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While everyone has individual, unique needs when it comes to health and wellness, our basic requirements are surprisingly similar. Here are 10 supplements that can help address common health concerns for women of every age.
1. Vitamin D
Low levels of vitamin D increase risk for a host of conditions, including high blood pressure, PMS, heart disease, stroke, cancers, depression, arthritis, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, inflammatory bowel disease, colds, flu, and other viruses, allergies, asthma, osteoporosis, and overall risk of premature death. Integrative physicians frequently recommend taking at least 2,000 IU daily, a significantly larger quantity than can be found in multis.
2. Fish Oil
Several studies have found that fish oil can reduce menstrual pain. In a study of 42 teens, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 6 grams of fish oil daily was the effective amount. Fish oil may also reduce breast cancer risk. To combat inflammation and improve virtually all aspects of health, including the heart, skin, brain, joints, and overall mood, 3 grams of total omega-3 fat content daily (from EPA and DHA) is the usual recommended amount.
Related: Fish Oil Versus Flaxseed Oil
Compared to men, women often have less dramatic symptoms of heart disease and are less likely to get rapidly and correctly diagnosed. Which makes heart-healthy CoQ10 an especially important supplement for women. CoQ10 is a vital nutrient for the heart because it feeds mitochondria, the energy-generating component of cells, and makes the heart stronger at any age. The supplement lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, inhibits deadly clots, and improves recovery from heart surgery to a remarkable degree. And it can help with weight loss. CoQ10 is available as an individual supplement, and from 50 to 300 milligrams per day is taken in divided doses with meals.
Related: Why You Need CoQ10
4. DIM (diindolylmethane)
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a substance that is converted into DIM in our bodies. DIM affects the breakdown of a form of estrogen called estrone, and according to animal research, appears to reduce its harmful effects, helping to prevent breast, cervical, and other cancers. When taken at a dose of 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, DIM may also offer some protection against cervical dysplasia, a precancerous abnormal growth of cells on the cervix.
5. Calcium D-glucarate
Not the same substance as the mineral calcium, calcium D-glucarate reduces the impact of toxins (particularly harmful forms of estrogen in environmental pollutants) and aids in their elimination. Its mechanism includes inhibiting an enzyme that promotes hormone-dependent cancers, and it appears to regulate estrogen metabolism and lower cholesterol. Calcium D-glucarate is found in oranges, apples, grapefruit, and cruciferous vegetables. Therapeutic amounts are available in individual supplements and in cleansing or detoxification formulas.
6. Evening Primrose Oil
A source of the healthful omega-6 fatty acid GLA (gamma linolenic acid), evening primrose oil is often taken to reduce PMS symptoms such as bloating, irritability, depressed mood, and breast tenderness. It may also help relieve hot flashes and night sweats in the years leading up to menopause. Evening primrose oil helps control blood pressure and, because it reduces inflammation, may be beneficial for arthritis, allergies, and eczema. It is available as an individual supplement and in formulas to provide 240 milligrams of GLA per day.
Studies have found that antioxidant-rich pomegranate is good for the heart and helps counteract the harmful effects of estrogen. In a cell study published in Cancer Prevention Research, pomegranate suppressed an enzyme that promotes breast cancer, helping to prevent the disease, and stopped the growth of tumors. Researchers identified compounds in the fruit that specifically target estrogen-dependent cancers.
Related: Pomegranate Health Benefits
8. Chaste Berry
Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus) is a medical treatment in Europe for breast tenderness associated with PMS and noncancerous cysts, or fibrocystic breast disease. It is also used to relieve other symptoms of PMS, irregular periods, and menopausal discomfort, and to enhance fertility. In addition to being an individual supplement, chaste tree berry, usually 100 to 200 milligrams, is found in formulas with other women’s health herbs, such as black cohosh, to relieve hot flashes, and other menopausal symptoms.
Related: Chaste Tree Berry Health Benefits
A low level of progesterone is a very common cause of uncomfortable perimenopause symptoms. Many women get relief safely with a form of the hormone that is chemically identical to the progesterone our bodies produce (not the same as “progestin,” which increases risks for heart disease and strokes). Progesterone is available in very low dosages at health food stores or by prescription through integrative physicians, who usually do tests to determine customized dosages. “If you get too much or too little,” says Pam Tarlow, an integrative pharmacist in Los Angeles, “You might accentuate symptoms.” Feeling overly sleepy, she says, is the most common sign of too much progesterone. If in doubt, get tested. To find qualified health professionals, visit salivatest.com.
Historically and scientifically, cranberries are widely recognized as an important supplement for women to help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) by deterring harmful bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urinary tract. Cranberry juice or extracts are especially beneficial for women of any age who are prone to UTIs. Because they are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants, cranberries may also benefit the cardiovascular system and skin.
Related: 5 Amazing Cranberry Benefits
Toxins: Today’s Biggest Challenge for Women
Toxins disrupt hormones, speed up the aging process, and promote disease. We can limit our exposure (by eating organic, non-GMO food, using natural skincare and household cleaning products, and avoiding plastic food containers); however, we can’t completely escape from environmental pollutants.
Although their effects are not fully known, many toxins mimic estrogen, disrupting the natural balance among hormones. They are called xenoestrogens. Manifestations may include accentuated PMS symptoms, early and more severe symptoms of approaching menopause (such as hot flashes and mood swings), a more difficult transition through menopause, and increased risk for hormone-related cancers.
Take a Multi to Keep Your Weight Down
The multivitamin is a key foundational supplement for women. By filling gaps in today’s nutrient-depleted food, it provides nutritional insurance and can assist with weight loss, according to a study of obese women published in the International Journal of Obesity. Researchers noted: “Obese individuals are more likely to have either lower blood concentrations or lower bioavailability of minerals and/or vitamins.”
The study compared the effects of a multivitamin and mineral supplement, calcium, or a placebo on weight and health markers among 87 women in China between the ages of 18 and 55. There was no diet or exercise program. Women who took the multi lost nearly 8 pounds in 26 weeks, whereas those who took a low-dose calcium supplement (162 milligrams daily) lost slightly less than 2 pounds, and those taking a placebo lost less than 0.5 pounds.
In the trial, the multi helped women shed fat, rather than muscle, and significantly increased the number of calories burned in the normal course of life-a phenomenon sometimes described as “revving up metabolism.” And multis improved cholesterol levels.
Different formulations are designed for women at various stages of life, but as a rule, multivitamins don’t contain a full day’s calcium requirement: 1,000 milligrams; 1,200 milligrams after age 50. This total includes calcium from food and supplements, so your personal needs depend on your diet.