Healthy Aging: How Your Nutrition Needs Change As You Age
As you age, your body may need more or less of certain micronutrients, including iron, calcium and certain vitamins. It can be hard to balance your recommended daily allowances through different life stages, but following a balanced diet supplemented with the right micronutrients can help you be and remain healthy.
In this article, we’ll explain how recommended daily supplement doses may be different depending on your sex and the stage of your life. First & Foremost uses science and the concept of bioavailability to optimize nutrient absorption during your life. We trust people to understand the mechanics of their body and the nutrients that power them, and we speak clearly and smartly about science. Learn more about how nutrient needs change as you age and how best to supplement your diet with F&F.
How do nutrition needs change during a woman’s lifetime?
Women’s bodies go through immense changes during its lifetime, including puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. These changes driven by hormone levels can affect the nutrients the body needs for menstruation, ovulation, energy and immune function.
As young bodies go through puberty, the importance of calcium for growing bones can not be overstated, but zinc and folate also help support normal growth and development. Many women have low iron stores because of menstruation, which is why a diet and potentially iron supplements are important from puberty to menopause.
During a woman’s late teen years through her 20s, her fertility peaks. In her early 30s, fertility begins to decline. This is a time when folate, vitamin D, and iron are needed to optimize fertility.
During pregnancy, prenatal vitamins are a staple, helping to supplement not only the changing body of the mother but also to support the growing fetus.9
Iron supplements ensure the mother is able to make enough blood to supply oxygen to the fetus. Iron also helps prevent anemia, a common condition in pregnancy.10 If anemia is severe, it can become risky for both mother and baby. Similarly, folic acid is essential to decrease the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus’s developing brain and spinal cord. That’s why women who are planning a pregnancy within three months should begin to increase their folic acid intake.
Even after pregnancy, supplementation may be needed. For women who are breastfeeding, the recommended daily allowances of vitamins A and C, as well as minerals such as iodine and chlorine increase. Based on the woman’s diet and lifestyle, she may also need to make sure she’s getting the right amount of vitamin B12 and zinc. 12
How do nutrition needs change during a man’s lifetime?
When males go through puberty, calcium is needed for growing bones. In addition to increased calories and protein, zinc and folate can help support the body’s growth and development.
By age 30, men will begin to lose up to 5% of their muscle mass per decade.5 Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, is a common condition in older adults, affecting about 15% of adults at age 60 and as high as 50% by age 80. Decreasing testosterone levels in men contribute to slowing protein synthesis and muscle growth. While men began to lose testosterone around age 30. Increasing protein intake, as well as micronutrients that help the body process protein like vitamin B-6, can combat sarcopenia.6 7
What nutrients are needed for older adults?
As the body ages, it can get harder for it to absorb certain nutrients. Diets may change, and supplements become more important for gaining those essential nutrients. You’ll need more of certain nutrients and less of others. This is why it’s important to modify your nutrient allowance to compensate for your body as it ages.
One of the most well-known examples of changing recommendations of micronutrients is that as women age, they need more calcium. Decreasing bone density and the risk of osteoporosis is a concern for many women, and increasing calcium intake is important.
For both women and men, calcium absorption decreases after about age 60, and even more significantly after age 80. Research hints that it may be partly due to vitamin D deficiency, illustrating the delicate dependency micronutrients have on each other.2 To help maintain and strengthen bones, both men and women of advanced age should consider increasing not only their calcium intake but also vitamin D.
While there is little evidence that shows so-called “brain supplements” can improve memory and brain function, there is research that shows adequate micronutrient levels can help delay cognitive decline in older adults. In a study with elderly participants, the research found that vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta-carotene may help keep the brain healthy..8
Researchers followed participants for up to 10 years looking at brain function and cognition. Even with factoring in age, sex, education, smoking, genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease, and participation in physical activities, researchers found that adding certain nutrients to their diet helped to slow cognitive decline.
On the other end of the spectrum, older adults may need to decrease their iron intake–or at the least, discontinue their iron supplements. Research from the Framingham Heart Study found that older adults had more than adequate levels of iron in their bodies.4
Balancing life stages and lifestyles with your micronutrient needs
To be able to accurately follow recommended guidelines for micronutrient allowances, it’s important to be aware of your overall health and talk to your doctor about the need to supplement your diet with micronutrients to achieve optimal health. You may learn that aging, medications and health conditions affect your body’s needs for certain nutrients.
To help you balance your unique micronutrient needs with your busy lifestyle, First & Foremost offers the 26 essential vitamins and minerals you need to thrive every day. The only patent-pending, day-parted supplementation program, F&F provides the right amount of micronutrients at the right time of the day, which helps prevent negative interactions and makes the most of your body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals to become and remain healthy.
- Older adults. (2014, April 29). Linus Pauling Institute. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/life-stages/older-adults
- Bullamore, JR, et al. (1970). Effect of age on calcium absorption. The Lancet, 296(7672), 535–537. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(70)91344-9
- Silva, T.R, et al. (2021). Nutrition in Menopausal Women: A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 13(7). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13072149
- Fleming, DJ, et al. (2001). Iron status of the free-living, elderly Framingham Heart Study cohort: An iron-replete population with a high prevalence of elevated iron stores. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 73(3), 638–646. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/73.3.638
- Harvard Medical School. (2016, February 19). Preserve your muscle mass. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/preserve-your-muscle-mass
- McKendry, J, et al. (2020). Nutritional supplements to support resistance exercise in countering the sarcopenia of aging. Nutrients, 12(7). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12072057
- Tessier, AJ; Chevalier, S (2018b). An update on protein, leucine, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D in the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia and functional decline. Nutrients, 10(8). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10081099
- Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). (2015, March 30). Eating green leafy vegetables keeps mental abilities sharp. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150330112227.htm
- Prenatal vitamins: Why they matter, how to choose. (2022, April 19). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-vitamins/art-20046945
- Sifakis, S., & Pharmakides, G. (2000). Anemia in pregnancy - PubMed. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 900. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2000.tb06223.x
- Huizen, J. (2021, January 25). What vitamins and minerals does a woman need? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322960#recommended-daily-allowances
- CDC. (2021, September 2). Diet considerations for breastfeeding mothers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and-micronutrients/maternal-diet.html