The “third-world” health hazard on the rise in American seniors

Malnutrition isn’t just something that’s happening to people who live in poverty-stricken third world countries. It’s happening right here in our great nation, especially among our older seniors. In fact, according to a study I just read, it affects up to 15% of people living in long-term care facilities.

The problem with malnutrition is sometimes food isn’t enough. That’s because our food supply today isn’t nearly as nutritious as it was in the early part of the 20th century, before so much of our soil became stripped of minerals and nutrients. Not to mention the rise of contamination from pesticides and herbicides.

This modern problem has put everyone — young and old — at risk for malnutrition. But that risk is especially pronounced in older adults whose nutritional needs increase with every passing year, particularly after age 50.

And malnutrition is serious business. It can weaken the immune system, cause muscle wasting, make the recovery time of illnesses and infections longer, decrease mobility, and set seniors up for falls, which then increases the chance of being admitted to the hospital. And all of this obviously interferes not only with your health, but also your quality of life.

No one wants to spend their retirement weak, frail, and sickly.

But the good news is, there have been multiple studies over the years on how supplements can help boost nutrition and actually help slow the aging process.

In fact, according to a recent study published in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, “Supplements improved the ability of those who are malnourished or frail to function and help them live longer.”

But I can’t stress enough how important it is to choose the right supplements.

When mainstream docs suspect malnutrition in their older patients they usually recommend “supplement” beverages like Ensure or Boost. It makes me cringe just thinking about it. Honestly, these drinks give supplements a bad name. Sure, they can help frail or malnourished people gain weight. But they aren’t really solving the malnourishment problem. They’re simply providing some extra calories — mostly in the form of sugar. And a smattering of vitamins — in suboptimal doses.

It’s far better to treat — or, better yet, prevent — malnutrition by getting to the heart of your nutritional needs. And research shows that as you age you’re at increased risk for a few nutrient deficiencies in particular.

First and perhaps most important is protein.

The RDA for protein is too low for virtually everyone, let alone senior citizens. In fact, according to a study published earlier this year, older adults should be getting double the current RDA of protein. That’s .74 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Which works out to about 96 grams a day for a 130-pound woman or 126 grams for a 170-pound man.

Yes, it’s a lot. But it’s the simplest thing you can do to stay stronger, longer. And that makes simple, everyday tasks like carrying groceries, gardening, and even just walking around much easier.

I recommend including protein with every meal. And you can also get an added protein boost by drinking a whey protein shake once or twice a day. My WheyLogic formula has 21 grams of protein per serving, so it’s an easy — and tasty — way to help reach your optimal daily dose.

Beyond protein, research also shows seniors are particularly at risk for deficiencies in zinc, selenium, and vitamin B6.

Taking a good quality multivitamin every day can help make sure you get enough of these essential nutrients. But the phrase “good quality” is key here. The one-a-day pills you can get in supermarkets typically don’t contain nearly enough. Look for liquid or powdered formulas (like my Smart Daily) which can provide higher doses of important vitamins and minerals without requiring you to swallow handfuls of pills.

And of course, you should also make sure you’re getting regular physical activity. Just a small amount of light daily exercise, like a walk around the block after dinner, can help strengthen bones and muscles.

No one, young or old, should fall victim to malnutrition when our country has such an abundance of food, and access to nutritional supplements. And you don’t simply have to accept weakness and frailty as “normal” parts of aging. I see a number of patients who are in their 80s and 90s. And I often have to look at their chart just to confirm how old they are. Because in general, they’re spry and healthy compared to their peers.

They’re living proof that eating well and taking a few high-quality supplements is the best “health insurance” policy you can get as you age.