10 Supplements for Women

If you have no worries, grow your own vegetables, live in a pollution-free environment, don’t drink alcohol, smoke, eat sugar or anything remotely bad, exercise regularly, and you are in perfect health then you don’t need supplements, and have you ever thought of opening a health farm?

But for the rest of us, supplements can help fill the nutritional gaps caused by living life as we do.

The following 10 supplements are especially good for women. I am not a fan of recommending heaps of tablets. For a start they’re expensive, and then there is the rattling sound when you walk. However, you can’t go wrong with taking a daily women’s multivitamin and mineral. It is only if you want to address a particular problem (eg PMS or stress) that you need to take additional supplements.

1. The women’s multi

Women are different to men, and it’s not just the dangly bits. Hence the need for our own multivitamins and mineral supplement. Even with the best will in the world, it is difficult to eat well all the time, this supplement can fill in some of the nutritional gaps. If you are taking the oral contraceptive pill, these multis will replace the vitamins and minerals which are affected by the pill namely, vitamin C, folic acid, B12, B6, B2, zinc and magnesium.

These multis usually contain 200-400mcg of folic acid. So, if you are wanting to conceive, you don’t need to take an extra folic acid tablet. I recommend taking a woman’s multi during pregnancy as well.

Although these multis are good, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security, you still need to concentrate on eating well too.

2. B6 (pyridoxine)

All the B groups of vitamins are terrific, but if I have to pick one that is particularly important for sheilas it is B6. B6 is helpful for symptoms of PMS especially depression and fluid retention. (Take 100mg B6 10 days prior to the period) B6 is also useful for morning sickness, especially when combined with ginger. (Take 50mg of B6 and one ginger tablet twice daily). B6 is a busy B (Sorry!) and also helps prevent heart disease, kidney stones, osteoporosis and asthma. Like all the B vitamins, B6 needs the other B’s to work properly. So if you take B6 as an extra tablet, make sure you are taking other B’s too – such as found in the women’s multi.

B6-rich foods include: Lentils and other legumes, bananas, avocado, nuts, leafy green vegetables, and whole grains.

3. Magnesium

I am having a love affair with this mineral. It’s spooky, every patient walks out of my clinic with a bottle of magnesium in their hand. It has lots of functions but the one that makes it so popular with me is that it relaxes muscles. Muscles tense when we are stressed and can cause sore shoulders, neck and back. The bowel wall is muscle too, and for some people who are constipated it is because they are holding stress in their bowel, and so magnesium can help. Blood vessel walls are also made of muscle, so relaxing them may help with high blood pressure and headaches (the blood vessels in the head). Magnesium helps ease the cramping of period pain. It is also great for fatigue. 200-400mg magnesium daily. Magnesium works best when combined with calcium, and tablets are available in this combo.

Magnesium-rich foods include: whole grains (eg brown rice wholemeal bread), chickpeas and other legumes, prawns, nuts, molasses, figs, parsley, and green leafy vegetables.

4. Calcium

Many Australian women are low in calcium and this puts them at risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is known as the ‘silent killer’ because it sneaks up on you. Years of low calcium intake will cause the skeleton to become weaker, and increase the risk of fractures later in life. It is really difficult to strengthen bones after the horse has bolted… so to speak. Extra calcium is also needed during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The baby takes from the mother, so if your calcium intake is low, calcium from your bones will be used. In general, women should take 800 -1,000mg of calcium daily, and pregnant and breastfeeding women 1,200mg.

Calcium-rich foods include: cheese, yoghurt, green leafy vegetables, seeds (eg sesame seeds in tahini), nuts especially almonds, yoghurt, figs, tofu, soy milk, broccoli and fish containing bones eg salmon and sardines.

NB Milk products are a reliable source of calcium, but you can get your calcium needs by concentrating on seeds, nuts,soy and green vegetables.

5. Iron

Iron is needed by the haemoglobin molecule in red blood cells to ferry oxygen around the body. Without enough oxygen to the cells we feel tired, very tired; and cold, very cold; and eventually dead, very dead! Low iron is the most common nutritional deficiency. Women need more iron than men because some iron is lost every time we have a period. Pregnant women have a greater need for iron too. A simple blood test will determine whether you need extra iron.

Some iron supplements eg iron sulphate can cause constipation. Alternatives include liquid iron tonics. 10mls once or twice daily.

Iron is found in animal food (especially red meat, liver, and oysters) and vegetables (eg spinach, lentils, beetroot, whole grains, prunes, and dried apricots). Iron from animal food is easier to absorb than from vegetables. Vitamin C greatly increases iron absorption, so take a vitamin C tablet or squeeze some lemon juice on your food for more iron.

6. Water

You won’t believe the size of these capsules! I know, I know – water isn’t really a supplement, but it is amazing what conditions will respond by simply adding water; Headaches, low energy, skin problems, constipation etc. Get into the habit of drinking at least 1.2 litres of water a day. (Two water bottles). If you are not a naturally thirsty person, attach drinking water to something you do every day. Eg drink 600ml of water when taking the dog out for a wee, or when driving to work. Start the water habit first before deciding on extra supplements.

7. Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are a group of substances that are derived from fat in our diet. In our attempt to lose weight, many women choose no-fat or low-fat food, inadvertently reducing these valuable fatty acids from our diet. Some of the symptoms of not having sufficient essential fatty acids include; Sore joints, depression, dry hair, brittle nails, dry skin, immune weakness, arthritis, PMS, eczema, asthma, hayfever, acne, psoriasis and high cholesterol. Essential fatty acids are also important during pregnancy for the development of a baby’s nervous system. The two main groups of essential fatty acids (and we need both) are the omega 3 fatty acids (EPA), and the omega 6 fatty acids (GLA). The dosage (combined) is between 3-6g daily.

Essential fatty acid-rich foods: Fish, fish, fish (did I mention fish?), avocadoes, olive oil, tofu, seeds, nuts and whole grains.

Supplements that contain essential fatty acids: EPA: Fish oils, flaxseed oil GLA: evening primrose oil, flaxseed oil, borage oil, black currant oil

8. Vitex agnus castus (Chaste tree)

One of my all-time favourite herbs, Vitex agnus castus sounds like a nasty rash but is a wonderful hormonal balancer. If you suffer from PMS or hormone-related problems eg headaches, this herb will help. Take one tablet or 30 drops of the extract of Vitex two times a day.

9. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)

You might think St. John’s wort is the latest thing to hit your health food shop, but this wort has been used since ancient Greek times. Studies have shown that it may be as helpful as prescription anti-depressants without the side-effects. It is particularly helpful for depression associated with PMS and menopause. St. John’s wort is also wonderful for anxiety, stress and sleeplessness. Take one to three tablets daily.

10. Echinacea

Echinacea is THE immune herb. It boosts your immune system to prevent infections, from colds and sinuses to cystitis. I recommend it as a tonic to use three or four times a year. However, there is no problem taking it at a low dose for a longer period. It works very well with vitamin C, zinc and garlic.

Supplements can help fill the nutritional gaps caused by living life as we do.