Life expectancy is increasing, but this rise is concealing a hidden and growing challenge. We are living longer, but we are not necessarily living better. Take, for example, a woman who was 65 in 2011. She can expect to spend more than 18 years, or more than a fifth of her life, in frail health1.
Good nutrition is widely acknowledged as a foundation for good health, and it can help protect against heart disease, cancers, diabetes, and other serious conditions. This makes it all the more concerning that malnutrition is still prevalent in the UK. More than half of older adults admitted to hospital every year are malnourished. This issue needs to be addressed urgently.
A report published by the Health Supplements Information Service (HSIS) and PAGB, ‘The Hidden Health Challenges’,2 examined the importance of nutrition as we age and revealed alarming nutritional gaps and deficiencies that exist in the over 50s. This includes common deficiencies in crucial nutrients such as vitamin D, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper, with intakes of selenium low and shortfalls of omega-3 fatty acids worryingly widespread. In addition, 15 per cent of over-60s are deficient in vitamin B12, which is vital for our immune, muscle and energy health needs.
Getting all the nutrients and vitamins needed from the diet can be difficult at any age, but there are additional challenges as we get older. Our bodies’ ability to absorb nutrients declines, our metabolism slows, our appetite declines, and we can experience poor denture and mobility issues. This can affect our food intake and lead to a shortfall in vitamin and mineral levels from the diet.
A daily multivitamin and multimineral supplement will top up levels and bridge any nutritional gaps, helping to address the nutritional challenges associated with ageing.
We believe that community pharmacy teams should have a greater role in providing dietary advice to their local community. We suggest that pharmacy staff enquire about people’s dietary habits to check if they are getting the necessary nutrients for their age. Questions to ask include: do you eat oily fish at least 4 times a month? (omega-3 fatty acids)? Do you get outside in summer months? (vitamin D)? Do you eat red meat at least once a week? (iron)? Are you vegetarian or a vegan? (vitamin B12, iron, vitamin D, zinc)?
If you feel that your team would benefit from improving their knowledge about dietetics to help customers make the right choices, you can contact HSIS, a communication service providing accurate and balanced information on vitamins, minerals and other food supplements funded by PAGB, or go direct to the individual supplement manufacturers for information.
This column first appeared in P3 magazine.