What Vitamins Should Women Take On a Daily Basis?

We spend a lot of time chowing down kale, scooping out collagen, throwing back beet juice, and doing fitness in the name optimizing our health. But even if you think you eat a healthy diet, it’s possible that you’re not getting all all the important nutrients you need. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for women some these holes are common.

We thank your hormones for a lot, and those buggers may be to blame for some common deficiencies, too. Things like pregnancy, lactation, menopause and menstruation increase the nutrient demands of your body. Same, with some sickness and viruses. But you can’t always tell if you’ve got too little (or too much) of something, so it’s always a good idea to have your levels of the reigning nutrients checked by your doctor (via basic blood work) at your annual physical.

Some doctors may simply suggest that you up your intake of certain food groups. But if you have a serious deficiency, other doctors may recommend a supplement to fill in nutritional gaps and protect your body against the occasional diet slip-ups and boost your health, which one review published in Scientific Review and Clinical Applications found may have health benefits.  

Not sure what to look for? There are some definite nutrient commonalities of what most women are missing. Here, eight nutrients women are more likely to be short on.

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. If you are suffering or suspect you may be suffering from any illness or medical condition, please seek advice from a medical professional. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before making any large changes to your diet or training protocol, and regular check-ups can be helpful in this regard.

Potassium

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Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte that helps regulate the fluid levels in the body, supports nerves-to-muscles communication, and improves blood vessel function. This, according to the American Heart Association, helps to offset some of sodium’s harmful effects on blood pressure levels. It may also lower risk of kidney stones and bone loss as we age. Trouble is, less than 2 percent of Americans, including women, get in the 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day that is recommended.

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

The 2015 USDA Dietary Guidelines actually called out potassium as a nutrient of public health concern (along with calcium and Vitamin D) because most people don’t consume enough. The guidelines state stated that low intakes are associated with negative health impacts. That’s why the FDA now requires manufacturers to put it on the new food labels.

Slight deficiency doesn’t always cause symptoms, according to The National Institutes of Health. But if it does, you may experience:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Spasms
  • Fatigue
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Constipation
  • Slight rise in blood pressure
  • Decrease in exercise performance

Where to get it:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Mango
  • Avocado
  • Bananas
  • Parsnips
  • Beans (especially soy beans)
  • Orange juice
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Pumpkin
  • Carrots
  • Clams
  • Fish

Should you consider a supplement?

It depends. Potassium supplements are a little tricky. They may cause heart arrhythmias and in the presence of unknown kidney disease can cause damage. But they may be recommended in the presence of diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, malnutrition, diuretic medications, eating disorders and GI problems like Crohn’s disease, which can all cause potassium levels to be low. Anyone taking potassium supplements should only do so with a doctor’s supervision and under their recommendation.

Recommended amount: 4,700 milligrams a day. Note: while the number does not change for pregnant women, the number changes to 5,100 milligrams a day for women who are nursing.

[Check out our list of the best multivitamins for women here!]

Magnesium

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Magnesium is an essential nutrient, which means that we cannot make it ourselves and must get it from food or supplements. It’s best known for being important for bone health and energy production, but it’s important for many processes in the body such as regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and making protein, bone, and even DNA. One study published in the German journal Fortschritte der Medizin found that it can calm the nervous system and may help reduce stress.

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

While less than 2% of Americans have been estimated to experience magnesium deficiency, one study suggests that up to 75% are not meeting their recommended intake. A study published in Behavior Genetics found that not getting enough magnesium may be linked to sleep problems, but insufficient amounts may cause other symptoms, too.

  • Muscle twitches
  • Cramps
  • Apathy (mental numbness)
  • Osteoporosis, weakened bones
  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Asthma

Where to get it:

  • Pumpkin
  • Spinach
  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Figs
  • Artichoke
  • Soybeans
  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Brown rice
  • Buts (especially Brazil Nuts)

Should you consider a supplement?

Taking magnesium supplements can interfere with some medications so people should check with their doctor before taking dietary supplements, but if your primary physician gives the okay, many supplement with 300 to 320 mg, which fits the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Magnesium.

Recommended amount: 300 to 320 milligrams daily.

Calcium

When calcium enters the convo, it comes down to two words: strong bones. Women start losing bone density as early their twenties, and calcium is the best nutritional defense to helps us defend against this. But calcium doesn’t just help with strong bones and teeth. It helps with muscular function, nerve transmission, intercellular communication, and hormone secretion.

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

About half the population does not get enough calcium from the diet, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. This is a tough nutrient to test for deficiency, neither blood tests nor bone scans are perfect tests, so most women won’t know they’re levels are low until they’ve fractured or broken a bone.

Where to get it:

  • Seeds
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Kale
  • Salty fishes
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Fortified foods

Should you consider a supplement?

The recommended daily intake (RDI) of calcium is 1,000 mg per day for most adults, but if unless you’re vegan or dairy-intolerant, you probably don’t need to get 100% of your calcium needs from a supplement. The two times in life it makes sense to talk with your healthcare provider about supplementation are during pregnancy and after menopause.

Recommended amount: 1000 milligrams per day.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium, which is important for bone health, supports immune health, and reduces inflammation. And while you can meet your daily vitamin D needs through adequate exposure to strong sunlight, living in wintery locations, working an indoor 9-5, and applying sunscreen which may block vitamin D absorption can make the odds of this happening both slim and none. That’s because during the long winter months, the rays of sunlight aren’t strong enough to trigger the making of Vitamin D in the body.

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

Some studies suggest a link between low vitamin D levels in the blood and mood disorders like depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

  • Depression, or mood change
  • Bone softening
  • Worsened bone health
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weak immune system

Where to get it:

This nutrient is hard to come by in food, which explains why 40% of the US is deficient in Vitamin D, according to research published in Nutrition Research. Though, it can be found

  • Fatty fishes
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified milks/foods
  • Beef liver

 

 

Should you consider a supplement? The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that adults 19 to 70 (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) get 600 IU. If you live in a sunny state like Florida, you can probably skip this one. But if you’re a New Englander, it may be worth the investment.

Recommended amount: 600 IU daily.  

Iodine

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You’ve heard of iodine, but did you know it’s important for making the thyroid hormones, which controls our metabolism? For women, iodine is particularly important during pregnancy as it plays a role in fetal bone and brain development.

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

Women ages 20 to 39 in particular tend to have lower levels of urine iodine compared to women of all other ages, according to the CDC. The biggest issue with insufficient iodine in the diet is that it can cause a goiter, which is swelling of the thyroid that’s around the throat. This causes your thyroid to work overtime and enlarge as it tries to make up for low iodine levels. Symptoms of this include:

  • Thinning hair
  • Weight gain
  • Feeling cold
  • Fatigue

Where to get it:

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements recommends that we get 150 micrograms (mcg) of iodine in our diets every day. It’s common for food manufacturers to add iodine to salt but as many women cut back on salt in their diets, they lose another potential source of iodine. Other good sources include include:

  • Seafood
  • Sea vegetables like seaweed
  • Dairy products.

Should you consider a supplement?

If you’re pregnant, or trying to become pregnant, chances are your doc has already recommended a prenatal vital that has iodine in it. If you suspect that your thyroid is out of whack, consult with your healthcare provider.

Recommended amount: 150 micrograms per day.

Iron

Some of the benefits of iron include increased energy, better brain function, and healthy red blood cells, that’s because iron helps transport oxygen to every cell in our body. Things such as menstrual cycle, puberty, and pregnancy may increase how much iron you need because iron is essential during times of rapid growth and development because women menstruate and lose blood every month, they are at greater risk for deficiency. Iron may also be important for a woman to take after she delivers, since blood loss is common during the birthing process.

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

About one in five women of childbearing age has iron-deficiency according to the National Institutes of Health, and there are more than 3 million cases total in the U.S. Iron deficiency may cause anemia, which is low red blood cell count. Symptoms of this include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Brittle nails
  • Thinning hair
  • Swollen tongue
  • Chest pain

Where to get it:

The recommended daily intake of iron for women is about 18 mg and 27 mg if you’re pregnant, but this can be difficult to meet.

  • Red meat
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Chickpeas and other beans
  • Tofu
  • Enriched grains/oats/cereals
  • Eggs
  • Broccoli
  • Dried fruit
  • Potatoes

Should you consider a supplement?

Because red meats is high in iron, some vegetarians and vegans may have greater need for an iron supplementation, if they’re not supplementing meat with other iron-rich foods. Look for a supplement with around 18 Mg of iron in the form of ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, ferric citrate, or ferric sulfate. More than that may cause nausea or constipation.

Recommended amount: 18 milligrams per day, or 27 milligrams if pregnant.

Folate

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You’ve probably heard at some point that it’s important to take folic acid before you become pregnant and during pregnancy, and there’s research to back that up. Folate (or folic acid) is best known for facilitating conception and aiding in fetus development and  preventing neural tube defects in the baby, like spinal bifida. But if you’re growing out your nails, fighting depression, or looking to combat inflammation, this ingredient is important, too. (And if you’re trying to cut pounds, here’s a bonus: one short study published in Clinical Nutrition suggests that even a low-dose daily folic acid supplement could reduce inflammation in people who are overweight.)

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

They’re subtle,

  • Gray hair
  • Fatigue
  • Mouth sores
  • Brittle nails
  • Swollen tongue
  • Inexplicable inflammation in the body
  • Anemia

Where to get it:

  • Leafy greens
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Enriched grains
  • Beef liver
  • Orange juice
  • Brussel sprouts

Should you consider a supplement?

If those foods don’t star in your diet, the answer is maybe. Some healthcare providers recommend that all woman take a folic acid supplement because it’s so important in pregnancy and around 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned. FYI, when taken with food 85% of it is absorbed, but when taken on an empty stomach closer to 100% of supplement is absorbed.

Recommended amount: 400 micrograms per day

Zinc

Zinc supports our immune system, helps our body use carbohydrates, protein, and fat for energy, and aids in wound healing. But the mineral tends to be low in older people and anyone under a lot of stress. Which, (hello!) is basically everyone.

What are the symptoms of deficiency?

While 31% of world is deficient, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), only about 12% of the US population is at risk. Symptoms include:

  • Poor memory
  • Weakened immune system
  • Weakened sense of taste or smell
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Lower libido
  • Newly developed sleep issues
  • Newly developed acne or rashes

Where to get it:

  • Oysters
  • Grass fed beef
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Spinach
  • Organ meats
  • Tahini
  • Sardines
  • Brown rice
  • Wheat germ
  • Tempeh

Should you consider a supplement?

While the mineral can be found in food, but most of the foods aren’t typically part of the American diet. Plus, the body is not able to store zinc. The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies suggests 15 mg daily. If you already take a multivitamin or eat the foods on the above list, you’re probably okay. But if you’re experiencing the symptoms above, it’s worth talking to your healthcare provider.

Recommended amount: 15 milligrams per day.

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