A trip down the supplements aisle at your local supermarket or pharmacy can be intimidating. Some pills contain an alphabet soup of vitamins and minerals while others focus on one ingredient at a time. Throw in supplements that are differentiated by age and sex and you have a dizzying array of products to choose from.
As a woman, which supplements are particularly important for you, and how much should you consume every day?
Iron is needed for healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout our bodies. The recommended daily intake of iron differs by age as well as sex. According to the National Institute of Health, female babies should take 11 mg daily, but the recommended daily intake drops to 7 mg from one to three years of age. From age four to fifteen, the recommended daily intake fluctuates between 8 and 15 mg daily, but women aged 19 to 50 should take at least 18 mg of iron daily. Once past the age of 50, women should only take 8 mg of iron every day.
Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, leaving you feeling tired and weak, which will affect your performance at school or at work. However, an overdose of iron is toxic. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences recommends that females aged 13 years and below should not take more than 40 mg of iron per day, while those aged 14 and above should take no more than 45 mg of iron daily.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Inadequate calcium intake leads to osteoporosis, a bone disease characterized by reduced bone density. Women are especially at risk. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), one in two women over fifty will have an osteoporosis-related fracture, compared to just one in eight men. The best defense is a strong offense, that is, building strong bones. The NOF recommends that adults under 50 years of age should take 1,000 mg of calcium daily, while older adults need 1,200 mg.
To help your body absorb calcium, the NOF recommends that adults under 50 take 400-800 IU of vitamin D daily while older adults need 800-1,000 IU. Vitamin D supplements come in two forms: D2, also known as ergocalciferol, and D3, also known as cholecalciferol. While there has been some debate about the efficacy of one versus the other, recent studies show that both forms of vitamin D are equally good for bone health. Calcium is also good for proper heart, muscle, and nerve function while vitamin D is good for the skin.
Folic acid, also known as folate or Vitamin B9, is required for new cell growth, making it especially important for pregnant women. It is also an important ingredient in the creation of healthy red blood cells, which prevents anemia. Studies have also shown that folic acid improves brain function in those aged over 50. Benefits include improved short term memory, mental agility and increased fluency of speech. Folic acid has also been linked to lower rates of breast cancer, and may help the clinically depressed, although scientists have yet to come to a consensus on these points.
The Institute of Clinical Systems Improvement recommends that women who are trying to get pregnant should take 800 mg of folic acid daily. However, once pregnant, women should increase the dosage to 1,000 mg per day. Otherwise, healthy adults should take 400 mg daily. Too much folic acid is not recommended, as this could mask the symptoms of a Vitamin B12 deficiency, which is dangerous if left untreated.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Found in foods such as oily fish and vegetables, Omega 3 fatty acids are a naturally occurring polyunsaturated acid. They are essential to certain bodily functions like relaxing and contracting muscles, blood clotting, digestion, and fertility. Scientists have shown that ingesting more Omega 3 can help to prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering triglycerides, and blood pressure, and by slowing the progress of atherosclerosis. Other studies have shown that Omega 3 fatty acids helps patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
As a fat, there is no recommended daily allowance for Omega 3 fatty acids, but the acceptable intake for women is 1.1 grams per day, with the FDA prescribing a maximum daily intake of 3 grams per day, of which no more than 2 grams should come from supplements.