It’s important as health care professionals and physical therapists that we do our best to ensure the general health and well being of our patients. As physical therapists we are specifically focused on encouraging our patients to stay active, no matter what age, in order to ensure our patients have a better quality of life. Aging is a normal part of life, however, our bodies sometimes need a little extra help to continue to stay healthy. That’s where dietary supplements like vitamins and minerals come in. As our bodies age we have different needs, so certain nutrients become more important than they were when we were younger. It’s important to talk about these with your patient, if it will help with their prognosis and healing.1 These supplements can be added to your diet to help your bones, muscles, nerves and cells stay healthy, as well as lower your risk of health problems like arthritis and osteoporosis.2 Supplements come in many forms such as pills, powders, capsules, gel capsules, extracts, tablets or liquids; these can be added to any foods or drinks.2 The patient's diet can be changed so they are getting a variety of healthy foods to help their body get the vitamins or minerals that it needs.
Vitamin D is important for older adults because it works with calcium to help maintain bone health.1 Good sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, milk products and eggs.3 Vitamin B6 helps the body use and store energy from protein and carbohydrates and form red blood cells.2 Vitamin B6 can be found in potatoes, fish, and bananas.3 Vitamin B12 is especially important for older adults because it helps keep your red blood cells and nerves healthy. Older adults tend to have trouble absorbing this vitamin through food, so many times, doctors may recommend taking a B12 supplement.2 Those most likely to develop a vitamin B12 deficiency are strict vegetarians or vegans because B12 is mostly found in animal foods such as meat, fish and milk.3
As mentioned, calcium and vitamin D work together to create and maintain strong bones and teeth. Older adults, especially older women, are most at risk for bone loss and osteoporosis.3 Calcium can be found in dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables and canned fish. Potassium is an electrolyte that works to help your nerves function and contract your muscles.1 Potassium has also been found to lower your risk for high blood pressure and it can be found in many fruits, vegetable products, beans and coffee.3 Lastly, magnesium is a mineral that helps with function of the nerves, muscles and immune system. Magnesium is often found in foods containing dietary fiber, which is important for maintaining regular bowel movements. Green leafy vegetables, whole grains and cereals contain a lot of magnesium and fiber.1
As physical therapists, we are not allowed to prescribe supplements or medications so it’s important to let your patient know this if they come to you with questions. However, dietary supplements are a good subject for you to be educated on as a healthcare professional and can be a good subject to talk about with your patients, if you think they could help benefit them. Your patients may also come to you with questions on supplements they think they want to take or are taking and it’s important you have the information to help educate them on pros, cons, and safety concerns. One question your patient might have is, are dietary supplements like vitamins and minerals safe? The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not required to look into the safety of vitamins and minerals before they are sold, so it is important to do research before you purchase them.2 However, if the FDA hears concerns about a specific supplement, they can issue warnings about the product and can take supplements that appear to be unsafe off of the market.2 The Federal Trade Commision also investigates reports of ads that might misinterpret what dietary supplements do.2 Even though the FDA does not have the authority to directly monitor supplements, they are still able to investigate reports and remove bad ones from the market. There are also a few private groups such as U.S Pharmacopeia and NSF International that have their own “seal of approval” for supplements. This seal of approval indicates that they are following good manufacturing procedures, contain what is listed on the label, and do not contain harmful levels of ingredients that do not belong there.2 So if your patients are concerned about the safety of dietary supplements, recommend that they do their research ahead of time and find a brand with the “seal of approval” from these private groups to ensure these supplements have been investigated.2 Lastly, it’s always important to end your conversation with your patient by letting them know that before they start taking any type of dietary supplement that they need to consult with their doctor first.
- Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN S. Special Nutrient Needs of Older Adults. EatRight. https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/healthy-aging/special-nutrient-needs-of-older-adults. Published May 21, 2020. Accessed May 17, 2021.
- Dietary Supplements for Older Adults. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/dietary-supplements-older-adults. Published April 23, 2021. Accessed May 17, 2021.
- Vitamins and Minerals for Older Adults. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/vitamins-and-minerals-older-adults. Accessed May 17, 2021.