“Certain vitamins play an important role in making sure our organs, our hormones and our immune systems are functioning optimally,” says Chiti Parikh, M.D., executive director of the Integrative Health and Wellbeing Program at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian.
The body’s nutritional requirements change during the aging process, especially for women entering perimenopausal or postmenopausal years, so multivitamins can be beneficial, she adds, noting that they can be particularly beneficial as bone density lowers and adequate calcium and vitamin D intake become more important.
Certain vitamins may be more beneficial than others when it comes to multivitamins tailored to women over the age of 50. “Calcium is important for bone health reasons,” says Richard Dupee, M.D., chief of geriatrics at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, because bone density naturally decreases with age and calcium helps to support healthy bones. Low levels of vitamin B12 and vitamin D can be a concern as well because many people take Prilosec (a proton-pump inhibitor used to treat heartburn), which cuts down on acid secretion and interferes with the absorption of these vitamins, he adds.
Addressing vitamin deficiencies is important because long-term deficiencies are associated with certain diseases, says Dr. Dupee. For example, research suggests a correlation between a vitamin B12 deficiency and dementia, though further studies are needed to explore this link. However, most multivitamins, unfortunately, don’t contain the levels of vitamins needed to correct most nutritional deficiencies, he adds.
Potential Risks and Side Effects of Multivitamins For Women Over 50
One of the biggest risks of multivitamins is that they’re not regulated by the FDA, says Dr. Parikh. Because of this, the amount of certain vitamins listed on a bottle may be inaccurate. “The risk is that someone might get too little or too much of certain vitamins,” she adds. “For instance, many people are deficient in B vitamins, such as folate [and] B12, or vitamin D. However most multivitamins might not have adequate amounts to correct these deficiencies.”
Ingesting too much of a specific vitamin can pose a risk as well. “This risk is particularly high for fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K,” she says. This is because fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and adipose tissue, meaning they stay in the body longer and can build up to toxic levels. Meanwhile, the body can easily get rid of water-soluble vitamins like vitamin B or vitamin C through urine, adds Dr. Parikh.
Another concern is that some people may take a multivitamin instead of (rather than in addition to) eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, says Nina L. Blachman, M.D., a geriatrician at NYU Langone Health in New York City. “We prefer [people] eat a balanced diet. Vitamins aren’t better than eating nutritionally rich food,” she adds.