While getting older is just a fact of life and something you can't avoid, most of us want to make sure we're doing all we can to feel and look our healthiest as each birthday passes by. It's not all about erasing wrinkles, sagging skin, and gray hairs. Sure. If you want to do that, by all means, go for it. But you also want to make sure you're doing all you can to take care of yourself as you age. That means eating well, staying active, and taking care of your mental health.
Doing all of the above should be your main defense against the not-so-great effects of aging, but there are some other things you can try to ensure you're going the extra mile when it comes to your health. One of those things to consider is taking supplements and vitamins that could help support the aging process.
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"Aging is a result of normal biological functioning where there are marked changes in our cells," explains registered dietitian Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition. "The process of aging can be accelerated secondary to diseases. We do know that antioxidants from foods and some supplements may act in a protective manner, reducing cellular damage. The general recommendation is to reduce the intake of pro-inflammatory foods that exacerbate systemic inflammation."
And while there isn't a magic supplement or vitamin that can stop the aging process altogether and turn you into Benjamin Button, those antioxidants might make a big difference. Serena Poon, CN, CHC, CHN, chef, nutritionist, Reiki master, and founder of the Culinary Alchemy program, says antioxidants balance out the effects of free radicals, which are naturally created by your body but also come from environmental factors like pollution, chemicals, and smoke. "If free radicals and antioxidants are out of balance in the body, it can cause oxidative stress, which plays a role in several age-related diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, dementia, cancer, atherosclerosis, vascular diseases, obesity, osteoporosis, and metabolic syndromes," she adds.
Before you start buying all the anti-aging supplements out there, it's important to note that they shouldn't be your only solution. Again, healthy eating, exercise, and good lifestyle habits can really get you far. If you do decide to look into vitamins and supplements, it's recommended to consult your doctor or a healthcare professional who knows your personal medical history. The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of money on a product and find out it's going to hurt your body.
"Safe supplementation is key," Feller says. "There is no one size that fits all, and any supplement recommendations need to be tailored to the individual based on their current health status as well as needs."
And with that in mind, if you're ready to learn more about which vitamins and supplements can help, the experts weighed in below.
This fat-soluble vitamin can help you maintain healthy, youthful-looking skin, says registered dietitian Stephanie Carter, MS, RDN, founder of Carter Hall Lifestyle. "Retinoids are compounds of both natural and biologically active forms of vitamin A—retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid," she says. "They are some of the most effective substances slowing the aging process by encouraging cellular turnover, stimulating collagen, treating acne and psoriasis, and softening wrinkles. In fact, vitamin A is the first vitamin approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an anti-wrinkle agent that changes the appearance of the skin surface and has anti-aging effects."
Vitamin C was a popular recommendation among the experts we talked to. It's another nutrient that can promote youthful skin, and it helps out with collagen production. "Vitamin C actually reknits the collagen rebar back together after it's been damaged by sunlight," explains Steven Gundry, MD, author, medical director at the International Heart and Lung Institute, and founder of Gundry MD. "If you don't have any vitamin C, that collagen doesn't get remixed together, and you get those wrinkles and crevices. So you could have all the collagen in the world, but if you don't have vitamin C, you're not going to complete the process of linking collagen together. I really recommend that you take an extended time-release vitamin C of 1000 milligrams twice a day."
This was also a unanimous recommendation from the experts. That's because vitamin D plays a crucial role in protecting your bones. "Aging is associated with a reduction of being able to synthesize vitamin D in the skin upon sun exposure," Spence says. The vitamin can also boost energy and mood levels.
"As we get older, our bodies become naturally worse at absorbing vitamin B12, even if we get enough of the vitamin in their diet," Carter says. "If a blood test shows low levels of B12, a doctor may prescribe an oral supplement that contains very high doses of the vitamin, intramuscular shots of vitamin B12, or both." The nutrient also helps your energy levels.
Also known as CoQ10, it's an antioxidant that our bodies produce. "It plays essential roles in energy production and protects against cellular damage," Spence says. "Supplements can help reduce an accumulation of free radicals that accelerates the aging process and age-related disease."
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Gut health is pretty important, as it can have an effect on all the other systems in your body. Taking probiotics and prebiotics can help your skin health. "One of the best ways to slow down the aging process is to use prebiotics," Gundry says. "Those are the foods that feed friendly bacteria. My company Gundry MD makes a Bio Complete 3 product that includes pre-, pro-, and postbiotics. But I also make a pure prebiotic formula called PrebioThrive."
You should team up calcium and vitamin D for bone health and to prevent osteoporosis. "Calcium helps build and maintain bones while vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut," Carter says. "Older adults absorb less calcium from their diets, which is thought to be caused by a deficiency of vitamin D." You can also get calcium from dairy products and leafy greens.
"Research has also shown that omega-3 supplementation (you can also get omega-3s from eating fish, flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts) can reduce the shortening of telomeres DNA sequences, which shorten with age and of which the shortening is associated with age-related disease," Poon says.
Collagen and elastin both work to give the skin its shape, and vitamin C helps support both of them. "Collagen is an essential component in connective tissue, providing structure to much of the body, including bones, skin, tendons, and ligaments," Carter says. "Essentially, collagen helps keep the skin plump and firm. However, as we age, we begin to notice wrinkles and lines. Vitamin C acts as a cofactor for amino acids proline and lysine, which help stabilize collagen against free radical damage. Elastin is a necessary protein that provides the skin with elasticity of tissues. Similar to collagen, elastin production slows with aging, and existing elastin breaks down, resulting in wrinkles around the eyes and mouth. Vitamin C is beneficial in promoting elastin synthesis, helping to slow the aging process."
And because vitamin C and collagen are linked, Poon suggests taking the two supplements in tandem.
According to Spence, many people aren't getting enough magnesium daily, which is needed for muscle and nerve function.
"L-arginine supplements support the body's natural production of nitric oxide, which will support your blood vessels and circulation. It also has been found to lower blood pressure," Poon says.
Mushroom and Mushroom Extract
"These fungi contain compounds called polyamines, the most famous of which is spermidine," Gundry explains. "Diets high in polyamines, especially spermidine, have recently been shown in a human study to increase both health span and life span. So eat your mushrooms, and take a mixed-mushroom supplement like my Gundry MD M Vitality."
Feller adds that supplements with anti-inflammatory and phenolic compounds such as vitamin C, curcumin, and resveratrol may be supportive of cellular health.
Other Aging Tips
Taking a holistic approach to aging can benefit you in the long run. "The overall best way to promote longevity and health is to consume a nutritious diet, get in regular exercise, and reduce stress as much as possible," Spence says. It's all about achieving a healthy and balanced lifestyle, right? The experts shared some other tips.
Load Up on Fruits and Vegetables
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"Eat more plant-based whole foods to rev up energy," Carter recommends. "Fresh, whole, unprocessed foods renew energy levels with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants." Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables can help your skin, too.
Drink Enough Water
Drinking enough water is essential no matter what age you are, but it becomes especially key when you get older. "As we age, our ability to sensitize thirst may be diminished, so staying hydrated is important," Feller says. "Water, herbal teas, and hydrating foods such as fruits and vegetables can all be a part of hydration."
Eat Balanced Meals
"Ideally, the best practice to prevent vitamin and nutrient deficiencies is to consume balanced meals made up of non-starchy vegetables, plant-based proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats," Carter says. "Think: Supplement from the ground up. Aim to get the recommended daily amount of vitamins and minerals from whole, unprocessed foods before reaching for supplements."
Watch Your Fiber Intake
"Fiber is important for gut health as well as managing noncommunicable diseases," Feller says. "Finding ways to incorporate fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into eating patterns is helpful."
Watch Your Protein Intake, Too
Carter explains that each decade after the age of 30, we begin to lose 3-8% of muscle mass. "Consuming more protein can help combat sarcopenia, which is age-related loss of muscle mass," she says. "Strong muscles react faster and can help improve strength and endurance. A protein-rich diet paired with resistance training may help arrest or slow the rate of muscle loss."
Visit Your Doctor Once a Year
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Getting regular physical examinations and blood work is important so your healthcare provider can address any deficiencies you might have and give you the correct dosages if you need supplementation. "Allowing your PCP to educate you on the recommended daily amount will ensure that you aren't needlessly putting yourself at risk for toxicity," Carter says.
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Don't forget to have some fun and enjoy life! Feller recommends staying social in a safe way, like going on walks with friends or taking advantage of programs for older adults with community-based organizations.
Take Care of Your Mind
Keep your mind sharp, and pay attention to your mental health. "Your mental state of mind is also really important for healthy aging. Staying connected to a community, engaging in games to keep your mind sharp, and positive thinking are all essential parts as well," Poon says.