Do doctors really know about elderly nutrition?

by Carol

I have now been a caregiver for my elderly mother for almost ten years. I did a lot of research about supplements and elderly nutrition on my own.

Mom's doctor didn't seem to know, and once recommended I talk to the nutritionist, which I did. It seems like she was reading off a USDA min daily requirement label. Suggested Omega oils would be good to add.

Seems like this is something that the doctor should emphasize first, not with a shrug comment "well, if you think it has helped her, ok, continue."

They might know a little, but seemed very passive in offering advice, like it really didn't make a difference.

Is there a study on this? I am thinking of writing an article...

The articles about nutrition on this website warn/advise:

It's important to consult with your physician and dietician about which vitamins and minerals to take (or what multivitamin they would recommend); supplement companies are in the business of selling so you won't always get the right information. Your physician or pharmacist will also be able to make sure that the multivitamin your loved one takes does not interfere with any other medications.


The article then goes on to recommend a lot of supplements, emphasizing their value to good health. It seems like doctors do NOT know this...and that writers of such articles have to put that disclaimer in.

REPLY from
Thank you for this interesting question, Carol. It is true that we are careful to mention consulting your physician on anything that may affect the elderly medically. They are the gateway to monitor all medical care and the interactions of different types of treatments.

As with all professionals, some doctors might have more knowledge in the area of supplements than others.

Some doctors might have a personal interest and may feel more comfortable discussing and recommending supplements to boost elderly nutrition and health.

Others may have little knowledge (or belief) in the use of supplements so may have an off-hand attitude towards supplements.

Physicians are specialists in many areas of the human bodies and medical treatments. They are the experts we rely on for recommendations for prescription medications.

I would guess that just keeping all this straight could be difficult. They may well be smart in referring to other specialists regarding nutritional supplements.

While doctors should be aware of any side effects or poor drug interactions between prescription drugs and supplements; they may not be the right expert on supplements.

You will likely get a better answer regarding supplements from:
  • a registered dietician
  • or a naturopathic doctor

Difference between a Dietician and a Nutritionist
The difference between a registered dietician and a nutritionist is the level of education and if there is a regulatory body backing the title.

A dietician will have earned a Bachelor's degree specializing in food and nutrition with specialized training as part of their schooling. They must be registered with a
provincial or state regulatory body (a "college" for their profession) that monitors the care they provide and their professional conduct.

Dieticians are the only health professionals that legally can call themselves "registered dietician", "professional dietician" or "dietician". Look for the letters R.D., P.Dt. or D.Pt. after the name, indicating that the person is a registered member of the profession. It is only dietician's that can call themselves "Dietitian-Nutritionist" legally as well.

Nutritionist is an "unregulated" profession. Therefore, in most provinces and states, there are no regulatory standards to protect the title "nutritionist". This means anyone can call themselves a nutritionist - regardless of their education or training.

Though some states and provinces regulate the use of the word "nutritionist" through registration or licensing, in most states and provinces anyone with an interest in nutrition can call herself a nutritionist. There is no specific level of education, training or certification required to counsel people on nutrition in most states and provinces.

Some dieticians may be more conservative in their recommendations for supplements than a nutritionist. It is always important to double-check with your family doctor and pharmacist for drug interactions with new supplements regardless of the health professional you choose to work with.

Naturopathic Physicians
Naturopathic doctors or physician's blend current scientific knowledge with traditional forms of healing. They believe in stimulating the power of the body to heal and in identifying the underlying cause of disease. They teach clients to use natural therapies, diet (including supplements), exercise and lifestyle changes to ward off disease.

Naturopathic doctors/physician's usually attend 3 years of pre-medical school training before attending a 4 year naturopathic medicine training program. In Canada, naturopathic medicine is a regulated profession and naturopathic doctors must be registered with their regulatory body to call themselves "Naturopathic Doctor" or "Naturopathic Physician". In the USA, there are few states that require naturopathic physicians to be registered with a regulatory body so check their credentials carefully.

Check Credentials
If you are wondering about the credentials of the health care professional you are considering working with, you can contact the regulatory body for both dieticians and naturopathic doctors to see if registration is required and if the healthcare professional you are considering working with is registered.

Coming back to your family doctor
It is important, though, to check with both your physician and pharmacist once supplements have been recommended to make sure these supplements do not have any poor interactions with other prescription medications.

I believe it is always good to be an advocate for your family member's health. If you don't feel your family doctor is interested enough in your loved one's health or how the supplements they're on might affect them, consider changing physicians.

I hope this helps. If you do write an article, please share it with us on this site.

To learn more about elderly nutrition:

Thank you,

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