While it’s possible to get all of the vitamins and minerals you need from careful food selection and a nutrient-dense diet, research shows many women still experience at least one type of nutrient deficiency, if not more. There are 13 vitamins all women need — all which are among the best vitamins for women to take — including vitamins C, A, D, E, K and the B vitamins (such as thiamine and vitamin B12), plus a number of important trace minerals and fatty acids too. (1)
It’s believed that around 30 percent of all women are deficient in one or more of these vitamins and minerals, and for many women the risk only increases with age. Another scary finding? Estimates show about 75 percent of women would likely develop nutrient deficiencies if supplemental multivitamins didn’t exist. (2)
With that in mind, what are the most important and best vitamins for women in order to prevent deficiencies and the complications that come with them? The following are the absolute best vitamins for women.
What Are the Best Vitamins for Women to Take?
According to a report published by the Population Referee Bureau, vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition in women create a vicious cycle that poses a variety of threats. “It weakens women’s ability to survive childbirth, makes them more susceptible to infections, and leaves them with fewer reserves to recover from illnesses.” (3) There’s also evidence that post-menopausal women are more susceptible to disorders like osteoporosis when they’re low in nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin D and calcium, and at a greater risk for losing their vision when they fall short in antioxidants like vitamin A and vitamin C.
Whether you’re in your 20s, 40s or 70s, here are the best vitamins for women that you should make sure to get enough of:
1. Antioxidant Vitamins (Vitamins A, C and E)
These fat-soluble antioxidants fight free radical damage, which is the underlying cause of aging and many diseases that affect the heart, eyes, skin and brain. Vitamin C not only improves immunity against colds, infections and other illnesses, but it’s also important for protecting your vision and skin from damage caused by things like UV light and environmental pollution. Make sure to consume plenty of vitamin C foods. Vitamin A and E work in similar ways to protect healthy cells and halt cell mutations, among the many other vitamin A and vitamin E benefits.
Research done by the National Eye Institute shows that a poor diet low in these vitamins is a major risk factor for age-related macular degeneration and cataracts in older women, and both vitamin A and E are also known to help protect skin from signs of aging and skin cancer. (4)
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D can be obtained from certain foods like eggs, some dairy products and certain mushrooms, but we get the overwhelming majority of our vitamin D from sun exposure. Both men and women are at high risks for vitamin D deficiencies since more people spend a large majority of their time indoors these days or wear sunscreen diligently when outdoors. Estimates range, but some research shows that up to 75 percent to 90 percent of adults in the U.S. might be deficient!
Vitamin D is important for bone/skeletal health, brain functions, preventing mood disorders and hormonal balance, since it acts very similarly to a hormone once inside the body. Your best bet to make sure you get enough is to spend 15–20 minutes outside most days of the week without sunscreen on, which allows vitamin D to be synthesized when it comes into contact with your skin. (5)
3. Vitamin K
Vitamin K is important for building and maintaining strong bones, blood clotting, and preventing heart disease — currently the No. 1 cause of death among women living in the U.S. and many other western nations. Many women fall short in this valuable nutrient, which is a shame considering studies have shown that individuals who increase their intake of dietary vitamin K have a lower risk of cardiovascular mortality.
You’re most likely to be low in vitamin K if you’ve been taking antibiotics for an extended period of time, suffer from intestinal problems such as IBS or inflammatory bowel disease, or you take cholesterol-lowering medications. There are two main types of vitamin K , both of which we acquire from our diets. Vitamin K1 is found in vegetables, while vitamin K2 is found in things like dairy products. The best way to prevent vitamin K deficiency is to eat plenty of different veggies, including green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, fish and eggs.
4. B Vitamins including Folate
B vitamins, including vitamin B12 and folate, are important for a woman’s metabolism, preventing fatigue and boosting cognitive functions. They help with may cellular processes, growth and energy expenditure because they work with other vitamins like iron to make red blood cells and help turn the calories you eat into useable “fuel.” (6) Folate (which is called folic acid when it’s created synthetically) is critical for a healthy pregnancy, developing fetuses and preventing birth defects since it helps build the baby’s brain and spinal cord. That’s why folate deficiency is extremely dangerous for pregnant women.
You can get plenty of B vitamins from animal products like cage-free eggs, fish, meat, milk and yogurt. Older women, those with anemia, vegans and vegetarians should work with a doctor to make sure they get enough B vitamins since they’re at the greatest risk for deficiency. Foods especially high in folate include spinach and leafy greens, asparagus, citrus fruits, melon and beans.
While technically the nutrients below aren’t “vitamins” (they’re actually essential minerals and fatty acids), it’s important for women to prevent deficiencies in these too:
Iron deficiency and anemia are the most prevalent nutritional deficiencies in the world, especially among women young. The body uses iron to produce hemoglobin, a type of protein that transports oxygen via blood from the lungs to other tissues throughout the body. There are two different kinds of iron (heme and non-heme), and the most absorbable and easily utilized by the body is the kind found in animal proteins like eggs, meat, fish and poultry (leafy greens and beans are good plant-based options too).
Adolescent girls are at the highest risk for iron deficiencies, and women in general need to be careful to get enough since demand for iron increases during menstruation due to blood loss. (6) It’s been found that, globally, about 50 percent of all pregnant women are very low in iron to the point of being considered anemic — not to mention at least 120 million women in less developed countries are underweight and malnourished in general. Women with adequate stores of iron and vitamin B12 and are less likely to suffer from fatigue, poor immunity and fatal infections, dangerous pregnancies, and bleeding episodes that put their lives at risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women between the ages of 20–39 have the lowest urine iodine levels compared to all other age groups. (7) Iodine intake is especially important for young women looking to become pregnant or who are pregnant because it plays a role in brain development of the growing fetus. It’s also crucial for making proper amounts of thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland requires iodine to produce the hormones T3 and T4, which help control your metabolism.
Most people eating a western diet consume a good deal of iodized salt found in packaged foods and refined grain products, which has iodine added purposefully to help prevent deficiencies. But an even better way to get the iodine you need is from iodine-rich foods like sea veggies and seafood, the major natural dietary sources of this nutrient. Avoiding an iodine deficiency helps protect you from conditions like hypothyroidism, goiters, fatigue, hormonal imbalances and trouble during pregnancy.
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the body but also one of the most common deficiencies. As an electrolyte, magnesium helps regulate calcium, potassium and sodium and is essential for over 300 different biochemical functions in the body. (8) On a global scale, soil depletion has resulted in many crops being lower in magnesium than in past generations — plus health conditions like digestive disorders, leaky gut syndrome, chronic stress and ongoing medication use can all lower someone’s magnesium levels.
Leg cramps, insomnia, muscle spasms, anxiety, headaches and digestive issues like constipation can all be signs of magnesium deficiency. For older women, the risk of deficiency might be even greater. Studies have shown that many older people don’t eat magnesium-rich foods to begin with, plus they’re prone to experiencing reduced magnesium intestinal absorption, reduced magnesium bone stores and excess urinary loss. Make sure to get enough by consuming magnesium-rich foods, such as leafy green veggies, sea vegetables/algae, beans, nuts and seeds.
8. Omega-3 Fish Oils
If you don’t consume seafood like salmon, mackerel, sardines, halibut or tuna regularly, chances are you can afford to take an omega-3 fish oil supplement to prevent deficiency. Most people eating a “western diet” consume plenty omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory and found in many packaged foods and vegetables oils, but not enough omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory.
The two need to balance each other out in order for the heart, brain and immune systems to stay the healthiest they can. A ratio of about 2:1 omega-6s to omega-3s is best, preventing conditions like arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression and more. Eating wild-caught fish several times per week or taking a supplement equal to about 1,000 milligrams daily is the best way to beat inflammation and get enough omega-3s.
Getting enough calcium is important for bone strength, but it’s also crucial for regulating heart rhythms, aiding in muscle functions, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and many other functions related to nerve signaling too. Calcium, when consumed when other key nutrients like vitamin D and magnesium, has been shown to offer protection against some of the biggest threats to women: heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and cancer, for example. Calcium deficiency is very common among both men and women, however. Experts believe that most adults in the U.S. don’t get enough calcium on a daily basis. (9)
This is believed to be true because calcium is not absorbed properly when someone has low levels of vitamin D and magnesium (deficiencies in both are common), plus certain crops that are normally high in calcium have become depleted of minerals due to soil depletion. This electrolyte, which is actually the body’s most abundant mineral, can be obtained from drinking raw milk, having yogurt or kefir, and from certain plant foods (especially organic types) like leafy green vegetables (such as collard greens and kale), broccoli, okra and beans. Supplementing with calcium has pros and cons, so speak with your doctor about your risk factors, and first try to get enough from foods if you can.
Are You a Woman at Risk for Vitamin Deficiencies?
Studies have shown that women’s nutrient intake is highly dependent on factors like their economic status, social and cultural environment, and personal habits.
An alarming finding is that even the children of malnourished women who experience vitamin or mineral deficiencies are more likely to face cognitive impairments, developmental problems, lower resistance to infections, and a higher risk of disease and death throughout their lives. Chances are if a woman is low in antioxidants and important nutrients herself — such as vitamin A (retinol), carotenoids, vitamin C and vitamin E, which are critical for both developing children and adults alike — the rest of her family is going to be also.
Risk factors that make a women more likely to have a vitamin or mineral deficiency include:
- eating a highly processed diet (one low in things like fresh vegetables and fruit)
- being a vegetarian or vegan (10)
- being underweight or consuming too little calories in general (“underweight” is generally considered below a body mass index of 18.5 for women)
- being of reproductive age (the World Health Organization estimates that in poorer countries 27 percent to 51 percent of women of reproductive age are deficient in key nutrients) (11)
- being over the age of 65
- low socioeconomic status, a lack of education, and poverty
Researchers have pointed out that for women of “reproductive age” who are preparing to have children, proper nutritional status before, during and after pregnancy is an important element of overall reproductive health.
Preventing nutritional deficiencies helps maintain the health of the mother-to-be, lowers the risk of having a difficult pregnancy, prevents birth defects in the fetus/infant and even helps lower the risk for certain chronic diseases developing later on in the child’s life. Breast milk production is also highly influenced by a woman’s calorie, vitamin and mineral intake, which is why supplements are considered crucial for both pregnant and lactating moms.
This is why it’s vital for pregnant women in particular to ensure they get enough of the best vitamins for women that often women fall short in.
When a Healthy Diet Is Enough vs. When It Might Not Be
How do you know if you’re covering your bases and getting enough of the best vitamins for women that they absolutely need? You have the best protection against nutrient deficiencies if you eat enough calories in general, avoid crash or fad dieting, don’t overexert yourself or start overtraining, and if you focus on eating a varied diet that’s low in “empty calories.”
This means avoiding things like added sugar, refined grain products, packaged snacks and most refined vegetable oils. Try to get the most “bang for your buck” by making your calories count, eating plenty fresh plant foods, clean protein foods and healthy fats. These foods provide the best vitamins for women.
Even if you feel you do eat a pretty nutrient-dense diet, some women are more susceptible to running low in important vitamins than others. Here’s some special circumstances that make a women a good candidate for taking a high-quality, food-based multivitamin supplement daily (not the processed kinds of vitamins — like Centrum vitamins — filled with many additives!):
- If you’re a vegetarian or vegan: Plant-based eaters who avoid meat are more likely to be low in B vitamins, such as vitamin B12, which is only found in animal foods. A lack of calcium, amino acids (protein), omega-3s, zinc, iodine and iron are also more common in women who don’t eat any animal products, which is why supplements are recommended. In 2009, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) recommended that vegans and vegetarians make sure to cover their nutritional needs of the vitamins and minerals listed above, most easily by taking a daily multivitamin and omega-3 supplement. (12)
- If you’re pregnant: Likely more than any other time in a woman’s life, pregnancy creates a special metabolic demand for high-quality nutrients, both to support the growing baby and the mother. Requirements for many micronutrients increase during pregnancy — especially nutrients like folate, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and iodine. (13) Studies show that fetal growth and development are strongly linked with the mother’s supply of essential nutrients.
Nutritional imbalances and deficiencies can cause detrimental effects to both the pregnant mom and her unborn or newly born baby, raising the risk for miscarriages, preterm pregnancies, birth defects, and low breast milk production or consumption. Research has shown that, globally, iodine deficiency is the most preventable cause of mental retardation in the world. Therefore, the American Thyroid Association recommends all prenatal vitamins contain 150 micrograms of iodine and that the same amount be taken both during pregnancy and afterward while breast-feeding.
- If you’re over the age of 55: B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium and iron are all especially important for aging women. Consuming plenty natural food sources of these nutrients — such as leafy greens, cage-free eggs, grass-fed meat and organic/unsweetened dairy products (ideally those that are raw) — can help prevent a deficiency that raises the risk for problems such as bone loss/osteoporosis, fractures, heart problems, diabetes and cognitive decline. (14)
Final Thoughts on the Best Vitamins for Women
- It’s believed that around 30 percent of all women are deficient in one or more of the most important vitamins and minerals, and for many women the risk only increases with age. Another scary finding? Estimates show about 75 percent of women would likely develop nutrient deficiencies if supplemental multivitamins didn’t exist.
- The best vitamins for women include vitamins A, C, D, E, K and B vitamins. In addition to the best vitamins for women, other nutrients that are important include iron, iodine, magnesium, omega-3 fish oil and calcium.
- Risk factors that make a women more likely to have a vitamin or mineral deficiency include: eating a highly processed diet, being vegetarian or vegan, being underweight or consuming too little calories in general, being of reproductive age, being over the age of 65, and having a low socioeconomic status, a lack of education and living in poverty.
- Risk factors for not getting enough of the best vitamins for women include being vegetarian or vegan, pregnant or over the age of 55.
- Make sure to consume as many of the best vitamins for women as possible in order to be the healthiest you can be and prevent nutritional deficiencies.
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