A lot of people feel drawn to multivitamins as a may of mopping up any low levels of important vitamins and minerals, especially when we are feeling run down or have increased our activity levels. Women’s hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle can also leave us feeling in need of that little bit of extra support.
Of course, multivitamins can’t make up for an unhealthy diet, and fresh, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins should make up the majority of your diet. That being said, taking supplements can help to fill in any nutritional gaps and ensure you are firing on all cylinders health-wise.
Women have different nutritional needs than men, so we need to first look at what these needs are to get a good idea of what multivitamins are right for you.
Men require 8-10mg of iron per day, whereas for women the RDA is 18mg (very active people may require more than this as iron is lost during intense training). Women need more iron than men as they lose iron each month during periods. Low iron levels can lead to fatigue, dizziness and headaches, which can be even more pronounced if you are experiencing PMS or period cramps. Iron deficiency is very common, with an estimated 80% of people globally having low iron levels.
You probably know that calcium is important for bone health, but did you know that women are more likely to develop osteoporosis in later life than men? Oestrogen levels drop during menopause, and as oestrogen helps to protect bones, it can contribute to osteoporosis which may cause pain, postural issues, and eventually even disability. Calcium is also required by the body for regulating contractions of muscles and blood vessels, hormone production and many other important roles. A lot of calcium is stored within your bones and if you are deficient, the calcium will actually be leached out of the bones, leaving them brittle and more likely to break. Low calcium levels have even been linked to severe PMS. 1000mg of calcium per day is recommended for women under 50, and 1200mg a day for women over 50. As a guide, a 6oz (or 170g) pot of plain yoghurt contains just 300mg of calcium.
One in five women in the UK aged 19-34 are thought to have low magnesium levels, despite magnesium being available in many foods. Magnesium is vital for many essential bodily functions, including energy metabolism and protein synthesis, and also plays an important role in supporting brain function, bone health and tissue repair. Magnesium deficiency can cause symptoms including fatigue, muscle weakness, cramps, high blood pressure or loss of appetite. Studies into the effects of magnesium appear to indicate that supplementing with magnesium can help to relieve symptoms of PMS and leg cramps during pregnancy, and recent research has linked good magnesium levels with higher bone density and a lower risk of osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.
Folic acid is a man-made version of the substance folate aka vitamin B9, and is used by the body to synthesise and repair DNA and create red blood cells. You may have heard that folic acid supplements are recommended for pregnant women, but we all need some folic acid to support vital bodily processes. Low levels of folic acid can lead to a form of anaemia, and other symptoms include fatigue, depression, and mouth sores. Adults need 200mcg (200 micrograms = 0.2mg) per day, and pregnant women or those trying to fall pregnant need 400mcg per day.
Vitamin D is made in the body after exposure to direct sunlight on the skin, although in the UK from October to March the sun is simply not strong enough to provide us with adequate vitamin D levels. If you do not get regular exposure to sunlight on bare skin or if you have dark skin, you still may not absorb enough to create sufficient vitamin D levels, even in summer. Some vitamin D can be obtained from foods like fish, milk, meat, mushrooms and eggs, but only in small amounts. Vitamin D is needed for immune support & brain function, as well as supporting bone health – vitamin D helps the body to absorb and regulate calcium and phosphorus (another mineral important for bone health), and if vitamin D levels are low, this can also lead to calcium being leached from the bones, which can cause osteoporosis. Supplementing with vitamin D may be required to ensure levels do not drop too low, especially in winter.
Not all multivitamins are created equal – from cheap and cheerful generic brands to more high end products tailored towards different lifestyles and needs. As mentioned previously, people who do a lot of training or other physical activities may need higher levels of certains vitamins and minerals than others, e.g. iron.
Here in the Primal Life shop, we stock ACTIVE WMN™ from Bulk Powders, a supplement designed for women with medium – high activity levels. ACTIVE WMN™ contains all the vitamins, minerals and micronutrients that women require including those mentioned above, taken from high quality sources to ensure the best bioavailability. This is a good all-rounder for women who already work out regularly and eat well who just want to make sure all those RDA’s are getting nicely fulfilled. Take these supplements as directed on the bottle, preferably with food.
As with all supplements, contact your doctor before taking if you are on any medication, if you have ever been told not to take vitamins, or have any current health issues. This is not intended as medical advice, and supplements are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any bodily ailment.