Women also have special needs. On a very basic level, they need to love and be loved,
to create, to express their feelings, and to express their being. (Men, of course, also have these basic needs.) Each woman is a special jewel that shines in her own way and she has her particular requirements for life.
Women also have special nutritional needs. During the menstruating years (between ages 13 and 50, varying individually), their need for iron to replace lost red blood cells is high. They also need adequate amounts of other nutrients, such as the B vitamins, iodine, calcium, and magnesium—more, I think, than the RDAs suggest.
One of the main concerns with women is that their food intake may not be adequate. Physical activity levels may be low, and often there is low calorie intake related to dieting to stay thin. This may result in inadequate nutrient intake to meet nutritional requirements. Very active women may also eat lightly to keep their weight down, and without adequate supplements, this can lead to deficiencies.
On the other hand, some women put on weight very easily and have a difficult time losing it. Even low-calorie diets may not do the trick. Increased activity levels with a moderately caloric, balanced, high-vegetable, lean-protein diet may help them to reduce. Checking the thyroid hormone levels, assessing the caloric intake/utilization relationship to weight and energy maintenance and activity levels, and integrating and optimizing these will be helpful. (This is, of course, a wide concept.) Also, basic multivitamin plus additional supplements, particularly extra B vitamins, such as B6 and B12, plus potassium, calcium, and magnesium, will also be helpful. (For more on this, see the Weight Loss program.)
Sexual vitality is also very important to women. A number of nutrients are important in supporting the sexual organs, sexual functions, and a normal menstrual cycle. Adrenal support and function are very important for women as well as for men. The adrenal glands help us deal with stress and give us sexual energy. Stress, allergies, and high amounts of sugar intake can weaken these important glands, and this may be exacerbated by nutritional deficiency. The adrenals need adequate levels of vitamins A, C, and E, essential fatty acids, and B vitamins, particularly pantothenic acid. Chromium and adequate levels of amino acids will also help reduce sugar cravings and thus help support the adrenals.
The female ovaries secrete estrogen and progesterone, which control the menstrual cycle. These hormones are influenced by the pituitary gland in the brain; the pituitary is influenced by higher brain centers, which are in turn affected by emotions, moon cycles, weather, and the seasons. This female hormonal balance is, therefore, a delicate one that needs a lot of support. It requires sufficient levels of B vitamins, especially folic acid and niacin, plus zinc and vitamin E. Certain fats and cholesterol are important precursors of female hormones, mediated through the liver’s biochemical processes. Drug and alcohol use, which can stress the liver, may weaken this sensitive hormonal function. Also, some women’s cholesterol levels are too low, especially those who are strict vegetarians, and this may be related to low hormonal levels and early menopause.
During the actual menstrual cycle, women tend to lose iron in the red blood cells; there are also tendencies to lose calcium and zinc. Copper levels usually increase, as they do with the use of birth control pills, which contain estrogen. During and after menstruation, women can take a little extra iron, magnesium, calcium (vitamins D and C will help absorption), zinc, and vitamin B6. Copper should be avoided above dietary levels or above the usual 1–2 mg. in a general supplement. A good protein diet with extra B complex and vitamin C is recommended also. Extra calcium and magnesium, ideally in the citrate or aspartate forms, may be helpful for menstrual cramps. Niacin (50–100 mg.) might also be beneficial. Though it may not be easy, women should try to avoid too many sweets during the pre- and postmenstruation times.
When women become pregnant or breastfeed, they have greatly increased requirements for calories, protein, and many vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, and iron. If birth control pills are taken (not recommended), many nutrients are needed in greater amounts. More zinc and less copper and iron, more vitamin B6, a basic B vitamin formula, and vitamins E and C should be taken.
Menopause can be a very stressful time, filled with changes, stresses, and various symptoms—fatigue, irritability, hot flashes, headaches, cramps, and depression are a few. Continuing to take estrogen hormones helps reduce these symptoms, but there are also many possible aids to be found in diet, lifestyle, nutritional supplements, and herbs. Vitamin E, A, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins may help. Female herbs such as dong quai (angelica root) have been shown to reduce symptoms too. After menopause, calcium needs and bone health are the greatest concern unless extra hormones are taken. (See the following programs for Pregnancy, Lactation, Birth Control Pills, and Menopause for further discussions of these subjects. )
In my experience, most women do best on a low- to moderate-calorie diet that includes a good amount of protein and vegetables, some whole grains, and fairly few fruits and sweet foods. Milk products are tolerated by some, but they can be weight-increasing foods, especially with lots of cheese. Some low- or nonfat milk and plain yogurt seem to be the best utilized.
Women also need to exercise and stay fit, especially if they are thinking of having babies, working at a high-stress job, or working at all regularly out in the world. A good exercise program maintains energy, vitality, and figure better than TV and munchies.
Women have different nutrient needs than those of men. They may need fewer calories but only slightly less protein and the same amount or more of many of the essential nutrients. That is why they need a more compact (good nutrient/calorie ratio), nourishing diet of high-quality foods. The requirements for most minerals are the same, but women need more iron, almost double men’s level. Vegetarian women must focus more intently than others to get adequate iron in their diet, since the foods containing the most available iron are meats and liver. But it can be obtained from many other foods, supplements, or cooking in cast-iron cookware. Women need a little less magnesium than men, but I find that many women actually require even more calcium-magnesium, especially when they exercise. The following table lists the nutrients needed by the average active, healthy woman as insurance to maintain her health. The amounts shown range from the RDAs to optimum levels, and include a combination of dietary intake and additional supplements. Nutrients such as protein, fats, vitamin K, chloride, fluoride, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium are not usually taken above dietary levels. Most others will be part of basic supplements.
(RDAs to Optimum Safe Levels)
|Vitamin A||4,000–10,000 IUs||Calcium||850–1,200 mg.|
|Beta-carotene||5,000–20,000 IUs||Chloride**||2–4 g.|
|Vitamin D||200–400 IUs||Chromium||100–400 mcg.|
|Vitamin E||30–800 IUs||Copper||2–3 mg.|
|Vitamin K**||100–300 mcg.||Fluoride**||1.5–3.5 mg.|
|Thiamine (B1)||1.0–30.0 mg.||Iodine**||150–300 mcg.|
|Riboflavin (B2)||1.2–30.0 mg.||Iron||18–30 mg.|
|Niacin or||Magnesium||350–700 mg.|
|Niacinamide (B3)||15–100 mg.||Manganese||2.5–15 mg.|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||7–250 mg.||Molybdenum||150–500 mcg.|
|Pyridoxine (B6)||2–50 mg.||Phosphorus**||800–1200 mg.|
|Cobalamin (B12)||3–200 mcg.||Potassium**||2–5 g.|
|Folic acid||400–800 mcg.||Selenium||150–300 mcg.|
|PABA||5–50 mg.||Sodium**||1.5–4.0 g.|
|Biotin||150–500 mcg.||Zinc||15–30 mg.|
|Vitamin C||60–1,000 mg.|
*Total fats include olive oil and fish/salmon oil with EPA and DHA, but a low amount of saturated fats.
**These nutrients are listed because they are required in the diet (they have RDAs), although they are not usually added to formulae or taken as extra supplements.