Are You Getting Enough of These Important Vitamins for Women?
By Brandi Rappaport, MD, Family Practitioner
With all the buzz about vitamins, it can be tough to figure out if you're getting the right amounts of the most important nutrients. While eating a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to ensure that you’re getting the vitamins you need, sometimes supplements are necessary.
The following five vitamins are especially important for women.
Calcium is crucial for optimal bone health and can be found in fortified cereals and juices, green leafy vegetables, and dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt.
The amount of calcium your body needs largely depends on your age. For premenopausal women, doctors recommend 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily; that recommendation increases to 1,200 milligrams daily for postmenopausal women.
Although many women think that taking a multivitamin provides all the calcium they need, multivitamins often don’t include the recommended daily amount for women. Taking a 500-milligram calcium citrate or calcium carbonate supplement along with eating calcium-containing foods helps ensure that you’re meeting your body’s needs.
As with any supplement or medication, you should follow the dosing instructions carefully. Calcium supplements can sometimes cause constipation. If you experience this side effect, you may be able to forego your calcium supplement and increase your intake of calcium-rich foods.
Vitamin D is primarily obtained from sun exposure and, like calcium, promotes bone health. It’s found in fortified foods such as dairy products, juices and cereals.
Because Americans typically use sunscreen to protect their skin from harmful ultraviolet rays, doctors have seen an uptick in vitamin D deficiency in recent years. Although a vitamin D screening isn’t included in routine blood work, women are often found to be vitamin D deficient when their levels are tested.
Studies have shown that vitamin D can help prevent injury from falls in people over age 65, so doctors typically recommend 800 units of vitamin D for postmenopausal women. Doctors typically recommend 600 units of vitamin D per day for premenopausal women.
Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption, so there are many supplements that offer a combination of vitamin D and calcium. Read the labels carefully to make sure that you’re getting the right recommended daily amount of each ingredient.
Taking folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy has been shown to prevent birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Because folic acid provides the most benefit in the early weeks of pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women of childbearing age take a daily folic acid supplement of 400 micrograms. During pregnancy, you should take at least 600 micrograms of folic acid per day.
Although you can get folic acid from foods such as beans, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, peanuts, and fortified cereals, breads, grains and pastas, it can be difficult to get the daily recommended value from food alone. That’s why you should take a prenatal vitamin or multivitamin that contains the recommended daily amount of folic acid, even if you aren’t actively trying to become pregnant.
Iron is a mineral that's found in red meat, beans and leafy green vegetables. Most Americans get all the iron they need from the foods they eat, but sometimes women can develop a condition called iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy or from heavy menstrual periods. Pregnant women should take a prenatal vitamin that includes 30 milligrams of iron. If you have heavy periods, you should talk to your doctor to see if iron supplementation is necessary.
Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish and dairy products, and is essential to helping the body function properly. People who eat a vegan or vegetarian diet—or those who take certain medications or have had bariatric surgery—can suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency. If you meet any of these criteria, you should increase your intake of foods rich in vitamin B12 and ask your doctor if a vitamin B12 supplement is right for you.
Although taking a daily women’s multivitamin can help make up for some nutrients that are absent from your diet, eating a variety of healthy foods is truly the best way to get the nutrients your body needs to maintain optimal health.
Looking for a primary care doctor?
Virtua Women’s Primary Care & Wellness Centers provide care exclusively to women ages 13 and up. The centers are led by women practitioners who offer longer appointment times to get to know the women they care for and understand the demands of their lives.
Call 1-888-VIRTUA-3 to make an appointment.
Updated December 20, 2018