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Essential Vitamins for Women at Every Age

If you're a health-conscious woman, you probably know your nutritional needs change with each life stage. If you're of childbearing age, you need an adequate intake of folic acid to prevent birth defects. If you've gone through menopause, you may need to increase your intake of calcium and vitamin D to keep your bones strong. A vitamin deficiency can lead to serious health problems.


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What are vitamins, anyway?

Vitamins are essential chemicals that take part in all your body's processes. They do that by participating in reactions inside cells. Each vitamin performs a specific function in the body, and no single food contains all the vitamins you need. Except for vitamin D, the human body cannot make vitamins. So you need to get vitamins from the foods you eat or from vitamin supplements.

The need for certain vitamins varies according to your stage of life. When you don't get enough of a particular vitamin you need, you run the risk of serious health problems.

Many women know that eating five servings of fruit and vegetables each day is a good way to get their essential vitamins. Most women, though, don't eat the quantity of fruits and vegetables that are recommended. As a result, many women in every age group are at risk of vitamin deficiencies. 

Let's look at some essential vitamins for women. Let’s explore what each vitamin does to boost your health and which whole foods are good sources of this vitamin. It's important to examine how much you need to prevent disease, as well as which vitamins are more important depending on your specific life stage.


How do antioxidant vitamins boost health?

Many foods have antioxidant properties. However, there are specific vitamins that are known as antioxidant vitamins. They include vitamin A -- retinol and the carotenoids -- vitamin C, and vitamin E. These antioxidant vitamins appear to play a role in the body's cell-protection system. They do this by neutralizing highly reactive and unstable molecules, called free radicals, that your body produces.

Free radicals have been shown to disrupt and tear apart vital cell structures like cell membranes. Antioxidants tie up these free radicals and take away their destructive power. That may reduce the risk of chronic illness and slow down the aging process. Some researchers also believe that antioxidants might help boost immune function when a system is under stress. Antioxidants include: 

Beta-carotene, found in apricots, broccoli, red peppers and other fruits and vegetables, is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A aids in the building and strengthening of bones, soft tissue, skin, and mucous membranes. Other carotenoid compounds also have antioxidant properties, including alpha-carotene (found in carrots, cantaloupe, and pumpkin), gamma-carotene (found in apricots and tomatoes) and lycopene (found in tomatoes, watermelon, and guava).

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