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Vitamin and Mineral Supplements for Women

A look at women's vitamin and mineral needs, food sources, and supplements.

Antioxidants for Women continued...

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

For most people, pills aren’t the best way to get enough calcium, according to Robert Heaney, MD, a Creighton University professor of medicine and an expert on calcium and vitamin D. “The body needs both calcium and protein for bone health,” Heaney tells WebMD. “So the ideal source of calcium is dairy products, not supplements.”

Here are the calcium levels of some foods:

  • 8 ounces of yogurt: 415 mg of calcium
  • 8 ounces of milk: 300 mg
  • 3 ounces of salmon:181 mg

Many foods, including orange juice, are fortified with extra calcium. Tofu and leafy greens are good plant-based sources of calcium.

But not everyone can tolerate dairy, nor eat enough other calcium-rich foods to meet recommendations. The IOM's recommendations still support taking calcium supplements, and there are many studies that show benefit.

Calcium carbonate tablets cost the least. Take them at meals; stomach acid aids digestion. Calcium citrate may be slightly more effective for people with low stomach acid, such as the elderly.

Adequate calcium may help prevent high blood pressure. Here, too, food sources appear to be better than pills.

When Harvard School of Public Health researchers studied nearly 29,000 middle-aged and older women, they found that women who ate more low-fat dairy products were less likely to have high blood pressure. Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, in contrast, had no effect on blood pressure. But that study doesn't prove cause and effect, so it's not clear that dairy products made high blood pressure less likely.

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