Certain vitamin and mineral gaps can widen as we get older, making supplements helpful for getting what our body needs when nutrition isn’t quite enough. But not every bottle in that ever-broadening supplements aisle is beneficial for everybody.
“Our nutrition and supplement needs change as we age,” says Ariane Hundt, M.S., a clinical nutritionist in New York City. “So it’s a good idea to review what you’re taking periodically to make sure it’s still right for you.”
That’s because the supplements you may have taken for decades might not be a good fit once you get older, especially if you take several prescription medications, with which they could interact. Here are three you may want to question after age 50:
Especially important for women during their menstruating years, iron can turn from helpful to harmful after menopause, Hundt notes. That’s because iron is shed from the body during menstruation, so when that process stops, it becomes easy to build up too much iron, she says, especially through supplements.
When that happens, you could increase risk of heart problems, cancer, and liver damage. Hundt suggests taking iron supplements only under the recommendation of a physician and for specific conditions, such as anemia.
2. Vitamin E
Touted as a powerful antioxidant — neutralizing potentially harmful free radicals in the body — vitamin E has gained a reputation as a bit of a wonder, preventing cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, along with immediate boosts of great skin and better eyesight. Unfortunately, research hasn’t proved that it lives up to the hype.
Early studies found a benefit, but that research was mainly observational, a method that’s less rigorous than a clinical trial, and often relies on self-reported consumption. Later studies that were more controlled didn’t confirm those proposed benefits, and a few suggested that vitamin E supplements may even be harmful.
3. B-complex vitamins
For those over 50 who are vegan or vegetarian, vitamin B12 can be a helpful addition to maintain nervous system health, says Brianna Elliott, R.D., a nutritionist at Open Arms of Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that cooks and delivers free meals to people with chronic illnesses.
But often, she says, people pop a B-complex pill that packs together B12 with folate, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and biotin.
The problem is that taking too much of certain B vitamins — particularly niacin and folate — can make it difficult for the body to flush the excess from your system, which puts your liver in danger. For example, a case study published in November 2016 reported that niacin-packed energy drinks were linked to an acute case of hepatitis in an otherwise healthy 50-year-old construction worker.
What you can do
In general, the best idea is to get as many nutrients as you can from what you eat, rather than from supplements.
“The best form of vitamins and minerals always comes from food, as nutrients require cofactors and enzymes in order to be properly used by the body,” Hundt says. “But if you do want to fill in some gaps with supplements, be sure to talk with your doctor first.” He or she can make sure they won’t interact with any medications you may be taking.
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Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition. Her articles have appeared in SELF, Men’s Health, CNN, MyFitnessPal, and WebMD, and she has worked on patient education materials for Mayo Clinic and UnitedHealth Group. Find her on Instagram at @bossykind and on Twitter at @EMillard_Writer. Her online portfolio is at elizabethmillard.pressfolios.com. When not writing, she’s also a yoga teacher and organic farmer.