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Women's Health

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements for Women

A look at women's vitamin and mineral needs, food sources, and supplements.
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Multivitamins: Are They Worth It? continued...

"If there’s any message in this, I think it’s that people should eat a healthy diet and not rely on multivitamins,” White says.

Some researchers worry that multivitamins may pose risks. A 2010 Swedish study of some 35,000 women showed a higher risk of breast cancer among those who took a multivitamin.

The researchers can’t explain that finding. Many factors affect cancer risk. The Swedish study doesn't prove that multivitamins caused breast cancer.

Antioxidants for Women

What about zeroing in on specific nutrients? Over the years, several become supplement superstars.

First came vitamin C, touted as a defense against everything from common colds to cancer. Next up was vitamin E, which seemed to guard against heart disease.

But recent research has dimmed the enthusiasm for antioxidant vitamins such as C, E, and beta carotene. Research shows there’s almost no benefit to taking them in pill form -- and maybe some risks.

A 2007 analysis of 68 different studies, for example, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, linked vitamin E, vitamin A, and beta carotene supplements to a higher death rate in some groups. And high doses of vitamin C supplements have been linked to greater risk of developing cataracts, according to 2010 findings from a study of more than 24,000 Swedish women.

However, those studies don't prove that vitamins were responsible for the results.

“No antioxidant supplements have been shown to prevent cancer, especially in well-nourished populations. And there may be some risks,” says Marji McCullough, ScD, RD, strategic director of nutritional epidemiology at the American Cancer Society. “So the best advice is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants, and not depend on pills.”

Calcium for Women

Calcium is essential to strong bones throughout life. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that: 

  • children aged 1-3 get 700 mg of calcium per day
  • children 4-8 get 1,000 mg per day
  • adolescents aged 9-18 get 1,300 mg per day
  • adults 19-50 get 1,000 mg per day
  • women over age 51 get 1,200 mg per day

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