Top Nutrients to Support Women's Health
A fact of life: all human bodies need a careful balance of nutrients to function efficiently. Nutrients are the building blocks of good health, down to the cellular level. When it comes to the nutrients your body needs, there are several mitigating factors, such as gender and age.
9 Nutrients for Women That You Should Understand
Let's look at the individual micronutrients women need to maintain balance and good health throughout life.
Also known as folic acid or vitamin B9, folate is important for women of childbearing age, especially those who are pregnant or may become pregnant. Good sources of folate include spinach and other leafy, dark green vegetables, oranges and orange juice, nuts, chicken, whole grains, and beans.
Why folate is important for women:
- Helps make blood cells and build DNA for new cells
- Helps reduce congenital disabilities called neural tube defects, which occur during the first three months of pregnancy
- Helps prevent low birth weight and premature births
Iron is a necessary nutrient for maintaining good blood health. The amount a woman needs varies depending on her age. For example, she'll need more iron during pregnancy, may need more during her teen years, and usually requires less after menopause. Foods that are good sources of iron include red meat, kale, chicken, spinach, pork, beans, fish, and lentils.
Why iron is important for women:
- Necessary for making healthy blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body
- Helps make certain hormones
- Helps build connective tissue
- Women who have menstrual periods lose iron during monthly periods
- Pregnant women need additional iron to build blood supply for their growing babies
Calcium is essential for the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth. Calcium is found in milk and other dairy products, in some forms of tofu, soybeans, dark-green leafy vegetables, canned sardines, and salmon with bones.
Why calcium is important for women:
- Helps lower the risk of bone loss in older women, reducing the risk of fractures
- Helps in transmitting nerve signals between your brain and muscles
4. Vitamin D
Your body makes its own vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D works as a partner to calcium, making it possible for your body to utilize the calcium you ingest. In fact, 78% of women of childbearing age don't get enough vitamin D. Food sources for this nutrient include fortified milk and cheese, egg yolks, and fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, and tuna.
Why vitamin D is important for women:
- Needed for absorption of calcium
- Helps reduce inflammation
- Strengthens your immune system
5. Vitamin E
This particular nutrient is found in seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils. Vitamin E deficiency is rare but excessive amounts can lead to increased bleeding times, especially if you're taking blood thinners. Check with your physician regarding supplemental dosages that are best for you.
Why vitamin E is important for women:
- Essential for a healthy immune system
- An antioxidant that protects you from harmful free radicals
- Helps prevent complications with getting pregnant or delivering a healthy baby
- May improve heart health and facilitate normal cell division
6. Vitamin B12
This vitamin is found in low-fat or fat-free milk, liver, clams, eggs, poultry, herring, and fortified foods. Insufficient vitamin B12 can be a problem for some women, especially pregnant women. It is essential for your baby's development. Lack of vitamin B12 may result in low birth weight or other health problems for your newborn.
Why vitamin B12 is important for women:
- Helps make red blood cells
- Helps neurons in your brain and nervous system work properly
Although your body produces some choline, a dietary source is a good idea to avoid a deficiency. Good food sources include beef and chicken liver, fresh cod, salmon, broccoli, cauliflower, and soybean oil.
Why choline is important for women:
- Needed for the structural integrity of cell membranes
- Helps in the production of compounds for cell communication
- Inadequate levels may result in cholesterol and fat buildup in your liver
- Helps in building DNA
- Needed for making acetylcholine, an important chemical for proper memory function, muscle movement, regulating heartbeat, and other basic body functions
8. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that we cannot make in our bodies. It is essential that we get enough of this vitamin in our diets or through supplements.
Why vitamin C is important for women:
- Needed for the body to form blood vessels, cartilage, muscle, and collagen in bones
- Necessary for the body's healing process
- Vitamin C deficiency can lead to scurvy, a disease that causes anemia, bruising, bleeding gums, and poor wound healing
Potassium is the most abundant positively charged ion inside a cell. It is found in all body tissues and is necessary for normal cell function.
Why potassium is important for women:
- Works with sodium to maintain fluid volume balance inside and outside of the cell
- Moderately low potassium levels can result in increased blood pressure and increased risk of kidney stone formation
- Severely low potassium levels can interfere with muscle contractions and heart function
Nutrient Supplements for Women
If you're religiously following a balanced macronutrient and micronutrient diet, you probably have no need for a supplement of these nutrients. But, if you're like most of us in the real world, your track record for sticking to dietary restrictions and healthy recommendations leaves a bit to be desired. If this is the case, a supplement could be in order.
The best way to determine if you need a supplement is to check with your personal healthcare provider. If you're pregnant or could become pregnant, or if you're postmenopausal, or you're vegetarian, you're at a higher risk of nutrient imbalance. Supplements may be necessary for you rather than optional.