How to Choose a Multivitamin for Women

Three Parts:Evaluating Whether You Need VitaminsChoosing a Vitamin SupplementGetting your Vitamins Through a Healthy Diet

There are several reasons for women to take multivitamins. It is particularly important for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. Multivitamins help ensure that the baby develops properly. For other women, it is sometimes necessary to take vitamin supplements to combat a particular deficiency. However, for most healthy women, the best way to get vitamins is to eat a healthy diet with lots of different fruits and vegetables.

Part 1
Evaluating Whether You Need Vitamins

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    Ask your doctor if you have vitamin deficiencies. Many people think they do not have vitamin deficiencies, when in reality, they may have one or several. Traditional, routine blood work does not test for all vitamins. It may not even test for vitamin D. You need to ask for these tests to ensure that they're being done. If this is the case, your doctor can help you come up with a nutrition plan and possibly recommend vitamins suited to your needs. Your doctor is likely to recommend vitamins if:[1]
    • You usually eat less than 1,600 calories per day.
    • You eat a diet that does not contain enough fruits and vegetables. You should eat one and a half to two cups of fruit per day. In addition you also need two to three cups of vegetables per day.[2]
    • You don’t eat two to three portions of fish per week. In this case, your doctor might recommend fish oil supplements.
    • You have heavy menstrual bleeding. This would make you vulnerable to an iron deficiency.
    • You have digestive problems which make you unable to absorb enough nutrients from a healthy diet.
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    Talk to your doctor if you are vegetarian or vegan. These diets tend to be excellent for keeping your fat intake and cholesterol levels low. They are often associated with a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and type 2 diabetes. However, it is important to be sure that you are getting all of the proteins, vitamins, and minerals that you need. You may be less likely to get sufficient:[3]
    • Iron. Many vegetarians have lower iron stores than non-vegetarians. Ask your doctor if your iron levels are low.
    • Vitamin B12. Vegetarians can obtain B12 from dairy products and eggs, but vegans must obtain it from supplements or foods that have been fortified with B12. Check the packaging on soy and rice milk, breakfast cereals, and meat substitutes.
    • Calcium: Because meat and dairy products are rich in calcium, many vegans are particularly vulnerable to being low in calcium. Calcium is crucial for maintaining healthy bones and avoiding fractures. If you are vegan, try to consume foods that are fortified with calcium, such as some fruit juices, breakfast cereals, soy and rice milk. It will say on the packaging if it has been fortified. You may also want to ask your doctor about calcium supplements.
    • Vitamin D: Your body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun. However, how much you produce depends on your sunscreen use, the time of day, time of year, latitude, and your skin pigmentation. Vitamin D is important for bone health. If you are concerned about your vitamin D intake, consult your doctor about supplements and eat vitamin D fortified foods. Foods that are sometimes fortified include cow's milk, rice milk, soy milk, orange juice, breakfast cereals, and margarine.
    • Zinc: Soy, legumes, grains, cheese, and nuts are good vegetarian sources of zinc. If your diet is low in these foods, talk to your doctor about possible solutions.
    • Long chain n-3 fatty acids: These are necessary for maintaining healthy eyes and good brain function. Many people get them from eating fish and eggs. If you do not eat these foods you can also get them from flaxseed, canola oil, walnuts, soy, fortified breakfast bars or microalgae supplements. Ask your doctor if it is necessary for you to also take supplements.
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    Consider your age. Postmenopausal women need to be careful to get enough calcium and vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis. This is particularly important for older women who live alone and for whom falling and breaking bones is a serious risk. Women over 50 should get:[4][5]
    • 800 international units of vitamin D. Spending time in the sun will also help your body produce vitamin D. Try to go for a walk each day to make sure you get some sunshine.
    • 1200 mg per day of calcium. This is important for your bones to stay strong and repair the normal wear and tear that occurs during use.
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    Discuss prenatal vitamins with your doctor. If you are trying to conceive, pregnant, or breastfeeding, chances are your doctor will recommend you take a prenatal vitamin supplement. This is not a substitute for eating a healthy diet, but it can help ensure that your baby gets what it needs from you. These vitamins are specifically designed for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you are not pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding, you should not take prenatal vitamins. Prenatal vitamins generally have:[6]
    • Folic acid. Women who are trying to conceive or are pregnant require 600-800 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day. This supports healthy brain development in the early stages of fetal development. Overdosing on folic acid can make it harder to detect if you are deficient in B12.[7]
    • Iron. Pregnant women need about 27 milligrams (mg) of iron each day. If you take too much iron, it can make you sick. It can cause constipation, vomiting, diarrhea or even be fatal.
    • Calcium. Calcium is important for pregnant women because it supports the development of healthy bones. Pregnant women should get 1000 mg per day of calcium. However, most prenatal vitamins only give you 200–300 mg. This means that it is still important to eat plenty of calcium. You can get the rest of your daily calcium needs by eating vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, turnips, collard greens. Other foods like soy milk and fruit juices often have calcium added to them. Getting too much calcium can increase your risk of kidney stones.[8]
    • Vitamin D. Pregnant women should also obtain sufficient vitamin D for their baby’s bones. The Mayo Clinic recommends 600 international units (IU) per day. You can get this by spending time in the sun and eating fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon, juice with added vitamin D, milk, and eggs.[9]
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    Ask your doctor whether vitamin supplements might interfere with your medications. Some vitamins may interact with how you metabolize your medicines. If you are on medications, discuss vitamin supplements with your doctor or a registered dietitian before starting to make sure that they are safe for you. Some interactions include:
    • Vitamin D can influence your blood sugar and blood pressure. It can also interact with birth control and medications for treating HIV, asthma, cancer, heart problems, cholesterol problems, pain, and others.[10]
    • Vitamin B6 can increase your risk of bleeding if it interacts with aspirin or other blood thinners. If you are diabetic, discuss vitamin B6 with your doctor before taking it because it may affect your blood sugar. It may also interact with medications for asthma, cancer, depression, Parkinson's, or other conditions.[11]
    • Vitamin E can also increase the risk of bleeding when combined with blood thinners. It may also affect medications for Alzheimer’s, tuberculosis, cancer, asthma, heart problems, seizures, and other conditions. [12]
    • Vitamin C can interfere with blood thinners and affect blood sugar and blood pressure levels. It can also interact with oral birth control, HIV medications, acetaminophen, Parkinson’s medications, antibiotics, anticancer medications, aspirin, barbiturates, nicotine, and others.[13]

Part 2
Choosing a Vitamin Supplement

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    Consider a multivitamin. The benefit of multivitamins is that most are designed to give you the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) of many different vitamins and minerals. The RDA is an amount that should be sufficient, but not too much, for most healthy adults.[14]
    • Examine the label on the product. There should be a table that tells you what percent of the RDA the product has for each vitamin or mineral it contains. The best ones provide you with approximately 100% of the daily value for lots of different vitamins and minerals.
    • If your doctor feels it would be beneficial, you can purchase multivitamins over-the-counter at drug stores and grocery stores.
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    Don’t take large doses of any particular vitamin. If the label on the bottle says that it provides much more than 100% of the recommended daily amount, then it is a megadose. For example, 500% of the RDA is a megadose. Over dosing on some vitamins can actually be harmful:[15][16]
    • Both too little and too much vitamin B6 can cause nervous system problems.
    • Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are easier to overdose on because excess amounts are not excreted through the urine, as with water soluble vitamins. Too much vitamin A can raise the risks of hip fractures. Too much vitamin D can cause the blood to have too much calcium. This can cause vomiting and constipation.
    • Overdosing on iron can cause vomiting and liver damage.
    • Vitamins and minerals are frequently added to processed foods and beverages. If you are taking vitamins that provide a high amount of some vitamins, be aware that you may need to reduce your supplement intake if your diet already provides you with the right amount.
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    Don’t take expired vitamins. Vitamins can degrade over time. This is particularly likely if they are stored in hot, humid places. If your vitamins have expired, it is safer and healthier to simply purchase new ones.
    • If the type you are considering does not have an expiration date on it, don’t take it.
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    Research the vitamins you are considering. The contents of vitamins and supplements are not strictly quality controlled the way food is. This means that it is difficult to be sure exactly what is in the pills that you are purchasing.[17][18]
    • Check with the Food and Drug Administration’s website to see if your supplements are under review. The website can also tell you if people have complained of negative reactions.

Part 3
Getting your Vitamins Through a Healthy Diet

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    Obtain enough folic acid. Women who are not pregnant need 400 mcg per day. Folic acid, or folate, is a B vitamin which is important for the nervous system. Excellent sources of folic acid include:[19]
    • Whole grain cereals or cereals that are fortified with folic acid
    • Spinach
    • Beans
    • Asparagus
    • Oranges
    • Peanuts
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    Eat foods that are rich in iron. Your body absorbs iron best from meat, particularly red meat. However, if you are vegetarian, you can still meet your iron needs by increasing your intake of non-meat foods that are rich in iron. Before menopause women should get 18 mg per day. After menopause, they need 8. Excellent sources of iron include:[20]
    • Red meat. Lean meats are healthiest because they have less fat.
    • Pork
    • Poultry
    • Seafood
    • Beans
    • Peas
    • Spinach
    • Raisins and dried apricots
    • Foods that have iron added, such as some cereals, breads, and pastas. The packaging will tell you if iron has been added.
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    Evaluate whether you are getting enough calcium. After menopause, women’s daily calcium needs increase from 1000 mg per day to 1200. Getting enough calcium is important to prevent osteoporosis. Women can avoid a calcium deficiency by eating:[21]
    • Milk
    • Yogurt
    • Cheese
    • Broccoli
    • Spinach
    • Kale
    • Turnips
    • Collard greens
    • Soy milk and fruit juices which have been fortified with calcium
    • Salmon
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    Eat enough vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is important for your nerves to function properly. Deficiencies are uncommon, however you can guard against it by eating:[22]
    • Cereals
    • Carrots
    • Peas
    • Spinach
    • Milk
    • Cheese
    • Eggs
    • Fish
    • Flour
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    Spend time in the sun to get enough vitamin D. But don’t forget to use sunscreen to prevent burns. The recommended amount for adults is 600 international units per day. For people over 70 an extra 200 per day is recommended. This is important to sustain strong bones in the later in life when people are vulnerable to breaking bones if they fall. You can also get vitamin D by eating:[23]
    • Milk
    • Yogurt
    • Salmon
    • Trout
    • Tuna
    • Halibut
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    Eat carrots to get vitamin A. vitamin A is important for the visual system, cell growth, and proper immune function. Getting enough vitamin A may even help prevent cancer. You can get vitamin A by eating:[24]
    • Yellow vegetables
    • Liver
    • Kidney
    • Eggs and other dairy
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    Cook with oils to get sufficient vitamin E. In addition to eggs, fortified cereals, fruit, spinach, meat, poultry and nuts, many oils contain vitamin E. These include:[25]
    • Corn oil
    • Cottonseed oil
    • Safflower oil
    • Soybean oil
    • Sunflower oil
    • Argan oil
    • Olive oil
    • Wheat germ oil
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    Protect the health of your circulatory system with vitamin K. Vitamin K is needed for blood to be able to clot. Most people get sufficient vitamin K through eating a diet containing:[26]
    • Green leafy vegetables
    • Meat
    • Dairy


  • Always consult your doctor before starting a vitamin supplements to make sure they are right for you. This is particularly important if you are on medications, as some vitamins may interact with some medications.
  • Children’s needs will differ from those of adults. Consult a pediatrician before giving vitamin supplements to a child.

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Categories: Women’s Health