Like almost all areas of well-being, what supports us best looks different for everyone. One can feel energetic and most alive by going grain-free. Others may prefer Pilates over strength conditioning. Many of us need a solid eight hours of sleep, but there are some people who do better than nine hours. There are endless variations on this truth because when it comes down to it, what helps you look your best is extremely personal to you. This extends to supplementation and deciding between the best vitamins for women.
best vitamins for women
To gain a deeper understanding of which vitamins best match women’s specific needs, I spoke with double board-certified integrative primary care physician, Dr. Mary Ella Wood, DO. She highlights this truth of bio-individuality: “The top vitamins women should take will be different for everyone. That’s the beauty of the direction medicine is going. No body is the same, so our supplement profiles shouldn’t be the same either.”
So what does that mean for you? Dive deeper into our conversation below and learn about the best vitamins, plus Dr. Wood’s tips about what to look for.
Dr. Mary Ella Wood, DO
Mary Ella Wood, DO is a double board-certified integrative primary care physician. Dr. Wood began his career in general surgery, where he first noticed many of the flaws in our modern medical practice. Realizing that these alternative practices really got to the root cause of disease, she changed specialties and pursued further training in integrative nutrition, mind-body medicine (she is a registered yoga teacher), Ayurveda, and psychedelic medicine. She currently practices at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern.
What are your favorite vitamin brands? What vitamins do you personally take?
There are so many supplement brands out there, so it can be hard to know if you’re getting a reliable brand. Definitely make sure the brand you choose has been tested by third-party organizations like Consumer Lab, National Products Association, or the United States Pharmacopeia. Fullscript is a great place to buy supplements as they ensure the quality of all the brands they sell. I personally like Thorne, Seed, Athletic Greens, Pure Encapsulations, Nordic Naturals, Nature’s Way, and Source Naturals. NatureMade is also a good product that is affordable, reliable, and available at most pharmacies.
I personally take Athletic Greens AG1 every day. I love that it’s a one-stop-shop for vitamins, minerals, superfoods, adaptogenics (Rhodiola rosea, ashwagandha), medicinal mushrooms, and probiotics. Additionally I take additional probiotic and vitamin D supplements.
Additionally, if I get sick or want to avoid a cold, I’ll take Source Naturals Wellness Formula. This is a game-changer. It contains high potency Vitamin C in addition to herbal extracts such as Echinacea, Elderberry, Ginger, Garlic and others.
What should women pay attention to when it comes to vitamin supplements?
First, getting your vitamins and minerals through good nutrition will always be better than supplements. Then be sure to consider your personal health history and health goals. Health care and wellness should always be personalized.
If you decide to take supplements, make sure the dosage is appropriate. Most water-soluble vitamins are usually fine to take without a doctor’s advice, but when it comes to fat-soluble vitamins or herbal supplements, you may want to talk to your doctor first. Some herbs have strong interactions with specific medical conditions, pregnancy, and medications such as blood thinners and birth control pills. Finally, make sure you are getting your supplements from a trusted brand that has been tested by third-party organizations.
If cost is a concern, what is the primary vitamin you would recommend a woman take for her health?
I would start with a multivitamin that contains at least vitamin D, C, and B vitamins. For many women, this may be all you need.
Recommended Dosage: 600-800 units per day. The appropriate dose of vitamin D will depend on how much you are deficient (ask your doctor to have your levels checked).
Vitamin D is essential for:
- bone health
- muscle strength
- cancer prevention
- Heart Brains
- Diabetes maintenance and prevention
- immune health
- cognitive function
Low levels of Vitamin D can cause fatigue, insomnia, general aches, depression, hair loss, muscle weakness and frequent colds.
Vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning we have no easy way to expel excess amounts of it. This means that you can do Taking too much. Higher vitamin D levels will increase calcium absorption which can cause many different problems.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid
Technically it’s not a vitamin, but it’s so important. These are anti-inflammatory and are essential for improving cholesterol levels, lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation, and improving cognition. Studies are also showing that they can help improve depression scores, chronic pain, and PMS or menopause symptoms.
The key is to make sure you’re getting the right ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s (2:1 in favor of omega-3s). You need some omega-6, but if you have more omega-6 than omega-3 it will actually be inflammatory to the body. Unfortunately, our Standard American Diet (SAD) is skewed more toward omega-6 than omega-3, which is why supplements are important.
An interesting note on this: Eggs that come from farms that treat their hens well tend to produce yolks that have the right balance of omegas (which gives the yolk that nice orange color). Most eggs you can buy at the grocery store come from stressed hens. This stress actually converts omegas in favor of omega-6s, which are inflammatory to the body (these yolks will be more yellow in color).
So, one downside to eating a diet rich in omega-3s is that it can be expensive, requiring you to buy expensive eggs or consume at least 3 servings of fatty fish a week. If this is not possible, supplements are a great option. (Fish oil supplements are the most common.)
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
Recommended dosage: 75-120 mg daily
You need vitamin C to synthesize collagen, L-carnitine and neurotransmitters. It’s also a powerful antioxidant which means it can neutralize free radicals (from sun exposure, environmental exposures, and processed food) to help prevent cancer and signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. Vitamin C also supports a healthy immune system and helps prevent and reduce the duration and severity of respiratory infections. The good thing about vitamin C is that it is water soluble, which means it is very difficult to take too much of it.
Recommended dosage: There are many B-complex multivitamins that contain all the B vitamins. As for the dosage, make sure it has at least 2.4 mcg of B12, 50 mcg of B7 (more if you want to treat hair loss), and 400 mcg of B9.
Although all of these are important, vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is probably the most essential to supplement, especially if you follow a plant-based diet or are vegan. Most vitamin B12 comes from animal meat or products (dairy).
Vitamin B12 is essential for:
- production of dna
- healthy nerve and brain function
Additionally, vitamin B7 (biotin) is essential for healthy hair, skin and nails. One of the most common causes of hair thinning is actually biotin deficiency. The next name in the list of Vitamin B is Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid), which is essential to take if you are planning to get pregnant soon. It is most important to have adequate levels of folic acid First Getting pregnant to prevent neural tube defects in babies.
B vitamins, like vitamin C, are water soluble, so for the most part you don’t have to worry about taking too much.
Recommended dosage: 15 mg daily. You’ll probably see a lot of iron supplements whose dosage is 325 mg of ferrous sulfate (which is 65 mg of elemental iron). If you do not have iron deficiency then you do not need to take more of it.
Iron is also important, but you need to be careful about taking too much of it. Many women suffer from iron deficiency due to blood loss during menstruation. Low iron can lead to anemia and cause extreme fatigue, weakness, pale skin, chest pain, headache, brittle nails and many other problems.
On the other hand, excess iron can harm your heart, liver and pancreas. This is more common with frequent iron intake or blood transfusions, but it can also occur with over-supplementation. Additionally, iron supplements cause constipation and other intestinal problems. I suggest talking to your doctor to get your iron levels checked before taking supplements.
The next two are not technically vitamins, but are definitely supplements that I recommend to most patients.
Probiotics are supplements (or foods) that contain live bacteria that help support a healthy gut microbiome. These are great for not only digestive health, but also improving immune health, skin health, and even mental health. We are learning more and more about the gut-brain axis which describes the connection between our gut flora and the brain. You can get probiotics in fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha and sauerkraut. If you want to go the supplement route, make sure the one you choose has at least 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units), but the more the better.
Additionally, make sure it has a diverse bacteria profile and includes Lactobacillus and/or Bifidobacterium. In addition to taking probiotics, it’s also important to get enough prebiotic foods (these are high-fiber foods that act as food for the bacteria).
Great prebiotic foods include:
- Whole grains
- flax seeds
Recommended dosage: 1000 mg daily
This little spice makes a big impact. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and also has antimicrobial and anticarcinogenic properties. Actually, it’s actually More More effective than ibuprofen for treating inflammation, but without all the potential side effects such as stomach problems or kidney damage. It is especially useful for intestinal problems, arthritis and any problems caused by inflammation.
One thing to note about turmeric is that you have to take it with black pepper for it to be absorbed by the body.
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