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5 Vital Nutrients for Women

Men and women have different needs -- at least when it comes to nutrition.  Generally, women get by on fewer calories per day than men, but they require an extra boost of certain vitamins and minerals to maintaine their best health.  Every woman should make sure she gets a sufficient amount of these five essential nutrients:

1.  CALCIUM.  Our bones are constantly shedding and replenishing calcium, the most abundant mineral in the human body.  But as women approach menopause, the balance tips.  Bones become less dense, and as estrogen levels drop, the risk of developing osteoporosis increases.  Too many women--especially teens--consume only slightly more than half the daily recommended amount of calcium.  Milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are excellent calcium sources, as are broccoli, turnip greens and dried figs.

2.  VITAMIN D. This fat-soluble vitamin helps the body absorb calcium.  While sunlight is a major source of vitamin D, sunscreens of SPF 8 or higher can block the ultraviolet rays that provide D.  If you don't get outdoors much--or if you live north of a line drasen between San Francisco and Philadelphis--your body probably doesn't get sufficient D on its own.  Fortunately, many foods are vitamin D enriched.  A single cup of vitamin D fortified milk supplies half the recommended daily intake for women ages 19 to 51.  Fortified breakfast cereals, oysters and fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, are other good sources.

3.  IRON.  Iron helps transport oxygen through the body as part of a protein in the red blood cells called hemoglobin.  Women tend to have less iron than men, and they lose iron due to menstruation.  According to the NIH and National Library of Medicine, approximately half of pregnant women (and 20% of ALL women) are iron-deficient.  Iron deficiency can cause anemia and an impaired immune system.  Red meat, legumes, raisins and whole grain bread are rich in iron.  Cooking in a cast-iron skillet can add iron to your diet.  Consult your physician before taking iron supplements.  Too much can lead to iron toxicity that can damage the heart, kidneys & liver.

4.  FOLIC ACID (FOLATE).  In 1991 the British medical Journal Lancet published a groundbreaking study linking folic acid supplements to a 72% reduction in neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.  The damage occurs during the first weeks of pregnancy, which is why today most healthcare professionals advise women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.  The FDA makes this easier by requiring food producers to add folic acid to most enriched breads, flour, cornmeal, pastas and rice.  More recent studies have also associated folic acid with decreased risk of breast cancer, particularly in women who routinely drink more than one alcoholic beverage per day.  Folic acid may also help fight heart disease by reducing levels of an amino acid called homosyteine, thought to contribute to artery-clogging atherosclerosis.

5.  MAGNESIUM. Magnesium boosts the immune system, regulates blood sugar and keeps the heart beating steadily.  Evidence also suggests that magnesium may play a role in preventing diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension (high blood pressure).  Yet, a majority of women aren't getting all the magnesium they need.  Spinach and other green vegetables, soy nuts and almonds are excellent sources.

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