The Vitamins You Need to Take at Every Age
We see all these ads touting supplements for health and well being—but which ones do you really need? The answers is different at every age.
Your tween and teen years
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These are the years to focus on getting enough vitamin D and calcium, says Stephanie Schiff, RDN, a nutritionist at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in Huntington, NY. “We need calcium for bone and muscle growth, but it doesn’t get absorbed as well without vitamin D,” she says. “These are the bone-building years for boys and girls, and if you don’t build enough bone, you will be prone to brittle bones later in life.” Tweens and teens should get 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day and 1,300 mg of calcium per day, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements. Of course, it’s always best to get our nutrients from the foods we eat. Some tweens and teens may have special needs due to their diet or circumstances, and some foods will be a hard sell. Check out these surprising sources of calcium for dairy haters. Make it a habit to discuss diet and nutrition with your child’s doctor during their visits.
You still want to keep up with calcium and vitamin D in your 20s, Schiff says. You may need other vitamins or minerals at this age, depending on your diet. For example, vegans often need extra B12, as it is mainly found in animal products, she says. And you want to make sure you’re getting enough, because here’s what happens to your body when you don’t get enough B12. “Food is always better than supplements because, with a supplement, we are just extracting a single nutrient,” she says. “Whole foods contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber—all of which work synergistically.”
Your 20s and 30s
For many women, “these tend to be the child-bearing years,” says Suzanne R. Steinbaum, DO, director of Women’s Cardiovascular Prevention, Health, and Wellness at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. If you’re planning to get pregnant, start taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid and B-complex. The time to start is before you get pregnant. Folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube birth defects and other B vitamins help support a healthy pregnancy. Taking these vitamins may also reduce your babies’ autism risk. Women with heavy menstrual periods may need extra iron too, says Dr. Steinbaum. And don’t forget calcium and vitamin D.
As a cardiologist, Dr. Steinbaum is a big fan of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fatty fish such as mackerel or salmon at least twice a week for optimal heart health. (Don’t like fish? Here’s how you can get your omega-3s.) This is sage counsel for men and women, says Dr. Steinbaum, a spokesperson for the AHA’s Go Red for Women campaign, and your thirties is no time to skimp on your calcium and vitamin D, she says. Make these 13 health tweaks in your thirties to stay healthy for the rest of your life.
Vitamin D becomes even more important in your forties, Dr. Steinbaum says. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to a host of diseases—from cancer and autoimmune conditions to diabetes and obesity—and our risks for many of these tend to increase with advancing age. “Get your blood levels of vitamin D tested to see where you stand and supplement accordingly,” she suggests. This holds for men and women in their fourth decade—you may be low and not even know it. It’s almost impossible to get all the D you need from food alone and almost none of us gets enough sun in the era of sunscreen, so D supplements may be necessary. Calcium matters too, she says. And don’t forget your omega-3s either, as heart disease risk climbs with age for men and women, she shares.
Your calcium requirement is 1,200 mg during your fifth decade, and vitamin D is still essential to help your body absorb this important mineral. “Now instead of building bone you are preserving the bone you already have,” Schiff says. It’s important to discuss your specific calcium and vitamin D needs with your doctor, she adds. (Women are at greater risk for the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis than men and may need to take additional measures.) “Talk to your doctor to make sure there are no other issues or contraindications with other medications that may affect how you absorb calcium,” she says. Here are 10 other crucial health tweaks to make in your 50s.
Women may be entering menopause during this decade, and certain natural remedies may help reduce the signs and symptoms of menopause.
Calcium and vitamin D matter a lot as you get older, Schiff says. Make sure you are getting all that you need from food or supplements. “Talk to your doctor about your diet to see if any other vitamins are needed; how and what we eat may change with age,” she says. Heart health is important too, so make sure that you are getting enough omega-3’s, Dr. Steinbaum says. Check out the supplements heart doctors take every day.
In addition to calcium and vitamin D, you may need some extra B12 during your 70s, Schiff says. “As you get older, it’s harder for your body to make and use B12, and supplements may be needed,” she says. Check out the 11 silent signs you’re not getting enough vitamin B12.
Supplemental B12 may be important during your octogenarian years too, Schiff says. Again, keep up with your calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 during your 80s, and make sure to let your doctor know about any changes to your diet or medication regimen. (PS: Here’s the secret to aging gracefully.)
90s and up
Whatever you’re doing is likely working if you are enjoying your ninth decade. Keep it up and check out what centenarians really eat to live longer.
A word of caution
Regardless of your age or stage of life, remember that more isn’t better when it comes to vitamins and minerals, warns Todd Sontag, DO, a family medicine specialist with Orlando Health Physician Associates in Florida. “Taking too much of any vitamin can be toxic, and in other cases, you will just excrete it in your urine.” There are other vitamin mistakes you may be making.