Good nutrition is important for everybody, but it plays a unique role in supporting women’s health. Unfortunately, many women are at risk of falling short on key nutrients for protecting long-term health, especially nutrients that support strong bones and a healthy heart.
Calcium is typically associated with bone health, and for good reason. It plays a critical role in the building and maintenance of healthy bones (1, 2). Meeting your body’s need for calcium is a long-term project, since your lifelong calcium intake along with certain lifestyle choices can affect your body’s calcium stores as you age. Meeting your body’s need for calcium at each stage in your life is an important factor in healthy aging.
Calcium’s role in the body does not stop with building strong bones. It’s also essential for healthy cardiovascular function through its role in regulating healthy blood pressure (3, 4). Additionally, studies have also shown that diets rich in calcium are associated with lower levels of body fat and lower body weight (5).
Dairy foods and dark green vegetables provide a healthy source of calcium along with an array of other essential nutrients. If you are concerned about consistently getting enough of these foods in your diet, supplementation has been shown to be an effective option. Recently, researchers found that post-menopausal women absorbed calcium equally as well from supplements as they did from dairy-rich foods (6).
Another essential mineral is magnesium. Magnesium plays a critical role in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps support normal nerve function, blood pressure, the maintenance of strong bones, and a steady heart beat (7). Unfortunately, experts believe that many adults are deficient in this important mineral. A 2005-2006 study showed that as many as 48 percent of Americans were not getting enough magnesium in their diets (8). Inadequate magnesium levels contribute to greater risk for poor health over time (8-10).
Commonly known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is an important contributor to bone health. For post-menopausal women, vitamin D3 supplementation has also been shown to support increased muscle strength and growth (11).
Because exposure to sunlight helps the body make its own vitamin D, many believe they get all that they need through their daily outdoor activity. However, studies have shown that an inadequate level of vitamin D is common, especially among women (13).
Since the body requires a certain intensity of direct sunlight to aid in the production of vitamin D, factors like the time of year, weather conditions, and where you live can affect your ability to meet your requirement for vitamin D. Those who have a darker skin tone, older adults, or people who don’t spend enough time outdoors are at greater risk for low vitamin D levels.
There are few foods that provide a good source of vitamin D. Experts suggest supplementing vitamin D as cholecalciferol, or vitamin D3, as an effective choice to ensure healthy vitamin D levels (14).
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly as EPA and DHA, are important for supporting women’s heart health (15). The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume at least two servings of fish each week as a source of EPA and DHA. Unfortunately, a large, national nutrition survey showed that few are consistently meeting these recommendations (16). The researchers pointed out that American women had an especially low intake of fish or foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Busy lifestyles and individualized nutritional needs can put women at risk for falling short on key nutrients, especially nutrients that support strong bones and a healthy heart. It can take some effort and careful planning to ensure that you get enough of each of these important nutrients each day.
- Cumming RG. Calcium intake and bone mass: A quantitative review of the evidence. Calcif Tissue Int (1990) 47: 194. doi:10.1007/BF02555919
- Shea B, Wells G, Cranney A, Zytaruk N, Robinson V, Griffith L, Ortiz Z, Peterson J, Adachi J, Tugwell P, Guyatt G. VII. Meta-Analysis of Calcium Supplementation for the Prevention of Postmenopausal Osteoporosis. Endocr Rev 2002; 23 (4): 552-559. doi: 10.1210/er.2001-7002
- Bucher HC, Cook RJ, Guyatt GH, et al. Effects of dietary calcium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. 1996;275(13):1016-1022
- Cappuccio FP, Elliott P, Allender PS, Pryer J, Follman DA, Cutler JA. Epidemiologic association between dietary calcium intake and blood pressure: a meta-analysis of published data. Am J Epidemiol. 1995;142(9):935-945
- Heaney RP, Davies KM, Barger-Lux MJ. Calcium and Weight: Clinical Studies. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Pages 152S-155S. Received 17 Dec 2001, Published online: 19 Jun 2013 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2002.10719213
- Rogers TS, Garrod MG, Peerson JM, Hillegonds DJ, Buchholz BA, Demmer E, Richardson C, Gertz ER, Van Loan MD. Is bone equally responsive to calcium and vitamin D intake from food vs. supplements? Use of calcium tracer kinetic model. Bone Reports. Volume 5, December 2016, Pages 117–123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bonr.2016.05.001
- Laires MJ, Monteiro CP, Bicho M. Role of Cellular Magnesium in Health and Human Disease. Frontiers in Bioscience 9, 262-276, January 1, 2004. Available at: https://www.bioscience.org/2004/v9/af/1223/2.htm
- Rosanoff A, Weaver CM, Rude RK. Suboptimal magnesium status in the United States: are the health consequences underestimated? Nutr Rev. 2012 Mar;70(3):153-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00465.x. Epub 2012 Feb 15. DOI: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00465.x
- van Dam RM, Hu FB, Rosenberg L, Krishnan S, Palmer JR. Dietary calcium and magnesium, major food sources, and risk of type 2 diabetes in U.S. black women. Diabetes Care. 2006 Oct;29(10):2238-43.
- Nielsen FH. Magnesium, inflammation, and obesity in chronic disease. Nutr Rev. 2010 Jun;68(6):333-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00293.x. DOI: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00293.x
- The North American Menopause Society. “Vitamin D3 Supplementation Helps Women Build Muscle Even After Menopause” (press release). 30 September 2015. Available at: http://www.menopause.org/docs/default-source/2015/vitamin-d-supplementation.pdf
- Bhan A, Rao AD, Rao DS. Osteomalacia as a Result of Vitamin D Deficiency. Endocrinol Metab Clin N Am. 39 (2010) 321-331 doi: 10.1016/j.ecl.2010.02.001
- Moore C, Murphy MM, Keast DR, Holick MF. Vitamin D intake in the United States. Journal of the American Dietetic Association , Volume 104 , Issue 6 , 980 – 983 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2004.03.028
- Armas LAG, Hollis BW, Heaney RP. Vitamin D2 Is Much Less Effective than Vitamin D3 in Humans. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2004; 89 (11): 5387-5391. doi: 10.1210/jc.2004-0360
- Hu FB, Bronner L, Willett WC, et al. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women. JAMA. 2002;287(14):1815-1821. doi:10.1001/jama.287.14.1815
- Papanikolaou Y, Brooks J, ReiderC, Fulgoni VL. U.S. adults are not meeting recommended levels for fish and omega-3 fatty acid intake: results of an analysis using observational data from NHANES 2003–2008. Nutr J. 2014; 13: 31. Published online 2014 Apr 2. doi: 1186/1475-
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