Supplementing with Vitamins: The Pros and Cons for Seniors


Multivitamins and supplements are a billion-dollar industry. In 2015, the market for dietary supplement capsules was valued at more than USD $26 billion. But are these supplements worth the price?

An estimated 40% of Americans take a daily multivitamin, and a solid majority are seniors. With all the hype surrounding the benefits of dietary supplements, for many the perceived benefit often outweighs the actual advantage. Below is a list of the potential good – and not so good – effects of the top five most common supplements:

FISH OIL – (omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA) – Taken for their anti-inflammatory effects.

Dietary Sources: Salmon, mackerel, sardines

Effective or Likely Effective Use: Reduce high triglycerides, heart disease

Cautions: belching, bad breath, heartburn, nausea, loose stools, nosebleeds.

MULTIVITAMIN – (choose a formula recommended for your age and gender)

Dietary Sources: fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, meat

Effective or Likely Effective Use: Fill in daily dietary gaps of nutrients.

Cautions: Keep out of reach of children. Consult your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any prescription medications.

CALCIUM – (calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, calcium lactate) – Taken to build strong bones.

Dietary Sources: low-fat dairy products, fortified foods, dark leafy greens, soybeans, beans, fish, raisins.

Effective or Likely Effective Use: Reduce osteoporosis risk, reduce diabetes risk, reduce cancer risk.

Cautions: Can interfere with the absorption of other supplements and medications, including iron.

VITAMIN D – (cholecalciferol D3) – Taken to help absorb calcium

Dietary Sources: fortified milk, cereals, sardines, tuna. Sun exposure.

Effective or Likely Effective Use: Treat rickets, conditions that cause weak and painful bones, low levels of phosphate in the blood, low blood calcium and bone loss, prevention of falls and fractures in older people.

Cautions: Since vitamin D can increase calcium levels, too much vitamin D can lead to worsening of conditions where increased calcium is not desired, such as kidney disease, atherosclerosis, sarcoidosis, hyperparathyroidism, lymphoma.

COENZYME Q-10 – (ubiquinone) – Taken for its antioxidant effects.

Dietary Sources: Found in small amounts in meat and seafood.

Effective or Likely effective Use: Treat mitochondrial disorders; controversial research that it can improve congestive heart failure in combination with other medications.

Cautions: Mild side effects: loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rash, lower blood pressure.

Remember, supplements are not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease. In fact, it is very important to discuss all supplement use with your doctor or pharmacist, since:

• Supplements have the potential to reduce the effectiveness of some medications, and

• Supplements have the potential to increase the toxicity of other medications.

Discussing supplements with your health care provider is also a great way to uncover health problems that might otherwise have been left unaddressed; for example, asking your doctor about a supplement to alleviate one problem may uncover the true source of the ailment instead of treating just the symptom.

Before considering adding any supplement to your daily health regime, be sure you are doing all you can to live a long and healthy life. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, maintaining a social network and, of course, following the recommendations of your health care professionals.

Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center

68 Hauppauge Rd, Commack, NY 11725

Phone: (631) 715-8000