Nurturing Women’s Nutritional Needs
By Andrea Bartels CNP NNCP RNT
From your first period through your reproductive years and into menopause, your body depends on adequate vitamins and minerals to regulate hormones, build your babies and provide you with the metabolic energy and structural support to deal with life’s milestones—plus everything in between.
Ladies, topping up on the essentials gives you the power to improve the quality of your experiences as you transition from one life stage to the next. Here’s how!
Starting with our first period, we females become vulnerable to iron deficiency anemia, which is associated with fatigue, pallor and poor physical stamina. Chronic heavy or prolonged periods drain our levels of hemoglobin as well as ferritin—the iron we have in storage. Pregnancy will only exacerbate these symptoms as our iron requirements double during gestation.
As we age, iron deficiency becomes harder to correct, not only because of long-standing low levels but also because of the reduced absorption capacity that comes with aging. Post-menopause, iron is actually still required for oxygenation of our tissues as our circulation becomes more challenged, and the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine still need it for their production.
It’s no wonder that brain fog, depression and apathy are common complaints in females deficient in this nutrient. It is often assumed that women of this age group don’t need supplementary iron, but this is a misguided generalization.
Any woman experiencing symptoms described here should ask their primary health care provider for a ferritin test.
Iron is one of the hardest minerals to absorb, so supplementation in anemia is essential to correct the deficiency. Unfortunately, iron supplements have gained a bad reputation thanks to the nausea and constipation that low quality, poorly absorbed iron compounds tend to cause.
It’s a good thing there are higher quality iron forms available which are gentle on the gut.
What to look for: Carbonyl Iron is a metallic iron with a 69% absorption rate—the highest possible. While most metallic iron products are associated with discomfort and poor results, Carbonyl Iron has a unique particle size with a greater surface area with which to bind to iron absorption sites, greatly reducing any risk of side effects.
Magnesium: Let’s return to the subject of the menstrual period. You know those painful uterine cramps? Magnesium acts as a relaxant that counteracts the contractive (tightening) function of calcium---making magnesium a useful supplementary nutrient to reduce cramping. It can also be helpful in the management of another kind of pain: migraine headache. Taken prophylactically, magnesium in combination with B vitamins has been demonstrated to reduce both incidence and severity of pre-menstrual migraine.
In addition, taking a magnesium supplement can also help women in perimenopause and menopause who often complain of insomnia, especially those who wake up in the middle of the night and have difficulty falling back to sleep. These are just three applications of the essential mineral magnesium to add to the 300 different chemical reactions it’s used for at the cellular level.
What to look for: Magnesium Glycinate is a compound consisting of magnesium and the smallest amino-acid: glycine. This makes for superior absorption across both the intestinal wall into the blood and from the blood into the brain, optimizing its effectiveness in its myriad of functions.
B Complex: A high proportion of teens and females choose oral contraceptives for a variety of medical and personal reasons related to their menstrual cycle. But it’s well established that taking these synthetic hormone combinations increase requirements for B vitamins, as well as zinc and vitamin C—so it’s important to ensure an adequate daily supply while using them.
Pregnancy requires more than folate to produce a healthy baby; for example, it also requires vitamin B12 to assist in hemoglobin synthesis. It’s also interesting that a 2018 Colombian study on pregnant females revealed that insufficiencies of both of these nutrients were associated with higher risk of the life-threatening pregnancy complication, pre-eclampsia.
As women progress through their reproductive years, estrogen dominance becomes common, worsening PMS symptoms of irritability, water retention and weight gain. The B vitamins are involved in the clearance of excess estrogen and its metabolites, which is needed in order for progesterone to exert its calming and protective effects against symptoms common to PMS, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts and fibrocystic breasts (a.k.a. cyclical mastalgia).
As women transition into menopause, B vitamins remain important in the metabolism of estrone, the only estrogen that continues to be made by our bodies post-menopause. This is important because the majority of breast cancers are diagnosed in post-menopausal women. In addition, the B complex of vitamins serve as cardiovascular and neurological support during a life stage in which heart disease and cognitive decline become common pathologies. In fact, studies have observed that low levels of the B vitamins raise homocysteine, high levels are a risk factor for both heart attack and stroke.
What to look for: A biologically active B complex that contains activated forms of each B vitamin spares one from the guesswork involved in achieving B vitamin sufficiency from food and common non-activated B complex products. And a slow release formulation maintains blood levels throughout the day.
What nutrient is critical for bone health yet protects from cardiovascular disease? It’s vitamin K. While vitamin K-1 is essential for blood clotting, Vitamin K-2 works with vitamin D, calcium and other minerals as an important player in the maintenance of bone density. After we eat meals containing calcium, vitamin K-2 ensures that calcium is distributed from the digestive tract to the bones---instead of being deposited in soft tissues like the arteries. Without K-2, then, calcium is free to build up in the artery walls, where it can contribute to atherosclerosis. That’s why K-2 is an important part of any cardiovascular AND bone health protocol.
What to look for: Not all vitamin K-2s are created equal. Vitamin K-2 in the form of MK-7 demonstrates the best advantages to the circulatory and skeletal systems due to its superior bioavailability.
These are just a few of the key nutrients that support females through their reproductive years, into menopause and beyond. A well-balanced diet provides the foundation, but supplementation can be an easy and efficient way to correct nutritional deficiencies and support health conditions even before they start via targeted, superior forms of nutrient compounds that replete levels faster.