Women and Vitamins: Making a Plan with Your Doctor

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ina is active, eats healthy and usually feels pretty good on a daily basis. Lately, though, she hits a wall at about 2:00 p.m. Tired and sluggish, she is also having a harder time going to sleep at bedtime and often wakes up in the middle of the night.

She assumes her low energy is due to menopause and aging; she just celebrated her 52nd birthday. After she visited her doctor for her yearly physical exam, her blood work came back with a whole slew of new information. Tina is low in vitamin D, vitamin B and has high cholesterol.

So how do you know when something is really wrong versus just not feeling your best? According to doctors at Harvard Health, it is really the same thing. Even if you feel okay, visiting your doctor for regular checkups is the best way to stay on top of your health and avoid issues in the future. The only way to know if you have high cholesterol is to have blood work performed, and the same goes for high blood pressure. You need to get it checked before you know how to handle it. Both of these risk factors and others don’t necessarily have any symptoms that accompany them, so visiting your provider and getting a simple blood test is the best way to steer clear of wellness obstacles.

Ideally, when a doctor orders blood tests during a regular visit or yearly physical exam, the intention is to understand how well the body is functioning and to diagnose diseases. There can be more than one blood test ordered at a check-up; each is different and used to determine and measure the health of the patient. Regular blood work for some women should be performed once a year, while for others every few years is adequate. If you are unsure what blood tests you may need, ask your doctor. Your age, medical history, family medical history and any previous issues will determine the type of blood tests needed.

Blood tests can be helpful for many reasons. They will screen for medical issues; assess risks for future medical problems; encourage a healthy lifestyle; and further establish a relationship with your doctor and her staff. This visit is also a good time to update vaccinations.

A good patient-doctor relationship offers better communication, which encourages people to tell their doctors about symptoms they might not otherwise disclose, making diagnosis easier. Patients who feel comfortable with their doctor are also more likely to believe in suggested treatments, follow their recommendations and increase the treatment’s potential for success.

During a physical or regular office visit, a doctor may learn a patient is lacking in certain vitamins or minerals. While most women can get the daily recommended intake they need through a healthy diet, some will need vitamin supplements to fill in the gaps.

Vitamin D
Mainly known for its role in helping calcium build strong bones, it has a long list of benefits. Besides helping to prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures, vitamin D also reduces the risk of cancer, mainly breast, colon and, in men, prostate cancer. It regulates insulin levels and aids in diabetes management while supporting lung function and cardiovascular health. Also known as the sunshine vitamin, D improves mood and decreases depression.

It can be difficult to get your daily dose of D from foods, as few are naturally rich sources of the vitamin. The recommended IUs for vitamin D vary with age, but most women should be getting about 400 to 600 IUs per day or more. Knowing your own vitamin D needs is important.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E’s main function is as an antioxidant, so getting plenty of it in the diet is important. Most women don’t need to worry about taking a supplement each day unless it’s recommended by their doctor. Women can generally meet the intake recommendation of 15 milligrams per day for adults by noshing on foods such as almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and veggies such as broccoli, spinach and swiss chard.

Multivitamins and Women
Food is the most important source for nutrients, but aging, chronic conditions and other issues may call for daily supplementation, especially in women who are pregnant or could become pregnant, postmenopausal women and vegetarians. For the rest of us, if we begin taking a multivitamin, it doesn’t mean we will automatically turn into an exceedingly productive, over-energized, Wonder Woman, but it can support some shortcomings in our diets and possibly make us feel a bit better.

As with any other health concern, when it comes to women and multivitamins, balance is key, and it is not a one-size-fits-all combination. Combining your own research with your doctor’s advice is essential for optimal health. ■

Sources: medlineplus.org, womenshealth.gov, health.harvard.edu and healthline.com.