Vitamins and Nutritional Supplements Proven to Help with Mental Health
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 20% of Americans age 55 and older have at least one mental health condition.
As a family caregiver, most of your time is spent assisting with activities of daily living, like bathing, meal prep, and toilet trips. While this support is absolutely necessary, it's important to remember that your senior's mood, outlook, and emotions are just as important. After all, mental illness can affect your care recipient's quality of life and increase the risk of more serious physical issues.
Fortunately, healthy lifestyle changes can make all the difference. With the right snacks, meals, vitamins, and nutritional supplements, you can help your senior feel their best.
Why are older people more likely to experience nutritional deficiencies?
Before we make any recommendations, it's important to understand how the aging process affects nutrition.
"As the movement of food through the digestive system slows down, your care recipient might become constipated and lose their appetite," said Lord. "Some of these problems can be attributed to a change in the bacteria that make up the gut microbiome, while others occur in the lining of the digestive tract, impairing the absorption of certain nutrients."
Several other factors can contribute to poor nutrition as well.
"A poor appetite, a shortage of money to buy food, or no desire to cook may mean that the elderly don't eat enough to meet their nutritional requirements," Lord added. "As a result of all these factors, nutritional deficiencies may become a problem.
What are some common nutritional deficiencies that affect senior citizens?
Seniors are susceptible to a wide range of nutritional deficiencies, but some of the most common include:
Deficiencies affect the body in different ways, but improved nutrition almost always makes a positive impact in terms of mental health.
"People who consult with me will often come into my office wanting to lose weight or manage their constipation," said Lord. "When they start following a diet plan that includes whole grains, such as oats and brown rice, oily fish and plenty of vegetables, not only do they start losing weight or finding it easier to go to the toilet, but nine times out of ten they report feeling more energized and positive about life too."
Are mental health and nutrition linked?
Yes! "Just as your body needs food to feel healthy and energized, so does your brain," Lord said. "One of the most significant factors that connect healthy eating and mental well-being is a healthy gut microbiome. The bacteria that live in your gut hold the key to both physical and mental well-being. They're responsible for synthesizing the majority of feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters such as dopamine."
That's why eating well is so important.
"When you feed the bugs in your gut with fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, fruit, and vegetables, the beneficial bacterial strains flourish and so does your health," said Lord.
What are some nutrients that seniors should include in their diets?
No two seniors have the same dietary needs, but it's crucial to include items from each food group.
"Carbohydrates, protein, fats, fruit, vegetables, and dairy products should all be eaten regularly," Lord said.
"Calcium-rich foods include dairy products, almonds, broccoli, and fish where you eat the bones, such as canned sardines."
"Vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium and for bone mineralization," Lord said. "There are only a few dietary sources of vitamin D –– oily fish, red meat, liver, and egg yolks. Our primary source of vitamin D is the sun, so spending time outside with the skin exposed can help boost your care recipient's levels."
"Vitamin B12 is found in eggs, liver, kidney, shellfish, fish, beef, milk, and dairy products," said Lord. "It's also found in foods fortified with vitamin B12."
"Iron is found in food in two forms: heme-iron and nonheme iron," Lord said. "Heme iron is best absorbed and used by the body. It's found in animal products such as beef, fish, chicken, and eggs."
"Plant sources of iron provide nonheme iron which is not absorbed and used as efficiently in the body as heme iron," Lord said. "Plant sources of iron include beans, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, dried fruit, and foods fortified with iron."
"Magnesium is an essential mineral that's involved in more than 300 chemical pathways in the body," said Lord. "You can find magnesium in avocados, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, bananas, and dark chocolate."
"Zinc is important for immune function," Lord said. "The best food sources of zinc include oysters, red meat, and poultry. Zinc is also found in legumes, whole grains, and dairy products."
What should I do if my care recipient experiences a low mood?
If your care recipient shows signs of a mood disorder, like anxiety, depression, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), consider teaming up with a medical professional.
"I suggest booking an appointment with someone who understands the intricacies of nutritional deficiencies. A nutritionist or a dietician will be the best person to offer advice for helping seniors eat a more balanced diet within their capabilities and preferences," said Lord.
"They will also be able to advise which supplements are required, taking into consideration the physiological changes in old age, dietary intake, and which medication(s) the senior is taking. That's because medication often interferes with the absorption of nutrients."
What supplements should seniors consider taking?
Everyone has unique nutritional needs, but there are certain supplements that Lord recommends to most elderly people, including:
Omega-3 fatty acids
"These are important for heart and brain health," Lord said. "Both of which need a little extra support in old age, especially if fish isn't regularly consumed."
"Vitamin B12 is poorly absorbed in general in old age, but if the person also has diabetes and is using diabetic medications such as metformin, the absorption of vitamin B12 is further impaired," Lord said. "I prefer to recommend a vitamin B-complex supplement because all of the B vitamins work together in the body.
Calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D
A supplement that includes nutrients like these helps support bone health.
Where can I buy vitamins and supplements?
You can buy vitamins and supplements at most groceries, big-box retailers, and pharmacies. Still, your to-do list as a caregiver is never-ending. Let us save you some time!
Here at Carewell, we carry a broad range of vitamins and supplements from renowned manufacturers like Geri-Care, Nature's Bounty, and YumVs.
Click the "shop now" button start browsing vitamins:
Click the "shop now" button to start browsing supplements:
Is there anything else that caregivers should know about mood and supplements?
Sometimes, supplements aren't the answer. If your care recipient exhibits symptoms of depression or another mental illness, they may benefit from psychiatry. For example, a combination of antidepressants and therapy may improve their outlook and help boost serotonin levels.
The same rule applies to those already getting adequate nutrition.
"Don’t be tempted to take every supplement you can find. If you're healthy and eating a balanced diet, you may not even need to take a supplement," Lord said. "Talk to your doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian before deciding which supplement to take."
If you have questions about any of the supplements we carry, contact our friendly care specialists by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (855) 855-1666 during normal business hours.
Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.