The Ultimate Guide to Supplements for Women's Health

The Ultimate Guide to Supplements for Women's Health

Proper nutrition is the foundation of women's health. A balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats provides most of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that a woman needs for optimal health. 

Even the healthiest eater may fall short in certain areas or have increased needs due to hormonal changes, age-related concerns, underlying health conditions, or other factors. In these cases, dietary supplements can help fill nutritional gaps.

Supplements should not be used as a substitute for a healthy diet. But when used appropriately under the guidance of a knowledgeable healthcare provider, certain supplements can offer benefits for women in all stages of life. Keep reading to learn about essential vitamins, minerals, and other supplements for promoting women's short- and long-term health and addressing various conditions.

Essential Vitamins and Minerals for Women

Below is an overview of key vitamins and minerals important for women's health, along with the recommended daily intakes and best food sources for obtaining them.


Calcium is arguably the most well-known mineral for bone health. Over 99% of the body's calcium is stored in the bones and teeth. The remaining 1% has other important functions, like muscle contraction, nerve conduction, hormone secretion, and blood clotting (1).

Because women start out in early adulthood with lower bone density compared to men, they face additional risks for developing osteoporosis and fractures later in life. Ensuring adequate calcium intake throughout the lifespan can optimize the amount of bone mass attained by the early 20s as well as offset gradual bone loss. The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium is (2):

  • Ages 19-50 years: 1,000 mg per day
  • Over age 50 years: 1,200 mg per day

The two most well-absorbed forms of calcium in supplements are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt contain highly bioavailable forms of calcium. Non-dairy sources include soy milk, almonds, beans, bok choy, broccoli, and fortified products like orange juice and cereal.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the intestines as well as bone growth and remodeling. Low vitamin D levels have been associated with impaired bone mineralization, muscle weakness, difficulty thinking, bone and back pain, depression, impaired wound healing, and an increased risk of autoimmune disorders (3).

The current RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU (15 mcg) daily for women through age 70. After 70, the recommendation goes up to 800 IU (20 mcg) per day. In addition to supplements, vitamin D can be obtained from fatty fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks, fortified dairy and grain products, and sun exposure. However, those with darker skin produce less vitamin D from UV rays compared to lighter skinned individuals (3).

B Vitamins

Several B vitamins play important roles related to women's health. Vitamin B6 benefits immune function, brain development, mood regulation, and metabolism of hormones like estrogen. Vitamin B12 is involved in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function, and DNA synthesis. Folate (vitamin B9) is most widely recognized for preventing birth defects like spina bifida during pregnancy. It's also essential at any age for making DNA and new cells (4).

Because vitamin B12 comes primarily from animal foods, vegan and strict vegetarian women should pay special attention to their intake. Alcohol and certain medications can also impair B vitamin absorption and increase needs.

Recommended daily intakes for women ages 19 and over are as follows (4,5,6):

  • Vitamin B6: 1.3 milligrams (mg)
  • Vitamin B12: 2.4 micrograms (mcg)
  • Folate: 400 mcg

Nutritious food sources of B vitamins include poultry, eggs, dairy, legumes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat, and fish. Common supplement forms include vitamin B complexes, multivitamins, and individual B vitamin tablets or capsules.


Iron enables red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. It also has roles in making connective tissue and creating essential enzymes for physiological functions. Women aged 19-50 years have the highest iron requirements due to menstruation: 18 mg daily. After menopause, the RDA drops to just 8 mg per day (7).

During pregnancy, requirements shoot up to 27 mg daily to allow for the increased blood volume. Breastfeeding mothers should also get extra iron — about 9-10 mg per day — to replace losses through breast milk (7). Babies are born with a 4-6 month iron supply to allow for this adjustment in maternal levels (8).

Because iron is not easily absorbed from plant sources, vegetarians and vegans should aim for nearly twice the RDA. Heme iron from meat and seafood has much higher bioavailability compared to non-heme plant sources. Iron supplements may also be warranted, but only with guidance from a doctor due to greater potential for toxicity.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The essential omega-3s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) provide wide-ranging benefits for women’s health. These anti-inflammatory fats have been shown to boost heart and brain health, stabilize moods, ease PMS symptoms, reduce hot flashes, minimize wrinkles, and even combat stubborn belly fat (9,10).

Because the body can’t produce EPA and DHA on its own, these “good fats” must be obtained through seafood or supplements. The American Heart Association recommends all adults eat fish (particularly fatty, coldwater fish) at least twice a week to get ample omega-3s (11). Vegans can meet needs with seaweed and algae-sourced supplements.

Outside of seafood, excellent plant-based omega-3 sources include chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and enriched eggs. Adults should aim to get at least 500 mg combined EPA and DHA per day for optimal health. If relying solely on ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) from plants, the recommendation goes up to 1.1 grams for women (11).

Supplements for Specific Women’s Health Concerns

In addition to essential vitamins and minerals, certain herbal remedies and specialty nutrients may provide relief from issues related to hormones, menstrual symptoms, fertility, menopause, and aging. Always consult with a doctor before taking any supplement, especially if pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking prescription medications.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Up to 80% of menstruating women experience some unpleasant physical or emotional symptoms — e.g., bloating, cramps, acne, food cravings, irritability — prior to getting their periods (12). These issues fall under the broad umbrella term “premenstrual syndrome” or PMS. For up to 20% of these women, symptoms like depression and rage are severe enough to interfere with work, school, relationships, or daily activities (12).

Certain supplements including vitamins, minerals, and herbs may help provide relief when PMS strikes:

  • Calcium: 1,000 mg per day
  • Vitamin B6: 50-100 mg per day
  • Vitamin D: 400 IU (10 mcg) per day
  • Magnesium: 200-400 mg per day
  • Chasteberry (Vitex agnus castus): 175-225 mg per day standardized extract
  • Evening primrose oil: 500 mg per day

Always start supplements at lower doses and work up gradually to avoid side effects. It can also help to begin taking them mid-cycle and continue through onset of the period.


Menopause officially occurs one year after a woman’s last period. It marks the end of fertility due to loss of ovarian function. As estrogen levels begin to wane in the years leading up to menopause (perimenopause), women may start experiencing hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, irregular periods, insomnia, weight gain, and even depression (13).

Certain herbal remedies and nutritional supplements may help minimize unpleasant symptoms:

  • Black cohosh: 40-80 mg standardized extract twice daily
  • Red clover: 40 mg isoflavones daily
  • Calcium: 1,200 mg daily
  • Vitamin D: 600-800 IU (15-20 mcg) daily
  • Vitamin E: 400 IU daily
  • Flaxseed oil: 2 tablespoons daily
  • Evening primrose oil: 500 mg daily
  • Maca root powder: 1,500-3,000 mg daily

Because herbs like black cohosh can interact with medications, be sure to consult your physician or pharmacist before using them.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Pregnancy causes dramatic shifts in hormone levels that can sometimes leave moms-to-be feeling depleted. Common complaints like nausea, heartburn, leg cramps, constipation, food aversions, fatigue, and mood swings can also take a toll. After childbirth, new moms continue tapping into nutrient stores throughout breastfeeding.

Certain supplements taken before, during, and after pregnancy help safeguard nutritional status for mother and baby:

Prenatal vitamin with at least 400 mcg folic acid, taken prior to conception and throughout pregnancy

  • Calcium: 1,000 mg daily
  • Vitamin D: 600 IU (75 mcg) daily
  • Iron: 27 mg daily for pregnancy
  • 9 mg daily for breastfeeding moms
  • Omega-3s (DHA/EPA): 200-300 mg DHA daily


  • Vitamin C: 85 mg daily
  • Magnesium: 320 mg daily
  • Zinc: 11 mg daily

Bone Health

From ages 35 to 50, women lose up to 20 percent of their bone density as estrogen levels decline (14). This accelerates bone breakdown, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and debilitating fractures. Peak bone mass density achieved in early adulthood plus the rate of bone loss later on determines relative risk for osteoporosis.

Nutrients like calcium and vitamin D help strengthen bone integrity throughout life, but especially post-menopause. Current recommendations for optimizing bone health include (14):

  • Calcium: 1,200 mg daily
  • Vitamin D: 800-1,000 IU (20-25 mcg) daily
  • Vitamin K2: 100 mcg daily
  • Magnesium: 320 mg daily

Supplementing with compounds like lycopene, inositol, oriandrine, omega-3s, and collagen may also help slow bone breakdown after menopause (15).

Herbal Supplements for Women's Health

In addition to vitamins, minerals, and other specialty supplements, numerous herbs have traditional and modern applications related to women’s health. Some examples include:

Evening Primrose Oil: Prized for its high concentration of essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), evening primrose oil has research to support benefits related to reducing PMS symptoms, relieving hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause and lessening breast pain or tenderness (16).

Red Clover: Containing plant-based estrogen-like compounds called isoflavones, red clover is commonly used to treat hot flashes, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, and skin sores (16).

Black Cohosh: This herb has shown efficacy in minimizing symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and emotional changes related to menopause. It’s also used for PMS relief (16).

Dong Quai: Used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine, dong quai remains popular for regulating menstrual cycles and easing related issues like menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome. It’s also taken for menopausal symptoms (17).

Maca Root: Maca is an adaptogenic root gaining popularity for effects like boosting libido, increasing energy levels, and combating menopausal mood swings and hot flashes. Some early research shows it may help regulate menstrual cycles and improve fertility as well (18).

Choosing Quality Supplements

With so many different brands and formulations lining store shelves, choosing high-quality supplements can get confusing. Use the following criteria when evaluating products:

  • Grade: Pharmaceutical is superior, indicating higher levels of purity, potency, and bioavailability.
  • Verification: Look for testing by independent, third-party organizations like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, and
  • Forms: Better absorbed forms include methylcobalamin (B12), 5-MTHF or methylfolate (folate), zinc picolinate (mineral zinc), and calcium citrate (mineral calcium).
  • Fillers/Additives: Avoid artificial colors, sweeteners, preservatives, gluten, corn, nuts, stimulants like caffeine, hydrogenated oils, and unnecessary fillers.
  • Expiration Date: Ensure supplements contain only safe, non-toxic compounds. Also verify they come in containers protecting against heat, moisture, and oxygen to avoid ingredient breakdown before use.

Safety Considerations

Dietary supplements help promote health by delivering concentrated doses of beneficial nutrients. However, misuse can trigger side effects or reactions in some individuals. Keep the following precautions in mind:

  • Medical Conditions: Certain supplements may interact with medications or exacerbate underlying health conditions. Hence the importance of involving your doctor and pharmacist in supplementation routines.
  • Sensitivities: Allergies, digestive problems, migraines, inflammation, and other issues may worsen with inappropriate supplementation. Start with low doses and single ingredients.
  • Toxicity: Taking too much of certain vitamins and minerals can cause toxicity over time. Do not exceed tolerable upper intake levels without medical supervision.
  • Quality Control: Poor quality or contaminated supplements put you at greater risk for adverse reactions unrelated to the ingredients themselves.


One-size nutrition advice doesn’t fit all women due to vastly differing needs across the lifespan as well as individual health statuses. While whole foods should remain the basis of any healthy diet, targeted supplementation serves as insurance against deficiencies—both in the short- and long-term.

Work with your trusted healthcare providers to pinpoint problem areas and select appropriate remedies to address them. Allow for adjustments over time based on changes in age, fertility goals, activity levels, stress exposures, and medical conditions. Consistently getting the right nutrients in proper doses gives your body the best fighting chance at optimal wellness.