Listen up: low iron levels are not uncommon in women, especially athletes. Many of us will experience iron deficiency at some point between puberty and menopause, often due to monthly blood loss (one more reason to side-eye your period). Plus, those on a plant-based diet are at greater risk of having low iron stores.
Symptoms of low iron may include
- difficulty concentrating
- shortness of breath
- coldness in hands and feet
- frequent infections
- low tolerance for exercise
Iron deficiency is easy to diagnose with just a quick blood test, and it is easy to treat through increased intake of dietary iron (think cooked leafy greens, soy products, beans and pumpkin seeds), as well as iron supplementation. If you’re deficient, supplementation can provide a huge improvement in energy levels. Huge! Why? Iron helps you form healthy blood cells and aids their ability to transport oxygen to your body’s tissues.
Zinc is an important nutrient for the health of the immune system, which can sometimes weaken with age. You’re probably already consuming zinc-rich foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. But zinc levels also tend to dip with age, and supplementation can be helpful to restore healthy levels. In a study of individuals over age 50, 12 months of zinc supplementation resulted in a measurable reduction in risk of infections compared to those of the same age who did not take zinc supplements.
Zinc may also play a role in alleviating acne—that thwarter of prom photos and interloper on first dates. Researchers have found that people with acne may have lower blood levels of zinc and vitamins A and E than those without the condition, and the severity of acne may be correlated with blood levels of these nutrients. A study of zinc supplementation over a 12-week period found 79 percent of those with mild to moderate acne experienced at least an 80 percent improvement in their acne symptoms.
Take note: pregnant and lactating women, as well as those on a plant-based diet, are at greater risk of zinc inadequacy.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, nab a prenatal multivitamin—by the time pregnancy is confirmed, the fetus has already begun some very important developmental stages. A prenatal multi is important for maternal health and fetal development because it contains key nutrients like folic acid (folic acid specifically is so important, you should consume 400 mcg of it daily if you’re of childbearing age—even if you’re not trying to get pregnant!).
Taking a prenatal has been linked to a number of potential benefits for baby, including reduced risk of
- cleft palate
- neural tube defects
- defects of the cardiovascular or urinary systems
- limb deformities
Vitex agnus-castus (also known as chaste tree and chasteberry)
This herbal product has been recognized by researchers for its potential benefit to women suffering from hormonal imbalances, particularly PMS.
An unpleasant result of hormone fluctuations, PMS can include mood changes, cramping, breast tenderness, fatigue and emotional sensitivity. (“Oh, really? I hadn’t noticed,” said no woman ever.) The severity of these symptoms can vary from mild to severe. For some women, vitex may provide relief. One study, for example, found that 20 mg of a standardized extract of vitex taken during three menstrual cycles provided significant symptom relief.
Omega-3 fatty acids
There are two things that we know for sure about omega-3s: we need them in our diet, and low levels are associated with various health problems. These essential fats are used by the body to moderate inflammation, lubricate tissues, repair cell membranes and support nerve and cardiovascular health. For pregnant women and new mothers, adequate omega-3 intake is key for baby’s development. Plant-based sources of omega-3s include seed oils and algae extracts.
Studies on the benefits of omega-3s have largely focused on those found in fatty fish and fish oil supplements, which are rich in two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: DHA and EPA . However, recent research shows that plant-based sources likely have similar benefits. Algal oil supplements, for example, appear to raise levels of DHA in the body in a way that’s similar to fish oil. And the short-chain omega-3 fatty acid ALA found in flaxseed oil appears to have cardioprotective effects on par with fish oils. Some ALA is converted into DHA and EPA in the body. And—good news, ladies—young women appear to convert it at a higher rate than men do.
People on plant-based diets tend to consume less DHA and EPA via food, so supplementation can be an extra-smart choice—particularly for cognitive health.
… and so many more
These are just a handful of the supplements that can be game changing for women’s health concerns. Feel like you’re melting because of menopause? Isoflavones may be in order. Concerned about your bones? Keep calcium and vitamin D on your radar.
Speak with your doctor or health care provider about the best supplement choices and doses for you, particularly if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or on birth control pills. And pop on over to alive.com for more supplement intel.