Supplements for women: Find out what you may need & why

Hi Gorgeous,

My supplement plan has changed over the past ten years as many times as my wardrobe. It’s not a one-size-fits-all fixed approach, which can make supplement selection a bit daunting. As always, I recommend that you work with a holistic practitioner or functional medicine MD to find the right supplements for your needs. And of course make sure you’re getting most of your vitamins and minerals from whole foods, but if you’re going supplement there are some general guidelines.

I may be a nutrition and science nerd, but I’m not a MD. So I reached out to one of my trusted friends, Aviva Romm, Integrative MD, and asked her to weigh in. Aviva uses her combined skills as a Yale-trained MD and Board Certified family physician, midwife, and herbalist to help women not only heal their bodies and minds, but transform their lives. Our conversation walks you through how to choose supplements whether you’re a college freshman, mother, busy biz maven or world-traveling retiree. Let’s get started!

KC: How do you begin building a supplement plan that meets your needs?

AR: Supplements come in handy because they bridge the gap between your diet and your phytonutrient needs—helping you feel on top of your game. But standing at the shelves in a health food store can be overwhelming when you’re trying to add supplements to your life. There are so many choices!

Here are a few tips to make choosing supplements easier:

  • Seek guidance from a professional first: Rather than just buying a bunch of random supplements, make the investment in an appointment with an integrative or functional medicine doctor, a naturopathic physician, or a savvy nutritionist to hone in on your specific needs. You can find a functional medicine doctor here. This will actually save you time and money. Ideally, she will give you a detailed plan of the best supplements for YOU, along with brand recommendations.
  • Go to the right place: You can often find better quality, organic, non-GMO, food-based supplements at higher-end natural foods stores.
  • Ask for directions while shopping: Natural food stores have staff dedicated to helping you, which comes in handy if you haven’t had a consultation with a health professional yet or have additional questions. They are paid by the store, not the supplement companies. While they are not experts and should not be giving medical or health advice, they can help you narrow down the choices and make an educated decision.
  • Pick a few companies you like and stick with them: Most companies carry a large product line. So once you’ve found a company you trust, they’ll probably offer what you need. A few I use are Rainbow Light, New Chapter, and Jarrow. There are also many quality brands sold only by licensed physicians. For example, Designs for Health, Metagenics, and Integrative Therapeutics.
  • Avoid unnecessary ingredients: Many supplements contain fillers, binders, colors, flavors, and other additives. Some of these might be necessary to hold the pills together, but go for the simplest products with the fewest additives.
  • Avoid products with “miracle claims.” If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

KC: What are the basic supplements you’d recommend women take daily?

AR: I recommend the following basic supplements for all women:

  • Multivitamin: Taking a multivitamin daily helps make sure you have the bases covered. I prefer Rainbow Light Women’s One, which is whole foods based, and only requires taking 1 pill daily. But any whole foods multi is usually a good bet. Go for non-GMO, organic, and free of dyes, additives, and colorings.
  • Vitamin D3, 2000 units: D is responsible for hundreds of functions in the body, from healthy immunity to healthy bones. An alternative source: Vitamin D2 or lichen-sourced D3 (plant-based). Unfortunately, I can’t give you a definitive answer as to whether vitamin D2 or lichen-sourced D3 is as usable by the body as animal-based vitamin D3. For more info on plant-based vs. animal-based vitamin D, check out this Vegetarian Resource Group article. Although you do get vitamin D from sun exposure, it may not be enough. It’s best to get tested before supplementing so that you know how much you need. Ask your doctor to have your 25,OHD level checked. An ideal test result should be between 40 and 80.
  • Fish oil, 1-2 capsules daily: Omega-3 fats are important for reducing inflammation, heart health, mood, mind, hair, and maintaining healthy weight. An alternative source: DHA and/or EPA (Plant-based Omega-3s). Vegans can take algae-sourced DHA, such as Life’s DHA. Just keep in mind that DHA is not as easily converted to EPA, so you’ll need to take a higher dose. Rejuvenation Science Labs has a vegan DHA and EPA supplement, which covers both bases, although I have not personally tried this brand.
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ground flax seed daily: Supports healthy elimination and helps keep hormones balanced. Ground flax seed can be added to a smoothie, sprinkled on salads or grains, mixed into nut butter and spread as usual, or even baked into cookies or crackers.
  • Magnesium glycinate, 600 mg daily (most women are low). Magnesium supports healthy bones, restful sleep, relaxed muscles, and balanced mood.
  • A broad spectrum probiotic that contains Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterum strains, daily if you have gas and bloating, or a few times weekly to optimize digestion.

In addition, you may want to consider these supplements depending on your personal health goals and needs (once again check with your doctor). For example, if you’re vegan you should consider B-12. If you’re having adrenal issues, you could take adrenal support. Please note that these supplements may not be necessary for everyone and this is not a comprehensive list. These are just a few ideas to get your wellness wheels thinking…

  • Magnesium citrate, 300-800 mg before bed if you are constipated.
  • Iodine: Many women are deficient and it’s needed for healthy thyroid function. Only a tiny amount is needed so you can take a multivitamin that contains trace amounts, or add dulse seaweed flakes, 2 teaspoons daily, to your food.
  • A digestive enzyme if you have gas and bloating—though it’s best to figure out the underlying causes.
  • B-12 (2.4 micrograms per day, especially important for vegans since B-12 is not found in unfortified plant-based foods): If taking B12 orally, take it sublingually (under the tongue for quick absorption into the bloodstream). Lastly, make sure you choose a B12 in the form of methylcobalamin (check label), since this form of B12 is absorbed best in your body.
  • Adrenal support blend: If you’re experiencing chronic stress, fatigue, foggy thinking and sleep issues, you may have an adrenal imbalance. It’s good idea to meet with your healthcare provider if these symptoms sound familiar. I recommend the following adrenal support blend supplements to my patients: Stress Manager (Herb Pharm), Adrenal Support (Gaia Herbs), Vital Adapt (Natura Natural Products), and HPA Adapt (Integrative Therapeutics).

KC: How can women shift their supplement plan to meet their needs throughout the years?

AR: Here’s what I’d recommend right before, during pregnancy, and while breastfeeding.

Take a prenatal multivitamin, get 400 mcg of folic acid, or if you have the MTHFR genetic mutation, 800 mcg of methylfolate daily. MTHFR is a gene that allows us to use our folate from veggies or folic acid from supplements, which is important for heart and blood vessel health, the nervous system, and detoxification. Folate is critical for the health of pregnant women and for baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Thirty percent of us have a genetic mutation that prevents us from using the folate in green veggies so the methylfolate provides extra “health insurance.”

Get at least 800 units of Vitamin D3 in pregnancy and while breastfeeding to prevent problems like gestational diabetes, and to make sure baby gets enough vitamin D through your breastmilk. Vegan moms can take vitamin D2, but given the benefits of vitamin D, including lower risk of gestational diabetes in pregnancy, this might be a time when it’s worth considering the non-vegan form if possible. Most pregnant women are low in Omega-3 fats, so taking a daily fish oil supplement is important (or plant-based options mentioned above). Nordic Naturals makes a nice one for pregnant mamas.

In addition to my basic recommendations for all women, I recommend considering these supplements for women in their 50s and beyond:

  • Accumulated oxidative stress: The impact of the environment on our body from years of just living and being exposed to the toxins in our world. This means being really mindful to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables that contain antioxidants, and taking a multivitamin as well as taking 500-2000 mg/day of Resveratrol (talk with your doctor first if you are on blood thinners).
  • Our bones: As we age we can lose bone density, especially if we’re not doing regular weight-bearing exercise, so it’s important to get daily vitamin D3, at least 1000 units, and approximately 800 mg of calcium citrate, 400 mg of magnesium citrate, and vitamins K1 and K2 (about 50 mg combined). Also boron, about 0.5 mg/day.
  • Nutrient absorption: Stomach acid, which breaks down nutrients in the digestive process, declines with age. I recommend that women in their late 50s, and any women with bone density problems, take 1-2 capsules of betaine HCL with meals. This is especially important for women taking a PPI like Prilosec for reflux. However, check with your doctor before taking betaine HCL if you have stomach ulcers.
  • Inflammation: As our estrogen declines, we’re more susceptible to problems due to inflammation. A favorite supplement for this is turmeric in its concentrated form called curcumin. I recommend 1000-2000 mg of curcumin daily. I use a product called Meriva, and also like Turmeric Supreme by Gaia Herbs.
  • Heart and general muscle vigor: CoQ10 is essential to take if you’re using a statin drug, or even red yeast rice, or high cholesterol, as these use up CoQ10 and can affect your heart and muscle health. A typical dose is 200 mg/day.
  • Premature aging: Resveratrol is the nutrient that makes red wine, grapes, and many dark colored fruits act as antioxidants, keeping us from aging prematurely. Food sources are important, and in addition you can supplement with 200 mg daily.

KC: Thanks, Aviva!

I hope these tips and recommendations give you the information you need to work with a practitioner and create a supplement plan that will fit your unique needs. Even though I eat a nutrient-dense diet and drink plenty of green drinks, I’ve seen a huge difference in my health since refining my daily supplements.

Your turn: What supplement have you found most beneficial to your health?

Peace & vitality,

Kris Carr

P.S. Want more tips for vibrant health?

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