Here are some of the key vitamins and minerals that are important for senior health:
- Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth. It also helps to prevent osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and fortified foods.
- Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, so it is important for bone health as well. It also plays a role in the immune system and helps to protect against some types of cancer. Good sources of vitamin D include sunlight, oily fish, and fortified foods.
- Vitamin B12 is important for energy production, nerve function, and red blood cell production. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause fatigue, weakness, and memory problems. Good sources of vitamin B12 include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
- Folate is important for cell growth and development. It is also needed for the production of red blood cells. A deficiency in folate can cause anemia, fatigue, and other health problems. Good sources of folate include leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, and beans.
- Potassium is an important mineral for heart health. It helps to regulate blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke. Good sources of potassium include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Magnesium is a mineral that helps to regulate muscle and nerve function. It is also involved in energy production and the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Good sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
In addition to these vitamins and minerals, there are a number of other nutrients that are important for senior health. These include zinc, selenium, vitamin C, and antioxidants. It is important to talk to your doctor about your individual needs so that you can get the right balance of nutrients in your diet. The long list of vitamins and minerals are as follows:
Vitamin A. Food Sources: Vitamin A can be found in products such as eggs and milk. It can also be found in vegetables and fruits, like carrots and mangoes.
- Men Age 51+: Most men 51 and older should aim for 900 mcg RAE.
- Women Age 51+: Most women 51 and older should aim for 700 mcg RAE each day.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin). Food Sources: You can find vitamin B1 in meat – especially pork – and fish. It’s also in whole grains and some fortified breads, cereals, and pastas.
- Men Age 51+: Most men 51 and older should aim for 1.2 mg each day.
- Women Age 51+: Most women 51 and older should aim for 1.1 mg each day.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin). Food Sources: You can find vitamin B2 in eggs and organ meat, such as liver and kidneys, and lean meat. You can also find it in green vegetables, like asparagus and broccoli.
- Men Age 51+: Most men 51 and older should aim for 1.3 mg each day.
- Women Age 51+: Most women 51 and older should aim for 1.1 mg each day.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin). Food Sources: Vitamin B3 can be found in some types of nuts, legumes, and grains. It can also be found in poultry, beef, and fish.
- Men Age 51+: Most men 51 and older should aim for 16 mg each day.
- Women Age 51+: Most women 51 and older should aim for 14 mg each day.
Vitamin B6. Food Sources: Vitamin B6 is found in a wide variety of foods. The richest sources of vitamin B6 include fish, beef liver, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and fruit (other than citrus).
- Men Age 51+: Most men 51 and older should aim for 1.7 mg each day.
- Women Age 51+: Most women 51 and older should aim for 1.5 mg each day.
Vitamin B12. Food Sources: You can get this vitamin from meat, fish, poultry, milk, and fortified breakfast cereals. Some people over age 50 have trouble absorbing the vitamin B12 found naturally in foods. They may need to take vitamin B12 supplements and eat foods fortified with this vitamin.
- Men Age 51+: 2.4 mcg every day
- Women Age 51+: 2.4 mcg every day
Vitamin C. Food Sources: Fruits and vegetables are some of the best sources of vitamin C. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, and potatoes can be a large source of vitamin C.
- Men Age 51+: Most men 51 and older should aim for 90 mg each day.
- Women Age 51+: Most women 51 and older should aim for 75 mg each day.
Calcium. Food Sources: Calcium is a mineral that is important for strong bones and teeth, so there are special recommendations for older people who are at risk for bone loss. You can get calcium from milk and other dairy, some forms of tofu, dark-green leafy vegetables, soybeans, canned sardines and salmon with bones, and calcium-fortified foods.
- Men Age 51+: Men age 51-70 need 1,000 mg each day. Men age 71 need 1,200 mg each day. Don’t consume more than 2,000 mg each day.
- Women Age 51+: 1,200 mg each day. Don’t consume more than 2,000 mg each day.
Vitamin D. Food Sources: You can get vitamin D from fatty fish, fish liver oils, fortified milk and milk products, and fortified cereals.
- Men Age 51+: If you are age 51–70, you need at least 15 mcg (600 IU) each day, but not more than 100 mcg (4,000 IU). If you are over age 70, you need at least 20 mcg (800 IU), but not more than 100 mcg (4,000 IU).
- Women Age 51+: If you are age 51–70, you need at least 15 mcg (600 IU) each day, but not more than 100 mcg (4,000 IU). If you are over age 70, you need at least 20 mcg (800 IU), but not more than 100 mcg (4,000 IU).
Vitamin E. Food Sources: Vitamin E can be found in nuts like peanuts and almonds and can be found in vegetable oils, too. It can also be found in green vegetables, like broccoli and spinach.
- Men Age 51+: Most men age 51 and older should aim for 15 mg each day.
- Women Age 51+: Most women age 51 and older should aim for 15 mg each day.
Folate. Food Sources: Folate can be found in vegetables and fruit, such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, and oranges. It can also be found in nuts, beans, and peas.
- Men Age 51+: Most men age 51 and older should aim for 400 mcg DFE each day.
- Women Age 51+: Most women age 51 and older should aim for 400 mcg DFE each day.
Vitamin K. Food Sources: Vitamin K can be found in many foods including green leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale and in some fruits, such as blueberries and figs. It can also be found in cheese, eggs, and different meats.
- Men Age 51+: Most men 51 and older should aim for 120 mcg each day.
- Women Age 51+: Most women should aim for 90 mcg each day.
Magnesium. Food Sources: This mineral, generally, is found in foods containing dietary fiber, such as green leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds. Breakfast cereals and other fortified foods often have added magnesium. Magnesium is also present in tap, mineral, or bottled drinking water.
- Men Age 51+: 420 mg each day
- Women Age 51+: 320 mg each day
Potassium. Food Sources: Many different fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy foods contain potassium. Foods high in potassium include dried apricots, lentils, and potatoes. Adults get a lot of their potassium from milk, coffee, tea, and other nonalcoholic beverages.
- Men Age 51+: Men need 3,400 mg each day.
- Women Age 51+: Most women age 51 and older need 2,600 mg each day
Sodium. Food Sources: Preparing your own meals at home without using a lot of processed foods or salt will allow you to control how much sodium you get.
- Men Age 51+: Men 51 and older should reduce their sodium intake to 2,300 mg each day. That is about 1 teaspoon of salt and includes sodium added during manufacturing or cooking as well as at the table when eating. If you have high blood pressure or prehypertension, limiting sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, about 2/3 teaspoon of salt, may be helpful.
- Women Age 51+: Women 51 and older should reduce their sodium intake to 2,300 mg each day. That is about 1 teaspoon of salt and includes sodium added during manufacturing or cooking as well as at the table when eating. If you have high blood pressure or prehypertension, limiting sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, about 2/3 teaspoon of salt, may be helpful.
Taking vitamins is part of the daily routine of millions of people worldwide.
Though directions for safe dosing are listed on most supplement bottles, it’s common practice to take more than what’s recommended.
Consumers are bombarded with health information telling them that taking high doses of certain vitamins can benefit their health in many ways. However, taking too much of some nutrients can be dangerous.
This article reviews the safety of taking vitamins, as well as the side effects and potential risks associated with consuming high doses.
Fat-soluble vs. water-soluble vitamins
The 13 known vitamins are divided into 2 categories — fat-soluble and water-soluble (1Trusted Source).
Water-soluble vitamins are readily excreted from the body and not easily stored in tissues. There are more water-soluble vitamins than there are fat-soluble ones (2Trusted Source).
Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C, plus eight B vitamins:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- Vitamin B7 (biotin)
- Vitamin B9 (folate)
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Because water-soluble vitamins aren’t stored but rather excreted through urine, they’re less likely to cause issues even when taken in high doses.
However, taking megadoses of some water-soluble vitamins can lead to potentially dangerous side effects.
For example, taking very high doses of vitamin B6 can lead to potentially irreversible nerve damage over time, while taking large amounts of niacin — typically in excess of 2 grams per day — can cause liver damage (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).
Unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins do not dissolve in water and are easily stored in your body’s tissues (2Trusted Source).
There are four fat-soluble vitamins:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Given that fat-soluble vitamins can accumulate in the body, these nutrients are more likely to lead to toxicity than water-soluble vitamins.
While rare, taking too much vitamin A, D, or E can lead to potentially harmful side effects (5Trusted Source).
Alternatively, taking high doses of non-synthetic vitamin K seems to be relatively harmless, which is why an upper intake level (UL) has not been set for this nutrient (6Trusted Source).
Upper intake levels are set to indicate the maximum dose of a nutrient that’s unlikely to cause harm for nearly all people in a general population (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
SUMMARYWater-soluble vitamins are readily excreted from the body, while fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in tissues. Fat-soluble vitamins are more likely to cause toxicity, although water-soluble vitamins can do so as well.
Potential risks of taking too many vitamins
When consumed naturally through foods, these nutrients are unlikely to cause harm, even when consumed in large amounts.
Yet, when taken in concentrated doses in supplement form, it’s easy to take too much, and doing so can lead to negative health outcomes.
Side effects of overconsuming water-soluble vitamins
When taken in excess, some water-soluble vitamins can cause adverse effects, some of which can be dangerous.
However, similarly to vitamin K, certain water-soluble vitamins have no observable toxicity and hence no set UL.
These vitamins include vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B7 (biotin), and vitamin B12 (cobalamin) (9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).
It’s important to note that while these vitamins have no observable toxicity, some of them may interact with medications and interfere with blood testing results. Therefore, caution should be taken with all nutritional supplements.
The following water-soluble vitamins have set ULs, as they can cause adverse side effects when taken in high doses:
- Vitamin C. Although vitamin C has relatively low toxicity, high doses of it can cause gastrointestinal disturbances, including diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Migraines can occur at doses of 6 grams per day (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).
- Vitamin B3 (niacin). When taken in the form of nicotinic acid, niacin can lead to high blood pressure, abdominal pain, impaired vision, and liver damage when consumed in high doses of 1–3 grams per day (16Trusted Source).
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Long-term overconsumption of B6 can cause severe neurological symptoms, skin lesions, sensitivity to light, nausea, and heartburn, with some of these symptoms occurring at intakes of 1–6 grams per day (17Trusted Source).
- Vitamin B9 (folate). Taking too much folate or folic acid in supplement form may affect mental function, negatively impact the immune system, and mask a potentially severe vitamin B12 deficiency (18Trusted Source).
Note that these are side effects that healthy people may experience when taking large doses of these vitamins. Individuals with health conditions can experience even more serious reactions to taking too much of a vitamin.
For example, though vitamin C is unlikely to cause toxicity in healthy people, it can lead to tissue damage and fatal heart abnormalities in those with hemochromatosis, an iron storage disorder (19Trusted Source).
Side effects related to overconsuming fat-soluble vitamins
Because fat-soluble vitamins can accumulate in your body’s tissues, they can cause much more harm when taken at high doses, especially over long periods.
Aside from vitamin K, which has a low potential for toxicity, the remaining three fat-soluble vitamins have a set UL due to their potential to cause harm at high doses.
Here are some side effects related to the overconsumption of fat-soluble vitamins:
- Vitamin A. While vitamin A toxicity, or hypervitaminosis A, can occur from eating vitamin-A-rich foods, it’s mostly associated with supplements. Symptoms include nausea, increased intracranial pressure, coma, and even death (20Trusted Source).
- Vitamin D. Toxicity from taking high doses of vitamin D supplements can lead to dangerous symptoms, including weight loss, appetite loss, and irregular heartbeat. It can also raise blood calcium levels, which can lead to organ damage (21Trusted Source).
- Vitamin E. High-dose vitamin E supplements may interfere with blood clotting, cause hemorrhages, and lead to hemorrhagic stroke (22Trusted Source).
Although vitamin K has a low potential for toxicity, it can interact with certain medications, such as warfarin and antibiotics (6Trusted Source).
SUMMARYBoth water- and fat-soluble vitamins can cause side effects when taken in high doses, with some causing more severe symptoms than others.
Can taking too many vitamins be deadly?
Although it’s extremely rare to die from a vitamin overdose, there have been reported instances of death related to vitamin toxicity.
For example, hypervitaminosis A can be caused by taking one large dose of over 200 mg of vitamin A, or chronic use of more than 10 times the recommended daily intake (23Trusted Source).
Vitamin A toxicity may lead to serious complications, such as increased spinal fluid pressure, coma, and potentially fatal organ damage (23Trusted Source).
Additionally, taking megadoses of vitamin D — more than 50,000 IU daily — over long periods can lead to high blood levels of calcium (hypercalcemia), which can lead to death (24Trusted Source).
Overdosing on other vitamins can likewise cause potentially fatal side effects, such as liver damage.
A case report found that taking very high doses of over 5 grams of extended-release niacin can lead to metabolic acidosis, a buildup of acid in body fluids, as well as acute liver failure — both of which can be fatal (25Trusted Source).
Keep in mind that these potentially deadly side effects are associated with taking exceptionally high doses of vitamins. Even so, caution should always be taken when consuming any dietary supplement.
SUMMARYIn rare cases, taking extremely high doses of certain vitamins may lead to fatal complications.
How to safely take vitamins
The best way to get the nutrients you need is by consuming a well-rounded diet. However, many people need to supplement with vitamins for a variety of reasons.
Age, genetic disorders, medical conditions, and diet are all factors that can increase the need for certain nutrients.
Fortunately, vitamins are typically safe to take as long as they are used responsibly.
The following chart outlines both the recommended daily intake (RDI) and tolerable upper intake levels (UL) for fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins (6Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source):
Due to potential toxicity, it’s not recommended to consume more than the tolerable upper intake levels set for the nutrients listed above.
Keep in mind that in certain circumstances, your healthcare provider may recommend that you take more than the UL for certain nutrients to correct a deficiency.
For example, vitamin D deficiencies are often treated with high-dose vitamin D injections or supplements that deliver over 50,000 IU of vitamin D, which is much more than the UL (26Trusted Source).
Though most supplement bottles provide recommendations regarding how much of a vitamin to take per day, needs can vary from person to person.
If you have questions regarding vitamin dosing, it’s best to consult a medical professional.
SUMMARYSome vitamins have set ULs to prevent potential toxicity. It’s best to consult your healthcare provider if have questions regarding proper vitamin dosing.
Although vitamin supplements are safely consumed by many people on a daily basis, it’s possible to take too high of a dose, which can result in adverse side effects.
Overdosing on certain vitamins can lead to serious complications and, in rare circumstances, even death.
For these reasons, it’s important to use vitamins responsibly and consult a trusted health professional if you have questions about proper dosing.