Women of childbearing and menopausal age have distinct nutritional needs that are critical for their health and well-being. However, we don’t know a lot about how a woman’s nutrient gaps and nutrient statuses change over the span of her lifetime. The scientists at Nature Made® recently published the first study to assess the nutrient status of women from childbearing to menopausal years in a large nationally representative sample of women in the U.S. population.
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, our science experts examined nutrient data of women in the U.S. population. The study found both younger and older women are significantly falling short of meeting basic nutrient needs, and almost 70% of women in their childbearing and menopausal years have a vitamin insufficiency or deficiency.
Researchers at Pharmavite LLC, the makers of Nature Made® vitamins, analyzed the nutrient data of 6,894 women of childbearing years and menopausal years from the US National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2011–2016.
A substantial percentage of women of both childbearing and menopausal age are not meeting their recommended intake for 10 critical nutrients from their diet.
Women across all age groups were deficient or have inadequate nutrient status (blood levels) for 5 key nutrients.
Dietary supplements can help fill these nutrient inadequacies.†
The results of the study show a substantial percentage of women of both childbearing (ages 15 – 44), and premenopausal and menopausal age (ages 40 – 65) are not meeting their recommended nutrient needs from their diet for these 10 key nutrients:
Vitamin D: Over 97% of women in all age groups don’t meet their needs for this essential nutrient that is needed to support healthy bones, muscles, and a healthy immune system.†
Choline: About 95% of all age groups don’t get enough of this essential nutrient that supports a healthy brain of both growing babies and adults.†
Dietary Fiber: More than 90% of women in all age groups also don’t meet their needs for this vital nutrient that supports a healthy digestive system and is the main food source for the gut microbiome.†
Vitamin E: More than 85% of women in all age groups don’t meet their needs for this antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals and supports a healthy immune system as the body ages across the lifespan.†
Potassium: Almost 65% of women in all age groups don’t meet their needs for this essential mineral that supports healthy heart, muscle, and nerve function.†
Vitamin A: About 50% of the youngest women of the childbearing group (ages 15 – 30) and a little over 35% of menopausal age women (ages 51 – 65) don’t meet their needs for this essential nutrient which supports a healthy vision, skin and immune function.†
Vitamin C: More than 40% of women across the age groups don’t meet their needs for this skin health and immune system support vitamin, and known antioxidant.†
Magnesium: More than 60% of the youngest women of childbearing age (ages 15 – 30) don’t meet their magnesium needs and a little over 45% of women (ages 31 – 65) fall short of this essential nutrient for bone health, muscle, nerve and heart function support.†
Calcium: More than 45% of women (ages 15 – 50) and 74% of women (ages 51 – 65) do not meet their needs of this healthy bone-support nutrient.†
Vitamin K: More than 35% don’t meet their needs for this essential vitamin for supporting healthy bones and vascular health.†
5 KEY NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES OR INSUFFICIENCIES IN ALL WOMEN
While diet is an important measurement for how many nutrients we consume, a more accurate way to measure how much of a nutrient is in your body—is through blood levels. The study found a significant number of women of ages 15 – 65 had low nutrient blood levels for these 5 essential vitamins and minerals:
Vitamin D – Over 70% of women are deficient or have inadequate Vitamin D status
Folate – Low levels of folate were found in 36% of women
Vitamin B12 – 28% of women have low levels of vitamin B12
Iron – Nearly 24% of women have some form of iron deficiency
Iodine – Some form of iodine deficiency was found in 44% of women
VITAMIN D: THE MOST COMMON NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY IN WOMEN
Nearly every cell in the body has vitamin D receptors that require vitamin D for optimal functioning.1 The study found over 97% of women (ages 15 – 65) did not meet the basic nutrient needs of vitamin D from their diet.
Vitamin D comes from both food and sun exposure, so the researchers measured blood levels of vitamin D and found almost 70% of women have deficient or inadequate Vitamin D status. This finding is much higher than previous research that found a 40% vitamin D insufficiency in men and women.2
THE B VITAMINS AT THE BOTTOM
Across all age groups, women had an adequate dietary intake of B vitamins, with these few notable but important exceptions:
Vitamin B6 dietary intake is substantially lower in menopausal women: Low dietary intake of vitamin B6 was 10% of women in childbearing and perimenopausal years, that shortfall doubled to 20% in menopausal years. Vitamin B6 is an essential nutrient for healthy red blood cell formation and supports the production of neurotransmitters that are needed for mood health.3†
Women have low Vitamin B12 and Folate blood levels: When assessing vitamin B nutrient status from blood levels, the study found about one-third of women ages 15–65 had insufficient or deficient blood levels of folate or vitamin B12. Folate is an essential B vitamin for pregnant women or women in their childbearing years, but it also an important nutrient that supports healthy red blood cells and a healthy brain in all ages.4 Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin also required for proper red blood cell formation and works together with folate and vitamin B6 to support a healthy brain nervous system, and cellular energy production.†
THE MISSING MINERALS
The study found a substantial dietary shortfall of potassium, calcium and magnesium (with the highest magnesium shortfall in younger women and highest calcium shortfall in older women), but also found deficiencies in blood levels of two other key minerals in women (ages 15 – 65):
Iron: Nearly 24% of women have some form of a deficiency in iron, an essential mineral needed throughout the lifespan to support the formation of healthy red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body and is especially critical in childbearing years. †
Iodine: 45% of women had some form of a deficiency in iodine, an essential mineral that is a component of the thyroid hormone which regulates major functions of the body.5†
THE IMPACT OF NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES AND SHORTFALLS AT DIFFERENT LIFE STAGES
The nutritional requirements of women change as they move through adult life stages. As women prepare for pregnancy, they need to ensure they have an adequate intake of multiple essential nutrients.
Nutrients that are critical for the neurodevelopment of the baby include zinc, choline, folate, iodine, and vitamins A, D, B6, and B12.6 Calcium and vitamin D are needed to support muscle and bone health for women in their younger childbearing years because peak bone mass hits between the ages of 25 and 30.7†
Multiple nutrients support a healthy mood and brain, so sufficient levels of these nutrients are needed at every stage of life. Although symptoms of nutrient inadequacy and deficiency were not measured in this study, previous research shows fatigue can be a symptoms of low levels of vitamin B12 or low levels of iron, two nutrients critical for the proper formation of red blood cells that carry oxygen to tissues throughout the body.8,9†
DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS HELP FILL THE GAPS
All of these nutrients are essential at every stage of life for all women. A healthy, nutrient-dense diet, including a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, fish, dairy, and a little bit of sunshine can provide the nutrients needed to meet daily requirements.
That said, this study also showed dietary supplements can help fill the gaps when the diet falls short.
What vitamins should women take
The vitamins women should take depend on a range of factors, but ultimately vitamins are essential nutrients meaning our body needs them to survive. A good place to start when choosing your multivitamin is to look for a custom multivitamin that's already specially formulated for your life stage.
Best vitamins for women over 30 & best vitamins for women over 40:
A women’s multivitamin can help fill the nutrient gaps found in women in childbearing years. Common nutrient shortfalls in women under 50 years include vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, as well as calcium and magnesium. Folate, vitamin B12, iron and iodine may be low in this age group, as well. A women’s multivitamin can provide most of these nutrients.†
Separate supplements in calcium and magnesium may be needed for those who don’t get enough of these important minerals. In those with a nutrient deficiency, it’s always best to work with a health care practitioner to ensure you are getting an adequate and effective dose.†
For women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, a prenatal multivitamin with DHA will provide the nutrients to support you and your baby. For breastfeeding moms, postnatal + DHA multivitamins will support the nutrition needs you need during this special time.†
Best vitamins for women over 50 & best vitamins for women over 60
As women transition to premenopausal and menopausal years, nutrient needs change. Common nutrient shortfalls in women over 50 years are the same as in younger years: vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins, plus calcium, iodine, and magnesium.†
Calcium and vitamin B6 are the two nutrients that tend to be lower in women in menopausal years than in earlier years. A women’s multivitamin for 50+ can provide 100% of the daily values of most nutrients, although sometimes separate calcium and magnesium supplements may be needed. Always check the supplement facts on the label to ensure the supplement has what you need. It’s also a great idea to add an omega-3 supplement if you don’t eat fish a couple of times a week. In those with a nutrient deficiency, it’s always best to work with a health care practitioner to ensure you are getting an adequate and effective dose.†
KEEPING AN EYE ON YOUR NUTRIENT NEEDS THROUGHOUT LIFE
As women, we tend to spend a lot of our time and energy on being caretakers. For our parents, our children, our partners, and our friends. But learning to tend to our own nutritional needs as well, is a vital part of living a healthy life too! This study shows that too many women are missing out on these 14 key nutrients and the nutritional support they have to offer.† Thankfully, there are lots of small steps we can take to help give our bodies the nutritional support they need—to support us!
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Carroll is a nutrition scientist and communicator with over 25 years of experience as a clinician, researcher, and educator at major universities, medical centers, and nutrition industry settings. She is a passionate advocate of nutritional health and established the nutrition education and science platforms at Pharmavite. Carroll is an expert in personalized nutrition and has published several scientific papers on vitamin and mineral inadequacies and the impact on health and wellbeing. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Carroll taught nutrition at UCLA Medical School and Santa Monica College and was a chief clinical dietitian and researcher.