Last updated: September 9, 2020
Whether you’re trying to build strong bones, start a family, slow down the signs of aging, or simply maximize your health, it’s important to understand the nutritional needs specific to your life stage. While it’s best to obtain essential nutrients through the foods you eat, certain supplementation can be helpful, particularly if you’re struggling to meet your daily needs or have increased nutrient demands. The supplement ingredients outlined below are essential for women of all ages, however, nutritional needs shift and you may require additional amounts of certain nutrients depending on your age. Continue reading to learn about some of the best supplements for women of all ages.
Women in their adolescent years
The adolescent years are a vital time for healthy bone development. Focusing on consuming adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D can encourage healthy bone growth and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures later in life. (16)(17)
The most abundant mineral in the body, calcium is predominantly stored within the bones and teeth. A small proportion (about one percent) of calcium circulates in the blood, where it assists in numerous bodily functions, including muscle function, intracellular signaling, and heart contraction and vasodilation. (17) During the adolescent years, individuals experience the most significant increase in bone size and mass, thus requiring increased dietary calcium. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium is 1,300 mg for women between the ages of nine and 18. (17) Some of the best dietary sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as certain vegetables, such as cruciferous vegetables. (17) Although calcium deficiency is uncommon, certain individuals, including vegans and those with lactose intolerance, may benefit from calcium supplementation when advised by a practitioner. (17)
Similarly to calcium, vitamin D is essential for proper bone development. It is recommended that adolescents consume 600 IU per day. Dietary sources include fatty fish and some fortified foods, however, vitamin D is found in very few foods. Trout and salmon are among the best dietary sources of vitamin D, providing 645 and 570 IUs per three-ounce serving, respectively. (16) While most individuals can obtain enough vitamin D via sun exposure, individuals who spend limited time outdoors or have a darker complexion may have difficulty maintaining adequate amounts of vitamin D. (16) At-risk individuals may benefit from vitamin D supplementation. If you suspect you may be deficient in vitamin D, consult your healthcare practitioner for proper testing and recommendations.
Women in their 20s and 30s
Women of reproductive age have increased requirements for certain nutrients, including iron and folate.
Iron needs are the highest in women over the age of 19, during their reproductive years. The RDAs for women in this age group are 18 mg per day and 27 mg for pregnant women. Dietary sources of iron include oysters, beef, spinach, dark chocolate, beans, and legumes, all of which contain at least 3 mg of iron per serving. (15) Women who experience abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding, a condition known as menorrhagia, are at an increased risk of iron deficiency and may require a higher intake of iron-rich foods or iron supplements for women when advised by a practitioner. (15)
Whether or not you’re trying to conceive, a prenatal supplement contains numerous vitamins and minerals necessary for women’s health and well-being, such as zinc, iron, calcium, vitamin C, and B vitamins. Folic acid, also known as folate and vitamin B9, is an essential nutrient for women trying to conceive as it is responsible for DNA replication and it helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus. (8) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women begin supplementing folic acid at least one month before conception, however, some experts suggest that at least three months before conception is ideal. (3)(28)
Did you know? Oral contraceptives, also known as hormonal birth control, have been shown to deplete levels of certain nutrients, including B6, B12, folate, and zinc. (24)
Women in their 40s
Women in their 40s have a unique set of nutritional needs as they approach menopause and experience more noticeable signs of aging.
Collagen supplements have recently increased in popularity as a result of their purported anti-aging benefits. As one of the primary structural elements of the skin, collagen helps maintain skin strength and elasticity. (25) As women age, collagen density in the skin declines, which causes the skin to become thinner and rougher in texture. Research has shown that taking collagen supplements may slow the signs of skin aging and improve skin hydration and elasticity. (10)(26)
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, such as herring and salmon, as well as plant-based sources such as flaxseeds and walnuts. (14) Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of dietary omega-3s in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by improving high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels and lowering blood pressure and triglyceride levels. (4)(14)
Omega-3s have also been shown to enhance cognitive function in adults. (11) As part of normal aging, levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid and structural component of the brain begin to decrease, resulting in noticeable signs of cognitive decline. Certain lifestyle modifications, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet, particularly the consumption of DHA-rich foods, can help lessen the effects of cognitive aging. (30) Some research has also demonstrated the positive effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on cognitive function. (30)
Women in their 50s and 60s
After menopause, estrogen production declines and bone breakdown accelerates, increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis. It’s recommended that women over the age of 50 consume at least 1,200 mg of calcium per day in order to preserve bone mass. (17) Postmenopausal women experience approximately a three to five percent annual decrease in bone mass within the first few years of menopause, however, this rate of decline typically improves to one percent after about age 65. (17)
Curcumin, an active component of turmeric, has been shown to exert numerous anti-inflammatory benefits and may support brain and joint health. (9) Research has indicated that supplementing with turmeric extract (curcumin) for eight to 12 weeks may reduce arthritis symptoms, including joint pain and inflammation, with similar effects as ibuprofen. (5) Some research has also shown that curcumin may be useful in the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, by maintaining normal structure and function of brain vascularity and decreasing the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques. (13)
Did you know? It’s advised that women stop taking iron after menopause unless otherwise directed by an integrative healthcare provider. (15)
Women in their 70s and beyond
Maintaining lean body mass and preventing bone fractures is of utmost importance for women over the age of 70.
After age 70, vitamin D requirements increase from 600 IU to 800 IU per day. When supplemented in combination with calcium, vitamin D has been shown to improve bone mineral density and reduce fractures in postmenopausal women. (16) Furthermore, adequate vitamin D status may help reduce the effects of cognitive decline. Several studies have identified a connection between low vitamin D status and reduced capacity for executive function, information processing, and focus. (2)(12)
Age-related progressive muscle loss, known as sarcopenia, is a serious concern for aging adults. The RDA for protein is 0.8 g/kg, however, many experts suggest that older adults should consume between 1.2 and 2.0 g/kg per day to maintain muscle mass. (1) For a 150-pound woman, this equates to about 81 to 136 grams of protein per day. If you struggle to consume adequate amounts of protein per day, protein supplements, such as protein powders and beverages, may help you reach your goals. Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of protein supplementation in preserving lean body mass while reducing the incidence of fractures and falls, particularly when paired with strength training. (6)(7)(23)
Essential micronutrients for women’s health at any age
Micronutrients are nutrients needed in small amounts for optimal health. For most women, following a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, lean protein, fish, and whole grains, is the best way to obtain adequate amounts of micronutrients. (27) The following graphic outlines some of the essential micronutrients and their best dietary sources.
The bottom line
No matter your age, it’s important to be aware of how your needs evolve. Women’s health supplements may be beneficial if your nutrient requirements are not being met through your diet or if you have increased nutritional needs. If you’re a patient, consult your integrative healthcare practitioner for recommendations specific to your needs.
- Baum, J., Kim, I.-Y., & Wolfe, R. (2016). Protein consumption and the elderly: What is the optimal level of intake? Nutrients, 8(6), 359.
- Buell, J. S., Scott, T. M., Dawson-Hughes, B., Dallal, G. E., Rosenberg, I. H., Folstein, M. F., & Tucker, K. L. (2009). Vitamin D is associated with cognitive function in elders receiving home health services. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 64A(8), 888–895.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, April 16). Planning for pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/preconception/planning.html
- Chaddha, A., & Eagle, K. A. (2015). Omega-3 fatty acids and heart health. Circulation, 132(22), e350–e352.
- Daily, J. W., Yang, M., & Park, S. (2016). Efficacy of turmeric extracts and curcumin for alleviating the symptoms of joint arthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Journal of Medicinal Food, 19(8), 717–729.
- Daly, R. M. (2017). Exercise and nutritional approaches to prevent frail bones, falls and fractures: An update. Climacteric, 20(2), 119–124.
- Finger, D., Goltz, F. R., Umpierre, D., Meyer, E., Rosa, L. H. T., & Schneider, C. D. (2014). Effects of protein supplementation in older adults undergoing resistance training: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 45(2), 245–255.
- Greenberg, J. A., Bell, S. J., Guan, Y., & Yu, Y. (2011). Folic acid supplementation and pregnancy: More than just neural tube defect prevention. Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 4(2), 52–59.
- Hewlings, S., & Kalman, D. (2017). Curcumin: A review of its effects on human health. Foods, 6(10), 92.
- Inoue, N., Sugihara, F., & Wang, X. (2016). Ingestion of bioactive collagen hydrolysates enhance facial skin moisture and elasticity and reduce facial ageing signs in a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 96(12), 4077–4081.
- Külzow, N., Witte, A. V., Kerti, L., Grittner, U., Schuchardt, J. P., Hahn, A., & Flöel, A. (2016). Impact of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on memory functions in healthy older adults. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 51(3), 713–725.
- Meehan, M., & Penckofer, S. (2014). The role of vitamin D in the aging adult. Journal of Aging and Gerontology, 2(2), 60–71.
- Mishra, S., & Palanivelu, K. (2008). The effect of curcumin (turmeric) onAlzheimer′s disease: An overview. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, 11(1), 13–19.
- National Institutes of Health. (2019, October 17). Omega-3 fatty acids fact sheet for health professionals. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
- National Institutes of Health. (2020a, February 28). Iron fact sheet for health professionals. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/
- National Institutes of Health. (2020b, March 24). Vitamin D fact sheet for health professionals. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
- National Institutes of Health. (2020c, March 26). Calcium fact sheet for health professionals. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/
- National Institutes of Health. (2020d, March 24). Magnesium fact sheet for health professionals. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
- National Institutes of Health. (2020e, February 14). Vitamin A fact sheet for health professionals. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/
- National Institutes of Health. (2020f, February 27). Vitamin C fact sheet for health professionals. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/
- National Institutes of Health. (2020g, March 11). Selenium fact sheet for health professionals. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-HealthProfessional/
- National Institutes of Health. (2020h, July 31). Vitamin E Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/
- Nowson, C., & O’Connell, S. (2015). Protein requirements and recommendations for older people: A review. Nutrients, 7(8), 6874–6899.
- Palmery, M., Saraceno, A., Vaiarelli, A., & Carlomagno, G. (2013). Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci, 17(13), 1804–1813.
- Paul, C., Leser, S., & Oesser, S. (2019). Significant amounts of functional collagen peptides can be incorporated in the diet while maintaining indispensable amino acid balance. Nutrients, 11(5), 1079.
- Proksch, E., Schunck, M., Zague, V., Segger, D., Degwert, J., & Oesser, S. (2014). Oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides reduces skin wrinkles and increases dermal matrix synthesis. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 27(3), 113–119.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2015). MyPlate. Retrieved from https://www.choosemyplate.gov/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018, June 6). Preconception health. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/you-get-pregnant/preconception-health
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015, April 2). B Vitamins. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/bvitamins.html
- Weiser, M., Butt, C., & Mohajeri, M. (2016). Docosahexaenoic acid and cognition throughout the lifespan. Nutrients, 8(2), 99.