You’ve probably been hearing about the importance of vitamins since you were a little kid, when your parents bought those Flintstones multivitamins to make sure you got the essential nutrients you needed. It was a lot easier to know what vitamins to take as a child but as adults, things become a bit more complicated. Women have different nutritional needs than men do, which is why it is important for women to take the best vitamin specifically formulated to address vitamin and mineral deficiencies commonly found in women. So, what daily essential vitamins should a woman take?
By the Numbers:
- 37%: Percentage of women at risk for vitamin deficiency (1).
- 40%: Percentage of Americans with a vitamin D deficiency (2).
- 79%: Percentage of female adults that take vitamins (3).
- 6: The number of vitamins women most commonly miss (4).
You may not have heard of astaxanthin, but we’re willing to bet you’re familiar with antioxidants, right? Antioxidants like astaxanthin are substances in the body that help slow or prevent cellular damage caused by free radicals. Astaxanthin is an antioxidant that helps support skin health, muscle function, and cardiovascular health. It concentrates in the dermis, or the layer of tissue underneath the epidermis, where it helps block against UV rays. Prolonged exposure to UV rays can cause signs of aging like sun spots, dryness and wrinkles. Astaxanthin has also been shown to support muscle function and cardiovascular health.
It’s estimated that 77 percent of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, while 73 percent regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress (5). If you’re one of many stressed out women around the country, Ashwagandha can help. The herb has been used for over 4,000 years to reduce stress, and a study showed that people taking 300 mg per day of Ashwagandha experienced a 44 percent reduction in their stress levels, while those taking a placebo experienced only a 5.5 percent reduction (6). Because women are found to suffer from more physical and mental effects of stress than men, Ashwagandha is one of the vitamins that are recommended for women,
Biotin (Vitamin B7)
All of the b vitamins are helpful, but Biotin supports skin health, including strengthening nails, and supports women’s health, particularly in women who are breastfeeding or pregnant. It can even prevent hair loss. Biotin has been shown to increase nail thickness by 25 percent in people who take the vitamin daily (7). Pregnant and nursing women need higher amounts of biotin than women who are not pregnant or nursing, so they may need to add an additional biotin supplement to meet their daily needs.
Folate (Vitamin B9)
Most of us could use a little mood booster from time to time, and folate, folic acid, or vitamin B9, can provide support for mood, cognitive function, and women’s health. While B9 shouldn’t be used to treat a depressive episode, women experiencing major depression noticed a significant improvement in their depressive symptoms when taking vitamin B9 every day. It can also improve cognitive function and memory when added to your daily healthy diet. Women in their childbearing years may experience an increased demand for vitamin B9 as a result of cell multiplication within the body. There is also a risk of birth defects like spina bifida and other neural tube defects for your baby if you do not have a well balanced diet with folic acid, making B9 essential.
More than 1.62 billion people worldwide experience anemia each year, and approximately half of cases are caused by an iron deficiency (8). Women who are pregnant or have heavy menstrual bleeding are particularly prone to iron deficiency, which can sap your energy quickly. Because iron is predominantly found in fatty fish, red meat, and poultry sources, women who subscribe to vegan or vegetarian diets are also more likely to experience iron deficiency. Meeting your recommended daily intake of iron can help increase your energy levels and reduce fatigue. However, this all varies on age. Not everyone needs the same level of iron. For example-
- Babies (ages 7 months-12 months): Surprisingly, babies at this age need more iron than a young adult or child. A typical daily recommendation of iron is 11 mg
- Toddlers (1-3 years old): Daily recommended value is 7 mg
- Child (4-8 years old)- Daily recommended value is 10 mg
- Pre-teen (9-13 years old): Daily recommended value is 8 mg
- Teenager (14-18 years old): At this age, male and female begin to need different levels of iron. For example, females need 15 mg of iron where males only need 11 mg of iron
- Adult (19-50 years old): It’s recommended that males get 8 mg of iron daily where females should be getting 18 mg of iron. This has a lot to do with a woman's menstrual cycle and whether or not she's pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Senior (51+ years old): Daily recommendation is 8 mg of iron
As you can see, the level of recommended iron varies a lot based on age and sex.
If you tend to experience nasty headaches around your period, you might have a magnesium deficiency. A 1991 study established a link between magnesium and symptoms of PMS (9). Magnesium can also help improve sleep quality, as higher levels of magnesium are associated with less fragmented sleep. Women who receive their recommended daily intake of magnesium may experience better overall health and improved sleep quality.
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
We all want healthy, glowing skin and the energy to keep with our busy lives and families, and niacin, or vitamin B3, can help support both of those goals. Vitamin B3 fights internal and external stressors that can cause changes to our skin and increase the occurrence of pre-malignant and malignant skin conditions, as well as prevent premature signs of aging. It also plays a major role in helping our bodies convert protein, carbs, and fats into usable energy for total body health.
Many people have heard of omega-3 fatty acids, but how many people know what they actually do? As it turns out, they’re essential for brain function and a healthy heart and preventing heart disease. Docosahexaenoic acid, better known as DHA, plays a critical role in maintaining our brain function. One study showed that taking DHA daily improved memory on computerized cognitive tests (10). Omega-3 fatty acids may also have heart health benefits.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
Riboflavin, or vitamin B2, is another vitamin that women need for optimal health. Vitamin B2 supports overall energy levels and brain function and also influences blood pressure. Deficiency of vitamin B2 has been linked to preeclampsia, or high blood pressure in pregnant women in the third trimester. Although most vitamin B2 comes from meat, dairy products, and other animal products, some green algaes, like spirulina and chlorella, also provide an excellent source.
Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
Because our bodies cannot produce enough thiamin, or vitamin B1, we must make sure we get enough from the foods that we eat, including whole grains, meats, and fish. There are many vitamin b1 benefits. Vitamin B1 helps our bodies to metabolize glucose, so it is essential in order to process carbohydrates for energy. It also plays an important role in the functions of the nerves, muscles, and heart. Women with vitamin B1 deficiency may experience increased fatigue, irritability, nerve pain, muscle weakness, and more.
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)
Women need pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, to live - literally. Our bodies use vitamin B5 to make blood cells and convert the food we eat into energy, and it also plays a role in triglyceride synthesis and lipoprotein metabolism, affecting the levels of fats and cholesterol in the blood. Pregnant women especially need to be aware of their vitamin B5 levels, as studies have shown that pregnant women are at increased risk of vitamin B5 deficiency. Vitamin B5 benefits women in many ways. It helps regulate stress and sex hormones and maintain a healthy digestive tract in addition to its other functions.
Vitamin B6 is an all-around essential vitamin that plays a huge role in women’s heart health, moods, and immune systems. The vitamin produces antibodies that help the body fight disease and infection, and it also makes hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in our red blood cells and delivers it to different parts of the body. In patients with known cardiovascular disease, supplementation with vitamin B6 was found to decrease stroke risk by about 25 percent and reduce homocysteine levels (11). Patients who have already suffered a stroke were found less likely to suffer from a major depressive episode when taking vitamin B6 daily.
You’ve probably heard about vitamin B12 and how important it is for your brain health and energy levels. Women experiencing a vitamin B12 deficiency often experience feelings of fatigue and weakness, because the vitamin is responsible for guaranteeing a quick nerve-impulse transmission and helping convert the food we eat into glucose to provide energy. Vitamin B12 also helps make DNA and keep the nerve and blood cells healthy.
Vitamin D can be produced by the human body under the right set of circumstances - namely, if we get enough exposure to sunlight - but depending on where you live, what season it is, and your daily routine, that’s not always possible. Women adhering to plant-based or gluten-free diets can sometimes experience vitamin D deficiency as well because it’s primarily found in fish, dairy, animal, and fortified processed foods. About 40 percent of American adults are deficient in vitamin D, which makes vitamin d supplements important, which can cause a deterioration in bone health and reproductive issues like menstrual irregularity and infertility.
Your mother always told you to eat your vegetables, and if you eat plenty of whole foods consisting of leafy greens or green leafy vegetables like kale, algae, and broccoli, you’re likely to be in good shape when it comes to receiving your daily allotment of vitamin K2. K2 plays a critical role in helping to deposit calcium in our bones and increasing bone density, and it can also prevent bruising and improve skin health. Because most bruising is caused by weakened capillaries that break and pool blood in the skin, getting enough K2 means that those capillaries can be strengthened to improve healing and reduce bruising. Vitamin K2 also contributes to heart health, as its presence encourages the action of proteins that can inhibit vascular calcification.
- You Don’t Need a Multivitamin if You Eat a Healthy Diet: Nutritional deficiencies are common in people who eat a balanced diet and most foods begin to lose their nutritional value once harvested.
- Multivitamins are all the same: Not all vitamins are made equal. Vitamins come in all shapes, dosage amounts, and include a variety of vitamins and minerals.