Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that are essential for survival; they help your body perform hundreds of tasks every day. Each one has a specific role to play in your body and helps keep your body alive and functioning.
While the preferred source of these nutrients is a balanced diet, you may also need to take supplements in certain cases to make sure your needs are being met. Women are in fact more prone to nutrition deficiencies than men, especially while pregnant or breastfeeding, and therefore may have an increased need for supplementation.
Depending on your age, dietary habits, and certain other factors, you may need to supplement your diet with B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and iron. Here’s what you need to know about these nutrients and whether or not you need to take them.
Should you take vitamins?
According to Harvard Medical School, vitamin and mineral supplements are not intended to substitute a healthy, balanced diet consisting of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. They should only be taken under certain circumstances, for instance, if you are unable to meet your needs through food, or if you have elevated requirements.
“There are two ways to know if you need to take supplements: Your doctor can test the levels in your blood, or you can evaluate your diet and supplement the nutrients that you are unable to obtain through your foods. For example, if you are following a special diet, such as a vegan diet, you may consider talking to a professional about the appropriate supplements to take,” says Rebecca Tonnessen, RDN, at the Department of Food & Nutrition Services, Hospital for Special Surgery.
You may also require supplements if you’re a heavy drinker or have been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
Certain symptoms can also indicate nutritional deficiencies. “Signs that your nutrition may be sub-optimal include brittle nails, dry skin, and bleeding gums,” says Tonnessen.
What are the best vitamins for women?
These are some of the nutrients you might require, depending on your age, diet, and other factors:
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is important for bone health because it helps your body absorb calcium. This vitamin is tricky because your skin makes it when it’s exposed to sunlight; however exposure to the sun is linked to an increased risk of skin cancer. Dietary sources of vitamin D are few, making deficiencies common.
Iron: Iron is essential to the making of red blood cells that help your body transport oxygen. Menstruating people are especially prone to iron deficiencies due to recurring blood loss.
Trying to figure out which supplements to take can be confusing, so breaking it down by age can help. These are the supplements you might need:
In your 20s: “Calcium and vitamin D are essential at this age to prevent osteoporosis in the future. You need 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 400 to 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day,” says Tonnessen. She also recommends considering folate and vitamin B12 supplementation if you’re on birth control.
In your 30s and 40s: “If you are unable to eat five or six servings of fruits and vegetables per day, consider a multivitamin to optimize your intake,” says Tonnessen.
In your 50s and above: “Post-menopausal women have increased nutrient needs. Your calcium requirement increases to 1,200 milligrams per day and vitamin D requirement increases to 800 to 1,000 IU per day,” says Tonnessen. You may also need vitamin B12 supplements, as your body’s ability to absorb this vitamin from food decreases as you get older.
When should you take special vitamins?
Certain other factors can also warrant nutrition supplements:
Pregnancy: If you’re pregnant, your doctor may recommend a prenatal supplement that contains nutrients like folic acid, vitamin B6, calcium, iron, and DHA. DHA is a polyunsaturated fatty acid that is beneficial to fetal growth and neural development.
Menopause: Apart from a higher dosage of calcium and vitamin D, you may need to take B vitamins like B2 (riboflavin), B6, B9 (folate), and B12.
Vegetarian or vegan diet: You may need to supplement calcium, iron, and vitamin B12 if you adhere to a vegetarian or vegan diet, since these nutrients are typically found in animal products.
Vitamin and mineral supplements can help you meet your nutrition requirements; however, they should be taken cautiously.
“Always try to increase your food intake of vitamins and minerals before relying on supplementation. Consult a healthcare professional prior to starting a supplement as some nutrients, such as iron, can be dangerous if taken in excessive amounts. More is not always better,” says Tonnessen.
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