Women’s health issues can often be a scratch-your-head mystery, especially when symptoms indicate one or more possible deficiencies. I see this over and over in women, even when they are practicing a healthy lifestyle. Could it be excess stress? Absorption issues? Nutrient deficiencies? Hormone imbalance? Usually those questions take a bit of time to answer. This is one reason why it’s best to focus, from the very beginning, on the 7 common deficiencies in women. When addressing these deficiencies, we’ve at least bought time to dig into deeper root causes.
7 Common Deficiencies in Women
1. Iron Deficiency
Of the 7 common deficiencies in women, iron deficiency usually holds the number one spot. Proper iron levels are extremely important to good health and well-being, particularly for women who experience heavy menstrual periods. When they don’t get enough iron, they are usually prone to experiencing iron deficiency.
Why you need iron
Iron is a key component in hemoglobin which is the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen to every cell in our body. Lack of sufficient iron results in fatigue and ultimately iron-deficiency anemia. Osteoporosis is a greater risk if you are iron deficient. However, too much iron is toxic, especially if used long-term, so I recommend getting your iron from food and only take iron supplements under the watchful eye of your healthcare practitioner.
How to get iron
Food sources of iron include grass-fed red meat, dried fruit (such as prunes and apricots), beans and lentils, spinach, squash and pumpkin seeds, and — the one thing most of us love — dark chocolate. Many multivitamins created for women also include iron, but unless your doctor says you need an iron supplement to fight a correctly diagnosed iron deficiency, excessive supplemental iron may do more harm than good. Iron included in a multivitamin (unless fulvic acid is also an ingredient) can oxidize the antioxidants. It’s best to supplement with iron separately.
2. Vitamin B Deficiency
The second of the 7 common deficiencies in women is the importance of B vitamins. Vitamin B deficiency is easily overlooked by women – especially vitamin B12 often known as the energy vitamin. The fact is that many women are either deficient or borderline deficient in some or all of the B vitamins.
Why you need B vitamins
Three of the most important B vitamins are vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and folic acid (folate). All three are very important for bone health, inflammation, cardiovascular health, energy production, brain function and other vital processes in the body. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that almost 40 percent of Americans may have marginal vitamin B12 status. In other words, not low enough to qualify as deficiency, but low enough to cause some neurological symptoms to appear. Warning signs of a B12 deficiency are slow to appear, so you may be quite deficient by the time you recognize the symptoms, which include: fatigue, muscle weakness, mental fog, memory issues, mood swings, apathy and tingling in the extremities.
How to get B vitamins
In a whole foods-based diet, some of the best sources of B vitamins are leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and animal products such as wild-caught fish, grass-fed and grass-finished meat, free-range poultry, farm-fresh eggs, organic milk and other organic dairy products.
However, if you only focus on a single B vitamin, such as folate, it can mask deficiencies in other B vitamins, such as B12. Ideally, it’s best to get the full range of B vitamins from your food sources. If that’s not possible, choose a supplement that contains not just one, but the full range of B vitamins. Folate is a different issue. Almost half of women are unable to absorb the common forms of folic acid, and need the special form usually abbreviated as “5-methyl” found in high quality vitamin/mineral supplements.
3. Vitamin D Deficiency
The third of the 7 common deficiencies in women is vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is a huge issue for many women, even though conventional practitioners often don’t recognize its importance. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, an estimated 1 billion people worldwide have low vitamin D levels, with deficiencies noted across all age and ethnic groups.
Why you need vitamin D
Getting needed serum vitamin D is essential for many attributes of our health, including our bones, brains and immune function. Research also indicates convincing evidence that appropriate vitamin D3 levels protect against cancer, diabetes, hypertension, multiple sclerosis and many other health concerns. Some common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include broken bones, achy bones, over the age of 50, body mass index greater than 30, dark skin, depression, low energy levels, frequent colds or flu and excessive head sweating. Get your level tested twice a year. For general health, vitamin D levels should range between 50 to 80 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml).
An article appearing on March 8, 2019, in Current Pharmaceutical Design reported findings from a meta-analysis of eight trials, that included a total of 630 participants with cardiovascular disease, that found associations between vitamin D supplementation and improvement in glycemic control, inflammation and HDL cholesterol among those who received vitamin D supplements. “Insulin resistance, dyslipidemia and chronic inflammation are important risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD),” wrote authors V. Ostadmohammadi and colleagues. “Hence, vitamin D supplementation might be an appropriate approach to decrease the complications of CVD.”
How to get vitamin D
Your skin makes vitamin D when exposed to approximately 10-30 minutes of sunlight a day. However in the northern United States, you won’t be able to get enough sun between October and April, no matter how hard you try. And even if you live in a sunny southern climate, you may not absorb enough vitamin D to meet your body’s requirement, especially if you are indoors much of the time or have dark skin.
To make up the difference, you can consume vitamin D-rich fish such as wild-caught salmon or take a vitamin D supplement in the form of D3. I usually recommend 2,000 IU per day for clients, but often testing indicates adding a higher dose for a while. If you don’t spend much time outdoors, regardless of where you live, it’s probably a good idea to supplement all year. It’s very important to get your vitamin D3 levels tested in the winter, when they are usually the lowest. Be sure to stop taking your supplement at least five days before testing to get a truer picture.
4. Iodine Deficiency
Iodine is one of those micronutrients that most people don’t think twice about, but it’s extremely important.
Why you need iodine
Your body needs iodine for the production of thyroid hormones, which support brain development, bone maintenance, growth and metabolism. Nearly one-third of the world’s population is iodine deficient. Deficiency in iodine intake can lead to hypothyroidism or goiter, which in turn can affect a great many aspects of your health and metabolism. Iodine is also important for the maintenance of breast health. Some of the common symptoms that indicate one is not getting enough iodine include:
- Dry mouth, dry skin and lack of sweating
- Enlarged thyroid gland, also known as goiter, which contributes to a variety of cancers, including esophageal, breast, ovarian and thyroid
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Weight gain
How to get iodine
It’s best to get your iodine from food — and it’s not too difficult. Seafood, seaweed and sea vegetables are all great sources of iodine, even in small amounts. If foods from the sea are not your thing, you can supplement with a nascent iodine supplement. If your experience side-effects, back your dosage down and carefully monitor your dosage. Consult with an iodine-literate healthcare practitioner about the amount that is right for you.
5. Selenium Deficiency
Selenium (Se) is another one of those under-recognized micronutrients. Selenium is a trace mineral that contributes to reproductive health, thyroid health, and helps reduce DNA damage due to its antioxidant nature in certain forms. Nuts, seeds, beans, and some vegetables are rich in selenium, but you can also take this essential micronutrients in supplement form when your diet falls short. Few people think about it, but everybody should make sure they are getting enough selenium.
Why you need selenium
Like iodine, selenium is important for thyroid function, but other benefits of selenium in the body include improved immune function, reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and lower oxidative stress, to name a few. Note that it is possible to get too much selenium. It’s a good idea to check with a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner before supplementing.
It’s important to note that selenium also plays an important role in cancer prevention. One of the reasons people get cancer is because of excessive free radical production. By reducing free radicals, selenium helps reduce your risk of cancer.
How to get selenium
Your best bet is to choose sustainably sourced seafood, including tuna, halibut, shrimp and sardines. For vegetarians and vegans, Brazil nuts offer an excellent source of selenium – usually about three per day. There is almost six times as much selenium in one ounce of Brazil nuts (~ 6 nuts) as in three ounces of tuna, the next highest food source.
There are two things to consider when choosing a good selenium supplement: the source of the selenium and its concentration. Selenium supplements are either made synthetically or sourced from natural ingredients. The selenium concentration indicates how much selenium each serving provides.
I highly recommend using a selenium made from high-quality, certified-organic mustard seed and is GMO-free, vegan, and gluten-free. This will provide naturally occurring selenomethionine which has the highest bioavailability of the organic (carbon-based) selenium forms.
6. Magnesium Deficiency
Because magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, a deficiency can actually harm your health. Researchers have found more than 3,750 magnesium-binding sites on human proteins which gives you an idea of how important magnesium is for the optimal functioning of your body. Typically only about 30 to 40% of magnesium is absorbed from food.
Why you need magnesium
Magnesium is critical to over 300 enzyme systems that regulate and guide blood glucose control, blood pressure, muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm and bone health.
How to get magnesium
Foods that are rich in magnesium include avocados, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, brown rice, cashews, dark leafy greens such as spinach and black beans, all of which offer at least 15% of the daily required amount in a single serving. Many food processing methods remove magnesium, so eat whole foods as much as possible.
Your doctor can test your serum magnesium level, but here’s an important tip to remember. Research from Dr. Ron Elin has shown that anything in the lower half of the normal range of serum magnesium really indicates magnesium deficiency. So it’s important that you are right at the top of the serum magnesium range.
7. Vitamin E Deficiency
Vitamin E is an important fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant designed to combat inflammation and make red blood cells. The importance of natural vitamin E becomes highlighted when we understand that in nature vitamin E exists in a family of eight separate but related isomers. These isomers consist of four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta). In fact, in nature, vitamin E never exists in isolation with just one isomer. In today’s dietary supplement market, d-alpha tocopherol is the isomer most associated with vitamin E products. However, the other forms of tocopherols are beginning to receive attention in addition to the tocotrienol members of the vitamin E family.
Why you need vitamin E
Vitamin E supports your body’s use of vitamin K, which is very important for heart health. Six billion people worldwide as well as 75 to 90 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin E. A vitamin E deficiency means an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, cognitive deterioration and immune dysfunction.
“Free radical formation comes from a variety of chemical reactions in the body and is the basis of many diseases, such as heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, senility, and probably even cancer. Without vitamin E, cell membranes, and DNA are less protected from free radical damage. Vitamin E as an antioxidant helps to stabilize cell membranes and protect the tissues of the skin, eyes, liver, breast, and testes. It protects the lungs from oxidative damage from environmental substances. Free radical formation and oxidation are tied to cancer development… More definitive research is needed. It helps heart and muscle cell respiration by improving function with less oxygen. Vitamin E may improve stamina and endurance and reduce cardiovascular disease. Vitamin E reduces platelet aggregation and platelet adhesiveness to collagen, even more than aspirin.” Dr. Elson M. Haas
How to get vitamin E
Vitamin E can easily be obtained from a healthy diet. According to Dr. Hass: “The best [food] sources of vitamin E are the vegetable and seed or nut oils. To preserve the vitamin E, extraction from nuts and seeds is done naturally, as by cold pressing, rather than by heat or chemical extraction, used in food processing. Because of these forms of processing, the average American diet has lost many of its natural sources of tocopherols. Intake is commonly very low. Cold-pressed vegetable oils are the best source of vitamin E. These are most healthy in their raw form in dressings and sauces rather than in cooking. Most are polyunsaturated oils, which are adversely affected by heating.”
If using a supplement, choose a full-spectrum vitamin E that contains all 8 naturally occurring tocopherol and tocotrienol isomers. Approximately 400-600 IUs is used preventively. For therapeutic effects, an amount between 800-1600 IUs daily is suggested. With therapeutic uses of vitamin E, it is best to start with a low level and gradually increase it. Avoid the synthetic form. Natural vitamin E is always listed as the “d-” form: d-alpha-tocopherol, d-beta-tocopherol, etc. Synthetic versions are listed as “dl-” forms. Your body has the ability to distinguish between natural and synthetic vitamins. Several studies have shown that natural vitamin E is between two and three times as bioactive as the same amount of vitamin E in the synthetic form.
8. Bonus: Progesterone Deficiency
Even though progesterone is not considered a nutrient, a progesterone deficiency can easily wreak havoc on a woman’s health and well-being. Progesterone supports a woman throughout her entire life especially during those years when the symptoms of hormonal imbalance that comes with PMS, peri-menopause and post menopause become troublesome.
Why you need progesterone
Progesterone is not simply a sex hormone as most assume. If your body becomes overloaded with xenoestrogens (found in food, water and air) and thus unable to produce enough progesterone to counteract and balance the estrogen to progesterone ratio, health concerns are often the result.
For women, balanced progesterone levels support healthy breasts, help the body to use fat for energy, act as a natural diuretic, act as a natural anti-depressant, facilitate healthy thyroid function, support healthy blood clotting, support healthy libido, support healthy blood sugar levels, normalize zinc and copper levels, increased bone building and promotes normal sleep patterns.
Symptoms of low progesterone include spotting, abdominal pain, frequent low blood sugar, regularly tender breasts, constant fatigue, mood swings, headaches, migraines, low libido, depression and anxiety, irregular menstrual cycle, weight gain, fibroids, thyroid dysfunction, hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
How to get progesterone
It’s very important to establish “need” before deciding to use bioidentical progesterone. This is most efficiently accomplished by saliva testing your sex hormones to determine the ratio between progesterone and estrogen. While some herbs can help with symptoms of progesterone deficiency, they do not provide clinical balancing of progesterone.
When “need” is established, using bioidentical progesterone is the safest way to achieve balance. Years of research and conclusive studies show that Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) is effective and provides natural and safe treatment for pre-menopausal and menopause symptoms as well as other health concerns. Natural progesterone is a building block for other hormonal interactions and when properly balanced, ensures that all of your other hormones are working properly.
Studies actually show that Synthetic HRT may not treat menopause symptoms safely and that the risks may far exceed the benefits. Unlike the progesterone produced by the body, synthetic progestins are unlikely converted into neurosteroids and may, in some instances, actually intensify mood disorders.
While the words “common deficiency” can apply to many women, it doesn’t have to be true for you. Many times these deficiencies are a matter of a diet in need of a tweak, or possibly a time of extra stress. But they can also signal something more serious. Begin with addressing these 7 common deficiencies in women plus the bonus deficiency to make sure you are covered. Taking a high quality multi-vitamin/multi-mineral formula as well as eating an organic plant-based diet can help with many of these deficiencies. However, if one has been deficient for a lengthy time, additional supplementation may be necessary as well as a consult with a knowledgeable practitioner. Once you address these particular 7 common deficiencies in women, you will find that you feel better and look better. Best of all, your energy levels will soar…and so will your self-confidence! Who doesn’t want that?
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Drutel A et al. “Selenium and the Thyroid Gland: More Good News for Clinicians.” J Clin Endocrinol. 2013;78(2),155-64.
Waters DJ, et al. “Effects of Dietary Selenium Supplementation on DNA Damage and Apoptosis in Canine Prostate.” J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003; 95(3),237-41.
Northrup, Dr. Christiane. Traditional Herbs or Bioidentical Hormones: Which Is Better?
de la Foret, Rosalee. 9 Reasons Herbs May Not Work. Herbs with Rosalee. 2012.
Tierra, M. (1998). The Way Of Herbs (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Pocket Books.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Oasis Advanced Wellness/OAWHealth does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Oasis Advanced Wellness/OAWHealth are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician of choice.