Iron - This mineral is essential for the formation of healthy blood cells and their ability to transport oxygen to our body’s tissues. When we consider how important oxygen is to everything our bodies do, we start to understand how important iron is. Iron deficiencies can affect women at different ages and create different health problems.
For puberty to menopause
Low energy - Unfortunately, low iron levels are not uncommon in women and many will experience iron deficiency at some point between puberty and menopause, often due to monthly blood loss. Symptoms of low iron may include:
- difficulty concentrating
- shortness of breath
- coldness in hands and feet
- frequent infections
- low tolerance for exercise
Iron deficiency is easy to diagnose with just a quick blood test, and it is easy to treat through increased intake of dietary iron as well as iron supplementation.
Good food sources of iron include cooked leafy green vegetables, fortified grain products, meats and fish, soy products, beans, and pumpkin seeds. In cases of iron deficiency, iron supplements will also be required, at least in the short term, in order to bring iron levels up sufficiently. Supplementation can provide a real improvement in energy levels.
For athletes of all ages
Low iron levels are not uncommon in female athletes, particularly in endurance sports such as running, cycling, and triathlon. Female athletes should have their iron status assessed regularly, particularly if they experience unexplained fatigue or performance deficits. If low iron levels are present, iron supplementation in female athletes can improve energy, performance, and mood.
For children and teens
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - Without iron, the brain cannot function optimally and iron deficiency should be considered in children and teens who have problems focusing, learning, and concentrating. In one study, 23 percent of youth with ADHD were found to be iron deficient. Those with lower iron levels were found to need higher doses of ADHD medications than those with higher iron levels.
For teens to forties
Not a nutrient, but a herbal product, vitex has been a mainstay of women’s herbal medicine for generations. In recent years, vitex has also been recognized by researchers for its potential benefit for women suffering from hormonal imbalances, particularly PMS.
For all ages
Strokes- Green tea has been shown to reduce stroke risk for women of all ages. Although strokes are more common as we age, their prevention begins early on. The dietary and lifestyle choices that we make when we are young (not smoking, exercising regularly, eating nutrient-rich foods) affect our risk of stroke in the later years. Drinking green tea regularly (at least three cups a day) is one habit that has been linked to a reduced stroke risk of 21 percent compared to drinking less than one cup a day.
High cholesterol - This is the age when women are most likely to develop high cholesterol levels. This is another case where green tea may be helpful, in addition to other dietary changes. In a 2009 study, 250 mg of green tea dry extract was found to promote an additional reduction in cholesterol levels compared to dietary changes alone over a total study period of 16 weeks.
High blood pressure - From age 40 onward, the risk of high blood pressure also increases. Here too, green tea can lend a helping hand. Subjects who drank three cups of green tea a day for four weeks were found to have significant decreases in blood pressure.
Wrinkles - In our late thirties, most of us start to notice some subtle, age-related changes in our skin; a fine line here, a thinning there. Although drinking green tea has traditionally been believed to promote youth and beauty, it turns out that topical use might not be a bad idea either. Green tea extracts found in some face cremes may help reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
Infections - Zinc is an important nutrient for the health of the immune system, a system that can sometimes weaken with age. Zinc levels also tend to decrease with age, and supplementation can be helpful to restore healthy levels. In a study of individuals over age 50, 12 months of zinc supplementation was found to result in a measurable reduction in risk of infections compared to those of the same age who did not take zinc supplements.
Acne - Acne is a major concern for many women. This common skin condition can affect women (and men) at any age, but is usually more common in the teens and twenties. Zinc may play a role in alleviating acne. Researchers have found that those with acne may have lower blood levels of zinc and vitamin A and E than those without the condition, and the severity of acne may be correlated with blood levels of these nutrients. A study of zinc supplementation over a 12-week period found 79 percent of those with mild to moderate acne experienced at least an 80 percent improvement in their acne symptoms.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - ADHD diagnoses have exploded in recent years. Prescription medication use for children and teens with ADHD has risen in Canada, with use of the drug Ritalin doubling since 1994. This has led many parents to look for alternative treatments for their teens who have been diagnosed with ADHD. Along with iron, zinc is one of the nutrients that has been getting attention. Supplementation with zinc has been shown to reduce required doses of ADHD medications.
Cognitive health - In healthy adults over 50, fish oil use was associated with improved cognitive performance measures after five weeks of use. A 12-month study showed improvement in memory in older subjects who had mild age-related cognitive impairments.
Vision - Supplementation with high DHA fish oil for 90 days was found to improve visual acuity in those over 45 compared to a placebo group.
Anxiety - Supplementation with high EPA fish oil for 12 weeks resulted in a 20 percent reduction in anxiety symptoms among medical students compared to a placebo group. So whether it’s your brain, mood, or eyesight that you’re concerned about, increasing your omega-3 intake may be worthwhile.
Menopause symptoms - For some women, the years just before, as well as during, menopause can produce a whole host of new symptoms. Among the most disruptive of these symptoms are hot flashes. In some cases, the severity and frequency of these heat surges are such that they completely disrupt a woman’s day-to-day life. Although in some cases hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be required to provide meaningful symptom relief, other cases may be eased with natural interventions.