Many people take supplements as a cheap insurance policy and a way to ensure they’re getting enough nutrients. However, nutritional needs change with age, and some nutrients you need when you are young, you need less of as you get older. Plus, there are some that it’s safest to get from food sources rather than supplements. Let’s look at five supplements you should avoid, unless your doctor recommends them, after the age of 50.
Iron is a mineral that helps red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Women of childbearing age are more likely than men to lose iron through menstruation and pregnancy — which can lead to iron-deficiency anemia.
After menopause, when menstruation stops, women have lower needs for dietary iron, since they’re not losing blood through menstruation, and don’t routinely need an iron supplement, and taking one could be harmful. But why?
High levels of iron in the body can cause oxidative stress that damages tissues. Iron overload has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes mellitus type 2. Your body lacks a way to eliminate excess iron, so it builds up in tissues.
Some people are genetically at higher risk of building up too much iron in their bodies. Iron overload occurs when you take more than your body needs or absorb too much from food or supplements.
You may be at risk if you have a genetic condition that causes increased absorption of iron — such as hemochromatosis. Some people have a mild form of this condition and aren’t aware of it.
If you’re unsure whether your body needs more iron, talk with your doctor or dietitian about whether you should take an iron supplement but don’t take one without knowing you’re deficient.
There are many reasons why you shouldn’t take vitamin E after 50. Vitamin E, or tocopherol, is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in the body, especially in protecting cells from oxidative damage.
At one time, health care providers recommended that people take supplemental vitamin E as a way to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, subsequent research showed that vitamin E doesn’t reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack and may have downsides. For example, one study found that taking vitamin E supplements was linked with a higher risk of heart failure.
High doses of vitamin E can also increase your risk for bleeding, especially if you take it with blood thinners like aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin).
Plus, some studies suggest that high doses of vitamin E may increase the risk of prostate cancer. But these findings have not been confirmed by other trials or larger studies that included more than 10,000 men.
Still, taking vitamin E in supplement form doesn’t have clear-cut benefits and may have risks. The best way to get vitamin E is from food sources like nuts, seeds, eggs, and vegetable oils.
Calcium is an essential mineral for bone health and it’s also important for heart health, muscle function, and nervous system function.
While many people take calcium supplements to make up for their dietary deficiencies, experts caution against it if you’re over 50 because they can cause kidney stones or other side effects in some people.
Research shows calcium supplements, possibly because they deliver so much calcium at once to your body, raise the risk of calcium oxalate kidney stones (the most common kind) while dietary calcium may lower the risk of stones.
If you’re over 50 and at risk for osteoporosis or have osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about whether you should take a calcium supplement. If you don’t have osteoporosis, it’s safest to get calcium from dietary sources. Dairy products are one of the best sources, but if you can’t consume dairy, here are some other sources:
Fortified soy milk
- Collard greens
Green Tea Extract
Green tea is a healthy beverage, due to its high content of antioxidant catechins, but it’s best to stick to the beverage rather than popping a concentrated extract. There are a small number of people who have developed liver injury after taking green tea extract in supplement form. After the age of 50, liver function declines somewhat and it becomes even harder to process concentrated forms of green tea extract. Why not enjoy green tea as a tasty beverage instead?
Selenium is a trace mineral your body needs in small important. Although it has the important role of supporting healthy thyroid function and supporting immune function. It also helps reduce oxidative damage, too much of it can be harmful.
A high intake of selenium may be associated with the following:
Selenosis — A condition that occurs when you have too much of this mineral in your body. Early symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain, followed by hair loss and severe diarrhea. Chronic selenosis can lead to mental impairment, nerve damage, and heart failure.
Kidney damage — high intakes of dietary selenium might increase the risk of kidney damage in people with kidney disease. Too much selenium can risk the kidney’s ability to filter.
That’s why it’s best to avoid taking a selenium supplement and get selenium from food sources. Some of the best sources of selenium include:
- Wheat germ
- Brewer’s yeast
- Sunflower seeds
- Brazil nuts (Don’t eat more than 1 per day, as they contain so much, you could develop toxicity by eating more)
The Bottom Line
Nutrition is important at every age and stage of life. Now you know some of the nutrients you should be cautious about after the age of 50. If you take any of these nutrients in supplement form, talk to your healthcare provider. Just as importantly, make sure you’re eating a nutrient-rich diet and your doctor is aware of any supplements you take.
- Sorensen MD. Calcium intake and urinary stone disease. Transl Androl Urol. 2014 Sep;3(3):235-40. doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2223-4683.2014.06.05. PMID: 26816771; PMCID: PMC4708574.”Possible Risks Associated with Taking Vitamin E Supplements.” 18 Mar. 2011, https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/possible-risks-associated-with-taking-vitamin-e-supplements/.
- “Vitamin E – Health Professional Fact Sheet.” https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/.
- “Selenium – Health Professional Fact Sheet.” https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/selenium-healthprofessional/.
- “Fatigue in Older Adults? It’s Probably Not Low Iron.” 12 Jun. 2018, https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/vitamins-supplements/fatigue-in-older-adults-its-probably-not-low-iron/.
- “Iron Supplements: Who Should Take Them? – Healthline.” 24 Aug. 2020, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/iron-supplements-who-should-take.
- “Hemochromatosis (Iron Overload) – Cleveland Clinic.” https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14971-hemochromatosis-iron-overload.
- McDowell LA, Kudaravalli P, Sticco KL. Iron Overload. [Updated 2022 Apr 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526131/