Should Women Take Supplements? Sources and Dietary Needs

 Women have specific nutrient needs that change throughout their lifespan (1

Trusted Source).

For example, teens have different nutrient needs than postmenopausal women, and pregnant and breastfeeding women require greater amounts of specific nutrients than non-pregnant women.

What’s more, nutrient needs may differ depending on your overall health and lifestyle.

Although vitamin supplementation isn’t necessary for all women, some may need to supplement to reach their recommended intake levels.

This article reviews vitamins for women, including vitamin sources, dietary needs, and why some women may benefit from supplementation.

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Vitamins are divided into 2 categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble.

The water-soluble vitamins consist of eight B vitamins: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin), as well as vitamin C (2Trusted Source).

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are considered fat-soluble vitamins.

Water-soluble vitamins are not readily stored in your body and need to be supplied continuously through your diet. On the other hand, fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your body’s tissues and retained for longer periods (3Trusted Source).

Depending on their age and health status, women and teens have differing daily vitamin needs.

Here are the recommendations for water-soluble vitamin intake for women (4Trusted Source5Trusted Source6Trusted Source7Trusted Source8Trusted Source9Trusted Source10Trusted Source11Trusted Source12Trusted Source):

Age/ groupB1B2B3B5B6B7B9B12Vitamin C
9–130.9 mg0.9 mg12 mg niacin equivalent (NE)4 mg1 mg20 mcg300 mcg dietary folate equivalents (DFE)1.8 mcg45 mg
14–181 mg1 mg14 mg NE5 mg1.2 mg25 mcg400 mcg DFE2.4 mcg65 mg
19–501.1 mg1.114 mg NE5 mg1.3 mg30 mcg400 mcg DFE2.4 mcg75 mg
51+1.1 mg1.1 mg14 mg NE5 mg1.5 mg30 mcg400 mcg DFE2.4 mcg75 mg
Pregnancy1.4 mg1.4 mg18 mg NE6 mg1.9 mg30 mcg600 mcg DFE2.6 mcg85 mg
Lactation1.4 mg1.6 mg17 mg NE7 mg2 mg35 mcg500 mcg DFE2.8 mcg120 mg

Note that women who smoke need an extra 35 mg of vitamin C per day. Also, pregnant and breastfeeding women under the age of 19 need 5 mg less vitamin C per day than pregnant and breastfeeding women 19 years or older (12Trusted Source).

Here are the recommendations for fat-soluble vitamin intake for women (13Trusted Source14Trusted Source15Trusted Source16Trusted Source):

Age/ groupVitamin AVitamin DVitamin EVitamin K
913600 mcg retinol activity equivalents (RAE)15 mcg (600 IU)11 mg60 mcg
1418700 mcg RAE15 mcg (600 IU)15 mg75 mcg
1950700 mcg RAE15 mcg (600 IU)15 mg90 mcg
51+700 mcg RAE15 mcg (600 IU)
20 mcg (800 IU) for women 70+
15 mg90 mcg
Pregnancy (18 and under)750 mcg RAE15 mcg (600 IU)15 mg75 mcg
Pregnancy (19 and over)770 mcg RAE15 mcg (600 IU)15 mg90 mcg
Breastfeeding (18 and under)1200 mcg RAE15 mcg (600 IU)19 mg75 mcg
Breastfeeding (19 and over)1300 mcg RAE15 mcg (600 IU)19 mg90 mcg

Notably, some argue that the daily vitamin D needs of pregnant and breastfeeding women are much higher than the current recommendations. This will be discussed later in this article (17Trusted Source18Trusted Source19Trusted Source20Trusted Source21Trusted Source).

Both water- and fat-soluble vitamins are needed for critical bodily processes, which is why a vitamin deficiency can lead to adverse health outcomes.

Water-soluble vitamin functions

Water-soluble vitamins play many important roles in your body. The B vitamins are perhaps best known for their roles in energy production, while vitamin C is best known for its role in immune function.

However, these nutrients are involved in many other critical processes as well.

  • B1. Thiamine helps convert nutrients into energy and is required for proper cellular function. Pregnant women, women on long-term diuretic medication, and women who have undergone bariatric surgery are at a greater risk of thiamine deficiency (22Trusted Source).
  • B2. Riboflavin is needed for energy production and growth and development. It also functions as an antioxidant. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, women with eating disorders, and older women are at a greater risk of developing a B2 deficiency (23Trusted Source).
  • B3. Niacin is essential to nervous system function, energy production, and enzymatic reactions. Niacin deficiency is rare in the United States, but women with a deficient intake of niacin-rich foods may be at risk (6Trusted Source).
  • B5. Pantothenic acid is a precursor to coenzyme A, which is needed for various essential processes, such as the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. A deficiency in B5 is extremely rare (7Trusted Source).
  • B6. Pyridoxine is important for macronutrient metabolism, immune function, and neurotransmitter production. Certain populations, such as women with obesity and autoimmune diseases, are more likely to have low B6 levels (24Trusted Source).
  • B7. Biotin plays a key role in energy production and the regulation of oxidative stress. Women who are pregnant, those who excessively use alcohol, and women on certain medications are more likely to have low biotin levels (25Trusted Source).
  • B9. Folate is needed to produce DNA, RNA, red blood cells, proteins, and neurotransmitters. A deficiency can result from inadequate dietary intake, malabsorption conditions, medication interactions, pregnancy, alcohol dependence, and more (26Trusted Source).
  • B12. B12 is essential for neurological functioning and red blood cell and DNA production. A deficiency can result from inadequate dietary intake or medical conditions, including autoimmune diseases and malabsorption (27Trusted Source).
  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C acts as a powerful antioxidant and plays a role in immune function and collagen and neurotransmitter production. Smoking and excessive drinking increase the risk of vitamin C deficiency (28Trusted Source).

Note that choline is a water-soluble nutrient often grouped with B vitamins due to its similar functions in the body. However, choline is not a vitamin and found in both fat- and water-soluble forms in the diet.

This nutrient plays an important role in brain development, metabolism, neurotransmitter synthesis, and more. Choline needs increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding (29Trusted Source).

Fat-soluble vitamin functions

  • Vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for healthy vision, immune function, cellular growth, and fetal development. Women with cystic fibrosis and women in developing countries are at a greater risk of vitamin A deficiency (13Trusted Source).
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is common. This vitamin plays an important role in maintaining calcium levels, insulin production, and immune function. Women with obesity, older women, African-American women, and hospitalized women are most at risk of deficiency (30Trusted Source).
  • Vitamin E. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and is needed for cellular communication and blood vessel and immune health. Vitamin E deficiency is rare but can occur in women with conditions that cause fat malabsorption (31Trusted Source).
  • Vitamin K. Vitamin K is important for bone and heart health and required for healthy blood clotting. Vitamin K deficiency can occur in women with certain genetic disorders and be caused by inadequate dietary intake or the use of certain medications (32Trusted Source).

Vitamins play many essential roles in the body. Depending on their age and health status, women have different needs for both fat- and water-soluble vitamins throughout their lifespan.

Nutrient needs differ throughout a woman’s life.

Deficiencies are also more common during certain life stages, such as pregnancy, and under certain circumstances, such as when a woman smokes or drinks excessively or is diagnosed with a medical condition.

Keep in mind that this article only focuses on vitamins, not all nutrients.

Children and teens

Girls ages 9 through 13 generally need smaller amounts of vitamins than older teens and women due to their smaller body size. However, teens over the age of 14 have vitamin needs similar to those of adults.

Research shows that teenage girls are more likely to become deficient in some nutrients than the general population. For example, teenage girls are at a greater risk of developing a deficiency in vitamin D and folate (33Trusted Source34Trusted Source35Trusted Source).

In less developed countries, vitamin A deficiency is also common among teenage girls (36Trusted Source).

Additionally, studies show that pregnant teens are more likely to not meet the intake recommendations for several nutrients, including vitamins E and D.

Many teens consume diets low in vitamins, putting them at risk of deficiency, including during pregnancy, a time during which most nutrient needs are elevated (37Trusted Source38).

This is why consumption of prenatal vitamins and consuming a nutritious diet whenever possible are recommended for all pregnant adolescents (37Trusted Source38).

Women ages 1950

Women of child-bearing age are more likely to be deficient in several vitamins, including vitamin D and B6.

A study that included data on over 15,000 people found that nutrient deficiency risk, including deficiencies in B6 and vitamin D, was most common in women ages 19–50 (36Trusted Source).

Pregnant and breastfeeding women

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, nutrient needs increase to support fetal and maternal health. Needs for nearly all water- and fat-soluble vitamins are higher during pregnancy and lactation.

For this reason, pregnant and breastfeeding women are at a greater risk of developing vitamin deficiencies (39Trusted Source).

In fact, up to 30% of pregnant women worldwide experience vitamin deficiencies. For example, researchers estimate that 18–84 % of pregnant women worldwide are deficient in vitamin D (40Trusted Source41Trusted Source).

What’s more, evidence suggests that the current recommendations for certain vitamins, including vitamin D, for pregnant women are too low.

According to recent research, pregnant women may need about 4,000 IU per day to maintain optimal vitamin D levels, while breastfeeding women may need about 6,400 IU per day (17Trusted Source18Trusted Source19Trusted Source20Trusted Source21Trusted Source).

Choline is another important nutrient for fetal and maternal health. Studies show that most pregnant women in the United States aren’t getting the recommended 450 mg per day of choline. Unfortunately, many prenatal vitamins do not contain choline (42Trusted Source).

Older women

Postmenopausal and older women are more likely to become deficient in vitamins A, C, D, K, B12, folate, B6, B1, and B2 (43Trusted Source44Trusted Source45Trusted Source46Trusted Source47Trusted Source).

Older adults often have inadequate dietary intakes and take medications that may reduce vitamin levels in the body, increasing their risk of developing one or more vitamin deficiencies.

Special considerations

Women who smoke or drink excessively are at a greater risk of developing vitamin deficiencies due to inadequate dietary vitamin intakes and malabsorption of vitamins.

Women with certain medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and gastrointestinal conditions, are more likely to develop a deficiency in one or more vitamins than the general population.

Studies also show that women with obesity are at greater risk of vitamin deficiencies, including B12 and vitamin D (48Trusted Source).

Additionally, women who undergo bariatric surgery are significantly more likely to develop vitamin deficiencies (49Trusted Source).

African American women are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D, in part because they have higher concentrations of melanin (a skin pigment), which blocks the UVB sunlight needed to produce vitamin D in the skin (50Trusted Source).

Lastly, vitamin deficiencies are common amongst women with eating disorders and those who follow restrictive diets (51Trusted Source52Trusted Source53Trusted Source).


Nutrient needs change throughout a woman’s life. Certain women are at greater risk of developing nutrient deficiencies due to factors like increased nutrient demands, inadequate dietary intake, malabsorption, and more.

Most vitamins are concentrated in a variety of foods. Some are more available in animal foods, while some are more concentrated in plant-based foods.

  • Vitamin B1: wheat germ, pork, seafood, beans, rice, sunflower seeds, enriched products like breakfast cereals
  • Vitamin B2: organ meats, fortified grain products, dairy products, eggs, mushrooms, seafood, almonds, chicken, quinoa
  • Vitamin B3: organ meats, chicken, turkey, seafood, beef, rice, fortified grain products, peanuts, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds
  • Vitamin B5: organ meats, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, chicken, avocados, seafood, potatoes, eggs, yogurt, beef, broccoli, chickpeas, fortified grain products
  • Vitamin B6: chickpeas, organ meats, seafood, chicken, potatoes, turkey, bananas, beef, marinara sauce, cottage cheese
  • Vitamin B7: organ meats, eggs, seafood, pork, beef, sunflower seeds, sweet potato, almonds, spinach
  • Vitamin B9: organ meats, spinach, beans, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, avocados, broccoli, mustard greens, wheat germ
  • Vitamin B12: seafood, organ meats, nutritional yeast, beef, dairy products, eggs, chicken
  • Vitamin C: peppers, citrus fruits, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes
  • Vitamin A: preformed vitamin A is found in animal foods like organ meats, cheese, and eggs; provitamin A carotenoids are found in plant foods like sweet potato, spinach, and carrots
  • Vitamin D: vitamin D is only found naturally in a few foods, including fatty fish like salmon and beef liver; certain foods like milk are fortified with it
  • Vitamin E: wheat germ, sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, almonds, peanut butter, spinach, broccoli
  • Vitamin K: K2 is concentrated in animal foods and fermented foods, including natto and pork; K1 is concentrated in vegetables like kale and collard greens

Vitamins can be found in a variety of foods, including animal and plant-based products.

Although a healthy and well-balanced diet should always be maintained to promote optimal vitamin intake, it’s not always possible for women to get all of the vitamins they need through their diet alone.

The following groups of women may need to supplement with one or more vitamins to reach and maintain optimal levels:

  • older women
  • African American women
  • women with certain medical conditions
  • those who follow diets that eliminate certain food groups
  • women with eating disorders
  • women who smoke or drink heavily
  • women with obesity
  • pregnant women
  • women using common prescription drugs, such as proton pump inhibitors and blood-sugar-reducing medications (54Trusted Source)

In addition to consuming a varied, nutrient-dense diet, pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to take a prenatal supplement before, during, and after pregnancy.

Doing so may help maintain healthy nutrient levels and support their body through pregnancy, breastfeeding, and postnatal recovery (55Trusted Source).

Even though health professionals focus on the importance of increasing vitamin intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding, studies show that the intake of certain nutrients is insufficient in many women during and after pregnancy (54Trusted Source).

For women over the age of 50, most experts recommend a B12 or B-complex vitamin due to the high prevalence of B12 malabsorption from food in aging populations (56Trusted Source57Trusted Source)

Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency are widespread. Women, especially those with obesity or certain medical conditions, as well as those who are pregnant or older, should have their vitamin D levels checked to determine an appropriate supplement dosage.

Women at risk of developing a vitamin deficiency should work with a healthcare provider to develop an appropriate and safe supplement regimen based on their specific needs.

When choosing a vitamin supplement, always purchase high quality products from trusted companies. If you have questions about vitamin brands, vitamin forms, or dosing, consult your healthcare provider for advice.


Some women aren’t able to meet their vitamin needs through diet alone and may require vitamin supplements. It’s important to work with a knowledgeable healthcare provider to develop a supplement regimen that’s right for you.

Vitamins are essential to women’s health and play numerous roles in the body.

Although most vitamins are concentrated in many foods and adequate intake can be reached by consuming a well-rounded diet, some women cannot reach their vitamin needs through diet alone.

Certain factors and circumstances, including age, pregnancy and breastfeeding, medical conditions, medication use, and lifestyle choices, increase a woman’s risk of vitamin deficiency.

Women who are either concerned they may be at risk of developing a vitamin deficiency or interested in optimizing their vitamin intake should work with a qualified healthcare provider to ensure optimal dosing, safety, and necessity.

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