Some people think of them as a nutritional “insurance policy.” There’s some evidence to suggest that deficiencies in some micronutrients like vitamins and minerals cause cellular changes that may increase the risk of some chronic diseases.
It’s not “one size fits all” when it comes to multivitamins. Men and women have slightly different vitamin and mineral requirements and these requirements differ somewhat based on age. For example, pre-menopausal women have higher iron requirements than post-menopausal women and men at all ages. Vitamin and mineral requirements also change during pregnancy. Most doctors agree that it’s vital that pregnant women have adequate quantities of folate, a B-vitamin that helps to reduce brain and spinal abnormalities in unborn babies. Moms-to-be also have greater iron requirements. That’s why there are women’s multivitamin formulations made to meet the unique requirements of women at all stages of life and during pregnancy.
Women who fall into certain risk groups may be at higher risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. These include women who follow a low calorie diet and those with eating disorders. Women who have intestinal conditions that make it more difficult to absorb vitamins and minerals from their digestive tract are also at greater risk for vitamin and mineral deficiency. Elderly women may also be at higher risk because they eat fewer calories or have medical conditions that put them at risk. Finally, women who eat a vegan diet are at risk for deficiencies of several vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B12. A multivitamin with iron may supply these necessary dietary elements.
There’s also some evidence that women who are athletic and engage in frequent, vigorous workouts can benefit from a multivitamin. One study showed that athletes need more of a B-vitamin called riboflavin. Athletes that train frequently may also have greater requirements for zinc, a mineral that’s important for healthy immune function. Long periods of endurance exercise decreases immune function and may put athletic women at risk for colds and flu viruses. Zinc is suggested to potentially help with tissue repair after a workout.
Other vitamins and minerals that women may not get enough of are calcium and vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D are important for healthy bones and for reducing loss of bone density with age, but preliminary studies show the benefits of vitamin D may extend beyond bone health. Vitamin D appears to play a role in maintaining a healthy immune system that can fight off viruses and bacteria without “overreacting” and triggering inflammation. The best natural source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. Women who live in areas that lack direct sunlight during the winter may have sub-optimal vitamin D levels.
As always, talk to your doctor about taking a multivitamin. They’ll likely recommend that you take a women’s multivitamin that contains the appropriate quantities of vitamins and minerals your body needs based upon your age, sex and health condition.
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