Older adults may have vitamin deficiencies caused by not eating a complete diet or reduced ability to absorb nutrients. Other causes of vitamin deficiency include a history of stomach surgery, long-term use of certain medicines, long-term use of alcohol, and kidney, liver, and other chronic diseases.
So what are some common vitamin deficiencies as you age, and what are the best ways to prevent them?
What it does: Helps nerves function properly and may protect against heart and circulation problems as well as blood problems, such as anemia.
If you don’t get enough: Can cause tingling in the feet and hands, fragile skin and mucous membranes, depression, and anemia.
How much do you need: To avoid B6 deficiency, men over 50 should consume 1.7 milligrams every day and women over 50 should consume 1.5 milligrams every day.
Foods that contain it: Fortified cereals, whole grains, organ meats such as liver, chicken breast, fish, and fortified soy-based meat substitutes.
What it does: Helps form red blood cells, protects the body’s nervous system, and is important for metabolism.
If you don’t get enough: Can cause severe nerve problems and a specific type of anemia called pernicious anemia if not treated. If you are over age 50 and have symptoms of nerve problems or anemia, such as numbness or tingling in arms or legs, fatigue, pale skin, or shortness of breath, talk to your doctor. It’s important not to ignore symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency, because it can be easily treated with vitamin B12 injections and supplements. Waiting too long may cause irreversible nerve damage.
How much do you need: Men and women over age 50 need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 every day.
Foods that contain it: Fortified cereals, meat, fish, poultry, and milk.
Folic Acid (Folate)
What it does: Helps with keeping your cells healthy, producing new red blood cells, and decreasing the risk of cancer.
If you don’t get enough: Can cause pale skin, fatigue or weakness, diarrhea, poor appetite, weight loss, irritability or forgetfulness, headaches, and sore tongue.
How much do you need: Men and women over age 50 need 400 micrograms of folic acid each day.
Foods that contain it: Dark-green leafy vegetables such as spinach, beans and peas, oranges and orange juice, fortified flour, and fortified cereals.
What it does: Helps your body absorb calcium. Your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, and you also get vitamin D from some foods. As you age, vitamin D deficiency becomes more common because the skin is less efficient at producing vitamin D when exposed to sunlight and it can be difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone. Conditions such as kidney and liver disease can prevent your body from absorbing vitamin D properly.
If you don’t get enough: Your bones can’t absorb calcium, which increases your risk for developing osteoporosis. Low vitamin D levels have also been linked to a higher risk for falling. Many older adults have low levels of vitamin D without any signs or symptoms.
How much do you need: If you are over 65, your doctor may recommend a blood test to check your vitamin D levels. The recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 600 IU (international units) for people age 51 – 70 and 800 IU for those over 70. Higher doses may be appropriate for some people up to a maximum of 4,000 IU per day.
Foods that contain it: Fatty fish, fish liver oils, fortified milk and milk products, and fortified cereals.
What it does: Maintains healthy bones as you age (in addition to vitamin D).
If you don’t get enough: Lack of calcium puts you at risk for osteoporosis, which makes your bones weak and more likely to break.
How much do you need: Your doctor may recommend taking a calcium supplement if you are not getting the recommended minimum of 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day (women over age 50 and men over age 70) or 1,000 milligrams (men 51-70).
Foods that contain it: Milk and other dairy products.
Shop Calcium Now
Talk to your doctor about your vitamin and mineral needs. Your Rite Aid Pharmacist can help answer vitamin questions, too.
Dietary Supplements, National Institute on Aging:
Nutrition for Seniors, Medline Plus:
Nutrition Unique to Older Adults, Health In Aging:
Patient Information: Vitamin D Deficiency (Beyond the Basics), UpToDate®
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Can Be Sneaky, Harmful, Harvard Health:
Vitamins, Medline Plus:
Vitamins and Minerals, National Institute on Aging: