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Savvy seniors

Supporting your health and wellbeing as you grow older

We have lots of lovely older customers who ask for our help in the shop,” says Jill Bell from health store Well and Good in Midleton, Co Cork. “The most common health issues linked with ageing are aches and pains from creaking joints and muscles, allied with concerns about mental agility. But the good news is that there is plenty we can do to improve the situation, or at the very least, maintain what we have.”

Dem bones and joints

“Omega-3 fish oil is our number one recommendation for joint issues, allied with glucosamine, and if pain is a problem turmeric in various forms (teas, capsules, curcumin extract), ginger and bromelain are effective aids,” says Jill Bell. “We tend to think of bones as solid, but in fact they are a matrix of tissues combining collagen, calcium, magnesium, zinc and other minerals which constantly need renewing. A healthy, varied diet, avoiding acid-forming processed food and drinks, is the basis of bone health, and there are a number of excellent food supplements to add if osteopoenia or osteoporosis are issues.”

“Calcium is synonymous with bone health in today’s world, but there are other important nutrients — including magnesium and vitamins D and K — that direct calcium to the bones,” says Meaghan Esser, RHN (registered holistic nutritionist) at ITL Health. “Magnesium influences the synthesis and utilisation of the active form of vitamin D, which aids the body in absorbing calcium and phosphate into the bones, and vitamin D promotes the production of Vitamin K-dependent proteins which are also needed for calcium absorption and utilisation. Vitamin D supplementation is essential as we age, with studies indicating that a 70 year old makes 4 times less vitamin D than a 20 year old.”

Help is also available from:

  • Vitamin B12 – keeps homocysteine levels down, an amino acid linked to bone fracture.
  • Turmeric capsules – anti inflammatory and pain relieving.

Eyes have it

Zinc and vitamin C are beneficial to eye health. A blueberry supplement rich in lutein may help to keep the muscles of the eyes strong.

Help is also available from:

  • Bilberry – contains antioxidant vitamins A and C that help to prevent damage to the eyes. Available as tablets, sometimes with lutein and zeaxanthin.
  • Flaxseed oil – good if you have dry or itchy eyes. Available as capsules and a liquid.
  • Zinc – contributes to the maintenance of normal vision.

Diabetes prevention

“Magnesium is helpful in the prevention and management of diabetes,” says Meaghan Esser. “In fact, studies indicate that supplementing with magnesium leads to improved insulin production in elderly diabetics. Magnesium may also improve insulin sensitivity, which reduces chances of heart attack or stroke in people with diabetes.”

Help is also available from:

  • Chromium – helps to balance blood sugar levels.
  • Cinnamon – helps to prevent sugar cravings.

Dodgy digestion

“A frequent problem for older people is constipation,” says Jill Bell. “Choosing foods high in fibre such as fruit and veg, porridge, linseeds, prunes and other dried fruit can help. Magnesium can be very useful to support muscular activity of the bowel, whether as a liquid, capsule or massage lotion. As we age our levels of stomach acid tend to drop which can lead to poor digestion, heartburn and reflux. It’s more important than ever to chew well to encourage the release of saliva and not to eat a heavy meal close to bedtime. Natural apple cider vinegar, or a bitter herb such as centaurium, taken before a meal, can usefully encourage the production of gastric juices and reduce symptoms.”

Help is also available from:

  • Digestive enzymes – help the body to break down food and absorb more vitamins and minerals from food.
  • Yogurt – restores natural bacteria.
  • Camomile tea – drink after a meal for heartburn and acid reflux.

Your healthy heart

“Anyone on blood-thinning medication should consult their pharmacist or health professional before taking any food supplement or herbal remedy from us, and even some foods such as linseeds, due to possible contraindications,” says Jill Bell. “If a customer asks about supporting heart health, we suggest diet first and foremost, boosted by omega-3, garlic, hawthorn, magnesium or co-enzyme Q10. There are a number of supplements combining two or more of these, and hawthorn tea provides gentle and effective support.”

“A decade-long study concluded magnesium deficiency may be more detrimental to cardiovascular health than both cholesterol and saturated fat,” says Meaghan Esser. “In addition, K2 and D are extremely important to make sure that calcium is directed into the bones and teeth and not building up in detrimental places such as the arteries. This can lead to atherosclerosis and heart attack.”

Help is also available from:

  • Cayenne pepper in a little hot water, first thing in the morning helps clear the arteries and regulates blood pressure.
  • Fish oils – if you don’t eat much fish, take a supplement of fish oil with omega-3 to cut down on unhealthy fats called triglycerides.
  • Garlic – cook with it, eat it raw or take a supplement to help arteries to stay clear.
  • Sterols and stanols – these compounds help control cholesterol levels.
  • CoQ10 – may be of benefit to heart health. Ask in your local health store.

Your mind

“There is growing evidence to tie in regular exercise with the maintenance of our thinking skills,” says Jill Bell. “Challenging your brain with mental exercise – doing crosswords, learning a new skill, pursuing a hobby or polishing up school Irish – stimulates brain cells to communicate and remain active. The body and brain repair during sleep, so maintaining a good sleep pattern is important.”

“A deficiency in magnesium can contribute to both the physical and psychiatric symptoms of stress, so it’s important to ensure we’re getting enough of this vital mineral as we age,” says Meaghan Esser. “Magnesium and stress go hand-in-hand: The body burns through its magnesium supply during times of stress, which creates a vicious cycle of stress leading to more stress. Ensuring adequate magnesium intake can stop this stress cycle in its tracks.”

Help is also available from:

  • Rhodiola – helps boost learning and memory skills, along with essential fatty acids, vitamin D and curcumin.

Prostate concerns

Prostate issues become a real problem for men in their 60s. Any man who is experiencing frequent or painful urination, blood in urine, inability to urinate, pain in their back, hips, thighs or pelvis should see a doctor straight away.

Eat foods rich in beta-sitosterol such as pecans, avocados, pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, rice bran, wheat germ, soybean products and dandelion coffee. Also eat tomatoes and other vegetables rich in lycopene.

Help is also available from:

  • Remedies containing nettle root, zinc, lycopene, pumpkin seed and sea buckthorn
  • Saw palmetto – used to relieve the discomfort of an enlarged prostate

Benefits of CoQ10

“A component of cellular energy production and respiration, CoQ10 helps maintain normal cellular function throughout the body,” says Dr Paulo de Valdoleiros MBChB, who works with Coyne Healthcare. “CoQ10 also helps maintain normal cardiovascular and liver function as well as normal periodontal tissue health. MicroActive CoQ10 is processed using a patented method allowing for efficient absorption and contains a molecule of CoQ10 encapsulated with two molecules of non-GMO potato-derived beta-cyclodextrin, which slows the release of CoQ10 in the small intestine – delivering sustained release over 24 hours.”

Do you need omega-3s?

“Eating oily fish such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and salmon, two to three times a week will ensure your body is getting enough omega-3 for a healthy heart, mind, and body,” says Olive Curran, a Galway based nutritional therapist who works with PPC. “Just as calcium is essential for building strong bones, omega-3 DHA is a building block for the brain. People who don’t get enough omega-3s in their diet can become demotivated, disinterested, forgetful and may experience low moods. Omega-3s have also been found to improve numerous heart disease risk factors. They help to reduce blood pressure, triglycerides and improve blood circulation. An IPSOS survey found that 89% of Irish people don’t eat enough seafood, so there is often a need to supplement with omega-3 fish oil.”

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