From our anatomy to our hormones to our risk for certain diseases, there are many key differences between men and women. Given that, it’s no surprise we need different amounts of various nutrients—and tend to have gender-specific risks for certain deficiencies.
In some cases, women have lower nutrient needs than men (think protein, vitamin C, and zinc). In other cases, women have higher needs of certain nutrients (think iron, folate/folic acid, and calcium).
Here’s why there are nutrients women risk falling short on:
Hormones: “Menstruation, pregnancy, and lactation are three gender-specific situations in which women have different nutritional requirements than men,” says Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Olivia Rose, N.D.
Women who suffer from heavy periods, for example, are more likely to be anemic—or deficient in iron—according to research published in BMC Women’s Health. A significant amount of pregnant women, meanwhile, end up deficient in a myriad of vitamins, per one study published in JAMA Network.
Metabolism: Some enzymes that metabolize nutrients works at a faster rate in men than in females, Rose says. This can lead to disparities in men’s and women’s absorption of nutrients.
Medications: According to the CDC, 12.6 percent of women take oral contraceptives. Hormonal contraception has been shown to increase the risk of women falling short on certain nutrients. “Many women are unaware of this,” says Rose. The result: “[They] walk around deficient in key nutrients without even knowing about it.”
Which nutrients, in particular, do many women need more of? Here’s the breakdown of five nutrients women risk falling short on—plus advice about when to add a supplement to your routine.
This essential mineral ensures proper growth and development. It also produces hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body.
Women tend to be deficient in iron at different stages of life—particularly during their childbearing years. And getting too little iron during pregnancy can carry risks for the unborn child, including low birth weight and premature birth.
Increasing your intake of high-iron foods, such as red meat, green leafy vegetables, legumes, and/or including an iron supplement is key, says Rose. The National Institutes of Health recommends that adult women consume 18 milligrams of iron daily. Pregnant women, meanwhile, should consume 27 milligrams daily and lactating women should consume nine milligrams.
This abundant mineral is essential for several bodily functions, including protein synthesis, nerve function, and blood glucose and blood pressure regulation, according to the National Institutes of Health. Magnesium is also important for building bones, making it especially important for women, who often experience bone health concerns later in life.
Since magnesium also has a relaxing effect, it can help with muscle cramps women may experience with PMS, Rose adds.
Despite its incredibly important role in the body, though, an estimated half of Americans are deficient in the nutrient, according to research published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
Read More: Your Guide To All Of The Different Magnesium Supplements Out There
You can score magnesium from all sorts of foods. A few good sources include nuts like almonds and cashews, spinach, edamame, black and kidney beans, and bananas. You can also add a magnesium supplement to ensure you meet your needs.
Adult women ages 19 to 30 need 310 milligrams, while women 31 and older need 320 milligrams. Pregnant and lactating women need even more—350 milligrams and 360 milligrams respectively.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for proper calcium absorption, as well as for supporting immune balance in the body, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, as many as 75 percent of Americans may be deficient, according to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
One of vitamin D’s most critical roles: It supports a balanced mood, says research published in Nutrients. For this reason, it can help women ward off issues like postpartum depression and cycle-related mood changes, notes Rose.
Read More: 7 Signs You Have A Vitamin D Deficiency
To ensure you’re getting enough, it’s a good idea to supplement properly. Depending on your ethnicity and body composition, you may need anywhere from 800 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily, Rose says.
The necessary nutrient for bone health, sufficient calcium is vital for both men and women. However many post-menopausal women don’t get enough, according to research published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. This puts them at risk for bone-related issues, such as osteoporosis.
According to Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council, the body gets calcium through calcium-rich foods (like leafy greens) and by pulling it from bones. “That’s why some people choose to supplement with calcium,” he explains. “They either don’t get enough from their diet or are coming up short on the other front.”
The National Institutes of Health recommends that adult women ages 19 to 50 consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. For women age 51 and older, that number bumps up to 1,200 milligrams per day.
5. Certain B Vitamins
B vitamins get a lot of buzz—and that’s because they are essential for brain cell function, energy production, DNA synthesis, and more.
Thing is, women—especially those on birth control—are prone to B vitamin deficiencies, according to research published in European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. “The birth control pill, which is taken by over 10 million women in the U.S., can reduce the absorption of a number of nutrients, including B vitamins,” says Rose.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all women of childbearing age supplement with vitamin B9 (a.k.a. folate) because of its role in preventing neural tube defects and promoting proper nervous system development in babies.
Other B vitamins are essential for women, as well. “Vitamin B6 is an important supplement for balancing mood and ultimately combating PMS symptoms, such as irritability and fatigue,” adds Rose.
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