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essential vitamins for women

Updated on September 25, 2011

Every woman needs essential vitamins to stay strong and healthy. However, each stage in a woman’s life may require increase intake of certain vitamins. For example, if you are of childbearing age, you need to take in sufficient amount of folic acid to prevent birth defects should you get pregnant; and if you’re of menopausal age, you may have to increase your vitamin D intake to prevent osteoporosis. Any decrease in essential vitamin at an age when you specifically need it may cause serious medical conditions.

Vitamins are essential nutrients that are vital in the promotion of various important processes in your body. Except for vitamin D, our body is not capable of producing vitamins. Thus, we need to take these essential nutrients from our diet or by taking vitamin supplements.

A woman’s vitamin requirements generally depend on her age, her present health status, as well as the presence of certain underlying medical conditions. Because many women do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of essential vitamins, many women in various age groups are likely to develop vitamin deficiencies.

So what are the essential vitamins for women?

Every adult woman needs the following essential vitamins. Although the recommended daily intake for each of these vitamins may vary depending on a woman’s age and specific health requirements, the bottom line is that these vitamins should be present in her daily diet.

Vitamin A

This vitamin is considered as an antioxidant vitamin, along with vitamins C and E. It is present in foods in the form of beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A in the body.

Vitamin A comes in two forms – retinol and carotenoid.

As an antioxidant, vitamin A plays a vital role in protecting the cells from the harmful effects of metabolic by-products known as free radicals. A type of unstable molecules, free radicals have shown to cause disruption of cell membranes, leading to cell destruction. Antioxidants act to bind these free radicals thus, taking away their cell destructive power. This effect can help in reducing one’s risk for chronic illness as well as in slowing down the aging process.

Aside from acting as an antioxidant, vitamin A also helps in building strong bones, soft tissue, skin, as well as mucous membranes. It is therefore imperative for women to have adequate amount of vitamin A to keep their skin and eyes glowing with health.

Foods rich in beta-carotene include apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkin, broccoli, kale, papaya, peach, collard greens, spinach, and red pepper.

Vitamin C

Otherwise known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is another antioxidant vitamin that is very essential for women in every stage. Many women nowadays are working and are therefore exposed to various stress-causing environmental factors such as smoke and pollution, thus, they need more antioxidants to combat the harmful and aging effects of these pollutants. Vitamin C level has been found to be decreased during the aging process, and when the body is experiencing stress. So women who wish to slow down the effects of aging and stress on their body should get adequate amounts of this vitamin.

Aside from its antioxidant activity, vitamin C also plays a vital role in the formation of red blood cells. Therefore, women who are menstruating need to take this vitamin regularly, and may need to increase intake during their period.

Vitamin C also helps build resistance to common infections such as colds and flu. So if you want a natural preventive measure against these infections, just eat sufficient servings of vitamin C-rich foods, or take vitamin C supplements.

Another important function of vitamin C is the promotion of wound healing and tissue repair. So women who have just gone through childbirth, or have undergone surgeries need to increase their vitamin C intake to facilitate wound healing and repair of damaged tissues.

Among the foods with high vitamin C content are grapefruit, oranges, guavas, broccoli, cantaloupe, kiwi, pepper, potato, strawberries, and tomatoes. Vitamin C is water-soluble, meaning that it can easily dissolve in water and can therefore be readily eliminated by the kidneys. Therefore, we need to take it regularly to keep a sufficient supply of this essential vitamin in our system, as our body cannot store it.

Vitamin E

Known as tocopherol, vitamin E completes the antioxidant vitamin triad ACE. Like vitamin C, it also promotes the formation of red bloods cells and helps keep the cell membranes intact. This essential vitamin may also slow the aging process as it neutralizes the stress-causing free radicals.

Women with malabsorption disorders may need to take vitamin E supplements as they are likely to be deficient in this vitamin. However, unlike vitamin C, this vitamin is fat-soluble, and cannot be easily eliminated in the urine, and a daily intake of more than 1500 IU of vitamin E heightens the risk of bleeding. Thus, women who strongly want to stay young-looking by taking more vitamin E need to beware of this danger.

You can get vitamin E from margarine, corn oil, hazelnuts, cod-liver oil, peanut butter, safflower oil, wheat germ, and sunflower seeds.

B vitamins

Although all forms of vitamin B are essential for a woman’s health, three of this vitamin complex, are particularly important. These three B vitamins specifically vital in women are vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folic acid.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is needed in various body processes including protein metabolism and red blood cell formation. It is also vital for the proper functioning of the nervous and immune systems. This B vitamin is present in many foods such as fortified breakfast cereals, fish like salmon and tuna, pork, chicken, bananas, beans, peanut butter, and many vegetables. Although water-soluble, excessive vitamin B6 intake can be toxic, so sticking to a diet containing this vitamin is usually enough for your vitamin B6 requirements.

Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 helps in keeping nerve sells and red blood cells healthy. It is also needed in metabolism, normal cell division, and synthesis of DNA, the genetic material present in all cells.

Rich sources of vitamin B12 include cheese, eggs, fish, meat, milk, and yogurt. So, women who are vegetarians and vegans are at higher risk of becoming deficient in this B vitamin. Thus, they may need to take supplements containing this essential vitamin.

People who are over 50 years old may have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 in its natural form. But if you belong to this age group and have absorption problems, you can get sufficient absorbable vitamin B12 from fortified cereals.

Folic acid or folate is another B vitamin essential for women, especially those of childbearing potential, as this vitamin is vital in preventing the occurrence of birth defects. Folic acid is shown to be depleted by poor eating habits and lifestyle practices like alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking, and intake of oral contraceptives. Thus, many children born to these women suffer from various congenital defects.

Folate is an essential nutrient in the development of the central nervous system. Thus, avoidance of unhealthy lifestyle practices and consumption of folic acid-enriched diet during pregnancy is found to be important in preventing neural tube defects like spina bifida, a condition characterized by an incomplete closure of the spine. If you’re pregnant therefore, be sure to discuss with your doctor your specific requirements for folic acid.

This nutrient also helps in the synthesis of DNA and RNA, the genetic building blocks of cells. Moreover, this vitamin prevents DNA modifications that can lead to cancer formation. All people need folate too to produce red blood cells, thereby preventing anemia.

Foods rich in folic acid include spinach, and green vegetables, asparagus, citrus fruits, cantaloupes, and other melons, fortified grains, strawberries, legumes, beans (particularly black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and lima beans), eggs, and organ meats like liver.

Vitamin D

Categorized as a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin D can be considered more as a hormone, rather than a vitamin, as it doesn’t have to be nutritionally supplied; and it acts on specific target tissues.

Vitamin D plays a vital role in maintaining calcium and phosphorus homeostasis by regulating bone resorption, calcium absorption in the gut, and by regulating calcium excretion through the kidneys.

Together with estrogen, vitamin D regulates reabsorption of calcium and phosphorus by the cells of the kidney. And in bones, vitamin D works along with parathyroid hormone to regulate the release of calcium and phosphorus into the circulation thus, creating a healthy balance of calcium and phosphorus in the body.

Without sufficient supply of vitamin D therefore, bones can weaken and become prone to fractures, a condition known as osteoporosis. Post-menopausal women are particularly at risk for osteoporosis, as they lack estrogen needed for calcium absorption. So, if they also lack in vitamin D, their risk is even heightened. Therefore, women especially those of menopausal age need to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D and calcium to prevent osteoporosis.

Vitamin D can be obtained from fortified milk, margarine, and fish. Sunlight exposure can also stimulate our body to produce this vitamin. Women who do not have regular exposure to the sun as well as adequate intake of vitamin D- and calcium-rich foods may need to compensate by taking supplements.

Vitamin K

Although not considered as an essential vitamin, vitamin K is a key nutrient in keeping the bones of older adults strong and healthy. Among the good sources of this vitamin are green leafy vegetables, soybean oil, alfalfa, broccoli, cooked spinach, and fish oil.

Do women need to take vitamin supplements?

Most nutritionists advise that we get our supply of essential vitamins basically from our diet without relying on supplements as much as possible. But as people vary in terms of physical characteristics, health status, and dietary preferences, it is advisable that you talk with your doctor and nutritionist regarding your specific requirements to ensure that you get sufficient vitamin intake.

What do you think are the best sources of vitamins?

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    • Melody Lagrimas profile image

      Melody Lagrimas 8 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks, Angeline, for dropping by.

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 8 years ago

      Great detailed information. You have also given many examples of each type of vitamins, so we know exactly what to eat. Thanks.

    • Melody Lagrimas profile image

      Melody Lagrimas 8 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks for dropping by, Peggy.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      We always take a daily vitamin. It is inexpensive insurance! Good hub about essential information for everyone to consider. Thanks Melody.

    • Melody Lagrimas profile image

      Melody Lagrimas 8 years ago from Philippines

      Dottie1 and Kiran8, thank you very much for your comments. We really need to be mindful with our vitamin intake.

    • kiran8 profile image

      kiran8 8 years ago from Mangalore, India

      Excellent hub, lots of useful information- thanks a lot :)

    • Dottie1 profile image

      Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

      You just reminded me I haven't been taking my vitamins. I'm so inconsistent and need to be reminded. Thank you for this great list of essential vitamins.

    • Melody Lagrimas profile image

      Melody Lagrimas 8 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks a lot, Darlene.

    • DarleneMarie profile image

      DarleneMarie 8 years ago from USA

      Great information on vitamins that are important and essential for keeping women healthy!