Vitamins For HerJoanne Carr, RHN, BA December 1, 2005
Nutrients for the Changing Needs of Women
Why take a multivitamin? Many people believe that if they eat three meals a day and exercise regularly, they do not need to take a multivitamin. Decades ago, this may have been the case, but in today’s society it is not. It is a common misconception.
Think of the body as being like the engine of a car. In order for the engine to work properly, it requires a specific type of fuel. The fuel you feed your body comes from the foods you eat, which contain nutrients that come in the form of vitamins, minerals, water, enzymes, amino acids and fats. Nutrients are involved in all body processes – from combating infection to repairing tissue to thinking. The problem is that our modern diet does not provide us with the nutrients we need in the proper amounts to meet the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). In order to reach the RDA that you would otherwise consume in a multivitamin, you would need to eat only organic foods in large quantities.
Exercise and stress further increase the demand for nutrients, yet many people choose nutrient-deficient energy foods for refueling. Compounding this nutrient problem is the fact that nowadays, our air and water, as well as our food supply, are full of new chemical toxins that we were not exposed to 20 years ago. These toxins rob the body of essential nutrients and increase our need for antioxidant protection to ward off disease. Research has shown that obesity, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer in adults are on the rise. Consistent use of multivitamins and key supplements can promote good health and help prevent disease.1
With numerous choices available on the market today, it can become overwhelming trying to choose a multivitamin that best suits your needs. Here are a number of key elements that you should look for and some to avoid.
• Avoid One-A-Day Supplements – Our bodies are not designed to utilize nutrients in one large single dose. Research has proven that eating smaller, more frequent meals allows for better utilization of the nutritional value of our food. The same principle applies to vitamins and minerals. Divided doses ensure that we have a constant supply of nutrients throughout the day for improved absorption. A one-size-fits-all multivitamin formula, taken once a day, cannot possibly satisfy all of our varied nutritional needs.
• Consider Vegetable-Based Capsules – There has been a recent debate that the gelatin used in capsules may hold a possible chance of containing contaminants that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). As a result, many manufacturers have switched to vegetarian capsules or vegetarian caplets/tablets. Vegetable-based capsules enhance absorption and eliminate the concern over the impurities and potential contaminants associated with traditional animal based gelatin capsules. They are also easier to swallow than larger tablets!
• Look for Individualized Formulas – Gender, stress levels, age and exercise all affect your nutritional status and your supplementation should answer to these differences. Individualized formulas target the unique nutritional demands of a contemporary lifestyle. For women, a multivitamin is necessary as they manoeuver their busy lives and try to balance career, family, exercise and leisure. Specifically, women should look for formulas that cater to their unique nutrient needs.
• Vitamins for Adult Women – Women with sedentary or moderately active lifestyles require antioxidants such as beta carotene, selenium, vitamin C and glutathione to protect the body from disease and prevent pre-mature aging. Adequate iron prevents a deficiency resulting from menstruation. Calcium, magnesium and vitamin D3 are key factors in healthy bone maintenance. CoQ10, niacin and vitamin E promote and protect proper heart and cardiovascular function. Highly alkaline green food concentrates such as spirulina, chlorella and green tea improve pH balance for better health. Hormone-balancing nutrients, digestive factors and plant extracts appropriate for adult women round out a more “complete” multivitamin.
• Vitamins for Active Women – The daily use of a multivitamin supplement can help reduce stress and many of the physical symptoms of stress.2 Regular strenuous exercise increases demands for calories and nutrients and increases free radical formation. Women who lead an active lifestyle and exercise regularly require higher amounts of antioxidants and both B and C vitamins to combat the increased physical stress levels. Coenzyme Q10 and Ginkgo Biloba help improve energy, stamina, and athletic performance. Nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and sea salt, help replace electrolytes that have been lost through strenuous activity. Hormone-balancing nutrients, digestive factors and plant extracts appropriate for active women round out a more “complete” multivitamin.
• Vitamins for Women Over 50 – Research supports the use of a daily multivitamin in older adults and seniors to help them obtain optimal nutrient status.3 Women over 50 should consider using a multivitamin that is iron-free. Excess iron can increase free radical damage in the body. Higher amounts of calcium and magnesium are required for post-menopausal women to maintain and improve bone density. Vitamins A, C and beta carotene support healthy vision and can reduce the incidence of cataracts. CoQ10, niacin and vitamin E promote and protect proper heart and cardiovascular function. Hormone-balancing nutrients, digestive factors and plant extracts appropriate for women over 50 round out a more “complete” multivitamin.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU ABSORB
There are many different types of multivitamin supplements available on health food store shelves, all with different degrees of absorption. Minerals pose more of an absorption issue than vitamins, so it’s extremely important to look at the form(s) of minerals with any type of supplement. Minerals in citrate form have been bound to citric acid in order to transport larger amounts of minerals into our cells and provide superior absorption.
The best health insurance combines healthy eating, regular exercise, effective stress management and a high quality multivitamin that suits your unique nutritional needs. By taking a comprehensive multivitamin, you are getting synergistic combinations of nutrients that you would not achieve by just eating healthy foods. So the next time you find yourself in the multivitamin section of your local health food store, keep your unique nutritional needs in mind and choose the multivitamin that best serves those needs. You won’t regret it!
1. Robert H. Fletcher, MD, Msc and Kathleen M. Fairfield, MD, DrPH. “Vitamins for Chronic Disease Prevention in Adults; Clinical Applications.” JAMA. 2002; 287(23): 3127-3129.
2. Gruenwald J. Graubaum HJ. Harde A. Advances in Therapy. 19(3): 141-50, 2002 May-Jun
3. McKay DL. Perrone G. Rasmussen H. Dallal G. Hartman W. Cao G. Prior RL. Roubenoff R. Blumberg JB. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 19(5): 613-21, 2000 Oct.