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Vitamins From A to Z

What the 50-plus need to know

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En español | The best way to get crucial vitamins and minerals is by eating the right balance of healthy foods. But for people over age 50, even the best diet may not provide enough of some important nutrients.

See also: AARP Health Record is a safe place to manage your family's health information.

"How many of us can claim to be getting the full complement of what we need from our diet each day?" asks Meir Stampfer, M.D., professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University.

AARP's A to Z Guide will help you learn about the vitamins, minerals and supplements that are most important for older adults so you can be sure to consume them regularly. (Note: If you have certain diseases, such as cancer or diabetes, your body may have special nutritional needs. Also, certain medications can have adverse interactions with vitamins and other dietary supplements. Be sure to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about the vitamins, minerals and supplements you take.)

Abbreviations: IU=international units, MG=milligrams, MCG=micrograms

Vitamin A

How much to you need? Men: 900 mcg. Women: 700 mcg

Why you need it: Promotes good vision; helps keep immune system healthy.

Good to know: In supplements, look for vitamin A as beta carotene, not as retinol or retinoic acid, which increases the risk of bone fracture.

Food sources: Dairy products, fish, darkly colored fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine)

How much do you need? Men: 1.2 mg. Women: 1.1 mg

Why you need it: Thiamine is necessary for healthy nerve and brain cells; helps convert food to energy.

Good to know: Antacids and some diuretics may lower thiamin levels by decreasing absorption and increasing urinary secretion.

Food sources: Liver, whole grains, enriched breads and cereals.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

How much do you need? Men: 1.3 mg. Women: 1.1 mg

Why you need it: Riboflavin is important for red blood cell production; helps convert food to energy.

Good to know: Older men and women may be especially susceptible to riboflavin deficiency, which can cause cracking or sores at the corners of the mouth, skin irritation or weakness.

Food sources: milk, eggs, fortified bread products and cereals.

Vitamin B3 (niacin)

How much do you need? Men: 16 mg. Women: 14 mg

Why you need it:
Niacin is necessary for the proper functioning of the digestive system, skin and nerves; helps convert food to energy.

Good to know: Can cause skin flushing; may be prescribed to treat high cholesterol but should be used only under a doctor's care because of potentially severe side effects.

Food sources: Meat, fish, poultry, eggs.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

How much do you need? Men: 1.7 mg. Women: 1.5 mg

Why you need it: Vitamin B6 aids in the formation of red blood cells; strengthens the immune system.

Good to know: Too high doses of supplements may cause nerve damage, numbness and trouble walking.

Food sources: Beans, nuts, eggs, whole grains.

Vitamin B12

How much do you need? Men and women: 2.4 mcg

Why you need it: B12 is essential for keeping nerves and red blood cells healthy.

Good to know: As many as a third of people over 50 do not absorb enough B12 from diet alone; inadequate absorption may lead to neurological and balance problems.

Food sources: Fish, shellfish, meat, dairy products.

Next: How much Vitamin C, D and E do you need? >>

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