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Home/Blog/Common Nutrient Shortfalls in Women

Common Nutrient Shortfalls in Women

By Rachel Link, RD, MS

February 14, 2024

Nutrient deficiencies in women

Not getting enough of a nutrient? Not a place anyone wants to be, but it’s also hard to know if you’re coming up short on nutrients. Factors like economic status, your social and cultural environment, personal habits, age, level of activity and genetics can all play a role. And of course, one’s diet has a huge impact.

Experts say that the most common nutrient shortfalls in women include vitamins like B12, D, minerals like iron and calcium, and even nutrients like omega-3s. Let’s examine some of the shortfalls and how best to address them through a nutrient-dense diet and high-quality supplements. It can also help set you up for healthy longevity.

As always, you should consult your healthcare professional about any potential nutrient shortfalls and before beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen. 

How Common Are Mineral and Vitamin Shortfalls in Women?

According to some sources, it’s believed that around 30 percent of all women come up short in one or more of the most important vitamins and minerals, and for many women the risk only increases with age. In fact, some studies indicate that up to 75 percent of women would likely have nutrient shortfalls if supplemental multivitamins didn’t exist.

Can you tell if you’re not getting enough of a nutrient? Possibly, although testing can determine it for sure (per your healthcare professional). Here are some possible indicators of nutrient shortfalls, which can impact a person’s:

  • Hair 

  • Cognition

  • Strength

  • Libido 

  • Skin 

  • Gum 

  • Heart and heartbeats

  • Immune system function

  • Outlook or mindset

  • Bones and joints 

  • Eyes and vision 

Common causes of having lowered levels of certain key nutrients include: 

  • Eating a highly processed diet (and low in fresh vegetables and fruit)

  • Being a vegetarian or vegan

  • Being underweight or consuming too little calories in general 

  • Being of reproductive age 

  • Being over the age of 65

  • Being of low socioeconomic status, a lack of education and in poverty

  • Consuming high amounts of alcohol

Common Nutrient Shortfalls in Women

1. Iron

The body needs many minerals, starting with iron. Coming up short on iron is fairly common worldwide, especially among women. According to the World Health Organization, an iron shortfall is common in industrialized and developing countries alike. 

In fact, it’s estimated that 30 percent or more of the world’s total population might need an iron boost. However, women in general need to be careful to get enough iron in their diet or through supplementation. Demand for iron naturally increases during menstruation due to blood loss. 

Some ways to increase iron intake include eating a variety of iron-rich foods (like beef, lentils and nuts) and those that support enhancement of iron absorption (such as vitamin C foods), in addition to possibly taking an iron supplement. Most multivitamins include some iron. 

2. Vitamin B12

B12 plays an essential role in your health by producing hemoglobin, part of your red blood cells that helps the cells in your body receive life-giving oxygen. It also supports healthy cognitive function. 

B12 is not found in plant foods, with the exception of some algaes and nutritional yeast, so vegans and vegetarians may come up short on this vitamin. 

How do vegans and vegetarians get B12? The best way is by taking a vegan B12 supplement (such as in the form of methylcobalamin), which is usually made via bacterial fermentation. For others, taking a multivitamin — such as 391 percent Daily Value in both Ancient Multivitamin Women's and Ancient Multivitamin Women's 40+ — will most likely easily cover one’s daily requirement.

3. Vitamin D

The human body synthesizes vitamin D when bare skin comes into contact with sunlight. However, because many people don’t spend enough time outdoors in the sun year around, coming up short is a growing concern — especially because there aren’t many dietary sources of vitamin D. In fact, a shortfall of vitamin D is one of the most common worldwide in both adult women and men. 

Besides prudent sun exposure, a vitamin D supplement (preferably vitamin D3 as cholecalciferol) can help to raise levels among those who spend most of their time indoors and avoid foods like milk, dairy and fish. In addition, taking a multivitamin will usually cover one’s daily requirement, including 244 percent Daily Value in both Ancient Multivitamin Women's Once Daily and Ancient Multivitamin Women's 40+ Once Daily.

4. Calcium

Women older than 50 years (that’s almost 11 million women, per 2022 statistics) are believed to be most likely to have low calcium levels. Even for those who consume calcium-rich foods and a calcium supplement, some people still fall short of getting enough calcium — for a variety of reasons. 

But it’s especially important for postmenopausal women to make sure their calcium levels are optimal in order to support their healthy bones. (It's also important to eat the right foods for bone health.)

Women with lactose intolerance as well as vegans may also lack calcium because they avoid eating dairy products, which are some of the most convenient dietary sources of calcium. Other factors can affect the amount of calcium absorbed from the digestive tract, including older age (being over 70) and lower vitamin D status (vitamin D is needed for proper calcium absorption). 

Using a body-ready, food-sourced form of calcium that’s made without dairy, Ancient Nutrients Calcium also features vitamin D3, which, in general, is a preferred form of vitamin D and acts as a supporting role in the body’s absorption of calcium.

Some people ask: Why can’t calcium be included in a multivitamin? Typically, it can't be included at 100 percent Daily Value because that’d make the multi too large to swallow.

5. Folate

Requirements for many micronutrients increase when a woman is pregnant — especially nutrients like folate, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and iodine.

Folate (which is called folic acid when it’s created synthetically) is critical for a healthy pregnancy and developing fetuses because it helps build the baby’s brain and spinal cord. For pregnant women, supplementing with folate helps in supporting normal fetal growth and development. 

To limit the risk of side effects caused by coming up short on folate, the American Thyroid Association also suggests all prenatal vitamins contain 150 micrograms of iodine, which should be taken during pregnancy and afterward while breastfeeding.

Most prenatal multivitamins usually cover one’s daily requirement for both folate and iodine.

6. Potassium

In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health has determined that based on dietary surveys, many adult women don’t consume enough potassium on a regular basis. However, getting enough potassium can help support normal, healthy blood pressure, promote bone health and more. 

To help support healthy potassium levels, consider eating potassium-rich foods like tree fruits (think avocados and apples) and leafy greens. Potassium (and magnesium) is left out of many multivitamins, so you’ll need to get enough through your diet. 

7. Iodine

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women between the ages of 20–39 have the lowest urine iodine levels compared to all other age groups. The thyroid gland requires iodine to produce the hormones T3 and T4, which help control your metabolism.

Iodine intake is especially important for young women looking to become pregnant or who are pregnant because it plays a role in brain development of the growing fetus. It’s also crucial for making proper amounts of thyroid hormones.

Most people eating a Western diet consume a good deal of iodized salt found in packaged foods and refined grain products, which has iodine added purposefully to help keep levels where they should be. But an even better way to get the iodine you need is from iodine-rich foods like sea veggies and seafood, the major natural dietary sources of this nutrient.

Like folate, most multivitamins — such as 110 percent Daily Value in Ancient Nutrition's Women's Fermented Multivitamin — will usually cover one’s daily requirement for iodine.

8. Magnesium

Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the body but also one of the most common minerals which people come up short on. As an electrolyte mineral, magnesium helps regulate calcium, potassium and sodium, and it is essential for over 300 different biochemical functions in the body.

On a global scale, there’s evidence suggesting that soil depletion has resulted in many crops being lower in magnesium than in past generations. 

Some studies show that many older people don’t eat magnesium-rich foods to begin with, plus they’re prone to experiencing reduced magnesium intestinal absorption, reduced magnesium bone stores and excess urinary loss. This typically comes along with the normal aging process. 

Make sure to get enough by consuming magnesium-rich foods, such as leafy green veggies, sea vegetables/algae, beans, nuts and seeds, as only low levels of magnesium are typically included in multivitamins.

9. Omega-3 Fish Oils

If you don’t consume seafood like salmon, mackerel, sardines, halibut or tuna regularly, you may be short on your omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids provide support for a healthy cardiovascular system and for healthy cognitive function.

Eating wild-caught fish several times per week or taking an omega-3 supplement equal to about 1,000 milligrams daily is the best way to get enough omega-3s.

For vegans, algal oil is one of the most common vegetarian/vegan omega-3 supplements because it provides both DHA and EPA, two types of omega-3s that are thought to be most easily absorbed and used by the body. You can also help meet your needs by consuming plant sources such as flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, olive oil and walnuts.

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