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Vitamin and Mineral Supplements for Women

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

Calcium for Women continued...

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.

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.

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