May 30th, 2008
02:24 PM ET

Vitamins as we age

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

My friend takes a lot of vitamins.  In fact, in one day, she probably washes down the entire alphabet.  I have often wondered, as I watch her take glass after glass of water to swallow them all, why?  Is it really necessary to take that many supplements?

Nutritionists say no.   According to Katherine Tallmadge of the American Dietetic Association a multi-vitamin once a day is fine.  The best way of getting your vitamins, she says, is to eat foods that are loaded with nutrients. "Many studies are showing that vitamin supplements do not get the same results as vitamins from food," she says.   So that means eating goodies rich in calcium, Vitamin A,B, B12, C and E.   And as we age, it's even more important to get these supplements into our diets in order to stay healthy.

At any age, but especially as we get into our 30s, calcium is important.  Most people think calcium plays a bigger role in our golden years, but doctors say the more calcium you put in your body as a young adult, the stronger your bones will be as you get older. That's because as we reach 30 we begin to lose bone and muscle mass.   So fill up the breakfast table with low-fat milks and yogurts. And look for foods rich in magnesium and vitamin K for muscles. And don't forget vitamin D.  It helps your body absorb calcium into the bones.  You can get it from sunshine, but getting enough of it that way can be a challenge with a busy schedule.   In fact Tallmadge says, "vitamin D is hard enough to get in food...vitamin d is the only nutrient I recommend that you get from a supplement."

Also in your 40s and 50s start thinking about your heart.  Tallmadge notes, "a big factor is preventing heart diseases.  I would say the B vitamins are very important – folic acid, vitamin B 12 – those B vitamins are very important for keeping homocysteine levels down. which is an emerging risk factor for heart disease."

So turn to whole grains, broccoli and low-fat animal products, like lean meat and chicken.  All of these can help keep the circulation system healthy.

And of course, eat lots of veggies and fruits.  And don't forget the omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish, walnuts and flax seed.  They're also important for prevention of heart disease because they can reduce inflammation, blood clots and keep blood pressure down.  They can also be important for the brain.  Studies have shown people with high Omega three diets, have less depression, and fewer cases of dementia and Alzheimer's.  

As for all the vitamin supplements, talk to your doctor.  They aren't necessarily bad for you, but taking too much of one vitamin or combination of vitamins could cause problems.  Nutritionists say, balance it out.  It could help you feel healthier and cut down on your vitamin bill.

Do you take vitamins... which ones and why?  We'd like to hear about it.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


soundoff (83 Responses)
  1. Grace

    A question about calcium: We usually think of dairy products as the source for calcium in the diet, but how do people and animals that don't eat dairy get calcium from food?

    In other words, we drink milk from a cow to get our calcium, but where and how did the cow get her calcium from to put in the milk? If cows naturally eat mainly grass and don't drink milk past babyhood, could that mean that animals and people really get their calcium from food such as green vegetables?

    Also there are some cultures that just don't eat any dairy. Even a Chinese diet that hasn't adopted modern Western milk-drinking contains almost no dairy at all. How do these people's calcium-related health compare with that of people whose diets contain dairy products?

    May 30, 2008 at 21:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. laura

    Hi Val, interesting, and this is off the subject some, but what to do when one cannot eat food so easily? Are there any easy to eat "miracle foods" out there that have vitamins? A friend is recovering in a rehab after being on a respirator, and the food there shocks me. Peas–where is the nutrition? Pasta–different sauces. Cake. She hates ensure or anything sweet, but her swallowing reflex has been affected. I really wish you might do a story on geriatric nutrition–. Thank you.

    May 30, 2008 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Barbara DeHart

    Hi, I am 64 yrs. old . I have taken Vitamins for 25 years . The only time I have been to see a doctor is for a UTI. I agree that a well balanced diet is very very important. But unless you can get veggies that have been grown in soil that has plenty minerals and all the nutrients our body needs you will not be getting enough vits.& minerals. "FRESH" is another "MUST" veggies and fruits lose a lot of their nutrients as they age. So supplements are indeed very "IMPORTANT." Don't forget "NUTS." and YES, Omega 3 is a "WONDERFUL" thing along with Co Q 10. My Health has improved so much since I have been taking all of the above and eating veggies grown in good soil.The soil in this country is so depleted of the minerals we need that we just "Can't get the amount our bodies need. Do like I do and grow your own, It "SURE" makes a difference.

    May 31, 2008 at 09:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Charles Stoy

    I would echo Barbara's comments. The RDA's are based upon a sedentary person's diet and activities. If you are active, you need more. Probably not the mega doses that some people take, but clearly more. If your diet consists of mostly processed foods, then you definitely need to take more than the recommended RDA.

    June 3, 2008 at 05:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Kuy

    I take vitamins. Been doing that since I was old enough to make my own decisions. In my 50's now and never been sicker than the flu.

    Also important to pass on the huge chunks of beef and eat lot's of veggies and fruit. I recall back in the day, as a teen when I passed on the meat everyone around me gave me such a hard time about it, now I'm laughing all the way to the bank of good health.

    Not everyone has the space for a garden or the time to tend one, bummer. Now if we could just bring down the cost of healthy food...

    June 3, 2008 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Susan Nantel

    I am turning 60 years old in July 2008 and have been taking the following Centrum Select ( one a day) Flaxseed oil capsules (2 a day) , garlic capsule (2 a day)
    If for some reason, I seem to be getting a scratchy throat then I will take a Vitamin C that desolves in water.
    If an upper respiratory problem crops up – orgeano caps will be taken after my meals (2) tablets to fight the infection.

    All these things keep me healthy.

    My Mother is turning 99 years young on June 11th. She takes the same thing to keep her healthy!

    My Mother has just recently retired Nov. 2007 from her p/t job cutting up cardboard boxes for her Grandson's business! Working keeps her young!

    June 3, 2008 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Cathy

    At age 54, found out that I can no longer eat anything that has fiber, so I have to rely on Chewable vitamins so that my homocysteine levels don't run amuck. Yes, i would rather eat the veggies and fruit, by living in the salad bowel of America doesn't mean that we can afford to buy the food grown here either.

    June 4, 2008 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Taz

    Does anyone know of any definitive studies on Co-enzyme Q10?

    June 4, 2008 at 20:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Nan M

    Your suggestion to "ask you doctor" is useless. American doctors receive no training in nutrition or natural supplements. They believe in expensive pharmaceuticals. It really isn't hard to figure out why. There are plenty of European studies that show the efficacy of many supplements. American patients need to do their own research and certainly not rely on their doctors' opinions in this area.

    June 5, 2008 at 08:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. vinaya lele

    I do not take any suppliment at all. I just eat right and excersice daily. and I drink red wine. I think I am in good health. so I think each is own. on the supplment issue. Just listen to your body. By the way my Husdand does not agree with me. again to each his own. Thank you.

    June 5, 2008 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Carol G

    I'm a 62 year old woman and have been taking my multis, vitamin c and vitamin e since I was about 40 years old. Just recently I added a calcium supplement to my daily routine. I don't take any medication, never have, and hopefully never will have to. If I ever do, then I'll have to refrain from taking my vitamins because I feel vitamins and medication, and medication with other medications is a downfall for the elderly unless it's a dire necessity. My diet consists of a fiber cereal for breakfast in which I add soy milk, flax seed, and banana. My vitamins are taken with my cranberry juice. The only caffeine I have is coffee I drink when I read my newspaper before I have my breakfast. I take my calcium supplement with my dinner which always consists of a salad with romaine lettuce and just a touch of dressing. My husband and I cook with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, onions, and lots of spices. Spices are an added health benefit and makes everything taste so much better. Sweets have never been a problem for me because of the fact I just don't like them. I do have only 1 beer or 1 glass of red wine before dinner. I occassionally snack on popcorn, and recently started adding nuts to have as a snack, but just a serving size, beacause of the health benefits. I keep hydrated all day with adequate amounts of water. Along with a good diet I try to keep stress at bay by changing a stressful situation into something positive. Because no matter how healthy a lifestyle someone trys to lead, stress can still manage to weaken your immune system. Plus I stay active for most of the day. For the pass 25 years I've been a waitress. so I'm constantly kept moving. I also get my strength exercise from lifting trays so that's an extra bonus I get daily. I'm 5'5" and weigh 130 lbs consistenly so I guess I'm on the right track. Living to 100 is my destiny.

    June 5, 2008 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Pam Austin Tx

    At 57 I take a mulit vitamin, red rice yeast, B complex, grape seed extract, cranberry, potassium and a baby asprin.
    At 47 I was on Lipator (on a low fat diet my bad col. was 275) and Nexium.
    At 57 I need no medications, my good col. has doubled and my bad is under 190, my ratio's are good. After my last bloodwork my doctor said I don't know what you're doing, but keep on doing it.
    I don't worry about my fat intake as much as I limit my sugar intake.

    June 6, 2008 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Angelita barth

    I am taking Centrum Vitamins....before I go to sleep...oh,boy, when I get up in the morning,it's make me feel so good.And ,of course,I am eating mostly any kinds of vegetables, a lots of fruits ....seldom eat meat and mostly I eat fish with rice,also try oster in the can.

    I worked 12 hours everyday but I don't feel tired when I come home.Also, you should sleep at least 6 hours .I don't have any problem at all right now . Always drink water and do excercise to get wet...wow....it's make your day wonderful!

    June 8, 2008 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. sandra

    I'm almost 37 i just start taking a multivitamin supplement because of i always been low in iron & now i'm low in vitamin d. so far i'm doing fine.

    June 9, 2008 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Grits

    I am 36 years old. I have taken many vitamins since I was in my mid-20's. I take a Women's One a Day, calcium, vitamin E, fiber therapy, vitamin C, fish oil and vitamin B12. I realize these may not serve a "great" purpose in the whole scheme of things but........I do notice a difference in how I feel if I forget them for a few days. I live a very busy and fast paced life and don't always eat as healthy as I should. I am not a fast food junkie by any means, but I don't get enough fruits and veggies just due to lack of time. I don't think it hurts a thing to take these as a "just in case" method. I mean we aren't afraid to spend money to put ice cream, alcohol or other things in our bodies which we know aren't good for us....why not take a chance and spend money on something that "could" make a difference! 🙂 Have a great day!

    June 12, 2008 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Martha

    Speaking of vitamins, I have been taking a daily dietary supplement for about 18 months called Zija. It is made from an extraordinary plant called Moringa. It's a plant that has all the nutrients that could be found in a perfect food. 100% Natural with only 19 Calories. Z-Atin is the power behind the smart supplement Zija. It has the perfect, balanced, natural combination of ZEATIN: A supreme antioxidant with powerful anti-aging properties; QUERCETIN: A vital flavonoid with antioxidant properties. It is one of the best naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agents available; BETA-SITOSTEROL: Blocks "bad" cholesterol absorption from food, normalizes blood sugar, enhances the immune system, and acts as a supreme anti-inflammatory agent; CAFFEOYLQUINIC ACID: Exhibits significant anti-inflammatory activity; KAEMPFEROL: Proven to encourage healthy cell growth and function.

    Zija has been a life saver for my family and I because of our busy schedule. We are unable to prepare the perfect nutritious meal daily. Zija allows us to get the vitamins and minerals that we need. It is the first available nutritional health beverage (100% natural liquid dietary supplement) from the nutrient-rich Moringa oleifera. It's packed with 90-plus verifiable nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids (all of them), omega oils, phytonutrients, supreme antioxidants and anti-inflammatories found in Moringa. Zija contains 30 grams of Moringa (fruit, leaf, seed), natural cane sugar, natural flavor, citric acid (natural preservative), agar, acacia and ester gums, fruit pectin (assists suspension), and purified spring water. It is great and I would truly recommend it for everyone.

    June 13, 2008 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Avery

    Ok, I take a lot of vitamins. I try and hit every part of my body with two or three–I have plastic champagne glasses left over from new years and I basically fill it up: Here's a partial list:
    Four antioxidents in the morning, four in the afternoon plus
    magnesium, alfalfa, CLA, L-carnatine, fucoxanthin, sublingual B-12, Folic acid, niacin, Copper, manganese, ginko biloba, echenacia (correct spelling?), golden seal root, calcium, zinc, lysine, probiotic enzyme, internal aloe vera, biotin, milk thistle, Liveraid (a brand a liver supplement), Glucosamine, bilberry, cinnamon, grape seed and about seven or eight others, basically everything in a multi vitamin I take individually plus omega-3s 6s and 9s and the weight loss stuff. The article said that nutritionists doubt if most of this is doing me any good, that would be disappointing. But why, how could I break it up so it would be more effective. What I want to hear is, sure it's doing everything it's supposed to buddy, but I'm nervous.

    July 29, 2008 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Annette Diaz

    I am 54 what is the require calcium or iron supplement should i take

    August 20, 2008 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Wanda Atkinson

    I am a Black female 57 years old , I take no vitamins I had a complete
    hysterectomy a few years ago I was unable to take hormones. What type of vitamins should I take to replace what I need in my body.

    August 23, 2008 at 22:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Shawnta

    I am a Black female, who made 30 years old this year. I've been taking a multi-vitamin, garlic pills, and vitamin C for about a year now (even before I turned 30). I take the multi-vitamin because it has a little bit of everything and I know it's good to take vitamins (and my Gyne recommended a multi-vitamin as well), I take the vitamin C (500mg) and garlic pills(500mg) to boost the immune system (there's nothing wrong with mine, but I figured I would give it a little something extra, plus it can't hurt), and I take biotin(3,000mcg) for my hair which was damaged due to coloring and too much blow drying. I just started the biotin 2-3 weeks ago, so I have a little while to go before I can see any real results.

    October 12, 2008 at 22:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. liquid vitamins

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    February 2, 2010 at 02:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Angela

    I have on and off
    gone on
    "healthy" spurts
    thruout the years
    with diet,
    excersise and
    taking vitamins
    but have yet until
    recently stuck to
    a program.
    Apon my desire
    to be healthier, I
    bought a daily
    Omega 3 fish oil,
    Vitamin B
    support and
    Magnesium. I
    had been taking
    them for over a
    month when it
    dawned on me an
    odd change. I
    had been on
    60mg of Prozac
    daily along with
    Klonapin as PRN
    for severe pannic
    disorder for abt 6
    years and due to
    procrastination I
    left my prozac
    refill waiting to
    be pickd up at
    the pharmacy
    and therefore not
    taken for up to 3
    weeks. Of
    course I would
    NEVER recomend
    that for anyone
    consulting your
    Dr. I however
    didn't have the
    anxiety and panic
    feelings that I
    would previously
    get considering
    my medication
    had not been
    taken for three
    weeks. I cant
    help but think
    that the vitamins
    I had been taking
    over a month
    prior played a
    possitive role in
    this transition.
    With my Dr.s ok I
    have decreased
    my Prozac to
    40mg and
    continue to take
    my vitamins in
    hope to decrease
    to 20mg in the
    future. I am a
    complete believer
    in medical/
    treatment as it
    has saved my life
    but would ask
    that ppl not
    forget the
    benefits of
    vitamins and
    their importance
    to mental,
    physical and
    emotional health.
    I must add I
    also had cut out
    alot of red meats
    and turned to
    chicken turkey
    and fish in that
    time also and had
    a workout
    routine going. If I
    ever feel the
    need to resort
    back to my
    previous medical
    doses, I will do
    so and always
    now take my
    vitamins. I hope
    this inspires

    May 31, 2010 at 07:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Derick Bonda

    Iron supplements are great specially if you have anemia caused by depletion of iron. be advised that iron supplements can cause black stools. :;`,,

    Kind thanks http://healthmedicinelab.com/bronchitis-symptoms/

    August 9, 2012 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Normand Woten

    i like the centrum vitamins because it is complete from A to Z and some trace minerals. ;

    Look into our own blog site too

    November 2, 2012 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Victor Smith

    Everyone needs to have a sufficient supply of vitamins and nutrients everyday to ensure a healthy, fit and strong body. But as we get older, good nutrition becomes even more important. That is because as we age our bodies become less efficient at absorbing all those vital nutrients. At this age, we have to eat as much good stuff as we can. Vitamins Benefit include regulating our blood flow, increasing our immunity etc.

    July 17, 2014 at 01:40 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.