There is no shortage of online and word-of-mouth health advice with promises of alleviating common ailments that come with getting older. But Jenny Young, a Family Nurse Practitioner at TrueCare Carlsbad Health Center, wants to remind you to check with your provider first, even when taking over-the-counter vitamins and supplements.
“Many patients come to me as they navigate the aging process and ask about vitamins and supplements,” Young notes. “Some have seen advertisements, or a friend or family member has suggested the latest product to them. But many of these wellness trends interact with other medications.”
Young suggests a few tips for keeping your immune system strong without falling for the hype.
“I see a lot of patients who take fish oil with omega-3s, which is good for the heart and brain. It’s widely available but also thins the blood. That effect is especially concerning with patients taking pain relief drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve).”
Young points out that fish oil can be good for you, if you take the right one. “When I look at a lot of fish oil products, they have fillers and may not really be helping, especially if they interfere with other medications.”
Many people also take baby aspirin for the heart. These are blood thinners too. “The U.S. Task Force advises that low dose aspirin should only be taken by direction of your health care provider,” she says.
Iron supplements are also popular for battling low energy, but Young warns iron can be toxic as it builds up in the liver. “If you are not anemic, you probably don’t need extra iron.”
Young suggests looking for vitamins specifically made for people who are 50 years and older, especially menopausal women. Many of these don’t add extra iron, making them a better choice.
“And if you take supplements with coffee, know that caffeine hinders the absorption of nutrients. Be sure to take vitamins and supplements with water and wait at least one hour after having coffee…. And Vitamin D needs to be taken with a good fat like nuts or avocado.”
Other popular immunity supplements are zinc and Vitamin C. “Many older adults are low in zinc, making them susceptible to infection, so a supplement can be helpful. And Vitamin C does help keep the immune system strong. First, get the green light from your provider for the best dosage for you before spending money on various products.”
The most reliable way to protect your immunity is to wash your hands regularly and get your recommended vaccines. “Seniors should ask about getting a high dose flu shot if they are 65 years and older. This offers 3-4 times the immunity protection as a regular flu shot. Additionally, the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) vaccine is available without a prescription for seniors age 60 and older. It protects against a common respiratory virus and is covered by Medicare and Medi-Cal.”
There also are several pneumonia vaccines. “Which one you get depends on your medical history. Your provider can provide guidance.”
Lastly, the shingles vaccine has a bad reputation due to side effects like fatigue or itchy rash at the injection site. However, these side effects are short lived. Getting shingles is much more serious and can leave you with lifelong conditions, such as skin and nerve pain. “If you are 50 years or older, ask your provider about getting the shingles vaccine.”
Young concludes that exercise and a healthy diet remain important factors for keeping immune systems strong. “The Mediterranean diet is great for seniors and has immune boosting benefits. Combined with regular exercise, this helps build overall health and immunity.”
TrueCare Carlsbad provides quality primary care for older adults and seniors. TrueCare accepts Medicare and Medi-Cal and never turns anyone away because of their insurance or income status. Visit truecare.org or call 760-736-6767.