Dietary supplements are used to provide additional nutrients which the daily diet might lack, and contain varying proportions of minerals, vitamins, fatty and amino acids, animal extracts, enzymes, herbals or botanicals. The food supplement can come in several forms, including powder, pill, tablet, capsule or fluid and can be an extract, concentrate, constituent or dried ingredient. The dietary supplements are not meant to replace daily intake of food, but merely complement meals by satisfying the requisite intake of essential nutrients required for proper bodily functions.
Since dietary supplements are not classified as drugs or medication, their safety and effectiveness is not government approved. They are not meant to cure a disease, and should not be taken with medication or as a replacement of medication for the elderly, unless specified by a qualified physician. An overdose of any nutrient can harm your health, even nutrients such as iron, Vitamin A and D present in everyday products such as fortified cereals and drinks. Nutrient intake greater than the Daily Value (DV) recommended could deteriorate your health further, with adverse side effects, and interfere with your medicines. Hence, even if supplements are available over the counter, refrain using them before seeking advice from a certified physician.
Here is a list of a few nutrients present in dietary supplements, their function and recommended intake:
- Vitamin D : This vitamin is necessary for calcium and phosphorous absorption and is required to maintain healthy bones and teeth. Since elderly people do not spend more time in the sunlight, the skin cannot synthesize the vitamin, resulting in its deficiency. Vitamin D requires presence of Vitamin A, calcium and phosphorous, and can be inhibited by intake of alcohol, certain antibiotics, laxatives and mineral oil. Recommended intake of vitamin D for an elderly person is 600 IU per day, and doses above 2000 UI must be taken under medical supervision. Deficiency of Vitamin D can lead to bone and muscle weakness, and osteomalacia disease.
- Calcium: Calcium helps maintain strong bones and teeth, and regulates the nerve and muscle functions. It is also required for blood clotting and for regulating blood pressure and enzymes. Calcium requires presence of Vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorous for absorption, and can be inhibited by intake of alcohol, oxalic acid present in chocolates, B complex pills, and high salt, phosphorous and protein consumption. Deficiency of calcium can lead to diseases such as osteoporosis, joint pain, cramps, muscle spasms, heart palpitation and high blood pressure. Recommended intake of calcium for an elderly person is 1000-1200 mg per day.
- Folate: Folate or folic acid works along with vitamin B12 to defend and develop the nervous system. It helps produce RNA and DNA protein. It requires the presence of B vitamins such as B12 and B6, and vitamin C for absorption. Absorption can be inhibited by intake of alcohol, anticonvulsants, analgesics such as aspirin and heat, air or acidic exposure. Deficiency of folate can lead to depression, anemia, nerve problems and cardiovascular disease. Recommended intake of folate for an elderly person is 400 ug per day.
- Vitamin B12: B12 or cobalamin is required to form and regenerate red blood cells, and maintain a healthy nervous system. Its deficiency can cause anemia and nerve problems. Recommended intake for adequate vitamin B12 for an elderly person is 2.4 ug per day.