—and it plays an important role in many processes in the body that tend to derail as we age. Magnesium stabilizes nerves, lowers blood pressure, helps insulin handle the sugars and proteins we eat, assists vitamin D in directing calcium into our bones, and improves sleep quality, says Steven Gundry, MD, author of The Plant Paradox Cookbook. Really, what more can you ask for in a supplement?
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Because our eating habits can be haphazard at times, a multivitamin can fill in the nutritional gaps and ensure that we’re still getting the essential vitamins and minerals our diet might be lacking that day, says Ali. As we age, this could help us steer clear of health issues that can strike because of long-term vitamin deficiencies, such as neurological damage and bone diseases, according to a 2014 study published in Nutrition Journal. To protect yourself from aging any faster than you should be, you won’t want to miss out on learning about the foods you should chuck from your diet: 20 Foods That Age You 20 Years.
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