What day-to-day vitamins & minerals are many women missing?
What day-to-day vitamins & minerals are many women missing?
Have you ever opened your eyes from a great night's sleep yet still felt exhausted, weak, foggy and just not 100%? Before you start assuming the worst, consider the possibility of a simple vitamin and mineral deficiency.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies in women
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are more common than you may think. According to the Global Burden of Disease study on common deficiencies, women and children are often more at risk than men. Let’s take a look at the seven most common deficiencies in women, unpacking them to learn why they’re common, what foods you can include in your diet to prevent a deficiency and if you should take women’s health supplements.
The main reason for a vitamin D deficiency is a lack of sunlight exposure. Depending on where you are in the world, this can happen from using sunscreen or from sun exposure simply not being an option.
Good sources of vitamin D
The sun is the best place to get your vitamin D. For this, you need to expose your skin to direct sunlight. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, take 15 minutes a day without sunscreen during the morning or afternoon—when the UV rating is the lowest. If this is not possible, you may need to consider supplementation.
A zinc deficiency could stem from a number of issues, such as lack of adequate sources in the diet, regular and long-term use of the oral contraceptive pill, age or anything that impacts gut health leading to an absorption issue. There are specific diuretic medications used for various conditions that can also increase zinc losses.
Good sources of zinc
- Beef, pork and lamb
- Pumpkin seeds
Most women will face iron deficiency at some point in their life, whether that’s from growing another human, giving birth, excessive monthly blood loss or simply just not eating enough. Women's basic iron needs between ages 14 and 50 are more than double the amount that men need due to their natural menstrual cycle.
Good sources of iron
- Red meat: Beef, lamb and pork
- Poultry: Chicken and turkey
- Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans
- Leafy green vegetables: Spinach
- Nuts and seeds: Pumpkin seeds and cashews
One of the primary causes of iodine deficiency is diet, especially in people who don’t eat seafood or other sea-based products like seaweed. Pregnancy and breastfeeding also demand a higher amount of iodine. And hormonal changes during puberty, menstruation and menopause can also affect iodine metabolism and lead to lower iodine levels in women.
Good sources of iodine
- Seafood: Seaweed, cod, shrimp and tuna
- Iodized salt: You can buy table salt fortified with iodine or salt enriched with seaweed flakes
- Eggs: One large egg provides about 16% of the daily recommended intake
- Vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil: Potatoes, spinach and kale can be a source of iodine, but can be unreliable due to varying soil quality
Folate deficiency in women can be caused by poor diet, pregnancy, malabsorption, certain medications, alcohol consumption and genetic factors. Folate is especially important before and during pregnancy.
Good sources of folate
- Leafy green vegetables: Spinach, kale and collard greens
- Citrus fruits: Oranges and grapefruit
- Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas and black beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Fortified cereals and bread
Magnesium is an essential mineral used for over 600 functions within the body and is found in every one of our cells. There are several reasons why women may experience magnesium deficiency, including low dietary intake, high caffeine and alcohol intake, pregnancy and breastfeeding, hormonal factors, certain medications and chronic stress.
Good sources of magnesium
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds
- Leafy green vegetables: Spinach, kale, collard greens and Swiss chard
- Whole grains: Brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat
- Legumes: Beans, lentils and chickpeas
- Avocado: One medium avocado provides about 15% of the daily recommended intake
- Dark chocolate: One ounce of 70-85% dark chocolate provides about 15% of the daily recommended intake
- Seafood: Salmon and mackerel
There are several reasons why women may experience selenium deficiency, including low dietary intake, poor soil quality, pregnancy and breastfeeding. Medical conditions such as Chrons’s disease, and medications such as the oral contraception pill and corticosteroids, can also cause impaired absorption.
Good sources of selenium
- Brazil nuts: Just one nut can provide more than the daily recommended intake
- Seafood: Tuna, sardines, salmon and shellfish
- Meat and poultry: Beef, chicken and turkey
- Whole grains: Brown rice, quinoa and oats
- Eggs: One large egg provides about 14% of the daily recommended intake
To supplement or not to supplement?
If you are unsure, get tested
This is simple—if you are worried that you may be deficient in any of the vitamins and minerals mentioned in this article, your GP or natural health practitioner can help organise testing. This is important! Why?
- The main symptom of iron deficiency—fatigue—is also the main symptom of iron overload. Taking an iron supplement if you aren’t deficient could cause more issues.
- Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s stored by the body. If you supplement for long periods of time without knowing your levels, you run the risk of toxicity.
- Long-term high doses of zinc that some supplements might contain (25mg+) is not recommended if it’s not necessary. This can displace the absorption or balance of other important minerals such as copper and iron.
- Folate needs vary depending on the stage of life and there are different forms that could benefit different people depending on genetics, especially if an MTHFR issue is suspected or known. (3)
Health supplements all women can benefit from
Most people are deficient in magnesium, so it can be a beneficial women’s health supplement that is safe for daily use.(4) If you have too much, it will simply pass through you—though this may mean being stuck on the toilet experiencing a violent emptying of your bowels! However, the type of magnesium in a supplement is important, more on that here and here.
General mineral support
Supplementing your diet with whole food powder from natural food sources that are rich in vitamins and minerals, can help bring balance in the body. Vital Food is a great example of this. Low-dose “top-ups” of safe vitamins and minerals can be great to complement the hard work you put in with your diet. In this case, you might benefit from a low-dose more targeted mineral support option such as ZMAG, which includes zinc, magnesium, selenium and taurine—ticking all the boxes for women's mineral support.
Almost everything can be linked to the health of your gut. Micronutrients are absorbed in your stomach and small intestines, so it makes sense that the bacteria that resides there could have a huge influence on the ability and efficiency of vitamin and mineral absorption. Probiotics are one way to address any issues. But with so many species, it’s important to find out exactly which ones you need (5).
Another way to support the overall balance of your gut is by ensuring you eat a variety of fibre, pulp, skin peels and seeds from the fruits and vegetables in your diet to benefit from the polyphenols these contain. These are not always easy and palatable to eat, and a product like Gutright can help meet this goal.
The take-home message
Supporting your body to meet daily vitamin and mineral needs can be the difference between feeling great and not so great. A diet rich in the variety of whole foods that have been shared in this article is a great place to start, and women’s health supplements can be helpful in some situations. If you are unsure, get tested by your GP or natural health practitioner, and start waking up with more energy to enjoy life and kick your goals.
- Han X, Ding S, Lu J, Li Y. Global, regional, and national burdens of common micronutrient deficiencies from 1990 to 2019: A secondary trend analysis based on the Global Burden of Disease 2019 study. eClinicalMedicine. 2022 Feb;44:101299.
- Fayet-Moore F, Petocz P, Samman S. Micronutrient status in female university students: iron, zinc, copper, selenium, vitamin B12 and folate. Nutrients. 2014 Nov 13;6(11):5103–16.
- Vidmar Golja M, Šmid A, Karas Kuželički N, Trontelj J, Geršak K, Mlinarič-Raščan I. Folate Insufficiency Due to MTHFR Deficiency Is Bypassed by 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate. J Clin Med. 2020 Sep 2;9(9):2836.
- Fiorentini D, Cappadone C, Farruggia G, Prata C. Magnesium: Biochemistry, Nutrition, Detection, and Social Impact of Diseases Linked to Its Deficiency. Nutrients. 2021 Mar 30;13(4):1136.
- Barkhidarian B, Roldos L, Iskandar MM, Saedisomeolia A, Kubow S. Probiotic Supplementation and Micronutrient Status in Healthy Subjects: A Systematic Review of Clinical Trials. Nutrients. 2021 Aug 28;13(9):3001.