Creating and customizing a supplement plan is difficult enough, even under the best of circumstances. But after age 65, everything changes—digestion slows, levels of certain nutrients plummet, and needs for many others increase. Add to that the potential for medication interactions, and finding the right combo of supplements is tricky business. What you’ll need the most:
1 Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).
An antioxidant that is produced naturally by the body, CoQ10 is best known for its role in cardiovascular health, preventing LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, maintaining blood vessel integrity, and supporting heart muscle function. CoQ10 also improves immune function, and may have some anti-cancer effects. Levels decline with age, and some medications, such as cholesterol-lowering drugs and beta-blockers, further deplete the body’s levels of CoQ10, so supplementation may be necessary.
The body converts supplemental CoQ10 into ubiquinol, the active form used by the cells. Because the body’s ability to convert CoQ10 also declines with age, some research suggests that taking ubiquinol, the active form of CoQ10, may be a better solution.
2 Digestive enzymes.
Produced primarily by the pancreas, digestive enzymes help the body break down food and aid nutrient absorption. As we age, digestive enzyme levels begin to decline, leading to indigestion, bloating, gas, and incomplete absorption of nutrients. Additionally, pancreatic problems can lessen digestive enzymes, and taking antacids can diminish levels of hydrochloric acid (HCL) in the stomach. A multi-enzyme supplement formula can help; look for one that contains a number of enzymes, including amylase (for carbohydrates), protease (for protein), and lipase (for fat).
3 DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone).
DHEA is a hormone that acts as the precursor of all other hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. It’s produced naturally by the body, but as early as the age of 30, begins to slowly decline. DHEA levels drop, often dramatically, in most people around the age of 40. In addition to helping your body make the appropriate kind and amount of hormones, DHEA may also increase muscle mass and improve immunity, and can improve the appearance of older people’s skin by increasing moisture and decreasing age spots. However, some studies have suggested that DHEA may actually reduce beneficial HDL cholesterol levels. If you are at risk for heart disease, or if you are already on hormone replacement therapy, consult a physician before using DHEA.
An antioxidant that's part of the carotenoid family, lutein is especially critical for protecting eye health, preventing cataracts, and reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a serious eye condition that can lead to blindness.
In one study, people who ate the most lutein- and zeaxanthin-rich foods (such as spinach, corn, eggs, and broccoli) had a 57 percent lower risk of developing AMD. Zeaxanthin is a related carotenoid with many of the same benefits as lutein. For maximum eye protection, it’s best to take both, or to use a formula that contains both. Because carotenoids require fat for proper absorption, be sure your supplement is in a softgel form or take it with meals.
Like DHEA, melatonin is a hormone produced by the body that regulates the sleep cycle and other biorhythms. Unfortunately, the body’s production of this critical hormone starts to drop around the age of 40, and low levels of melatonin may be a factor in insomnia and diminished sleep quality in seniors. Many studies have confirmed the effectiveness of supplemental melatonin in treating certain sleep disorders. Some studies have also suggested that melatonin can help reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and migraines. For sleep issues, use it only as an occasional aid. Melatonin should not be used as a long-term remedy for insomnia.
This sulfur-containing compound, called methylsulfonylmethane, occurs naturally in small amounts in food, and can help treat pain, especially joint pain and arthritis. It’s related to dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), a prescription medication that relieves pain and inflammation that is often used topically by veterinarians to treat pain in animals. In numerous studies, MSM has been shown to be effective in reducing pain, especially osteoarthritic pain of the knee. Because it can cause stomach upset and gas, however, be careful, and start with very small amounts, in several divided doses throughout the day.
7 Alpha-lipoic acid.
Alpha-lipoic acid is often referred to as the “mother antioxidant” because it’s so important to overall health. Found in many foods, alpha-lipoic acid helps prevent cell damage as we age. It also helps restore the body’s levels of vitamins C and E, as well as other antioxidants. It is used as a treatment in Europe for diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage as a result of diabetes). Studies also suggest that it increases insulin sensitivity; prevents liver damage; and protects against eye disorders including cataracts, glaucoma, and sun damage to the eyes.
8 Phosphatidylserine (PS).
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a compound classified as a phospholipid that is found in the membranes of cells. It’s instrumental in carrying messages between brain cells. Levels of PS decrease with age, so supplements may help prevent cognitive impairment and reduce mental decline. A number of different studies have found that PS, especially when combined with omega-3 fats, can significantly improve memory, including a 42 percent increase in the ability to recall words. Other studies suggest that PS may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and depression.
Inositol hexaphosphate, which is also known as phytate or phytic acid, occurs naturally in grains and legumes. IP-6 supplements most often contain inositol and inositol hexaphosphate derived from rice bran. IP-6 is well known for its role in protecting against kidney stones. Other studies suggest that IP-6 improves immune function and protects against cancer by controlling tumor growth and progression, as well as enhancing the activity of natural killer cells. Still further studies suggest that IP-6 prevents blood clotting and can protect against cardiovascular disease.
10 Hyaluronic acid.
Hyaluronic acid is a crucial component of the body’s synovial fluid, and is responsible for regulating moisture in the tissues, carrying nutrients to the cells, and removing and disposing of wastes. It is found within all of the body’s tissues, with the highest concentrations being in the eye fluids, the skin cells, and the synovial fluid around the joints. Hyaluronic acid is essential for both cartilage and joint health, but like so many key nutrients, levels of it decline as we age. Direct injection of hyaluronic acid is a well-known treatment for osteoarthritis of the knee, as well as for interstitial cystitis. And some studies suggest that oral hyaluronic acid supplements can also help treat pain from arthritis and fibromyalgia.
11 Vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is critical in both brain health and nervous system functioning. It’s also important to help maintain good mood and memory. Deficiencies in seniors are common, and some studies suggest that people with Alzheimer's disease also have abnormally low vitamin B12 levels. Research indicates that women with breast cancer also appear to have lower levels of vitamin B12. As a dietary supplement, vitamin B12 is available in several different forms, including methylcobalamin, which is the easiest to digest and assimilate—especially important as our digestive powers diminish with age. Sublingual vitamin B12 tablets dissolve when placed under the tongue and are also easily absorbed and utilized by the body.
Lisa Turner is a food writer and holistic nutritionist based in Boulder, Colo.
Healthy Habits of the Stars
Some of our favorite celebs seem ageless; wonder how they do it (besides cosmetic surgery)? Here, health tips from five senior stars that keep them dancing, singing, acting, and creating well into their senior years:
Jane Fonda Age: 75
Healthy habits: has a strong yoga routine; adheres to a rigorous aerobic exercise schedule; maintains a deep spiritual practice; follows an über-healthy diet that includes colorful, high-antioxidant foods and lots of fruits and vegetables; never skips breakfast.
Mick Jagger Age: 70
Healthy habits: runs eight miles a day before tours; swims and does kickboxing; gets regular massages; is (mostly) sober; follows a low-fat diet high in whole grains; still tours and performs, during which he dances, prances, and struts an average of 12 miles per show.
Robert Redford Age: 77
Healthy habits: skis, plays tennis, and rides horseback; stays busy with the Sundance Institute and other work projects; credits strong personal relationships and a sense of connection with nature as keys to good health.
Betty White Age: 91
Healthy habits: stays busy on TV’s Betty White’s Off Their Rockers and Hot in Cleveland; works with animal charities; has an optimistic outlook on life; and is a vegetarian.
Helen Mirren Age: 68
Healthy habits: follows a healthy diet and takes vitamins; gets plenty of sleep; walks her dog regularly; maintains appreciation of life and wisdom that comes with age.
Our product picks:
SOLGAR VITAMIN B12 SUBLINGUAL 1,000 MCG gives you 1,000 mcg of this important vitamin per "nugget," a chewable form easily absorbed by the body—no hard-to-swallow tablets.
REVIVAL LABS YOUTHH2O AGE DEFYING SYSTEM is packed with superfoods and nutrients that address concerns such as energy, mental clarity, mood, immunity, and sleep quality.
NATURAL FACTORS PS-IQ MEMORY is a smart combination of phosphatidylserine (PS) with essential fatty acids that work synergistically to optimize brain function.
LIFE EXTENSION SUPER R-LIPOIC ACID delivers the biologically active, highly absorbable "R" form of the potent antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid.
DOCTOR'S BEST BEST MSM POWDER mixes easily in water or juice to support joints and connective tissue.