In an ideal world, you would get all the vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients from a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet. If you're like many women, life stays full of activities and you may not always have time to eat the most well-rounded meals.
If you struggle to get the right nutrition and worry about what nutrients you need most as a woman, read on. The best vitamins will address your distinct dietary needs based on your age and stage of life.
The vitamins you need most in younger years — 20s through 40s — differ from those you need as you reach your 50s and beyond. Some vitamins and minerals are required throughout life, however.
Pregnancy, postpartum, and post-menopause represent special times in a woman's life when your vitamin needs are more specific. Taking the right vitamins and minerals can keep you at the top of your game.
Why Do We Need Vitamins?
Your body performs innumerable tasks every day to keep you alive and healthy. It's constantly busy maintaining bone strength, ensuring that your immune system is functioning well, and repairing cellular damage. To complete all this work your body needs a daily supply of essential vitamins and minerals.
We have broken the essentials down into those most required at different ages and stages of a woman's life.
Common Vitamin Deficiency Symptoms
If your body is deficient in any essential vitamin or mineral, it will let you know by displaying a set of common symptoms, including:
- Memory loss
- Sleep concerns
- Mouth ulcers
- Digestive system concerns
- Decreased immune function
- Cracked or broken skin
- Weak muscles
To avoid these symptoms and promote overall health, it is vital that you ensure your body receives all the vitamins and minerals it needs to work properly.
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Best Vitamins for Women Based on Your Needs
Women experience unique physiological changes throughout life. Many of these changes bring special nutritional needs. If you are looking for a multivitamin for women, you'll want one that is specially formulated and contains the most important vitamins and minerals for your stage of life.
Make sure your multivitamin or supplement contains exactly what you need as a woman. We need more specific vitamins than men!
Generally speaking, women often need more of certain vitamins than men, including folic acid, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, and iron.
During Your 20s, 30s, & 40s
In this stage of your life, your body goes through many changes, going from a young adult to a fully mature woman.
During the so-called childbearing years, you will have monthly hormonal fluctuations caused by your menstrual cycle that can affect every part of your body. These changes can even cause greater demand for certain vitamins and minerals.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding often lead to big changes in your body that may require additional vitamins, which we outline below. Next, are the top minerals and vitamins every woman in their 20s through 40s should get enough of.
Did you know that your period or pregnancy can cause low iron levels?
As a woman, you may experience low iron levels due to blood loss during your monthly cycle. Iron helps the body to transport blood to all the cells and organs. Anemia, a type of iron deficiency, can make women feel extreme fatigue, experience headaches, and have cold hands and feet. It can even lead to brittle nails. Anemia is more common in pregnancy, as the baby uses up more of your blood supply.
If you are vegan or vegetarian, ensure you get enough iron by eating iron-rich foods, including kidney beans, cashews, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables. Alternatively, you can supplement with a multivitamin or iron tablet. Ensure you get a minimum of 18 mg of iron per day to avoid symptoms of anemia.
Folate — also known as vitamin B-9 — is the form found in nature and the foods that come from nature, while folic acid is the synthetic form. Women need 400 to 800 mcg of folate daily to help the body make both white and red blood cells.
Reminder! You need 400 – 800 mcg of folate so your body can produce white and red blood cells.
If you have pale skin, palpitations, extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, or weight loss, you may be experiencing a deficiency of folate.
Folate or folic acid should be taken by expectant mothers and those wishing to become pregnant in the future, as a deficiency can cause complications to the developing baby.
The body uses iodine to support the health of the thyroid gland, which influences your overall body metabolism. Iodine is needed for a growing fetus to develop properly and may have an important and beneficial effect on breast health in women. It also supports immune function and normal lactation.
Important news: An iodine deficiency is the number one reason for neurodevelopment deficits in children.
Most importantly for women in this age to know: iodine deficiency is the number one easily-preventable source of neurodevelopment (brain) deficits in children, and it's connected to a child's IQ, or intelligence quotient. Pregnant and breastfeeding women have to ensure they get enough iodine to pass it along to the developing child.
Especially if you eat vegetarian or vegan, it can be difficult to get iodine from food alone, since it comes mostly from the sea. Some sources of iodine include seaweed (kelp, nori, sea palm, wakame), strawberries, spinach, or prunes.
Vitamin B-12, also called cobalamin, has several ultra-important jobs in your body. Not only does it play a role in producing red blood cells and DNA, but your body also uses it for cellular energy production.[7, 8]
Healthy levels of B-12 help ensure you have healthy bones and eyes, and influence your mental health due to the vitamin's importance to the brain and central nervous system.
It isn't available in plant sources, so vegans need to take it as a supplement. As there is no danger of toxicity, a B-12 supplement is a quick and easy way to make sure you have enough.
During Your 50s, 60s, & Up
Women in their 50s and beyond have different nutritional and health needs than younger women.
As you move through the perimenopausal transition to menopause — when you have gone 12 months without a menstrual cycle — you may be at a higher risk for health complications, including cardiovascular complaints and age-related bone density loss.
To counteract natural changes, make sure you get enough of these vitamins and minerals in your diet, or if not, take supplements. They can help keep your health optimal and keep you feeling great long into your golden years.
Vitamin D helps you maintain healthy bones, which may otherwise deteriorate as you age — especially after menopause. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. People get 80 percent of their vitamin D requirements from exposure to sunlight; the rest comes from diet.
Did you know we get 80% of our vitamin D from sun exposure?
Women aged 60 and over should take a vitamin D supplement at the recommended dosage of 600 to 800 IU per day.
A lack of vitamin D can compromise your immune health, and lead to the blues, difficulty dealing with daily stress, or bone density loss. Ensuring you have enough can help keep mood and energy levels high. Vitamin D deficiency is very common, affecting up to a billion people worldwide.
This vitamin is another one only found naturally in animal foods, so if you're vegan, a supplement is critical.
Getting an adequate supply of vitamin K is important for older women because it helps your body produce proteins for healthy bones and tissue. A deficiency can lead to symptoms of osteoporosis, which women are already at a higher risk of developing after menopause.
This just in! Vitamin K helps keep your hip bones healthy and strong!
The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin K for women is 90 mcg daily. However, a report from the Nurses' Health Study suggests that women who get at least 110 micrograms of vitamin K a day are 30 percent less likely to break a hip than women who get less than that. That's pretty impressive!
Food sources rich in vitamin K include dark berries and leafy green vegetables, like collard greens, kale, and spinach.
Choline is an essential, water-soluble, vitamin-like nutrient that your body uses for several functions, including creating healthy cell membranes, lipid (fat) transport, and cell-to-cell communication. It plays a role in brain and memory development, which can deteriorate as you age. It's found in more than 630 foods including quinoa, lentils, cauliflower, legumes, and almonds. Adult women need 425 mg of choline daily.
Although most people do not get enough choline in their diet, symptoms of deficiency are rare, suggesting that the body is able to make enough.
Pregnancy represents a time in a woman's life where her health, nutrition, and wellness directly affect another person's growth and development — her child. Eating a varied diet with foods from each of the key food groups is often enough to meet both mother and baby's requirements, but most healthcare providers recommend a prenatal vitamin.
The best vitamins for pregnant women are included in prenatal multivitamins. These vitamins ensure that you receive enough calcium, folic acid (folate), iron, iodine, and vitamin C.
Iodine is essential for the proper brain development of the fetus. When expectant mothers receive adequate iodine, improvements in the child's neurocognitive performance are typically noted at 18 months of age.
Pregnant women or those who wish to become pregnant should take an iodine supplement; your body requires up to 50 percent more iodine during pregnancy. Learn more about the role of iodine during pregnancy here.
A supplement of folate or folic acid is recommended to all pregnant women or women who may wish to become pregnant in the future. This nutrient is critical to brain development and helps limit birth defects like spina bifida in a developing baby.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all women should take a supplement of folate or folic acid, the synthetic version of folate, daily.
Vitamin C is important for proper bone, tooth, and tissue development as well as maintaining proper immune function — all of which are essential when pregnant. A deficiency can cause bumpy, rough skin and bruises, and slow down the healing of wounds.
Some of the top foods high in vitamin C are found in citrus fruits and vegetables. One study found that pregnant women taking vitamin C were not admitted to the hospital as often with non-serious complaints.
Best Vitamins for All Stages of Life
To support total health at all stages of your life, it's important to maintain vitamin levels in the body and to address gaps in your nutrition with supplements. There are certain vitamins and minerals that benefit a woman's health throughout her life, like biotin, calcium, vitamin E, and B complex.
Although deficiencies are rare, symptoms include hair loss, flaky skin, conjunctivitis, lethargy, and depression. According to the Food and Nutrition Board, the suggested dose is 30 mcg per day.
Calcium is an essential mineral for strong bones and teeth and particularly important for women's health as they grow older to avoid fractures. Calcium is stored in your bones, which means that if you do not ingest enough daily your body will leech it from the bones.
The recommended amount of calcium for women up to 70 years of age is 600 IU. Women aged 70 and older should take 800 IU daily. You can get calcium from nuts, seeds, legumes, and greens. For more recommendations, check out our article, "11 Foods High in Calcium."
Vitamin E has antioxidant properties to fight free radicals, and it's often taken to improve the appearance of the skin, hair, and nails. Women need 15 mg of vitamin E daily which can be found in supplements as well as foods like almonds, sunflower seeds, and hazelnuts. For more ideas, read "15 Foods High in Vitamin E."
The B-complex group refers to eight key B vitamins including:
B vitamins are found in supplements and some natural sources including avocado, broccoli, kale, and fruits. The recommended intake of B complex varies for everyone. Taking a supplement will ensure you get the right dose. B-12, in particular, is particularly important for women.
Points to Remember
A woman's life has a series of biological changes, including menstruation, possible pregnancies, or breastfeeding, and menopause. Each of these times of life has specific health needs. However, in all phases of life, it's important to follow a healthy diet to make sure you are getting a full spectrum of minerals and vitamins. Where your diet falls short of providing all the nutrients you need, supplements can help to fill the gaps.
The most important vitamins for women include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin E
What steps do you take to ensure you get the right combination of nutrients? Have you had any challenges? What are you doing to overcome them? Leave a comment below and share your insight with us!
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.