While the best source of nutrients is a healthy diet, women don’t always eat the variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats in just the right proportions to get just the right nutrients. That’s why millions of women choose to take health supplements, especially if they are of child-bearing age or at risk for osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease (such as heart disease), or other chronic diseases like diabetes.
Women’s Health nutrition expert and registered dietitian Keri Gassman says, “When considering supplements, women need to think bones, babies, and bellies. Sufficient bone density is needed to prevent osteoporosis, an adequate store of folate is essential for fertility and fetal development, and a healthy waistline lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. Women must also load up on the nutrients that are essential to prevent diseases in the future.” While the list of potential supplements for women is long, it is best to consider your individual, specific health and nutrition needs in consultation with your healthcare provider. Your physician or other healthcare provider can help you choose the right supplements for your body’s needs while safely avoiding supplements that could have interactions with any prescription medications that you might be taking.
Supplements for Intestinal Health and the Immune System
Women looking to improve their intestinal health or boost their immune systems also should consider adding probiotics to the list of supplements they should take. Researchers are learning that probiotics, or good bacteria, benefits intestinal health and the immune system. Good gut bacteria supports the development of T cells and boosts the immune system’s ability to fight off invaders, and probiotics lead to fewer gastrointestinal infections and boost the immune system during cold and flu season.
Supplements for Women’s Bone Health
Women can take steps to protect their bones throughout life, beginning with the right supplements and a healthy diet at an early age to ensure bone health. Certain healthy lifestyle and dietary habits like taking calcium and vitamin D supplements are important steps women can take to positively affect their bone health throughout their lives.
Calcium and vitamin D help women build strong, dense bones and that stay strong and healthy as women get older. Calcium does more than build bones and keep them healthy, though. Calcium aids in clotting blood, sending messages from nerves, and contracting muscles. While nearly 99% of the calcium in women’s bodies is in their bones and teeth, they lose calcium through their skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine, and excrement. Yet, the body cannot produce new calcium, and if women don’t get enough in their diet, their bodies begin to leech calcium from their bones.
Women age 50 and younger need 1,000mg of calcium daily, while women age 51 and older need 1,200mg of calcium daily, as the total amount from food and supplements. If you are not getting your daily recommended value of calcium from the foods you eat, taking a calcium supplement will help. It is a good rule of thumb to choose name-brand calcium supplements. It’s also important to take calcium supplements with food and in amounts of 500-600mg or less throughout the day.
Vitamin D is another supplement that supports bone health in women, because your body requires it to absorb calcium. Vitamin D supplements keep women’s bones strong and healthy and help to prevent loss of bone density and bone breakage. Women under 50 should take 400-800 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily, while women 50 and older should take 800-1000 IU of vitamin D daily. Vitamin D may be taken with or without food, and you do not need to take your vitamin D supplement at the same time as your calcium supplement.
Supplements for Women of Childbearing Age
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women take prenatal vitamin supplements. Prenatal vitamins commonly contain more folic acid and iron than standard multivitamins do because folic acid helps prevent defects of the baby’s brain and spinal cord and iron supports the baby’s growth and development. Overall, it is recommended that prenatal vitamins contain folic acid, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, and vitamins D, C, A, and E. The group also recommends that all women of childbearing age take a multivitamin supplement that contains 0.4mg of folic acid daily, in order to reduce birth defects in the event of pregnancy.
Supplements for Women’s Heart Health
The number one killer of women in the United States is heart disease, and more women than men die of heart attacks year after year. While some heart disease risk factors, such as family history, age, and ethnicity, cannot be controlled, others like obesity, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and physical inactivity can be controlled.
One supplement that is beneficial for women’s heart health is fish oil. Cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston recommends fish oil because of its omega-3 fatty acids that have proven to be a “heart protector.” Fish oil supplements often are better than eating fresh fish for omega-3 fatty acids because of the high mercury levels that are common in fresh fish today. Women with documented heart disease should take 1 gram daily of EPA and DHA from fish. People with significantly high triglycerides may take higher doses of prescription fish oils with a doctor’s guidance.
All women can protect their bones, hearts, and bellies with supplements and probiotics if they are not getting enough key nutrients from their diet. A doctor can guide you to the best supplements, but calcium, vitamin D, and fish oil may a good fit for your health needs. Women of childbearing age also should consider taking multivitamins that contain folic acid after discussing the supplement with their doctor.