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Vitamin and Mineral Supplements for Women

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

Vitamin D for Women

The latest superstar supplement is vitamin D. There's growing evidence for its importance to good health.

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to fatigue, joint pain, high blood pressure, certain forms of cancer, and other health problems.

Supplements seem to help. A 2010 report, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, showed a small but consistently lower risk of heart disease in people who took up to 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D.

The IOM recommends 600 IU of vitamin D per day for people ages 1-70 and 800 IU for those over 70.

A blood test can check your vitamin D level. Several studies suggest that levels up to 50 -- on the 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood test -- may keep people healthier.

“If you measure blood levels of vitamin D in people who work outside during the summer, they typically reach 60 to 80,” Heaney says. “So that may represent the number that the body evolved to maintain.”

The most natural way to boost vitamin D levels is through exposure to sunlight, which triggers the skin to make vitamin D. Some doctors encourage some patients to spend a little time in the sun, without sunscreen, to make vitamin D.

“Obviously, it’s very important not to get sunburned,” Rakel says. “But a moderate amount of sun exposure can have important health benefits.”

Experts still recommend putting sunscreen on your face at all times, since the face is at high risk for skin cancer. Sunning yourself to raise vitamin D levels is less effective for people with dark skin, and less effective for everyone as they age.

If you work indoors, avoid the sun, or live in northern latitudes where ultraviolet levels are low, consider a vitamin D supplement. Talk to your doctor about the best dose. Choose supplements that contain D3, the vitamin's most easily absorbed form.

Folic Acid and Choline

For women of childbearing age, getting enough folic acid and choline is crucial.

Folic acid, a B vitamin, is essential for building new cells. Falling short during pregnancy has been linked to increased risk of major birth defects of a baby’s brain and spine. Women of childbearing age need 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. There are two simple ways to make sure you get enough.

  • Take a multivitamin that contains 400 micrograms.
  • Eat a breakfast cereal fortified with 100 percent of the daily value (DV) for folic acid.

Adequate choline levels during pregnancy also help prevent birth defects. This essential nutrient plays a role in blood vessel growth in the brain. Surveys suggest that less than 15% of pregnant women get enough. Experts recommend that pregnant women get 450 mg a day, or 550 mg a day if they are lactating.

Although some multivitamins contain choline, many foods are rich in this essential nutrient. Leading dietary sources include eggs, liver, chicken, beef, pork, milk, and a variety of vegetables and grains.

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Reviewed on September 08, 2010

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