Vitamins are essential to our healthful existence. Often, vitamin deficiencies go unnoticed for months or even years, until performance-robbing and disease-causing side effects are finally noted. Even if you only mildly suspect a deficiency in any of the vitamins listed on this page, schedule blood work through your doctor right away to confirm there are no underlying health problems causing those deficiencies.
Underlying conditions like thyroid problems, overly heavy monthly menstruation, lack of menstruation, taking birth control, menopause, cancer, heart disease, and other health problems can cause vitamin deficiencies. Health issues need to be corrected before dietary changes or vitamin supplementation will be effective.
Why do Women Need Vitamins?
Both women and men need vitamins to maintain optimal health — to survive in fact. By now you’ve all probably heard about pirates contracting scurvy back in the wayfaring days of the thirteenth through early eighteenth centuries. While this disease is rarely a reality in modern developed nations, we are by no means safe from problems related to minor and more advanced vitamin deficiencies. Health problems and overly processed food can lead us to think we’re getting a balanced diet, when in fact those foods aren’t providing bio-available sources of the vitamins we need.
We need vitamins in order to get oxygen from our lungs into the rest of our body. Vitamins are necessary to promote a healthy nervous system, brain, heart, liver, and metabolism. Vitamins act as antioxidants to remove the free radicals we breathe and consume each and every day, in order to slow aging and reduce disease. They work closely with other vitamins, minerals, and macro-nutrients like protein; meaning a balanced diet and possible supplementation can’t just be an afterthought if good health and longevity are important to you.
Following are the top recommended vitamins all women need to factor into a healthy diet. Pay particular attention to the number of essential vitamins and minerals found in leafy green vegetables, which are often neglected by both sexes, yet so valuable in promoting good health.
Certain B vitamins are more important than others, and are more prone to deficiency than others. B vitamins including B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid), and B9 (folate) are essential to the formation of red blood cells, DNA, and most all metabolic functions. The recommended dosage for these B vitamins are:
• B1: 1.3 mg
• B2: 1.3 mg
• B5: As much as you like
Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalimin) also has a huge impact on metabolic functions and is a critical component responsible for regulating the brain and nervous system. Take 2.4 mcg daily for maximum benefit. If you suspect you’re deficient in B vitamins, simply take a potent B complex capsule every day, or as recommended by your doctor.
Dietary B vitamin sources:
• Fortified grain products for all B vitamins (keep in mind these are processed foods and may offer less bio-availability).
• Dark, leafy green vegetables for all B vitamins.
• Beans, squash, potatoes, and fortified products for B1.
• Meats, fish and dairy for B12 (animal liver has the highest content, followed by red meat, fish and dairy products).
Animal liver, red meat, fish, pork, turkey, and leafy greens are by far the best sources of all B vitamins. Fortified products can be deceptive when looking for a complete B vitamin source, as the vitamins aren’t assimilated as effectively as non-processed natural vitamin food sources.
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid + Folate)
Lack of B9 (folic acid + folate) causes over half the reported neural tube defects in infants. Folate and folic acid are also essential for the formation of red blood cells and long term lack of this vitamin can also cause loss of hearing.
Finally, this potent B vitamin is also required to synthesize and repair DNA. Women need at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily in order to maintain proper health. Take up to 1000 mcg during the first four weeks of pregnancy or if you’ve been diagnosed as having trouble synthesizing B9.
Dietary sources of B9:
• Fortified grain products.
• Dark, leafy green vegetables.
• Dried legumes such as beans, lentils, chickpeas.
Iron is a mineral. However, it’s worth mentioning since it works so closely with B vitamins to keep our blood-oxygen levels optimal. Iron makes up the core of every blood cell and allows oxygen to bond to those cells for transport throughout the body.
Deficiencies are rare with younger women who consume a healthy diet. However, those who’re aging, women with metabolic syndrome, practicing vegans or vegetarians, or who have certain types of cancers will find it hard to keep levels adequate. Calorie restricted diets often lead to iron deficiencies, as well as diets low in leafy green vegetables, broccoli, beans, and bean sprouts. Vitamin C is also essential for iron absorption, and low levels can trigger long term iron deficiencies despite an otherwise iron-rich diet.
Iron deficiencies are easy to spot as the most common short term problem is poor oxygen supply to the organs and muscles. This results in fatigue, weakness, and sudden weight gain due to impaired metabolic function. Depression is also a common complaint of low iron levels, as the mineral helps regulate neurotransmitter “happy” hormones like dopamine, norephinephrine, and serotonin.
Best Iron Supplement: Life Extension Iron Protein Plus
Sources of dietary iron:
• Beef liver.
• Red meat.
• Leafy greens.
• Dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher).
This is another essential mineral that women need to be wary of. While you’re reading this to learn about vitamins, magnesium deficiency is dangerous for women of all ages, but particularly those passing into middle age and beyond. Magnesium is among the most essential electrolytes in the body, helping the heart to maintain its rhythm every second you’re alive. The most common symptoms of magnesium deficiency are anxiety, irregular heart beat, muscle cramping (particularly the legs), headaches, and constipation.
Magnesium helps keep us calm by relaxing the nervous system. It also regulates levels of calcium, iron, and potassium throughout the body. Calcium in particular, is a problem for aging women, as a woman’s body starts to have trouble preventing calcium from leaching out of the bones as time goes on, leading to osteoporosis. To compound this problem even further, female intestines also start to have trouble absorbing magnesium as they age.
This means you need to do whatever possible to make sure your magnesium levels are always optimal. It’s been shown that magnesium levels in natural foods have decreased throughout the years, due to depletion in over-farmed soil. This makes oral supplements and soaking in Epsom salt baths regularly an absolute must, in order to maintain proper health.
Best Magnesium Supplement – Life Extension Neuro-Mag® Magnesium L-Threonate
Dietary sources of magnesium:
• Leafy greens.
• Beans and lentils.
• Most nuts.
As you just learned, calcium depletion is a big problem for aging women. The problem can start years before reaching middle age if your diet is low in calcium throughout your life. As mentioned, lack of magnesium in the diet, or trouble synthesizing it is often to blame for calcium issues.
With that said, all women need to actively focus on getting plenty of calcium in order to prevent osteoporosis as they age and dental issues throughout their life. Make sure to have blood work done often, to catch potential issues early on.
Dietary sources of calcium:
• Dairy products such as milk, hard cheese, kefir, and yogurt offer the most dietary calcium.
• Kale is a close second providing almost as much calcium as dairy.
• Sardines are also a great source of calcium similar to dairy and kale.
Vitamin A is the first in a lineup of antioxidant vitamins. It’s fat-soluble, meaning the body can store it inside our body fat to prevent deficiency. Vitamin A (retinol) deficiency is rare in developed countries, but still not unheard-of in men, women, and children with poor diets.
Fail to get enough vitamin A and you can expect vision problems, increased signs of aging, immunodeficiency problems and a number of other health problems. Women between 14 and 70 years of age need approximately 28,000 I.U. daily for good health — 30,000 I.U. when you’re pregnant.
Best Vitami A Supplement – NOW Vitamin A
Dietary sources of vitamin A:
• Fatty fish such as salmon, cod, trout.
• Mollusks such as oysters, clams, mussels.
• Animal and fish liver.
• Leafy greens of all kinds.
• Bright yellow fruits.
Vitamin C is best known as a cold and flu preventative. However, studies have shown mixed results in its ability to either prevent or treat either condition. It is extremely important in a woman’s development though, assisting in the formation of bones, muscle, collagen, and blood vessels.
We also need vitamin C to absorb iron; a mineral that makes up the foundation of the red blood cells which transport oxygen throughout the body. Vitamin C is water-soluble and it’s near impossible to take in more of this antioxidant than we need to maintain good health. It leaves the body within a day of being consumed and taking a 1000 mg supplement at least once a day is highly recommended.
Best Vitamin C Supplement – Vitamin C with Dihydroquercetin
Dietary sources of vitamin C:
• All fruits including guava, berries, citrus, apples, avocados, and more.
• Many vegetables including peppers, potato (skin), cauliflower, peas, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, and more.
• Fortified grain and dairy products.
• Animal liver contains smaller amounts.
There’s a strong argument that we need the amount of recommended vitamin C that we do because it so closely resembles a glucose molecule. Since it looks the same to the body, dietary vitamin C often gets shuttled out of the body before it’s absorbed. Many who embark on a ketogenic or purely all-meat diet report no deficiencies despite much lower (or zero) vitamin C intake.
Vitamin D deficiency has become more and more of an issue for women over the last half century or so. This is because we get the majority of our vitamin D from sun exposure. Yet, so many of us are told to limit our exposure by covering up and using gallons of sunscreen. Then there’s the prevalence of more and more indoor jobs taking over the workplace.
Skin cancer worries and the continued move indoors for many professions that women hold, along with a growing disdain for many of the foods that naturally contain it (eggs, dairy), or are fortified (bread, cereal) with this critical vitamin have made the problem even worse.
Vitamin D is essential for bone formation, brain function, and hormone balance. Try to get at least 10 minutes of midday sun every day, without sunscreen on, or choose from the supplements recommended in this informative post. That 10 minute recommendation equates to approximately 1000 I.U. of this essential vitamin in healthy women.
Best Vitamin D Supplement – Life Extension Vitamin D3
Dietary sources of vitamin D:
• Fortified dairy, grain, cereal, and fruit juices.
• Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna.
• Beef liver.
Vitamin K2 is super important for women to get enough of. Most people know this fat-soluble vitamin for its role in helping blood to clot when we’re injured. However, it’s essential for the maintenance of bones and teeth, too.
In particular, vitamin K2 stops a natural process in our bones where calcium leaches out, making bones more brittle and at risk for fractures and breakage. This leaching is much more common in women, which leads to osteoporosis as we age. Most quality vitamin K supplements also contain vitamin D2, as they work together, and a deficiency in one typically means you’re deficient in the other.
Vitamin K2 also helps to prevent heart disease. While it helps prevent calcium from leaching out of bones, it strangely stops calcium and other minerals from calcifying in our arteries and causing blood clots. Make sure you take in at least 200 mcg of vitamin K2 daily, but limit amounts to 150 mcg if you’re breastfeeding or pregnant.
Dietary sources of vitamin K:
• Consider any green vegetable as a great source of vitamin K including all leafy greens, scallions, Brussels sprouts, and green herbs.
• Fruits such as cucumbers, plums, prunes.
• Fermented dairy foods.
• Hard cheeses.
• Natto (fermented soy).
• Beef liver.
Vitamin E deficiency is more of a problem than many people think because it’s mostly found in high fat, oily nuts like walnuts, which a lot of women avoid due to the desire to limit calorie intake. While vitamin C gets a lot of fanfare, vitamin E is actually the most busy of all antioxidant vitamins in the body.
Vitamin E protects the nervous system, brain, heart, eyes, and blood vessels from oxidative damage. Low serum levels of vitamin E are also linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Women need to take in 22.5 I.U. every day to ensure maximum protective effects.
Dietary sources of vitamin E:
• Fortified wheat, cereal, and dairy products.
• Nuts of all kinds.
• Sweet potatoes.
• Sunflower seeds.
• Butternut squash.
Omega 3s (Krill Oil)
Omega 3s are one of the most potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients found in nature. They’re fatty acids that offer numerous benefits to the body including the heart, brain, eyes, liver, joints, and can protect against cancer. Omega 3 fatty acids are only found mostly in fish, animals in smaller amounts, and in supplement form. Supplements are made from fish oils such as krill, salmon, mackerel and occasionally other fish.
These fats help to counter-act high levels of omega 6 fatty acids that we take in through our diet. Omega 6s are dangerous to the heart and body — our body can convert them to the more healthy omega 3 form, but not very well. Omega 6 are highly prone to oxidation, which leads to atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), cancer, and joint inflammation. Taking up to 4 grams (4000 mg) daily can help to balance out-of-control cholesterol naturally, without the use of prescription statins.
Krill oil is vastly considered the most bio-available and effective of all supplements. Viva Naturals is a great choice if you want to go that route. Krill doesn’t give you fishy-tasting burps and are proven to be absorbed 2.5 times better than fish oil omega 3s.
Dietary sources of Omega 3s:
• Fatty fish like salmon, cod, tuna, swordfish, trout, and others.
• Mollusks such as oysters, clams, mussels.
• Crustaceans like krill, shrimp, prawns, lobster, crab, and lobster.
• Fortified foods like chicken eggs.
• Grassfed red meat such as beef, buffalo, deer, elk, moose, and others.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria found in fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and fermented foods like natto, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and others. These bacteria live in our gut and help to balance the microbiome that’s essential for efficient digestion, immune function, and is thought to be the single most important factor in long term health and longevity, in conjunction with diet and lifestyle choices.
There’s a constant battle going on in our body between good and bad bacteria. While a healthy diet can help ensure proper balance, the environment we live in — including pesticides and other chemicals — and preservatives in food and beverages create imbalances.
These imbalances are hard to identify without expensive laboratory testing. By eating lots of fermented foods and supplementing with 40-billion, shelf-stable active cells per serving will ensure your gut microbiome is as healthy as it can be.
Dietary sources of probiotics:
• Dairy such as milk, yogurt, kefir, and cheese (stinky is best!).
• Fermented foods like natto, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and others.
• Fruits and veggies of all kinds.
There you have it ladies. The truth is the list of essential vitamins for good health isn’t as long as some of you would think. Some “experts” like to tell us that we can get all the nutrition we need from a healthy diet alone. However, when you dig into the research, it becomes obvious that the vast majority of women simply don’t have the time to spend preparing the foods that contain all the vitamins, minerals, essential fats, and probiotics they need to maintain proper health.
If you focus only on the dietary recommendations and supplement suggestions listed above, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier you in now time. Good luck and good health!