Supplement for the Seniors

Author: Dr. Divya Vanoh on April 19, 2021 .

Increase in age will lead to various health issues such as difficulty in chewing due to tooth loss, lack of sensitivity of dysphagia or swallowing problems, lack of appetite, digestive problems and suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, stroke, hypertension and kidney problems. Seniors are often unable to achieve the recommended nutrient needs. This will lead to malnutrition, which is the sudden loss of weight, a weakening body, level of the body’s immunity dropping and a proneness to infection. It is for this reason that adequate nutrients are very important to ensure the health of the elderly. However, if the elderly are unable to meet their daily nutrient needs, supplements or additional foods are highly recommended.

Although the intake of supplements is encouraged for some groups of seniors, this should be done under the supervision of a doctor. Seniors are recommended to take supplements according to the dosage prescribed by the doctor. Taking supplements arbitrarily increases the risk of overdose and can harm their health.

In addition, more attention needs to be given to the issue of polypharmacy, which is the intake of various types of medicines due to health problems. Seniors who consume various types of medications from the hospital should not take supplements without a doctor’s permission. This will have consequences because the supplements taken may have an interaction with the medication taken by the elderly and will in turn affect the effectiveness of the medication. For example, seniors with heart problems are given a drug called warfarin, also known as a blood thinner. Individuals taking warfarin are not recommended to take any type of food or supplement that has vitamin K as it can reduce the function of the warfarin medication. What will happen if one takes a vitamin K supplement? It can cause blood clots and increase the risk of heart disease or stroke. In fact, taking iron and calcium supplements at the same time will affect the absorption of both elements because iron will inhibit the absorption of calcium.

Seniors who are advised to take supplements should not change the dose prescribed by a doctor. Some individuals believe that high doses of supplements are able to accelerate the treatment or increase the protection of the body from diseases, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is completely wrong because excessive doses of supplements will be detrimental to the health of the elderly, which increases the risk of kidney failure and affects the liver. Some vitamins will accumulate in the liver and, in turn, will turn toxic. In addition, there are also water-soluble vitamins such as vitamins B and C that will be eliminated through urine if taken in excess.

Among the supplements that can be taken by the elderly under the supervision of a doctor are calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B6, B-complex, zinc, and fish oil. Calcium and Vitamin D are important in increasing bone strength and overcoming the problem of osteoporosis, or brittle bones. Iron will be important for the production of hemoglobin in red blood cells, which transport oxygen to the body's cells. Furthermore, vitamin C is an antioxidant that is able to protect body cells from free radical attack. Vitamin B is important for controlling the body's metabolism, and zinc is important for boosting the body's immunity. In addition, fish oil has omega-3 fatty acids that are important for heart health and can reduce inflammation.

Seniors who are healthy are not encouraged to take supplements. They can achieve their daily nutrient needs by eating natural foods according to the portion size set by the Healthy Eating Plate or the Malaysian Food Pyramid. The daily diet of healthy seniors should have foods rich in calcium (tofu, fucuk, tempeh, green leafy vegetables, milk, yoghurt, cheese, sardines and anchovies), iron (meat, dried fruits, green leafy vegetables, such as spike shoots and red spinach), zinc (fish, meat, legumes) and fibre (oats, barley, fruits, bread, biscuits or whole milk flour).

In conclusion, seniors should not rely on supplements solely for fear of experiencing side effects on their health. Seniors are advised not to be fooled by advertisements marketing health products such as herbal pills and multivitamins. Supplements are not a substitute for a balanced diet. If the elderly are able to meet their daily dietary needs with natural food sources, the intake of supplements can be stopped. Natural foods have various nutrient components that are very useful to the health of an individual. For example, vegetables and fruits have a wide variety of important components such as fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, while vitamin C pills have only vitamin C. Seniors with malnutrition are recommended to see a nutritionist or dietitian for nutritional advice.

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