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Essential Vitamins for Women at Every Age

(continued)

Are the B vitamins important for women's health? continued...

Vitamin B12, like the other B vitamins, is important for metabolism, normal cell division, and protein synthesis. Anemia is one of the most common consequences of vitamin B12 deficiency. Vegetarians of all ages are at risk of deficiency and may benefit from a daily vitamin B12 supplement. Vitamin B12 levels can be measured by a blood test. Your doctor can advise you if a blood test or supplement is needed.

If you're over age 50, you may have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 in its natural form because of changes in the stomach. You may need three-monthly injections of vitamin B12.

Food sources of vitamin B12 include cheese, eggs, fish, meat, milk, and yogurt. 

Folate, or folic acid, is essential in the development of the central nervous system. This key nutrient also helps to make DNA and RNA, the building blocks of cells. It also prevents alterations to DNA that can lead to cancer. Adults and children require folate to build normal red blood cells and prevent anemia.

Deficiencies of folate in women who are pregnant are linked to neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Spina bifida is an incomplete closure of the spine. Because of this risk of birth defects, many foods, such as breads and breakfast cereals, are now fortified with folic acid. 

Food sources of folate include vegetables such as spinach and leafy greens, asparagus, citrus fruits, melons, strawberries, fortified grains, legumes, beans -- especially chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans -- nutritional yeast, eggs, and organ meats such as liver.

What are the recommendations for B vitamins?

You'll get all the vitamin B6 you need by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Vegetarians and vegans should make concerted efforts to ensure their vitamin B12 intake, while older people may want to check with their doctor about their risk of vitamin B12 deficiency and whether they may need vitamin B12 injections. In many women of childbearing age, folate intake through foods is not adequate to prevent birth defects. If you're considering becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor about your need for folic acid supplementation.

Is vitamin D important for women?

Vitamin D is usually categorized as a fat-soluble vitamin. However, it actually functions as a hormone in the body. Vitamin D helps to activate calcium and phosphorus -- important minerals for keeping bones strong -- into the bloodstream. When the body is depleted of vitamin D or has an insufficient supply, your body turns to the bones for replenishing calcium and phosphorus. This can thin your bones and contribute to osteoporosis.

Food sources of vitamin D include fish. And of course, sunshine is an excellent source, as well. Although, it's best to limit your time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Don't forget to wear a hat, and use sunscreen!

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