EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 1, 2013

Vitamins are not a substitute for eating healthy foods

Roseanne DiStefano
Elder Q&A

---- — Q: Following an annual physical exam, blood tests showed I have an extremely low Vitamin D count. My doctor has scheduled a followup appointment and wants to give me a prescription strength Vitamin D pill to take for the next 3 months. A close friend of mine who looks incredible for her age and never has any health issues contributes her condition to taking mega doses of vitamins. She insists I can get whatever I need at the drug store and don’t need to go back to my doctor. Who should I listen to?

A: As people age they may require less food to maintain weight, however their need for vitamins and minerals may remain the same, or could actually increase. A dilemma arises “to take or not to take.” Ideally the optimum situation is to follow a healthy diet consuming foods which would provide the nutrients naturally but in some instances that may not be enough.

Whenever we receive questions such as yours it is always our recommendation for anyone with similar concerns to speak with their primary care physician prior to beginning any new nutritional supplement regime. It is extremely important for your doctor to have an updated list of all medications currently being used both over the counter and prescribed. Don’t automatically assume he/she will know this especially if you see other specialists. Minerals and vitamins are purchased without a prescription so people may wonder why it is necessary to seek medical advice before taking them.

Older adults take more prescriptions and over-the-counter medications than any other age group, which is further complicated by the fact the aging process increases susceptibility to drug effects. Some substances, such as vitamins, cold remedies, and antacids could lead to serious complications if used too frequently, or if taken with some medications.

Some research has shown there is a correlation between maintaining cognitive functioning later in life and taking vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids and folic acid. A regular intake of antioxidants may help to reduce age-related eye diseases. Taking a daily multivitamin may improve immune response in older adults. Carefully note the use of the word may, there are no guarantees.

Once again remember taking vitamins and minerals is not a substitute for eating healthy foods. Aging well is a combination of exercising, staying mentally active, keeping weight within recommended guidelines, eating well, seeking appropriate medical care and living a healthy lifestyle. In your particular situation Vitamin D tablets purchased without a prescription may not be adequate thus the need for the prescription strength. Furthermore your physician may feel the need to pursue the reason for your very low count. It may also be advantageous for you to consult with a professional nutritionist to evaluate your overall food intake. There are also numerous internet websites which will list foods high in vitamins and minerals at recommended levels for older adults.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Direct correspondence to ro@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley.