Essential Vitamins for Women
It’s no secret that your body goes through some major changes as you get older. The vitamins you need are no exception.
These essential nutrients play a role in all the basic jobs your body does every day, each one taking care of specific tasks. And the ones a pregnant woman needs are different than the ones women need after menopause and beyond. But no matter your age, not getting enough key vitamins can put you at risk for serious health problems.
The best way to get the right nutrients is to focus on making your diet healthy. But supplements can be a good way to fill in the gaps when they happen. Work with your doctor, nurse, or a registered dietitian to see which vitamins you need to feel your best.
This group includes vitamin A — retinol and carotenoids — vitamin C, and vitamin E. They appear to play a role in protecting you from tiny particles your body makes, called free radicals, that can tear cells apart. Antioxidants may lower the risk of some health problems and slow aging. Some researchers also think they might help boost the immune system.
Beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A, a nutrient that helps eyesight, soft tissue, and skin. Find it in apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, guava, kale, papaya, peaches, pumpkins, red peppers, spinach, and tomatoes.
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, heals wounds and helps your body make red blood cells. It also boosts levels of the brain chemical noradrenaline, which makes you feel more alert and amps your concentration. Studies show that when the body is under great stress, or as you get older, levels of ascorbic acid go down. You can get vitamin C from broccoli, grapefruit and its juice, kiwi, oranges, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, and tomatoes.
Vitamin E is also known as tocopherol. Your body needs it to keep cells healthy. It may slow signs of aging, too. But taking too much of it every day increases your risk of bleeding. Foods with vitamin E include margarine, corn oil, cod-liver oil, hazelnuts, peanut butter, safflower oil, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ.
There are a few types of these nutrients, and they’re all good for your body. But three of them — vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid — are especially important.
Vitamin B6 is also known as pyridoxine. You need it to keep your brain working well and to help your body convert food into energy, called metabolism. It can be toxic if you get too much of it at once. So your best bet is to eat healthy foods with this nutrient. Try fish, potatoes, chickpeas, avocados, bananas, beans, cereal, meats, oatmeal, and poultry.
Vitamin B12 is also important for metabolism, and it helps your body make red blood cells. You can get it from cheese, eggs, fish, meat, milk, and yogurt. Older adults, people with anemia, vegans, and vegetarians should work with a doctor to make sure they get enough of it.
Folate, or folic acid, helps build a healthy brain and spinal cord. It also makes DNA and RNA, the building blocks of cells, and prevents the changes in DNA that can lead to cancer. Adults and children need it to build normal red blood cells and prevent anemia. But it’s especially important for pregnant women — it helps prevent birth defects like spina bifida. Foods high in folate include spinach and leafy greens, asparagus, citrus fruits, melons, strawberries, fortified grains, legumes, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, eggs, and liver.
It may be called a vitamin, but it actually works as a hormone. It helps to move calcium and phosphorus — important minerals for keeping bones strong — into the bloodstream. When your body doesn’t have enough vitamin D, it will take calcium and phosphorus from your bones. Over time, this makes them thin and leads to conditions like osteoporosis.
Foods with vitamin D include eggs and fish, especially salmon, mackerel, and sardines. You can also boost the amount in your blood by spending a few minutes in the sun. When the light hits your skin, it helps your body make vitamin D. But don’t overdo it — too much sun will put you at risk for skin cancer.
Younger adults might be able to get enough vitamin D from sunlight. Many middle aged and older adults, on the other hand, might need to get extra from fortified foods or supplements. Because calcium and vitamin D are closely linked, many doctors recommend that older people, especially postmenopausal women, take a supplement that has both nutrients.
Vitamin K isn’t considered an essential vitamin. It does, though, play a key role in keeping bones strong and helping blood clot for older people. The best food sources include green leafy vegetables, soybean oil, broccoli, alfalfa, cooked spinach, and fish oil.
Foods vs. Supplements: Which Is Better?
Most dietitians say it’s better to get essential vitamins from foods without relying on supplements. But talk to your doctor to see what’s right for you.
There’s also a very low chance of getting too much of a vitamin from foods, which is possible with megadoses of some supplements. Always talk to your doctor about how much you need every day.