Should Midlifers Take Multivitamins?
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In today’s world of culinary abundance, we ask the question – should midlifers take multivitamins? A balanced diet full of different nutrients can help keep your body in prime condition, even as you age. Some people take multivitamins to round out their daily dose of nutritional goodness. And they may provide some health benefits for midlifers. Hence, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of multivitamin consumption.
But you feel fine, right? You experience the odd ache and complaint, but you’re in good health. It’s easy to think that you’re getting a wide enough nutrient profile from your diet because you don’t have any severe diseases. You’re eating your proteins, drinking your milk, and eating your greens like Mama told you.
There are some people, however, that might really benefit from taking a multivitamin. Team Vippi rounded up everything you need to know about taking multivitamins as a midlifer.
First up – you’re right to be skeptical. Do you really need multivitamins?
Your doctor should be the one to tell you this, not your conscience and certainly not the guy trying to sell it to you on YouTube.
Why take a pill when everything you need is on the plate in front of you? The concept makes a lot of midlifers uncomfortable. Everybody is pitching their snake oil as the one supplement you need for eternal life. (Even Kevin frickin’ Hart – are you kidding?) Back in the day, everyone in the family would pop a cod liver oil supplement, and that was it. We turned out super ok.
You shouldn’t have to be a nutritionist to understand how to get the right nutrients, but it sometimes feels that way. The concept of picking the right multivitamin can be pretty anxiety-inducing. It’s all gone a little Soylent Green – there’s a pill for everything claiming to be the elixir of life. What happened to simply eating healthy and getting on with it?
Multivitamins and skepticism
If you’re suspicious, you’re on the right track – caution is a great idea when it comes to taking supplements. The FDA regulates dietary supplements as food, not drugs, meaning they go through a less intensive regulatory process even though they can affect the body in powerful ways.
Not everyone should take multivitamins. You can overdose on some nutrients (yes, too much of a good thing) and some minerals can affect how the body absorbs others. For example, in supplement form, iron in pill form may reduce how much zinc you absorb, but this isn’t the case with the iron in your food.
Fractures get more common during aging, so you need more calcium. And the elderly in particular can be prone to vitamin B12 deficiency (we know you’re not there yet, but it’s worth considering in your health regimen as the years progress).
Also, people excluding specific foods from their diet, such as vegans cutting out meat, might need a boost of certain vitamins like B12, which is only available in animal products.
Can multivitamins help you in midlife?
Vitamin supplements might have a range of health-boosting effects right across your brain and body. The jury’s still out on whether they work for everyone, though.
Vitamins aren’t just for your body. Your brain also depends on them.
In several studies on older folks, multivitamin supplements improved brain function and memory – something that might come in handy as you approach the golden era of “what did I even come into this room for?”
The studies are pretty small, and only took place within specific populations. But these results are promising.
Some studies have suggested that nutrient deficiency can contribute to anxiety and depression – but accept that it’s hard to measure mood with much accuracy.
A 2019 study found that a multivitamin supplement significantly reduced anxiety symptoms compared to a placebo. A placebo is a pill used in a study that has no effects. People wouldn’t know whether they were taking the vitamin or the placebo – it’s a way to make studies more reliable.
Another study from 2013 linked vitamin D deficiency to depression and suggested that future studies would be useful for measuring how effective vitamin D might be in helping folks with depression. Research from 2011 found similar.
An earlier study (that also used a placebo) found that a multivitamin called Berocca reduced anxiety and stress, but also that they couldn’t work out whether the outcome was due to the treatments themselves or participants guessing which treatment they’d had.
Nutrients and Depression
Scientists are also looking into whether zinc supplementation could help depression management, and low zinc levels might be linked to how your brain responds to serotonin – a feel-good chemical. But the study author admits that research is in its early stages.
If you’ve got family pressures, menopause, mortgages, and goodness knows what other pressures on your plate, you might want to rule out nutrient deficiency as a possible factor in any anxiety or depression you might feel. But supplementation is not a magic bullet.
Visit your doctor and they can let you know what’s best for your vitamin intake.
Helping your eyes stay healthy
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of blindness.
A 2012 study found that multivitamin use can slow down and even prevent AMD. And research from 2014 suggests that there’s enough evidence to back the power of multivitamins that provide vitamins A, C, and E to help reduce your risk of cataract, an extremely common eye problem in older adults
What to eat as a midlifer
While it’s nice of science to create pills with a bunch of vitamins, you should really be getting most of your nutrients from dietary sources …. your chow.
Eat food from these groups most often:
- Lean protein
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy
You can use the Plate Method for working out how much of each to eat. While this is usually a tool for diabetes prevention and management, it’s a generally healthy way of dividing up what’s on your plate.
Take an average sized dinner plate from your cupboard. Divide it up as follows:
- One half of the plate is made up of non-starchy vegetables – tomato, bell peppers, zucchini, leafy greens, or broccoli
- One quarter is dedicated to starchy foods – either your whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or bulgur wheat, or starchy vegetables like potatoes and beetroots
- One quarter is for your proteins, like salmon, tuna, or lean white meats like grilled chicken and turkey (veggies might prefer their lentils and beans here)
Follow your meal with a cup of natural Greek yogurt that has a twist of honey added, and you’ve got yourself a low-fat dairy dessert.
Do multivitamins really help prevent heart disease and cancer
No doubt vitamins are good for you. But can they really help you prevent two scourges of later life, cancer and heart disease?
The research is mixed. And boring. It’s important, though, so put on your science hat for a second.
One large review found that the evidence was simply lacking. Across 12 studies that used 47,289 people, the studies just weren’t strong enough to prove whether multivitamins did or didn’t significantly reduce cancer risk. However, in one of the reviewed studies, there was a 31% reduced risk of cancer in men who took multivitamins, but not women.
Two studies linked multivitamins to a lower risk of colon cancer. The first found that it reduced the risk in women, but it’s an earlier study from 1998. Another from the year before found that supplemental vitamins reduced the risk, but suggested that longer-term studies are needed before it’s safe to recommend multivitamins for cancer prevention.
But a massive review of 161,808 patients found that little to no effect on cancer risk. Another study of 38,772 older women found that those using dietary and mineral supplements, particularly products with iron, might even have an increased risk of death compared to those who don’t use them.
Heart disease prevention
Some studies link multivitamins to a reduced risk of heart disease. But one study focused specifically on middle-aged male doctors – 14,000+ of them – and found no drop in their risk.
Other results are mixed. A 2003 study found that they reduced the risk of heart disease across a study sample of 1,296 people. The same study of 161,808 people that ruled out an effect on cancer risk also found that they didn’t really change a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
Side effects and risks
You can have too many vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins (those that the body absorbs in the same way it does fats) can build up in the liver, as the body doesn’t get rid of them as easily as vitamins that dissolve in water. These include vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Vitamin A toxicity is a risk, and people who smoke might find that getting too much beta carotene and vitamin A can increase their risk of lung cancer.
Multivitamins with a high iron content might also have side effects like:
- Stomach pain
- Poor zinc absorption
Supplements can also interfere with certain medications. Supplemental vitamin E, for example, plays a role in blood clotting, so if you take blood thinners like warfarin, you should ask your doctor before taking a multivitamin that has vitamin E.
Common sense wins out here. Multivitamins might have some benefits for your memory, mood, and eyesight (and after a lot of hand-wringing, scientists still can’t decide one way or another whether they’ll reduce your risk of cancer or heart disease).
However, staying on top of your overall health through a balanced diet and exercise is going to be the best way of making sure that your nutrients stay topped up and that your body knows how to use them. Yadda, yadda, yadda, you’ve heard it all before.
Just make sure you attend regular checkups with your doctor. This gives them the opportunity to spot any gaps in your diet and make recommendations. They’re likely to recommend eating certain foods to fill out your nutritional profile, though, rather than taking a supplement, unless you have a really severe deficiency.
Eat well, live well, and be well.
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