In modern life, one thing is clear: We could all use more support. And we don't just mean from your girlfriends.
According to a meta-analysis of studies done by Oregon State University, three-quarters of Americans aren't eating the daily recommended amount of fruit, and 80 percent don't have enough vegetables. That means we're not getting enough essential vitamins from our food.
In addition to adding healthier foods to your shopping list, nutritional supplements can help fill in the gaps. We asked the experts which ones every woman should add to her daily routine. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Signs Your Illness is Actually Coronavirus in Disguise.
Everyone should take a high-quality daily multivitamin, says Joanna Foley, RD, a registered dietitian in San Diego, California. "It should contain a variety of B vitamins, calcium, Vitamin K, A, D, and E, as well as magnesium, zinc and folate. Iron should also be present for women specifically."
The Rx: When purchasing any vitamin or supplement, buy from a source that sells medical grade products to assure they're pure, safe and don't contain any fillers, says Yeral Patel, MD, a board-certified physician in anti-aging regenerative and family medicine in Newport Beach, California. She likes the brands Designs for Health, Metagenics, Integrative Therapeutics and Thorne.
Nearly everyone is deficient in the "sunshine vitamin," so nicknamed because our bodies produce it naturally when skin is exposed to the sun. It is believed to guard against several types of cancer and is essential for overall health. "Vitamin D plays a crucial role in the body's immunity, bone health — it helps absorb calcium for bone strength — cancer prevention, blood sugar regulation and decreasing insulin sensitivity," says Patel.
The Rx: "Vitamin D isn't available from many food sources," says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in New York City. "So a supplement can be a good idea if you aren't getting daily time in the sun or eating food sources such as salmon, tuna, and milk and orange juice fortified with vitamin D."
The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for Vitamin D is 600 IU for adults up to age 70 and 800 IU for adults over 70. Some experts consider that low and suggest it should be raised to at least 1,000 IU per day. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the upper limit is 4,000 IU daily.
It's not the miracle cure-all it was touted as for much of the twentieth century, but Vitamin C is essential for immune system support and collagen production — some studies suggest it could reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
The Rx: The recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C is 75 mg for adult women who aren't pregnant or breastfeeding. According to the NIH, the upper limit is 2,000 mg.
The eight B vitamins are crucial to the production of energy and red blood cells. A 2016 review of studies said they're "absolutely essential for every aspect of brain function." And they have a number of full-body benefits. "Vitamins B6 and B12 help keep homocysteine levels low, which helps to reduce a woman's risk of heart disease, stroke, and blood clots," says Anthony Kouri, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center. "Biotin, or B7, is a B vitamin that helps keep hair healthy."
The Rx: Look for a high-quality B-Complex formulation. "B vitamins are especially important in the elderly, because age makes it difficult for the gut to absorb B12," notes Kouri. "In addition, women who exercise regularly require a higher level of B vitamins."
"Most women are low in total body iron stores," says Arielle Levitan, MD, an internal medicine physician in Chicago and co-founder of Vous Vitamin."They lose iron throughout their lives from periods, pregnancies and nursing and often don't consume significant iron in their diets. They benefit from supplements to help prevent low energy, brain fog, thinning hair and brittle nails that all result from lack of iron."
The Rx: According to the NIH, the adequate daily intake of iron for women up to age 50 is 18 mg. After age 50, it is 8 mg. The tolerable upper intake is 45 mg.
"If there is one mineral almost everyone needs, it is magnesium," says Heidi Moretti, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in Missoula, Montana, who has worked in hospitals for two decades. "Some research suggests that 70 percent of Americans fall short. This may lead to digestive issues, poor sleep, mood swings, and increased risk of heart disease."
"Low levels of magnesium have been linked to many different conditions, including muscle cramps, restlessness and insomnia," says Nicole Avena, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University. "Both men and women are at risk for magnesium deficiency. Supplementing can help to reduce symptoms or prevent them."
The Rx: The recommended daily allowance for magnesium increases slightly for adults over 30: 420mg per day for men, and 320mg for women. The NIH says the upper tolerable limit of magnesium is 350mg daily (that applies to a magnesium supplement, not amounts of the mineral naturally found in food).
"If you don't eat fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and apple cider vinegar regularly — and most people aren't — you may benefit from a probiotic," says Moretti. "Probiotics are the new frontier for many conditions, including irritable bowel, which is most common in women. They also may help improve mood, heart health, bone health, and more." Plus, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center, early research indicates that probiotics' anti-inflammatory effects could inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells.
The Rx: Choose a brand of probiotic with varying strains to start. "Probiotics are beneficial to both women and men of all ages for maintaining a healthy microbiome and immune function," says Lawrence Hoberman, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist in San Antonio, Texas. "Probiotic supplementation can be especially helpful during menopause when estrogen production slows, and the subsequent depletion of lactobacilli creates a vaginal pH environment that is more vulnerable to pathogens."
"Iodine is important for men and extra-important for women," says Moretti. "Breast tissue is high in iodine, which helps to protect it from free-radical damage."
The Rx: The RDA for iodine is 150 mcg, and the upper limit is 1,100 mcg. "Although iodine is good to get in your supplement, make sure to take a low dose and check with your doctor before adding a bunch into your diet," advises Moretti. "High doses without supervision can trigger hyperthyroidism in some people."
CoQ10 (Conenzyme Q10) is a powerful antioxidant generated by the body to keep cells healthy and functioning properly. Levels decline as we age, and CoQ10 deficiency has been associated with a number of diseases. A 2018 meta-analysis of studies found that taking CoQ10 may improve heart function and improve symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases.
The Rx: There is no established daily dose of CoQ10, so talk to your doctor.
"Over time, our bodies' natural ability to produce collagen wears down, so it's a good idea to consider a supplement," says Avena. "Collagen supplements can bring relief from pain by combating aging tissue and arthritis, aiding normal repair of ligaments, tendons, joints and bones while improving connective tissue. It can also help improve skin elasticity, which can delay the appearance of wrinkles."
The Rx: Add collagen supplements to a daily smoothie or mix them with water. "Further Food makes a flavorless collagen supplement powder, as well as a chocolate one," says Avena.
Fish Oil (Omega-3 fatty acids)
"Omega 3's are anti-inflammatory and help with chronic pain, heart health and brain health," says Patel. "They also promote beautiful skin and aid in hormone balance for both men and women."
The Rx: "It's great to eat at least two 3.5-ounce servings of cooked fatty fish each week to get your fill of the omega-3s EPA and DHA for heart-health benefits," says Gorin. "You can also take a daily supplement of 250 milligrams or more of EPA and DHA. Research shows that more than 1 gram daily provides brain-helping benefits. If you are vegetarian, you can look for an algae-based omega-3 supplement."
"If you're not regularly eating dairy, you may need a calcium supplement," says Gorin. "Calcium helps keep bones strong—and not getting enough puts you at risk for osteopenia, a condition that may increase your risk of osteoporosis."
The Rx: The recommended daily amount of calcium is 1,000 mg for adults up to age 50. That increases to 1,200 mg for adult women from age 51 to 70, and both sexes after age 71. The upper daily limit for adults 50 and younger is 2,500 mg; for adults over 51, it's 2,000 mg.
"If you're taking supplements, you should divide your daily dose into two, because this will help with absorption," says Gorin. "If you're taking calcium carbonate, this is better absorbed when you take it with food. Calcium citrate, on the other hand, can be taken with or without food."
"Most women shy away from zinc-rich foods. This is a problem, because zinc plays a role in mood, bone health, immunity, and more," says Moretti.
The Rx: Adult women are advised to get 8 mg a day. The NIH says the upper tolerable limit is 40 mg daily, although that doesn't apply to people who are taking zinc under a doctor's care. "Zinc is much better absorbed from animal sources," says Moretti. "Be careful when supplementing zinc: a little goes a long way. Large doses over time can deplete copper if you aren't taking it correctly."
"Getting enough fiber is important for everyone," says Amanda Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian and advisor to Smart Healthy Living. "Fiber helps to keep things moving, can help you lower cholesterol, and may also help you control your blood sugar if you have diabetes." A fiber-rich diet may also lower your risk of colon cancer.
The Rx: Women should aim to get 25 grams of fiber per day, says Miller.
"Vitamin K2 is the nutrient that is least known with a huge benefit for both heart and bone health, yet almost no one gets enough," says Moretti.
The Rx: According to the National Institutes of Health, the adequate intake (AI) of Vitamin K is 90 mcg daily for women, and an upper limit has not been established because of a low chance of toxicity. "Vitamin K2 is also found specifically in fermented foods, especially natto," says Moretti. "If you are on warfarin [a blood thinner], make sure to check with your doctor before taking vitamin K2." For more ways to be happier and healthier, don't miss these Worst Things For Your Health—According to Doctors.