Top 5 Supplements for Healthy Aging, According to a Longevity Expert

If you’ve ever walked down the supplement aisle at a drugstore, you’ve seen the overwhelming abundance of options available to your pharmacist. According to the Council for Responsible Consumer Nutrition’s 2022 Dietary Supplement Survey, 75% of Americans use dietary supplements, most of them on a regular basis.

It’s important to remember that supplements are just that: supplements. While they’re good for giving you a little boost when you’re lacking certain nutrients, the first way to get the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you need is through a healthy, nutritious diet.

Supplements will never give you what real, real food will, says Kara Burnstine, RD, a nutrition educator at the Pritikin Longevity Center. They just help you. They are not intended to be a substitute for food.

Still, Burnstine acknowledges that there can be pitfalls in relying solely on food for optimal nutrition, and there are times when supplements can be a boon.

It would be wonderful if we all ate all our fruits and vegetables, our whole grains, and our lean proteins and had everything we needed from our food supply, but unfortunately our food supply sometimes isn’t the best either high quality, he says. So we could be doing a lot of good things and not getting all the nutrients from food.

This deficit can become even more pronounced as you age, he says.

We are machines, so as we get older, things that used to work well start not working so well. That’s when we should turn more to supplements.

Not all supplements are for everyone. You should always check with your doctor before starting any supplements to make sure they won’t interact with medications you take or put you at risk for other problems. But for most people approaching or in their golden years, here’s what Burnstine recommends:

Calcium for strong bones

Calcium does a lot for you: It plays an important role in blood clotting, helps your muscles contract, and regulates normal heart rhythms and nerve function. It also builds and maintains strong bones. When you don’t get enough calcium, your body borrows it from your bones to keep things running smoothly. A daily intake of calcium helps replace this calcium and keep bones healthy.

When you reach the age of 50, your daily calcium requirement increases. Before that, 1,200 milligrams a day will do you, but when you hit the half-century mark, it’s time to bump up to 1,500 milligrams a day. Women who have gone through menopause are at the highest risk of osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle. Lack of calcium further increases these possibilities.

Burnstine says that if you know you’re not getting at least two servings from a calcium source each day, a calcium supplement is a good idea. But the supplement is only one piece of the puzzle.

In addition to the calcium supplement, I’ll also recommend that you get at least two servings of dairy or eat lots of green leafy vegetables and do resistance training, which protects your bones more than anything else, he says.

Vitamin D for immunity (and bone strength)

Speaking of healthy bones, your body can only absorb calcium when vitamin D is present. In addition, vitamin D has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties. It supports immune health, muscle function and brain cell activity.

Your body doesn’t make vitamin D, so you have to get it from external sources. These include food, the sun or supplements. Before age 70, your daily requirement is 600 IU. After 70, it goes up to 800 IU. In later years, your body may need a boost to reach these goals.

As we age, most of us no longer absorb vitamin D as well, Burnstine says. This can be especially true if you live in an area without a lot of sun or if you always wear sunscreen.

Probiotics for gut health

Emerging studies suggest that supplements of probiotics, the good bacteria that live in your digestive system and help keep the bad bacteria in check, can help counteract age-related changes in your gut microbiota, improving your immune health and aiding healthy digestion as you age.

We know that if our gut health is good, everything else follows, in terms of inflammation, brain fog, weight loss, sleep, depression, says Burnstine. Our gut is connected to almost everything.

As with most nutrients, it’s best to get probiotics through the foods you eat. You can load them up through fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, refrigerated sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and miso. But a supplement is not a bad idea.

Some supplements have more than 50 billion CFUs (colony forming units), which may seem like a huge amount, but Burnstine says your body only absorbs 20% to 30% of that amount.

Taking a supplement helps create that diversity and a large population of probiotics in the gut to help us stay healthy, lose weight and lower our cholesterol, he says.

Magnesium for mood

Magnesium is involved in immune function, enzyme reactions and plays a role in reducing inflammation. It is also a key player in stabilizing mood. Magnesium levels drop as you age, putting you at risk for mental health problems.

People low in magnesium tend to have higher depression, says Burnstine. Chronically low levels can also increase your chances of having high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Anyone over 30 should get 320420 milligrams a day, but Burnstine says not all magnesium supplements are created equal.

For example, you can take magnesium carbonate, but you can also take something called magnesium glycinate, which is a little easier on the stomach, he says. The combination of how it is worded elicits different responses. Talk to your doctor about the best magnesium formulation for you.

Multivitamin a covers the bases

A daily multivitamin, while not a panacea, can give you an overall nutritional boost. At the very least, Burnstine says, it won’t hurt.

I always say a multivitamin is like an insurance policy, she says. I would recommend a general multivitamin at any age.

Most brands are the same, but for peace of mind, look for the USP symbol. This seal of approval marks brands that have consistent quality, the exact ingredients of the strength and quantity you’ll find on the label.

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