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Essential vitamins for women at every age

There are times in a woman's life when diet alone won’t be enough to get all the right vitamins or nutritional needs.

For example, whilst trying to become pregnant, and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, folic acid supplements are recommended to help prevent birth defects.

After the menopause, bone health may be a concern, and supplements of calcium and vitamin D may be recommended.

What are vitamins anyway?

Vitamins are essential chemicals that take part in all your body’s processes. They do that by participating in reactions inside cells. Each vitamin performs a specific function in the body, and no single food contains all the vitamins you need. Except for vitamin D, the human body cannot make vitamins. So you need to get vitamins from the foods you eat or from vitamin supplements.

At different stages of your life, your body’s need for specific vitamins varies. When you don’t get enough of a particular vitamin you need, you run the risk of serious health problems.

Many women know that eating five servings of fruit and vegetables each day is a good way to get their essential vitamins. Most women, though, don’t eat the quantity of fruits and vegetables that are recommended. As a result, many women in every age group are at risk of vitamin deficiencies.

Let’s look at some essential vitamins for women. Let’s explore what each vitamin does to maintain your health and which whole foods are good sources of this vitamin. Let’s also examine how much you need to prevent disease, as well as which vitamins are more important depending on your specific stage of life.

How do antioxidant vitamins help maintain health?

Many foods have antioxidant properties. However, there are specific vitamins that are known as antioxidant vitamins. They include vitamin A (retinol), the carotenoids, vitamin C, and vitamin E.

Antioxidants may help reduce damage to cell DNA and cell membranes from free radicals. However, evidence from research about the health benefits of antioxidants is not conclusive and some studies suggest that in some cases, antioxidant supplements may be harmful.

Antioxidants include:

  • Beta-carotene - Food sources of beta-carotene include apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, kale, papaya, peach, pumpkin, red peppers, and spinach.
  • Vitamin C, ascorbic acid, aids in wound healing and plays a role in the formation of red blood cells. Research suggests vitamin C also boosts levels of the brain chemical noradrenaline. Noradrenaline is a neurotransmitter. It boosts alertness and increases concentration. Animal studies show that when the body is under great stress, or during the ageing process, levels of ascorbic acid decline. Food sources of vitamin C include broccoli, grapefruit and grapefruit juice, kiwi, oranges, pepper, potato, strawberries, and tomato.
  • Vitamin E is also known as tocopherol. It plays a key role in the formation of red blood cells and in the maintenance of cell membranes. Some research suggests vitamin E may slow age-related changes in the body. Adults with intestinal disorders of malabsorption may be deficient in vitamin E. But taking too much vitamin E daily increases the risk of bleeding. Food sources of vitamin E include spreads (‘margarine’), corn oil, cod-liver oil, hazelnuts, peanut butter, safflower oil, sunflower seeds and wheat germ.

 

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