4 Essential Supplements for Women

We have the best of intentions. We want to get good work done while staying healthy and keeping stress in check. We want to take good care of our family, our relationships, and ourselves. In a perfect world, we’d squeeze daily workouts and meditations into our busy schedule, get eight hours of sleep every night, and cook fresh, whole food meals from scratch. 

Here in the real world, though, it’s all too easy for our health and well-being to get thrown off balance. We try to eat healthy, but our foods are still lacking in key nutrients. Our gut health may be compromised, restricting our dietary options and making it harder to absorb nutrients from food. Heightened stress levels can drain the body’s energy resources, disrupt our hormones, and deplete important nutrients

This happens to everyone, but women are often first to notice when our bodies need more support. The fluctuating hormones that govern our reproductive cycle make us naturally sensitive to imbalances. When we start feeling burned out, brain-foggy, weak, and moody, it’s time to take another look at our nutrition. 

For those of us who could use some extra nutritional support -- and that’s most of us -- supplements are a great real-world solution. From vitamins and minerals that we’re likely to be low in, to support for our stress levels and reproductive health, here are four of the most essential supplements for women.

1. Iron

If you struggle with fatigue, particularly during your period, there’s a good chance you are low in iron. Iron is a key component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. Lack of iron deprives your cells of oxygen, which they need to produce energy, leaving you feeling weak and tired. Unfortunately, women lose a significant amount of iron through their blood during menstruation, which makes us extra susceptible to iron deficiency. About 1 in 5 women are deficient in iron. Vegans are also more likely to be iron deficient.

You can maintain healthy iron levels by regularly eating iron-rich foods such as beets, dark leafy greens, and red meat, or with help from a women’s multivitamin. But if your iron levels are low, you may need an iron supplement to help bring them back up. Some forms of supplemental iron are hard on the digestive system, so we recommend taking a chelated iron (ferrous bisglycinate), which is easier for your body to absorb without the uncomfortable side effects. Your iron supplement should also include vitamin C, which helps the body to absorb iron. Check out our Vegan Iron supplement with chelated iron, whole food iron, and plant-based vitamin C.

2. Calcium (and friends)

Women are four times as likely as men to develop osteoporosis as we age. That’s because our bone health is affected by our hormones. Estrogen helps preserve bone density, but estrogen drops sharply once we hit menopause. According to WebMD, women can lose as much as 25% of their bone density in just the first 5-10 years after menopause. The best way to avoid weak, brittle bones as we age is to build healthy, strong bones before menopause. That means we have to start thinking about our bone health before it becomes a problem.

Think of calcium as a retirement plan for your bones: the sooner you invest in your bone health, the better off you’ll be in the future. If you’re under 30, you are still building your bone density: the stronger your bones become now, the stronger they will be your whole life. If you are in your 30s or 40s, you are already starting to lose bone mass, and once you hit 50, your bone loss will accelerate. Do your future self a favor and make sure you are getting enough calcium now.

Calcium can be found in dairy products, cruciferous vegetables, and almonds. Some plant-based milks are also fortified with calcium. But even if you eat enough calcium, your body also needs vitamin D in order to absorb it. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is very common. If you live in the north, or don’t get out in the sun every day, taking a vitamin D supplement can make all the difference in your bone health.

If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, a supplement can help boost your intake. We don’t recommend taking calcium by itself: calcium needs a variety of other helper nutrients, such as vitamin D, vitamin K2, and magnesium, in order for your body to metabolize it correctly, or it can end up in your soft tissues rather than your bones. We recommend taking calcium in a plant-based, whole food form, such as algae calcium, which naturally includes co-nutrients that help with calcium absorption. Research also shows that taking calcium with vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 improves bone mineralization and reduces the risk of artery calcification.1,2

If you’re just looking for a daily boost to complement your diet, our whole food multivitamin for women includes algae-based calcium and magnesium, as well as D3, K2, and many other vitamins and minerals. If you need more serious calcium support, check out our Bone Strength supplement, a plant-based calcium complex that includes 10 essential bone-building vitamins and minerals, all working together to help your body use and preserve calcium better.

3. Ashwagandha

Chronic stress, or burnout, is a modern epidemic, and it’s impacting women more than men.3 Surveys consistently show that a majority of American women feel overwhelmed, and that the stress is interfering with our physical and mental well-being. Women are more likely than men to report physical stress symptoms, such as headaches and stomach issues, as well as mood imbalances related to stress.

Stress has been normalized in modern American culture, but it’s nothing to brush off. Long-term stress can have a serious impact on your health, particularly your heart, brain, reproductive, and immune health. For women, though, stress often manifests first as a hormonal imbalance. Because stress is a hormonal response, driven by cortisol, it disrupts the balance of our other hormones, which govern our sleep cycles, metabolism, reproductive cycles, energy levels, and moods. 

When your body goes into stress mode frequently, it eventually forgets how to turn it off, and that’s when chronic stress takes hold. To loosen up that stress grip, you have to retrain your body to react to stress differently. That’s what adaptogens do. An adaptogen is a traditional plant medicine that helps the body “adapt” to stress and dial down that fight-or-flight response that's putting your nervous system and your whole body on edge.4 

One of the best-researched adaptogens out there is ashwagandha, an herb that’s been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to reduce stress and burnout and promote youthful longevity. More than just a folk remedy, ashwagandha has some serious science to back up its effects. Clinical studies show that it can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, by an impressive 30%, with corresponding improvements in mental and emotional well-being.5,6

But it’s not just about feeling better. Studies show that ashwagandha can help reduce many of the negative health effects of stress, including those hormone-related issues commonly experienced by women, such as sleep issues, memory and focus, sexual health, thyroid health, and more. Ashwagandha works gently and cumulatively and is considered safe for long-term use, so it’s a good one to add to your daily routine. Check out our Organic Ashwagandha supplement.

4. B Complex

B vitamins are crucial for your energy, brain health, and reproductive health. They help produce energy from food and make red blood cells that transfer oxygen through the body. They help produce important neurotransmitters that affect your cognitive function, stress response, and mood. They are also necessary for healthy methylation and to make healthy DNA, which is especially important for reproductive health.

Women need to be extra conscientious about getting enough B vitamins during their reproductive years. B vitamins play a major role in a baby’s healthy brain development -- particularly B1, B6, B12, and folate (B9). What many women don’t realize is that these vitamins should be at healthy levels months before a pregnancy occurs. Folate plays its most important role in neural tube formation in the first four weeks of pregnancy, which is often before women even realize they are pregnant. For this reason, it’s actually recommended to start taking a prenatal multivitamin before you conceive. Most standard women’s multivitamins will also include the recommended 400 mcg of folate, just in case. If you are trying to get pregnant, B vitamins will also help with your fertility.

Even if pregnancy isn’t in the picture, there are good reasons to keep an eye on your B vitamin levels. They are important for healthy brain and nervous system function, and lack of B vitamins is linked with mood imbalances. Through their key role in the methylation process, B vitamins are also essential for helping your liver detox estrogen, which helps maintain hormonal balance. Vitamin B12 deficiency is particularly common for older adults and vegans, and can cause anemia with symptoms of weakness, fatigue, and brain fog, similar to iron deficiency. 

Since B vitamins are not stored long-term in the body, they need to be replenished regularly. B vitamins are present in many foods, but thanks to a common genetic variation, many people have trouble metabolizing B vitamins and converting them into their active forms. To boost your B vitamin levels, look for a multivitamin or B complex supplement that includes activated B vitamins, such as methyl folate (L-5-MTHF), B12 as methylcobalamin, and B6 as pyridoxal 5-phosphate (P-5-P). These methylated B vitamins are already in the active form, so your body can use them without having to convert them first. Check out our complete B Complex supplement with activated B vitamins, whole food B vitamins, and helpful co-nutrients like choline, inositol, and CoQ10.

Finally: if you are generally healthy, but want to make sure you aren't falling behind in any crucial nutrients, we recommend our women's Whole Food Multivitamin for day-to-day health and well-being. It covers all your bases with 25 essential vitamins and minerals derived from natural sources and delivered in the form that's easiest for your body to absorb. Plus, it includes organic fruits and vegetables for whole food nutrition, herbal extracts for extra antioxidant support, and digestive enzymes and probiotics to support your gut health. 

References:

1. Widaa, A., Brennan, O., O'Gorman, D.M. and O'Brien, F.J. (2014), The Osteogenic Potential of the Marine‐Derived Multi‐Mineral Formula Aquamin Is Enhanced by the Presence of Vitamin D. Phytother. Res., 28: 678-684. doi:10.1002/ptr.5038

2. Maresz, Katarzyna. “Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health.” Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.) vol. 14,1 (2015): 34-9.

3. Wiegner, Lilian et al. “Prevalence of perceived stress and associations to symptoms of exhaustion, depression and anxiety in a working age population seeking primary care--an observational study.” BMC family practice vol. 16 38. 19 Mar. 2015, doi:10.1186/s12875-015-0252-7

4. Panossian A. Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2017 Aug;1401(1):49-64. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13399. Epub 2017 Jun 22. PMID: 28640972.

5. Auddy, Biswajit & Hazra, Jayaram & Mitra, Achintya & Abedon, Bruce & Ghosal, Shibnath. (2008). “A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study.” Journal of American Nutraceutical Association. 11. 50-56.

6. Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. “A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults.” Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine. 2012;34(3):255-262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022.