Should Seniors Take a Daily Multivitamin?

While seniors who eat an excellent diet may not need a daily multivitamin to fill in any gaps in nutrition, older adults may not always be eating as well as they could and in some case poor absorption of food can lead to deficiencies.

With advanced age, not only do elderly adults often have difficulty shopping for and preparing nutritious meals, a decreased sense of smell and taste can affect appetite and food preference. Stomach acid also decreases with age and may cause a nutritional deficiency, especially in vitamin B12 which is commonly poorly absorbed due to low stomach acid.  Deficiencies in vitamin D are also frequent among the elderly population.

A loss of appetite in seniors can also be caused by depression, grief or other emotional issues.  New research into appetite loss in seniors from Plymouth University in the U.K. found elevated levels of hormone peptide YY in elderly women, sometimes referred to as the “feeling full” hormone.  With a reduced appetite, elderly adults can become undernourished and unintentionally lose weight.

In a 2012 Physicians’ Health Study, multivitamins were found to reduce the risk of total cancer and the risk of cataracts in men over 50 but did not reduce cardiovascular events or provide cognitive benefits.   The long-term health benefits of taking a multivitamin in older women has yet to be fully studied.

While multivitamins may not be the fountain of youth, in most cases they won’t do any harm and may provide some benefits for those at high risk for nutritional deficiencies.  Eating a nutrient dense diet and avoiding empty calorie foods continues to be the best way to maintain good health along with regular exercise, proper rest and meaningful social interaction.   As with any new medication or supplement, check with your doctor or pharmacist before making any changes to your daily regime.