Five recommended supplements for women's general health
To support health and wellness and feel at our best, there are a many essential nutrients that our bodies require every day. While the first choice for obtaining these nutrients is always from a whole food source, circumstances can sometimes make it difficult to take in optimal levels from our food. These include when schedules are busy and time for preparing healthy, well-balanced meals is limited, when there are dietary restrictions through either allergy or other lifestyle choices such as veganism, or for picky or selective eaters. In these instances, supplements can provide a boost for specific nutrients and help to fill in any gaps where dietary intake may be lacking. We’ve summarized below some of the nutrients that are particularly important for women (but as always, check with your health professional before adding any of these supplements into your regular routine!).
Iron is an essential mineral that plays a particularly important role in the transport of oxygen around your body. Without adequate iron, your body is unable to make enough oxygen carrying red blood cells, which can lead to the experience of unpleasant symptoms and in some cases the development of iron deficiency anemia. Symptoms of low iron can include tiredness and fatigue, a lack of energy, poor concentration, shortness of breath, pale skin, often feeling cold, and decreased immunity leading to frequent bouts of illness.
Low iron levels are not uncommon, and attention to iron intake is particularly important for menstruating women with heavy periods, pregnant women, women who are highly physically active, vegetarian or vegan women who take in fewer sources of iron in their daily diet, and women with gastrointestinal conditions including coeliac, Crohn’s disease, and Ulcerative Colitis.
Iron is found in different food sources including red meat such as beef and lamb, chicken (especially the darker meat), seafood, dark leafy green vegetables, beans, tofu, dried fruits, and some whole grains and cereals (including fortified cereals). The iron in our food is one of two types – either haem iron, which is very easily absorbed, or non-haem iron, which your body doesn’t absorb as efficiently. Meat, poultry, and seafood contain both haem and non-haem iron, making them ideal sources for increasing your iron intake, whereas plant-based sources contain only non-haem iron. Eating iron containing foods alongside foods that are rich in vitamin C (for example citrus fruits, kiwifruit, broccoli, and capsicums) can help your body to absorb the iron better.
Supplements can be a beneficial way to restore iron levels when they are too low or you have trouble meeting your iron needs on a regular basis. The best way to know whether iron levels are low is to arrange a diagnostic blood test through your health care provider. Although less common, it can also be possible (and harmful) to have too much iron, and for that reason iron supplements should only be taken with a health care provider’s recommendation.
We recommend Healthspan Elite Iron Complex - $29.99 for 120 tablets
Calcium plays a major role in bone health throughout our lives and is needed for both building and maintaining bone strength. In addition, it has critical roles in nerve function, muscle movement (assisting in the regulation of muscular contractions) and cardiovascular health (including maintaining the action of the heart muscle). Calcium is particularly important as we age, especially for postmenopausal women who experience age associated bone concurrently with a reduction in the body’s production of estrogen.
Because calcium is not produced by the body, we need to consume it through dietary sources. It is found in a variety of foods, most notably dairy products including milk, cheese, and yoghurt, as well as dark leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and kale, fish with soft edible bones such as canned salmon and sardines, soy products, and calcium fortified foods and beverages including milk alternative products. To absorb calcium, vitamin D is also necessary. Vitamin D occurs naturally in some food sources such as egg yolks and is also obtained from fortified foods and exposure to sunlight. Calcium needs are higher for older women, and during other conditions or life stages including pregnancy. Women who may find it difficult to consume adequate calcium include those who follow a vegan diet, those who suffer from lactose intolerance and limit their intake of dairy products, women with bowel or digestive issues where absorption of calcium may be decreased. For these women, as well as women with osteoporosis, supplementing with calcium may be beneficial. To ensure intake of calcium is not excessive however, you should always consult with your health practitioner before choosing to supplement with this mineral.
We recommend Xplosiv NZ Whey Protein for those who allow for dairy in their diet - $49.95 for 33 servings
An adequate intake of magnesium is essential for maintaining good health. It plays a key role in numerous different processes in the body including muscle function, heart health, immune system function, maintenance of bone health and protecting against bone loss, regulation of blood sugar, and nervous system function (regulation of neurotransmitters).
Despite its widespread importance, not everyone gets as much magnesium as they need. Good whole food source of magnesium include a number of nuts and seeds (pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, cashew nuts, almonds, and peanut butter), some beans (e.g. black beans, edamame beans), wholegrains (e.g. oats and brown rice), and leafy green vegetables.
Increased magnesium can be particularly beneficial for women who are athletes, women who suffer from menstrual cramps, and women who experience restless leg syndrome due to magnesium’s ability to help with muscle cramping. Its involvement in neurotransmitter regulation also makes it valuable for aiding mood and symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PMS. For the same reason, magnesium is a common inclusion in formulas designed to help with both stress and sleep. It has been known to assist in relaxation and promotion of a good night’s sleep and is ideal to take at nighttime for women who are experiencing sleep issues or going through a period of heightened stress. Magnesium supplements are typically safe and well tolerated by most people, however there are some diuretics, heart medications, and antibiotics with which concurrent supplementation with magnesium is unsuitable.
We recommend Sanderson Magnesium 1000 - $24 for 120 tablets
- B Vitamins (particularly Folate, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12)
B vitamins are water soluble vitamins that are not stored by your body and need to be replenished through food or supplementation. There are a few different B vitamins, and all of them play an important role in your body. However, there are three in particular worth paying attention to – Folate, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12.
Folate is essential for the production and maintenance of new blood cells in your body, and it is also necessary for proper brain function and building a healthy brain and spinal cord. For pregnant women especially, adequate intake of folate is crucial and supplementation with folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) is recommended both pre-conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy for the prevention of birth defects such as spina bifida. Foods that are high in folate include leafy green vegetables, avocado, citrus fruits, beans, eggs, and peanuts. Folic acid is also often added to enriched foods such as breads and cereals.
Vitamin B6 (also known as pyridoxine) and Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) contribute particularly to healthy metabolism and the conversion of food into fuel for energy in the body, as well as the maintenance of healthy nervous system and brain function, the production of red blood cells, and the health of hair, skin, and nails. High intake of alcohol, as well as being on the contraceptive pill, can both deplete B vitamin levels. Good sources of Vitamin B6 include meat, poultry, fish, beans, cereals, potatoes, bananas, and chickpeas. Most of us take in enough Vitamin B6 in our daily diet, however supplementation can be beneficial under some circumstances and taking Vitamin B6 within a complex of B vitamins is typically recommended.
Adequate intake of Vitamin B12, however, can be more difficult for some women, including those who are vegetarian or vegan. For vegan women specifically, supplementation is required as natural sources of Vitamin B12 (meat, fish, and dairy products) are excluded in vegan diets. When Vitamin B12 levels are deficient there are too few new red blood cells produced which leads to anemia and consequent tiredness and loss of energy, and it can also contribute to poor mood and a reduction in memory and mental performance. Vitamin B12 levels are also critical in early pregnancy for prevention of neural tube birth defects.
We recommend Go Healthy B Complex - $17.99 for 40 capsules
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the vitamins that most of us are familiar with. It is essential for growth, development, and repair of all body tissues, and plays a major role across many different bodily processes including the proper functioning of the immune system, wound healing, absorption of iron, formation of collagen, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth. It is also an important antioxidant that can protect against some of the damage caused by free radicals. Build up of free radicals in the body contributes to the development of chronic disease such as cancer, heart disease, and arthritis.
Vitamin C is easily found in fruits and vegetables including citrus fruits, kiwifruit, berries, broccoli, capsicums, potatoes, and tomatoes and is readily absorbed by the body. However, as it is a water-soluble vitamin your body doesn’t store it, and this makes it necessary to take in in either food or supplement form every day. Although deficiency is rare, there are times when additional vitamin C supplementation can be helpful. One of its most common uses as a supplement is for boosting the immune system, particularly in response to the onset of cold and flu symptoms and in times of stress when the immune system may be weakened. It is also beneficial to ensure vitamin c levels are high in meals containing non-haem sources of iron for women who are vegetarian or vegan, as the vitamin c can aid in the plant-based iron’s absorption.
We recommend PVL Pure Vitamin C Crystals - $39.95 for a MASSIVE 824 servings