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Dietary Supplements and Women's Health

Contributors: Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: September 28, 2020

Reviewed: January 30, 2023

Woman taking vitamin supplement
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When it comes to making sure you are getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs, food is the best option. Many women can get the nutrients they need by choosing a healthy eating style, which includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat or fat free dairy and lean protein foods. Although in some cases, a dietary supplement may be needed. For example, during pregnancy, some mineral and vitamin needs increase and women may need to take a prenatal supplement.

Dietary supplements also may be recommended if foods that provide important nutrients aren’t being consumed or in sufficient amounts, or when a vitamin or mineral deficiency has been diagnosed by a health care provider.

So, what about all those ads for vitamins and minerals specially designed for the needs of women? Here's the scoop:


Calcium helps keep bones strong and may reduce the risk of certain diseases such as osteoporosis. Focus on getting the calcium you need from foods and beverages, such as low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt. Fortified sources, including some cereals, soy products and 100% juices also can contribute this important nutrient. If you're concerned about your calcium intake, talk with your health care provider to see if a calcium supplement is right for you.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin, due to our body’s ability to produce some vitamin D after being out in the sun. However, geographical location, time of year and use of sunscreen can all influence this natural source of vitamin D. You also can get vitamin D from foods, such as eggs, fatty fish, fortified milk products and mushrooms that have been treated with ultraviolet light. Vitamin D plays a role in bone health and helps with the absorption of calcium. Before taking a vitamin D supplement, speak with your health care provider to find out if your vitamin D levels are low and ask if you need to get extra vitamin D.

Vitamin B12 

Vitamin B12 is found in animal products. Lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs and low-fat dairy foods are good sources of this vitamin. Vegetarians, vegans and others who avoid these foods can get vitamin B12 from fortified foods including some breakfast cereals and meat substitutes, but a supplement may be needed. Thinking about taking vitamin B12 for an energy boost to fight fatigue? Think again. Unless a vitamin B12 deficiency is present, evidence is lacking on benefits. In addition, research does not support taking vitamin B12 supplements to treat heart disease or reduce your risk for breast cancer. Talk to your health care provider to see if you need a vitamin B12 supplement before taking one.

Folate and Folic Acid

Your body needs folate to keep red blood cells working normally. It also has been found to help prevent birth defects caused by neural tube defects. Thus, folic acid, the supplemental form of folate, is included in prenatal vitamins recommended for women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. What about other women? Most women can get the folate they need by including a variety of food sources, such as dark green leafy vegetables, oranges, nuts, beans, seafood and dairy products in their eating patterns. Plus, many breakfast cereals and breads are enriched with folic acid.


Many Americans do not get the daily recommended amount of magnesium in their diet, yet a variety of foods provide it. Sources of magnesium include beans, nuts, whole grains and green leafy vegetables. Although some studies have found that magnesium supplements may help reduce symptoms of certain health conditions, more research is still needed. Plus, magnesium supplements may not be recommended if you are taking certain medications. So, focusing on food sources of magnesium is often preferable.

Are You Getting the Vitamins and Minerals Your Body Needs?

To find out if your eating style is providing you with the vitamins and minerals your body needs, meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist. An RDN can evaluate your nutritional intake and make recommendations to help you make better choices. In addition, an RDN can help you determine if a dietary supplement is needed.

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