While it’s possible to get all of the vitamins and minerals you need from careful food selection and a nutrient-dense diet, research shows many women still experience at least one type of nutrient deficiency, if not more. There are 13 vitamins that all women need, including vitamin C, A, D, E, K, and B (such as thiamine and vitamin B12), plus a number of important trace minerals and fatty acids too.
It’s believed that around 30 percent of all women are deficient in one or more of these vitamins and minerals, and for many women, the risk only increases with age. Another scary finding estimates that about 75 percent of women would most likely develop nutrient deficiencies if supplemental multivitamins didn’t exist. With that in mind, what are the most important vitamins for women in order to prevent deficiencies and the complications that come with them? The following are the absolute best vitamins for women.
Vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition in women create a vicious cycle that poses a variety of threats. “It weakens women’s ability to survive childbirth, makes them more susceptible to infections, and leaves them with fewer reserves to recover from illnesses.” There’s also evidence that post-menopausal women are more susceptible to disorders like osteoporosis when they’re low in nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin D, and calcium, and at a greater risk for losing their vision when they fall short in antioxidants like vitamin A and vitamin C.
Whether you’re in your 20s, 40s, or 70s, here are the best vitamins for women that you should make sure to get enough of:
1. Antioxidant Vitamins (Vitamins A, C, and E) –These fat-soluble antioxidants fight free radical damage, which is the underlying cause of aging and many diseases that affect the heart, eyes, skin, and brain. Vitamin C not only improves immunity against colds, infections and other illnesses, but it’s also important for protecting your vision and skin from damage caused by things like UV light and environmental pollution. Make sure to consume plenty of vitamin C foods. Vitamin A and E work in similar ways to protect healthy cells and halt cell mutations, among the many other vitamins A and vitamin E benefits.
2. Vitamin D –It can be obtained from certain foods like eggs, some dairy products, and certain mushrooms, but we get the overwhelming majority of our vitamin D from sun exposure. Both men and women are at high risks for vitamin D deficiencies since more people spend a large majority of their time indoors these days or wear sunscreen diligently when outdoors.
Estimates range, but some research shows that up to 75 percent to 90 percent of adults might be deficient! Vitamin D is important for bone/skeletal health, brain functions, preventing mood disorders, and hormonal balance since it acts very similarly to a hormone once inside the body. Your best bet to make sure you get enough is to spend 15-20 minutes outside most days of the week without sunscreen on, which allows vitamin D to be synthesized when it comes into contact with your skin.
3. Vitamin K –It is important for building and maintaining strong bones, blood clotting, and preventing heart disease. You’re most likely to be low in vitamin K if you’ve been taking antibiotics for an extended period of time, suffer from intestinal problems such as IBS or inflammatory bowel disease, or take cholesterol-lowering medications. There are two main types of vitamin K, both of which we acquire from our diets. Vitamin K1 is found in vegetables, while vitamin K2 is found in things like dairy products. The best way to prevent vitamin K deficiency is to eat plenty of different veggies, including green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, fish, and eggs.
4. B Vitamins including Folate –B vitamins, including vitamin B12 and folate are important for a woman’s metabolism, preventing fatigue and boosting cognitive functions. They help with many cellular processes, growth, and energy expenditure because they work with other vitamins like iron to make red blood cells and help turn the calories you eat into useable “fuel.”
Folate (which is called folic acid when it’s created synthetically) is critical for a healthy pregnancy, developing foetuses, and preventing birth defects since it helps build the baby’s brain and spinal cord. That’s why folate deficiency is extremely dangerous for pregnant women. You can get plenty of B vitamins from animal products like cage-free eggs, fish, meat, milk, and yogurt. Older women, those with anemia, vegans, and vegetarians should work with a doctor to make sure they get enough B vitamins since they’re at the greatest risk for deficiency. Foods especially high in folate include spinach and leafy greens, asparagus, citrus fruits, melon, and beans.
While technically the nutrients below aren’t “vitamins” (they’re actually essential minerals and fatty acids), it’s important for women to prevent deficiencies in these too:
5. Iron – Iron deficiency and anemia are the most prevalent nutritional deficiencies in the world, especially among women young. The body uses iron to produce hemoglobin, a type of protein that transports oxygen via blood from the lungs to other tissues throughout the body. There are two different kinds of iron (heme and non-heme), and the most absorbable and easily utilized by the body is the kind found in animal proteins like eggs, meat, fish, and poultry (leafy greens and beans are good plant-based options too).
Adolescent girls are at the highest risk for iron deficiencies, and women, in general, need to be careful to get enough since the demand for iron increases during menstruation due to blood loss. Women with adequate stores of iron and vitamin B12 and are less likely to suffer from fatigue, poor immunity and fatal infections, dangerous pregnancies, and bleeding episodes that put their lives at risk.
6. Iodine –According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women between the ages of 20-39 have the lowest urine iodine levels compared to all other age groups. Iodine intake is especially important for young women looking to become pregnant or who are pregnant because it plays a role in the brain development of the growing foetus. It’s also crucial for making proper amounts of thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland requires iodine to produce the hormones T3 and T4, which help control your metabolism.
Most people eating a western diet consume a good deal of iodized salt found in packaged foods and refined grain products, which has iodine added purposefully to help prevent deficiencies. But an even better way to get the iodine you need is from iodine-rich foods like sea veggies and seafood, the major natural dietary sources of this nutrient. Avoiding an iodine deficiency helps protect you from conditions like hypothyroidism, goiters, fatigue, hormonal imbalances, and trouble during pregnancy.
7. Magnesium –Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the body but also one of the most common deficiencies. As an electrolyte, magnesium helps regulate calcium, potassium, and sodium and is essential for over 300 different biochemical functions in the body. On a global scale, soil depletion has resulted in many crops being lower in magnesium than in past generations – plus health conditions like digestive disorders, leaky gut syndrome, chronic stress, and on-going medication use can all lower someone’s magnesium levels.
Leg cramps, insomnia, muscle spasms, anxiety, headaches, and digestive issues like constipation can all be signs of magnesium deficiency. For older women, the risk of deficiency might be even greater. Studies have shown that many older people don’t eat magnesium-rich foods, to begin with, plus they’re prone to experiencing reduced magnesium intestinal absorption, reduced magnesium bone stores, and excess urinary loss. Make sure to get enough by consuming magnesium-rich foods, such as leafy green veggies, sea vegetables/algae, beans, nuts, and seeds.
8. Omega-3 Fish Oils –If you don’t consume seafood like salmon, mackerel, sardines, halibut, or tuna regularly, chances are you can afford to take an omega-3 fish oil supplement to prevent deficiency. Most people eating a “western diet” consume plenty of omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory and found in many packaged foods and vegetable oils, but not enough omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory. The two need to balance each other out in order for the heart, brain, and immune systems to stay the healthiest they can. A ratio of about 2:1 omega-6s to omega-3s is best, preventing conditions like arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, and more.
9. Calcium –Getting enough calcium is important for bone strength, but it’s also crucial for regulating heart rhythms, aiding in muscle functions, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and many other functions related to nerve signaling too. Calcium, when consumed when other key nutrients like vitamin D and magnesium, has been shown to offer protection against some of the biggest threats to women: heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and cancer, for example. Calcium deficiency is very common among both men and women, however. Experts believe that most adults don’t get enough calcium on a daily basis.
This is believed to be true because calcium is not absorbed properly when someone has low levels of vitamin D and magnesium (deficiencies in both are common), plus certain crops that are normally high in calcium have become depleted of minerals due to soil depletion. This electrolyte, which is actually the body’s most abundant mineral, can be obtained from drinking raw milk, having yogurt or kefir, and from certain plant foods (especially organic types) like leafy green vegetables (such as collard greens and kale), broccoli, okra, and beans. Supplementing with calcium has pros and cons, so speak with your doctor about your risk factors, and first try to get enough from foods if you can.