One of the most common questions I’m asked is which supplements I take. Everyone is different, and the supplements I take will not necessarily suit you, but here’s an overview of what I believe are the best supplements for a woman over 50. Why the age cut off? Because your needs change as you get older. Your ability to absorb nutrients from food reduces (due to lower production of stomach acid), you synthesise less vitamin D in your skin on exposure to sunlight than in your youth, and your need for iron decreases after the menopause.
While you won’t want to take all of the below supplements, my explanations for how they can help (and why I take them) will help you select those that are right for you.
A multivitamin and mineral supplement
Diet should always come first, but as the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys show, few people get all the vitamins and minerals they need from food alone. The latest NDNS data (median intakes from food alone) suggest that at least half of women aged 19 to 65 years do not meet the EU NRV (nutrient reference value) for vitamins B2, folate, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. That’s why I believe that a multivitamin and mineral is a vital nutritional safety net. Multivitamin supplements designed for women aged 50+ are the best option if you are in this age group. See my recommended multivitamin supplements for women aged 50+ on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
Additional vitamin D3 for heart, immunity and mood
Vitamin D is not just needed for calcium absorption and healthy bones, it also plays an important role in immunity, circulatory health, and in regulating mood. Most multivitamins only supply between 5 mcg and 10 mcg vitamin D3. For women over the age of 50, a higher dose of 50 mcg is more appropriate – partly because we synthesise vitamin D less well in our skin, and partly because the complex series of metabolic reactions that generate active vitamin D are less efficient in later life. Research from the US has shown that an intake of 100 mcg (4000 IU) vitamin D3 is needed to maintain vitamin D levels in all older women. As this is the upper safe level for long-term use in supplements, I prefer to drop back to an intake of 50 mcg (2000 IU) per day. Look for supplements that supply vitamin D3 as this is more effective in maintaining vitamin D status than the plant form, vitamin D2. One of the easiest ways to take it is as an oral spray for direct absorption through the lining of the mouth. Some supplements combine vitamin D3 with vitamin K2 (see below).
Omega-3 fish oil for healthy circulation
Omega 3 fish oil supplies long-chain omega-3s, EPA and DHA, which are incorporated into cell membranes to make them more flexible. Within the circulation, this supports healthy blood flow and protects against unwanted blood clots, while in the brain omega-3 allows electrical and chemical messages to flow more easily from one cell to another. Omega-3 fish oils also protects against anxiety and depression. Omega 3 and vitamin D work together to regulate levels of serotonin, which lifts mood and generates melatonin – your natural sleep hormone. Omega-3 fish oil has beneficial effects on blood pressure and is an increasingly important supplement in later life. If you already eat two to four portions of oily fish per week (eg salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines) you may not need a supplement but if you don’t, an omega-3 fish oil is an easy way to ensure you are getting an ideal intake of 1g long-chain omega-3 per day. Fish get their omega-3 from the algae they eat, and vegetarian algal sources of DHA and EPA are also available.
Evening primrose oil for lovely skin
Evening primrose oil is another supplement I would not wish to stop. It is used to make skin cell membranes and within a few weeks of starting to take it you will notice a significant improvement in the hydration, softeness, luminosity and elasticity of your skin. It is particularly helpful for reducing itching, flaking and dryness of the shins, which often occurs after the menopause. It also discourages fine lines and wrinkles on the face. When dermatologists assessed the skin of women who took 3g evening primrose oil daily, for 12 weeks, they recorded a 20% improvement in skin moisture, smoothness, elasticity and firmness compared with placebo. Evening primrose oil also reduces age-related mottling and age-spots by regulating the activity of an enzyme (tyrosinase) involved in producing melanin pigment. I take 1g evening primrose oil a day – sometimes 2g. Starflower oil (also known as borage oil) offers similar benefits and has a higher GLA content, but I’ve always stuck with my evening primrose oil as it’s worked so well for me.
A probiotic for digestive health
The balance of bacteria within your bowel plays a key role in health, not just for digestion, but on immunity, inflammation and the regulation of mood. This may seem surprising but imbalances in your gut microbiome, which consists of 100 trillion bacteria belonging to up to 1000 different species, has now been linked with conditions as diverse as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory arthritis and depression. Bowel bacteria are even believed to contribute to weight gain and type 2 diabetes. These wide-ranging effects on health result from the substances they make, their effects on immune cells in the gut wall, interactions with nerve endings that send signals to the brain and interactions between bacterial genetic codes (microRNA) and your own genes. Loss of healthy probiotic bacteria, and an over abundance of their less beneficial relatives is common. The best way to maintain a healthy microbiome is to follow a Mediterranean style diet with plenty of vegetables, fish and olive oil which can increase your level of probiotic bacteria by almost 10% compared with a meat-rich Western style diet. Taking a daily probiotic bacteria will also replenish those that are regularly flushed away.
Vitamin K2 protects your arteries
Most of the vitamin K in your diet is in the plant form, vitamin K1, which you get from eating cauliflower, broccoli and dark green leaves. Less than 10% is in the form of vitamin K2, which is found in liver, egg yolk, meats, cheese, live yoghurt and other fermented foods such as natto. Your liver keeps most of the vitamin K1 to make clotting proteins, and sends out vitamin K2 for use by other tissues. Within your circulation, vitamin K2 activates proteins that transport calcium away from the arteries, while in your bones vitamin K2 activates the proteins which bind calcium to build their strength. So, as well as protecting against osteoporosis, vitamin K2 guards against unwanted hardening and calcification of artery walls. While you can convert excess vitamin K1 to vitamin K2, this doesn’t happenwhen vitamin K is in short supply, so a supplement is a great idea for people in later life. I’ve certainly started taking it.
Coenzyme Q10 for energy
Coenzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance that is vital for generating energy in cells – especially in your heart and other major organs. With increasing age, your cells become less efficient at making their own coenzyme Q10 and this has been linked with reduced organ function. Coenzyme Q10 supplements are available in two main forms, an active, body-ready (reduced) form called ubiquinol and an oxidised form known as ubiquinone. Before it can act, ubiquinone must be converted into ubiquinol and, as you get older, this conversion becomes less efficient. Ubiquinol is therefore considered the better form for those over the age of 50, although you can take a higher dose of ubiquinone if you wish – 100mg ubiquinol is equivalent to around 280mg ubiquinone. Ubiquinol is especially helpful when you feel lacking in energy to get your mojo back. It’s also important if you are taking a statin drug which, as well as lowering cholesterol, also switches off coenzyme Q10 production and may contribute to statin-related muscle symptoms. I wouldn’t be without coenzyme Q10 if I stop taking it my energy levels soon start to go downhill.
Additional vitamin C for collagen production
Vitamin C is not only an important antioxidant, but is also needed to produce collagen in the skin, helping to reduce premature lines and wrinkles. According to NDNS data, one in two women get less than 67.3mg per day vitamin C from their diet. The EU recommended intake for adults is 80 mg, so if you want to make more collagen to help maintain supple skin, then a supplement is needed. Vitamin C is also needed for normal immunity – especially against the common cold – and to reduce tiredness and fatigue. Eating more fruit and veg will increase your intake, but I take a 500mg vitamin C every day (a delicious chewable orange/peach flavoured tablet from Healthspan for whom I act as a medical consultant). Cold viruses can’t multiply in cells with good vitamin C levels, and I’ve definitely found a supplement is protective. If you’re prone to indigestion, select the non-acidic form, ester-C. S
Additional magnesium for heart health
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for long-term health and also one that is often lacking in the diet. According to the latest NDNS data, one in two women get less than 229mg magnesium per day from their food alone. As the UE recommended intake (NRV) is 375 mg, this is quite a shortfall. Magnesium regulates the movement of ions in and out of cells, and is needed to relax muscles. Within the circulation, magnesium helps to lower blood pressure, reduce arterial spasm and protect against stroke, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attack and stroke. In fact, having an optimal intake of magnesium is associated with a lower risk of death from just about any medical cause at any age so it’s vital to ensure good intakes.
Lack of magnesium contributes to muscle fatigue, cramping, restless legs and insomnia, as well as constipation. Dietary sources of magnesium include dark green leaves, beans, fish, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and wholegrains. The upper safe level from supplements is 400mg magnesium per day – more than this can have a laxative effect (not always a bad thing, of course). If you are sensitive to this effect, then apply magnesium oil to the skin from which some will be absorbed to by-pass the gut. Otherwise, take magnesium tablets at night to promote sleep, and a regular bowel habit next morning. Check the level of magnesium in your multivitamin (often relatively low as it’s a bulky ingredient) and top up as needed.
Royal jelly for hormone balance
Royal jelly is another supplement I’ve started taking recently. It contains powerful antioxidants with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory actions, and is also one of the best sources of vitamin B5 which combats fatigue, insomnia and plays a role in maintaining healthy skin and hair. The main benefit for women over 50 is that Royal Jelly has oestrogen-like actions and stimulates collagen production in the skin to help combat wrinkles. Royal Jelly is a popular supplement to increase vitality, complexion, nail strength and hair glossiness at this time of life. If it’s good enough for a Queen Bee, it’s good enough for me! I was surprised at the difference it made.
Turmeric to suppress inflammation
Turmeric spice, and its main component, curcumin, are used in Ayurvedic medicine to reduce age-related aches and pains and to support liver function and immunity. Turmeric has undergone a recent revival thanks to research that shows it reduces inflammation by suppressing a substance called TNF-alpha in the same way as prescription-only drugs that have to be given by injection. If you are experiencing muscle and joint aches and pains, you may well find turmeric helpful. Turmeric also stimulates fat burning and is traditionally used to support weight loss. As pure turmeric is not well absorbed, look for supplements that contain liquid micelles or which include a black pepper extract called piperine to boost absorption.
Additional calcium for bone support
Good calcium intakes are vital throughout life to protect against osteoporosis (brittle bones). This becomes increasingly important after the age of 50, when we lose the oestrogen that previously stimulated our bone building cells. The best way to obtain calcium is to drink the equivalent of a pint of semi-skimmed milk per day, but if you are cutting back on dairy products, or ir osteoporosis runs in your family, you may benefit from a calcium supplement. The EU RNV for adults is 800 mg calcium per day, but recent NDNS data shows that one in two women get less than 710mg calcium per day from food alone. Some supplements combine calcium with magnesium and vitamin D3 (check your total magnesium intake from supplements doesn’t exceed 400mg).
Sea buckthorn oil for dryness
Sea buckthorn oil is one of the best kept secrets for older women. It is a rich source of the relatively rare omega-7 fatty acids which moisturise hair and skin, and reduce dryness throughout the body. I’ve started taking Sea buckthorn oil to help dry eyes (I forget to blink when writing on screen) as it greatly improves the lubricating quality of tears. Its main use in women over the age of 50 is to reduce vaginal dryness which is a common problem after the menopause. Research involving post-menopausal women showed that sea buckthorn oil supplements significantly improved troublesome vaginal dryness and discomfort compared with placebo. As a bonus, Sea buckthorn oil also improves the flexibility of arterial walls and its natural plant sterols improve cholesterol balance.
Image credits: shutterstock