Six essential nutrients for women

I’m often asked if women need different amounts of nutrients to men. Generally speaking no. We all need vitamins, essential fats, amino acids etc.

However, excluding pregnancy, when the optimal intake of most nutrients goes up, there are certain nutrients than women do need more of, some even more so pre- and post-menstrually, and in the peri and post menopausal phase. Some help with PMS and menopausal symptoms and other hormonally related problems.

The six essentials that women need more of are:

  • B vitamins – especially vitamin B6, folic acid and B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Isoflavones
  • Indoles eg I3C

B vitamins

B vitamins are important both for the production of energy and stabilizing mood. B6 is needed to convert essential fats into prostaglandins, which sensitise cells to hormones and therefore prevent the effects of hormone imbalances.

Vitamin B6 is needed for choline to function which helps to clear oestrogens from the liver. If these oestrogens are not cleared efficiently, symptoms related to oestrogen overload may occur, including greater risk of breast cancer.

A low level of B6 is associated with an excess of oestrogen in relation to progesterone so supplementing with the vitamin will help to restore the balance. It has also been shown that vitamin B6 levels are depleted in women taking the contraceptive pill, likely to be due to the additional supply of oestrogen. Several trials on vitamin B6 have reported considerable improvements in premenstrual syndrome, usually at a dose of 100mg a day (1). B6 alleviates depression associated with premenstrual syndrome (2). Also, premenopausal women in the top third for B6 levels cut their risk for breast
cancer by a third. (30)

 

 

Vitamins B12 and folic acid are also co-factors for the enzymes that either synthesise hormones or help to create prostaglandins. Together with B6 they are the cornerstone of methylation, which protects DNA, hence doubly essential in pregnancy to minimise risk of pregnancy problems and birth defects. But methylation also helps switch off genes that predispose to disease.

Magnesium

In order for your body to convert B6 (as pyridoxine) into its active form (pyridoxal-5-phosphate), which your body can use, it needs other nutrients such as zinc and magnesium. Giving vitamin B6 elevates magnesium levels during periods (3). Low magnesium levels are associated with poor appetite, nausea, lethargy, mood swings and muscle cramps. Magnesium reduces water retention (4) and improves mood (5).

Women suffering from PMS have been shown to have lower levels of magnesium compared to women without symptoms. Oestrogen increases tissue and bone absorption of magnesium, thus, ageing (decreasing oestrogen) is associated with increased need for magnesium (and higher rates of magnesium deficiency conditions) (6).

Like vitamin B6 and zinc, magnesium is required for making prostaglandins, and may help PMS sufferers this way. Cramps are most commonly due to calcium/magnesium imbalances and can be corrected by supplementing with magnesium.

The combination of vitamin B6 with magnesium is particularly effective in reducing the symptoms of PMS. A randomised controlled study gave three groups of women either a placebo, magnesium on its own or with...

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