There are many factors involved in following a healthy and well-rounded diet, including vitamin intake. Our body relies on a series of vitamins and nutrients for everything from immune system boosting to bone health. But it’s difficult to know which ones you need. Indeed, many patients ask me, “What vitamins should women take daily?”
It’s especially important for women to get the proper levels of vitamins and nutrients, particularly during periods of hormone change, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause. And when our vitamin and nutrient levels are low, it can significantly affect our overall health and wellness.
Here’s a closer look at the best vitamins for women at every stage of life.
What vitamins should I take daily?
The short answer is that it depends. Different women need different vitamins throughout the course of their lives, accounting for hormone changes, pre-existing conditions, genetics and environment. Many of the vitamins we need can be found in certain foods, and how we eat can also significantly affect the supplements we’ll need. But here are some of the vitamins all women need, either from food or supplements.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that occurs naturally in many different foods, so you may already be getting enough. Bright and colorful foods, like orange and yellow peppers, contain carotenoids, which your body can convert into vitamin A. The vitamin also occurs naturally in fish, eggs, some dairy products, and organ meats, like liver.
It’s a good thing vitamin A is so easy to add to your diet or to take via supplements, as this little vitamin affects many body systems. It’s essential for maintaining and supporting proper vision and it can affect reproductive health, growth and development and the immune system.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily amount of vitamin A is 700 mcg RAE for women.
Vitamin B is the supplement for you if you’re looking for a little extra energy. There are several types of vitamin B, including vitamin B6, which is helpful for overall wellness, and vitamin B12, which supports cognitive function. Vitamin B9, also known as folate, or folic acid, helps to form your DNA and RNA and is particularly important during pregnancy.
Each of these types is relatively easy to come by. Vitamin B1, which helps with cell growth and function, can be found in fortified cereals, pork and fish, lentils, sunflower seeds and yogurt. Vitamin B2 helps break down fats and medications and can be found in dairy products, fish, chicken breast and almonds.
Next, you have vitamin B3, which converts nutrients into energy and creates DNA, cholesterol and fats. You’ll find it in red meat, brown rice and legumes. Vitamin B5 helps with metabolic function and the breaking down of enzymes and can be found in vegetables, oats and beef. Vitamin B6 is mostly found in meat, including tuna, salmon and poultry, and it aids brain development, the nervous system and the immune system.
Vitamin B7, or biotin, regulates cell signals and breaks down fats. It’s typically found in salmon, eggs, avocados and nuts.
Rather than taking each of these B vitamins separately, many women find it easiest to take a good B-complex vitamin that contains all types of Bs and enjoy a variety of B-rich foods.
We all know about the importance of vitamin C, especially concerning our immune system. Vitamin C goes beyond the sniffles, however, and it helps to support the body’s ability to heal and stay healthy. Vitamin C is a type of antioxidant that’s used to fight against the free radicals that develop when your body is exposed to pollutants or other irritants. Most of us associate vitamin C with citrus fruits but it’s also found in bell peppers, strawberries, cruciferous vegetables and tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables.
The National Institutes of Health recommends women take 75mg of vitamin C daily and advises taking an extra 35mg a day if you smoke to help repair damage caused by free radicals.
For vitamin D to provide its full range of benefits, your body needs two things. To start, you’ll need vitamin D from a balanced diet. It’s found in fish and fish oils like salmon, swordfish and sardines and some fortified juices, milks and cereals. Additionally, you’ll need exposure to the sun. When our skin is exposed to the sun, it can produce vitamin D, which is why it’s not uncommon for individuals living in colder, darker climates to have vitamin D deficiencies.
In fact, vitamin D deficiencies can happen more easily than you might think, simply because it’s in many foods and because seasonal weather patterns can affect our exposure to the sun. That’s where supplements and vitamins come in.
It’s especially important to get enough vitamin D, either naturally or with a supplement because this is a powerful and important vitamin that does a lot for your body. It’s been shown to help with bone health and muscle growth, but it can also support heart health, mood and thinking.
If you turn to a supplement, the National Institutes of Health suggests adults under age 70 take 600 IU daily and that women over 70 should increase their dose to 800 IU, but many women benefit from higher doses, up to 2,000 a day. (Click through to learn about the link between vitamin D and fatigue and how one woman overcame a shortfall and restored her energy)
Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant, so it can help protect the body against free radicals. These electrons have essentially been set loose and may contribute to everything from signs of skin aging to long-term illnesses. By combating these free radicals, vitamin E helps keep your body healthy as you age.
Like vitamin C, vitamin E can boost your body’s immune system, making it easier to fight colds and infections. It can also reduce the risk of heart disease and clots, especially in older patients and postmenopausal women.
You can boost your vitamin E levels by eating nuts, fruits and vegetables, including pumpkins, red bell peppers and avocados, as well as seed oils, like sunflower seed oil, wheat germ oil and soybean oil.
There are many forms of vitamin E, but according to the National Institutes for Health, the alpha-tocopherol variety is the only one maintained in blood plasma. They suggest taking 15 mg daily.
There are two forms of vitamin K, and opting for vitamin K2 is key if you’re aiming to improve heart health and bolster bone strength. The nutrient directs calcium to bones and activates calcium-binding, which helps to build new bone and maintain existing density. That’s essential for menopausal women, who had notably less bone mineral density loss when supplementing with K2 in one study.
While vitamin K2 shuttles calcium into bones, it also helps keep calcium away from blood vessels, where it can lead to hardened arteries, a major risk factor for heart disease. In fact, studies show that people with the highest intake of K2 were 57% less likely to develop artery calcification. Vitamin K2 also improves dental health, as it helps to build dentin, the layer of tissue beneath enamel.
The recommended daily dose of vitamin K2: 90mcg, according to the National Institutes of Health.
And don’t forget these extras!
In addition to these vitamins, there are other essential nutrients women need for total health. Read on for the details.
We most often associate calcium with bones and for good reason. Calcium is essential for developing and maintaining strong and healthy bones and teeth. This is particularly important for women who are going through menopause, as menopause is often associated with osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones begin to lose density. Maintaining healthy bone density is important, as it reduces the risk of serious injury as we age, and calcium supplements can do just that.
Calcium can be found in many foods, though most typically in dairy products. You can also add more calcium to your diet by eating squash, canned fish and green leafy vegetables.
Your recommended calcium intake changes as you age—the National Institutes of Health suggests supplementing with 1,000mg for women under 50 and 1,2000mg for those over 50
Magnesium is typically found in nuts, leafy green vegetables, certain dairy products and fortified foods. It’s a good thing this essential nutrient is so easy to add to your diet, since it can play some important roles in your overall health and wellness!
First, a significant amount of magnesium in the body is stored in the bone. That means proper magnesium levels can help support strong bones, which is particularly important for women in menopause. It also may help relieve migraines, which may also be common for women experiencing the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.
According to the National Institutes of Health, women over age 30 should aim for 320 mcg of magnesium daily.
If you’re looking for even more cardiovascular support, you may want to get more omega-3s. These healthy fats support the heart. They aren’t naturally created by the body but instead added through diet and supplements, which is why it’s especially important to ensure that you’re getting enough from foods like fish, walnuts and edamame.
Scientists from the National Institutes of Health say that alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the most important omega-3 and suggest taking 1.1g of the fatty acid daily.
The bottom line
Whether you choose to get these foods from your diet, a multivitamin or a combination of the two, you’ll find that shoring up your intake will help you feel your best. I typically recommend Wellness Essentials Women, a packet of pills that you take once a day (buy on Amazon). But the pills are rather large, so if you struggle to swallow big pills, consider Thorne Basic Nutrients 2/Day to my patients (buy on Amazon).
When looking for over-the-counter supplements, you may want to seek out third-party verification. I like the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) and the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF)’s guide for consumers. Supplements that are third-party tested are checked by companies uninvolved in the production and sale to ensure the product matches what is on the label and is safe for consumption. These supplements will have a certification stamp on the label.
The great news is that you have plenty of vitamins to pick from — and many different sources for those vitamins. If you have questions, consider talking to a registered dietitian to find the best vitamins for your needs and begin feeling strong, healthy and protected today.
Michelle Thompson, MD, is a functional medicine physician and founder of Epoche Medical in Coral Springs, Florida. Board-certified in geriatrics, her goal is to help patients of all ages create a lifelong journey of wellness and provide the best options for healing.