The Potential Benefits of Dietary Supplements for Medicare Patients

As of 2018, nearly 60 million Americans are enrolled in Medicare. Most beneficiaries are 65 or older, and given their age and pre-existing conditions, members of this population face unique health challenges that must be carefully managed by their healthcare providers, as individual needs will vary for every person.

A person’s age, diet, family health history, and/or past sickness or disease, shape a person’s current health situation. With that said, we all differ in the number of vitamins prevalent in our bodies, and the older we get, the greater these vitamin discrepancies become. 

Before taking dietary supplements to compensate for these vitamin deficiencies, no matter our age, we must ask our health care providers whether we should be taking dietary supplements/vitamins at all, as there can be both positive benefits and negatives.

What are dietary supplements?

Dietary supplements are commonly used to add nutrients to a person’s diet or to lower his or her risk of health problems, like osteoporosis or arthritis. These supplements come in the form of liquids, extracts, gel capsules, tablets, capsules, and/or powders and may contain vitamins, amino acids, fiber, minerals, or enzymes. They do not require a physician prescription and can be purchased over the counter. 

Should I take a dietary supplement?

In an ideal world, when you eat a variety of healthy foods, you would get the nutrients you need. But because we may not get enough vitamins and minerals from our diet, a healthcare provider (HCP) may recommend a supplement to compensate. 

Adults over age 50 may need more of some vitamins and minerals than younger people. Your HCP can tell you whether you need to change your diet or take a supplement.

Common supplements for older adults include:

1. Calcium: Calcium is a nutrient that should be taken in addition to vitamin D in order for the body to be able to absorb it (most supplements come with the two already combined in a single dose). Calcium intake is essential to building strong, dense bones, especially as people grow older. The calcium requirement for adults over 65 is set at 1,000 – 1,200 mg per day. Dietary sources of calcium include dairy products, green leafy vegetables, fortified products, among others.

2. Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble vitamins responsible for increasing intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, and many other biological effects. It also influences cell growth and immune function. If you receive 15-30 minutes of exposure to the sun at least twice a week, your body likely makes enough vitamin D, otherwise, a supplement might be necessary. Experts recommend a daily intake of 600 IU (International Units) of vitamin D up to age 70. Men and women over age 70 should increase their uptake to 800 IU daily, which also can be obtained from supplements or vitamin D-rich foods such as egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver, and fortified milk.

3. Vitamin B6: Vitamin B-6 is important for normal brain development and for keeping the nervous and immune systems healthy. Food sources of this vitamin include poultry, fish, potatoes, chickpeas, bananas, and fortified cereals. It can also be taken as a supplement. After age 50, the recommended daily amount is 1.5 milligrams for women and 1.7 milligrams for men.

 4. Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is required for the proper function and development of the brain, nerves, blood cells, and many other parts of the body. While older adults need just as much vitamin B12 as other adults, some have trouble absorbing the vitamin naturally found in food; this should be discussed with your healthcare specialist. The recommended intake for adults is 2.4 mcg.

5. Glucosamine: This is a natural compound found in cartilage, the tough tissue that cushions joints. This supplement can be taken orally to help with painful conditions caused by inflammation, breakdown, and eventual loss of cartilage, such as osteoarthritis.

6. Probiotics: Probiotics are substances that help stimulate the growth of beneficial microorganisms, such as those of the intestinal flora. A supplement of probiotics can help balance good and bad bacteria. Some strains can help improve heart health and relieve lactose intolerance. Speak with your HCP to know which strains of probiotics are right for you.

7. Fish Oil: Fish oil supplements are a popular part of a sound nutrition regimen for people of all ages. HCPs often recommend them because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They are also known to decrease inflammation.

8. Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral that helps in maintaining nerve and muscle function, and supports a healthy immune system. It also plays a role in keeping our heartbeat steady and bones strong. The current recommended daily requirements of magnesium for adults 51 and older is 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women. 

As part of our unrelenting commitment to providing a better way in healthcare, our team will continue to educate on health topics that affect the Medicare population so that patients and their caregivers can make informed and up-to-date decisions on their care. Stay tuned for the next blog post in our Medicare series.

NOTE: This post is not intended to not provide medical advice, but rather for informational purposes only. It does not constitute a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please speak to your HCP before taking any supplements, as they may interact with other medications. Be sure to follow your HCP’s recommendations as instructed.

This blog was written by Ana Rivera, Clinical Programs Manager at Abarca Health.

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