Ill-health and poor mobility do not have to be part of getting older – good health can be as easy as having a good diet
Many people expect to develop health problems as part of ageing, but this does not have to be the case, says dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS). She says: “By implementing positive and healthy lifestyle changes as early as our 30s, it is possible to support healthy ageing and help to reduce the chances of developing lifestyle-related diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.”
Achieving a healthy diet can be hard, particularly for those in their middle years – 30-50 years old – who are busy trying to build a successful career, care for young children or ageing parents. However, according to Dr Ruxton, a change for the better could be as small as including a multivitamin, multimineral and fish-oil supplement in our everyday diets.
She says: “The irony is that many people don’t think twice about buying new treatments to slow down the effects of ageing on the outside, but don’t always seem ready to try something that will help from the inside – nutrition.
“People need to start thinking about nutrition in their middle years in order to set themselves up to be healthier as they become older.” – Dr Carrie Ruxton, Health and Food Supplements Information Service
Data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), run by Public Health England (PHE), indicates that women are more likely than men to have nutrient intakes below the lower reference nutrient intake (LRNI). This is the intake level at which deficiency is likely to occur. Experts also warn that minerals are more likely than vitamins to be lacking from the diet. The ten most problematic nutrients are: vitamin A, riboflavin, folates, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, selenium and iodine. Public Health England advice on vitamin D also now reads that everyone should consider taking a daily supplement in autumn and winter, or year-round for those who don’t get outside much.
Dr Ruxton says: “For those of us who have a rather erratic diet, something like a daily multivitamin and multimineral can be really useful for helping meet recommended levels of key nutrients.”
However, caution is needed when it comes to choosing a vitamin or mineral brand. Food supplements are among the most tightly regulated foodstuffs on the market, but this cannot legislate against operators who are less responsible in the products they market. Such products are not generally found in reputable retailers in the UK – but the online marketplace can pose risks for the unwary.
According to NHS Choices, the go-to site for health information, nutrients can interact with licensed medicines or with other supplements. For example, fish oil can reduce the stickiness of the blood which can increase the anticoagulant effect of medications such as warfarin, to potentially fatal effect.
At the end of the day, it’s all about balance. The British Nutrition Foundation advises anyone who is concerned about nutrition to talk to their GP or a registered dietitian. “It’s important to be aware of the benefits of a balanced diet based on the main food groups,” said the BHF’s nutrition communications manager Bridget Benelam.