The human body relies on various nutrients to execute its function.
There are seven types of essential nutrients, and each plays its unique role.
Compared to macronutrients (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, fibers, and water), vitamins and minerals are micronutrients required in lesser amounts.
Nevertheless, sufficient intake of vitamins and minerals is indispensable in maintaining optimal body health.
Considering different body composition, women’s nutritional requirement differs from men’s.
Unique physiological changes a woman goes through in her life, including pregnancy, lactation, and menopause, make vitamins and minerals particularly important for women’s health.
Keep reading this article to understand the best vitamins and minerals for women.
9 best vitamins and minerals for women
Vitamin A (Retinol)
Vitamin A is known for its marvelous effect in improving visual health. Consuming adequate vitamin A helps prevent night blindness, a condition where one cannot see well at night or in a poor lighting environment.
Besides eyes, vitamin A is incredible in improving skin and hair health. Various research evidence has proven the role of vitamin A in regulating hair follicles and melanocyte (skin) cells.
You can find vitamin A easily in various food sources. These include:
- Animal organs, especially beef liver
- Certain fishes, such as herring, salmon, and cod fish
- Eggs and dairy products
- Fortified cereals
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Vegetables and fruits in orange or yellow colors. Examples are carrots, sweet potatoes, mangos, and sweet melon. The deeper or brighter the color, the higher the amount of carotenoids (a precursor of vitamin A).
- Leafy green vegetables, broccoli, and spinach
Vitamin B complex
Vitamin B complex is a group of B vitamins. It comprises thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate or folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12).
Each plays unique physiological functions, such as maintaining our nerve cells, promoting the growth of red blood cells, releasing energy from food, strengthening the immune system, as well as improving mood and memory.
Among all B vitamins, vitamins B6, B9, and B12 are most relevant to women’s health, especially during pregnancy.
B vitamins help in the neurological development of the fetus. Folate deficiency results in fatal complications for the baby, such as spina bifida or brain defects.
Studies also showed that B vitamins are efficacious in improving maternal health.
All B vitamins are widely available in many food sources. However, it is worth noticing that vitamin B9 (folate) is only available in animal food sources.
Therefore, vegetarians may consider taking vitamin B supplements, which usually come in the form of vitamin B complex. One tablet comprises many, if not all, types of B vitamins your body needs.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)
Ascorbic acid, better known as vitamin C, is one of the most commercialized supplements available in the market. It is extensively worshipped as the essential nutrient to keep fit.
It works by building collagen, a connective tissue that promotes the healing of wounds, as well as supporting the strength of blood vessels. Vitamin C deficiency could therefore lead to scurvy (bleeding gums).
In addition, vitamin C’s substantial antioxidative property makes it an excellent supplement for anti-aging and skin health.
Vitamin C counteracts the actions of free radicals, shielding our cells from getting damaged by oxidative stress.
Citrus fruits like orange, lemon, grapefruit, pomelo, and lime are rich in vitamin C and flavonoids.
Besides, vitamin C is often added to skin care products due to its anti-wrinkle effect and protection against UV irradiation, as proven by scientific studies.
Vitamin D (Calciferol)
Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” can be produced by our body after exposing our skin to sunlight.
As a result, people living in sunlight-depleted places may need to take vitamin D supplements or eat plenty of food containing a high vitamin D level. Examples are milk, cereals, and fatty fish.
Vitamin D is crucial in the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus, which are the building block of bones and teeth.
Women are more prone to osteoporosis (low bone mass or weak bones) than men, so they may need more vitamin D intake, especially when they enter the menopause stage when bone mineral loss peaks.
Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
Other than vitamin C, vitamin E is another well-known source of antioxidants. It can be found in vegetable oils, salad dressings, and margarine.
Generally, people rarely get vitamin E deficiency. But once it occurs, one can face severe complications, such as damaged nerves and muscles (leading to an altered sensation of the limbs and reduced muscle power) and a weak immune system.
Vitamin K (Phytonadione)
Vitamin K is an essential substance in controlling blood coagulation. This is why vitamin K deficiency can be dangerous- your bleeding won’t stop without these blood-clotting catalysts.
Fortunately, similar to vitamin E, vitamin K deficiency is very rare. The amount of vitamin K gained from dietary sources is often sufficient to fulfill our body’s requirements.
Vitamin K deficiency mostly happens when our digestive tract fails to properly absorb vitamin K, as seen in those with gastrointestinal diseases or long-term usage of antibiotics that disturb gut health.
You can find vitamin K in green leafy vegetables, fish, liver, meat, eggs, and cereals.
Iron is one of the essential minerals to the human body. It forms hemoglobins in the red blood cells, transporting oxygen to all body parts via the bloodstream.
Lacking iron causes iron-deficiency anemia, a medical condition with insufficient red blood cells to cater to the body’s oxygen demand.
Iron-deficiency anemia is a critical issue in the scope of women’s health. According to the World Health Organization, over half a billion women suffer from iron-deficiency anemia.
In women with iron-deficiency anemia, their anemia can be worse during pregnancy, resulting in sinister consequences to both the mother and the baby.
In short, women should eat more red meats, poultry, eggs, and grain products to fulfill the body’s requirement for iron.
Often working together with vitamin D, calcium is another essential nutrient for women’s health.
Calcium plays a vital role in maintaining bone and teeth health. In addition, it is also an important mineral to enable muscle contraction, blood clotting, heartbeat regulation, and signal transmission in our nervous system.
You can likely find calcium in food rich in vitamin D. These two nutrients are usually taken together in supplements.
Iodine is commonly found in seafood, iodized salt, and processed food. It is an essential nutrient our thyroid gland requires to produce thyroid hormone, which controls our body’s metabolism processes.
A well-known, common complication of iodine is goiter, where the patient will have swelling in the neck.
For women, this cosmetic defect can bring an enormous emotional burden on top of physical suffering caused by deranged thyroid hormones.
When should a woman start taking vitamin and mineral supplements?
Eating a balanced diet can provide most of the nutrients you need. However, if you are going through certain life stages (like pregnancy, lactation, or post-menopause), have medical conditions that impact nutrient absorption, or are unable to meet the diet’s nutritional requirements, you may need to take vitamin and mineral supplements.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking 400 mg of folate daily to all women of childbearing age, especially those planning a pregnancy.
Well-known as an essential nutrient for pre-conception care, folate ensures the healthy development of your baby’s neurological system.
Babies from mothers who have folate deficiency are vulnerable to congenital conditions like spina bifida and brain anomalies.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, your body’s need for specific vitamins and minerals will be significantly higher.
These nutrients include folate, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and iodine. This increased demand is used for your baby’s growth and breast milk production.
Talk to your obstetrician to understand your pregnancy and lactation nutritional needs.
If you are 50 or older, you may need vitamin D and calcium supplements. As we age, below changes happen:
- Our skin’s ability to produce vitamin D declines.
- Our digestive tract absorbs nutrients less efficiently.
- For post-menopausal women, estrogen level decreases. This will result in a lower calcium absorption rate and accelerated bone mass loss.
All these may lead to nutritional deficiency, leading to complications like osteoporosis and fractures.
Besides, your doctor may recommend specific supplements if you have certain health conditions, such as diabetes, autoimmune disease, gastrointestinal diseases, or a long history of drinking alcohol.
What vitamins or minerals should not be taken together?
Vitamin and mineral supplements taken at the correct dosage are generally safe and effective in maintaining a healthy body.
However, it is possible for these supplements to interact with one another when consumed together.
Vitamins are classified into fat-soluble (vitamins A, D, E, K) and water-soluble (vitamins B, C).
Fat-soluble vitamins should be taken with meals with fat content (even low-fat milk will do), while water-soluble vitamins should be taken on an empty stomach with a glass of water.
Therefore, they should not be taken together as optimal absorption for each of them is unlikely to be achieved.
Vitamin C should not be taken at the same time as vitamin B12. Studies showed vitamin C could destroy substantial amounts of vitamin B when ingested with food. It is recommended to take vitamin C at least 2 hours after taking vitamin B12 to avoid such interaction.
Suppose you are taking both magnesium and calcium supplements. In that case, taking the correct dosage per the official dietary guideline is crucial, as high doses of calcium can inhibit magnesium absorption, as evidenced by research studies.
Practice a balanced diet, take your vitamins and minerals, and consult your healthcare providers if you need help figuring out where to start. Being well-informed about your nutritional needs is the key to rejuvenating your health.