Walk through the vitamin aisle of any drugstore or grocery store, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Couple that with all the stuff you read online, the influencer ads you see on Instagram, and other assorted information about vitamins and supplements, and choosing which pills to pop can become a daunting task. First and foremost, it’s essential to keep in mind that the best way to get all the vitamins and minerals you need is through a healthy and balanced diet, says Cara Pensabene, MD, Medical Director of EHE, a preventive healthcare company with locations nationwide. “Supplements are just that — supplements. They’re not a replacement for a healthy lifestyle and habits,” she explains. So much so that if you’re eating a nutritious diet and don’t have any major medical conditions or vitamin deficiencies, you really don’t even need to take a multi-vitamin daily, she adds. That being said, supplements can be helpful to a lot of people. So, to help you sift through all the supplement confusion, here are some of the best vitamins for women.
“Women who have especially heavy periods can develop an iron deficiency,” says Dr. Pensabene. Symptoms include fatigue and changes in your skin and nails, so if you’re experiencing any of these and tend to have heavy periods, it’s worth asking your doctor if an iron supplement could help.
This vitamin is essential for helping us absorb calcium and build strong bones, but it’s a tough one to get from diet alone. Yes, exposure to sunlight can help, but for many city dwellers, especially during the winter, that’s not an option, not to mention that sun exposure can cause skin cancer. This all makes vitamin D a good option to take orally, though it is possible to take too much of it, cautions Dr. Pensabene. (It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, which means your body can end up storing too much of it.) More on dosage and vitamin selection specifics in a minute.
This B-vitamin is crucial if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant: “Folic acid aids in the production of new cells. When you’re pregnant, the demand for it is greater than our body can naturally produce,” explains Dr. Pensabene. The National Institute of Health recommends 400 micrograms daily.
Fatigue is a common symptom of vitamin B deficiency, which women who follow vegetarian and/or vegan diets often experience. There are many different kinds of B vitamins, and not all do the same thing, so a B complex is a good way to cover your bases, says Dr. Pensabene. Plus, they’re all fairly safe and water soluble, so you’ll just pee out any excess that your body doesn’t use or need.
Regardless of which of these vitamins you’re shopping for, the same general rules apply. First, check a reputable online source to determine the recommended daily intake; Dr. Pensabene recommends both the USDA and NIH. Next, look for vitamins labeled as food-derived, preferably from organic sources without GMOs. While these vitamins may be structurally similar to synthetically-processed vitamins, your body is best able to absorb vitamins that come from food, she points out. And, of course, remember to talk with an expert about what vitamins you’re taking and why. Your doctor or a nutritionist are both great resources and can also help make sure you’re not missing any other pieces of your wellness puzzle.