Women face many biological changes in their lifetime, from puberty to menopause and beyond. Each phase carries different nutritional requirements for keeping the female body healthy. However, our diets often fail to provide enough essential nutrients, and medications, a lack of activity, and chronic stress can impact the absorption of the nutrients we do consume.
Sufficient intake of vital natural compounds can help lower the risk of depression, bone loss, and reproductive issues. Getting the vitamins and minerals you need may also help prevent or treat inflammatory conditions, infectious diseases, and cancers. Some nutrient deficiencies are particularly common in women.
Folate, a type of vitamin B, is especially important for women of childbearing age to help lower the risk of infertility and pregnancy loss. Multiple studies suggest that consuming this nutrient can help prevent neural tube defects in babies as well.
Causes of folate deficiency include Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, excessive alcohol intake, and not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Certain medications — such as phenytoin and sulfasalazine — may deplete folate stores as well. Irritability, fatigue, anemia, diarrhea, and poor growth can all indicate low folate levels.
Fats are a vital source of energy. They help the body absorb vitamins and minerals, produce sex hormones, and support brain and eye health. Eaten in moderation, “healthy” fats – unsaturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated – can help reduce inflammation, strengthen the heart, and balance the mood.
In addition to societal misconceptions, poor diet, eating disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, and cystic fibrosis can increase the risk of fat deficiency. The impacts include hair loss, dermatitis, slow wound healing, weakened immunity, and depression.
A 2020 article in Nutrients stated that magnesium deficiency is a highly prevalent challenge, especially among women. Those who are post-menopausal or have obesity or type 2 diabetes see it more frequently. Soil depletion, chronic stress, and long-term medications are major culprits. However, many people also just don’t consume enough magnesium-rich foods or absorb the mineral inefficiently for other reasons.
Low magnesium levels are associated with constipation, muscle spasms, headaches, and leg cramps. Insomnia and anxiety may also indicate an inadequacy.
Iodine is essential for regulating metabolism, immune response, and body temperature. It also supports the development of the skeletal and central nervous systems in fetuses and infants. Plus, eating too little iodine is the most preventable cause of intellectual disability in children.
Iodine deficiency is higher among people whose food comes from soil that lacks this trace element, and in places where salt is not iodized. Insufficient iodine intake is associated with these symptoms:
Potassium helps regulate the heartbeat, blood pressure, nerves, and muscle contraction. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans named this mineral a “nutrient of public health concern” due to prevalent low levels in Americans. The body requires much more potassium than sodium, but most processed foods provide the opposite proportions.
Water pills, some antibiotics, and excessive laxatives can make the kidneys excrete too much potassium from the body. Heavy sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, and eating disorders may also have this effect. Low potassium levels may cause weakness, fatigue, constipation, muscle cramps or paralysis, and abnormal heart rate.
Iron is crucial for making red blood cells, hormones, and proteins. Women can be especially vulnerable to iron deficiency due to menstruation, pregnancy, and aging. Those following plant-based diets are also at risk of not getting enough from their foods.
Iron deficiency can lower the red blood cell count, causing anemia. This condition brings a variety of symptoms including extreme fatigue, dizziness, memory problems, and shortness of breath. Too little iron may also lead to a sore, swollen tongue or brittle nails.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, essential for building and maintaining bones and teeth and normal blood clotting. This nutrient also helps the heart and other muscles contract properly. Women who avoid dairy products are at a greater risk of inadequate intake. Women over 50 should increase calcium intake to offset bone loss due to menopause.
Too little calcium results in reduced bone density, which leads to osteoporosis. Deficiency can also cause cramping, irregular heartbeat, and muscle spasms.
“Sunshine” vitamin D works with calcium to support bones and muscles as well as the nervous and immune systems. A 2021 review suggests that this nutrient may help prevent breast cancer in young women. Older adults and people with dark skin have a lower ability to convert sunlight to vitamin D. Obesity, chronic kidney or liver disease, and some medicines also increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Low vitamin D levels can cause a loss of bone density, which may lead to osteoporosis and fractures. Deficiency may also cause muscle weakness and weakness or pain in the bones. Researchers are exploring connections to hypertension, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and cancer, as well.
Proteins are integral to every body function. A normal Western diet generally provides enough protein, but many processed foods lack certain essential amino acids. Low levels of protein can stem from excluding animal protein food sources, trouble absorbing protein, excessive alcohol consumption, and some medications.
The most common signs of protein inadequacy include increased hunger, fatigue, weakness, and brittle hair and nails. People with low protein may have poor concentration, mood swings, recurring infections, and trouble losing weight.
Probiotics help fight inflammation and support the production of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and antioxidants. Eating too many high-sugar and over-processed foods can deplete probiotic levels, allowing bad bacteria to thrive. Antibiotic overuse, stress, lack of activity, and pesticide exposure also impact the health of the gut microbiome.
Symptoms of low probiotics can include bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn. Rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid problems, and type 1 diabetes may also result from deficiency. Women might experience vaginosis, anxiety, and depression.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.