Prevention & Recovery

The 10 best nutritional supplements for women

By: Liz Bruckner

© Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©

Prevention & Recovery

The 10 best nutritional supplements for women

By: Liz Bruckner
Taken a stroll down the supplement aisle lately? With an entire alphabet of vitamins and minerals 
on offer, the options can be overwhelming. And even if you find a fortifier that seems to suit your 
needs, are those tiny tablets enough to meet your recommended daily intake?

One thing that's for sure is that the average Canadian woman's need for supplements is greater than ever. We're not getting our fill of nutrients from a rainbow of fresh foods. Studies done in 2004 and 2009 found almost a quarter of us weren't eating any fruits or veggies in a typical day. We're running the risk of serious deficiencies.

But, according to Bryce Wylde, a one-size-fits-all multivitamin isn't necessarily the best solution. "Not everyone needs everything in supplement form, but nobody gets enough of everything," says the Toronto-based homeopath, nutritionist and host of CP24's Wylde on Health. Instead, Wylde advocates tailoring your supplement intake to boost the levels of the specific nutrients you're lacking.

Nutritional supplements you need
While the benefits of some of the better-known supplements have been well documented, many equally hardworking nutrients get lost in the shuffle. With that in mind, we consulted a panel of experts to single out the 10 supplements Canadian women need most, with a breakdown of the rewards you can reap by working them into your daily rotation. And if you'd rather get your vitamins and minerals from good old-fashioned food, we've identified the best grocery store sources of these body-building nutrients.

1. Omega 3 fatty acids for hormone balance
When your body's dealing with the chemical curveball of a hormone imbalance, you're particularly susceptible to disease, says Wylde. Omega-3 essential fatty acids (they're called "essential" because the body can't manufacture them on its own) 
play a role in restoring hormonal harmony, and help keep hair, skin and vaginal tissues healthy throughout menopause, he says.

Warning: Omega-3s have a natural blood-thinning effect.

Daily dose: At least 3 grams

Find at the grocery store: Fatty fish such as salmon; flaxseed; walnuts

Page 1 of 4 -- Find out how magnesium can help fight PMS on page 2

2. Magnesium to fight PMS
Studies have shown that this mineral not only reduces the mood swings associated with premenstrual syndrome, but it also relieves symptoms of bloating and may help prevent premenstrual migraines. What's more, magnesium helps your body absorb calcium, and works in partnership with that mineral to aid in the growth and development of healthy bones and teeth.

Warning: Magnesium can interact with antibiotics and may cause harmful side-effects in those with pre-existing kidney conditions.

Daily dose: 350 milligrams

Find at the grocery store: Leafy green vegetables such as spinach; halibut; legumes; nuts

3. Inositol to help with fertility
A component of dietary fibre, inositol is also gaining renown in the supplement world as a natural conception aid. According to Wylde, inositol may help promote ovulation in women who suffer from infertility as a result of obesity, endometriosis, fibroids and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Taking too much inositol over an extended period may result in an even greater iron deficiency in anemic women.

Daily dose: 1,200 milligrams (for therapeutic treatment of PCOS)

Find at the grocery store: Legumes such as kidney beans and red beans; nuts

4. L-arginine to boost your libido
L-arginine fires up sexual performance -- and sex drive -- by boosting human growth hormone and helping blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow to the genitals. That dilating effect also makes this amino acid useful in treating angina and coronary artery disease, says Montreal-based certified nutritionist Nataly Spadavecchia. 

Taken in large quantities, L-arginine can lead to low blood pressure and headaches.

Daily dose:
Varies greatly. Consult your health-care provider.

Find at the grocery store:
Nuts, poultry, milk and other dairy products

5. Biotin for healthy hair and nails

If your hair, skin and nails have 
lost their lustre, you might consider getting a lift from this body-building B-complex vitamin. According to Spadavecchia, biotin also plays an important role in metabolizing carbohydrates, fats and amino acids, and helps produce the enzymes necessary for a healthy liver and nervous system.

Antibiotics and anticonvulsant medications can seriously deplete biotin levels. 

Daily dose: 30 micrograms

Find at the grocery store:
Eggs, liver, salmon, cauliflower, cottage cheese

Page 2 of 4 -- Find supplements that can boost your heart health and energy on page 3
6. Coenzyme Q10 for heart health
An antioxidant that helps the heart pump blood more efficiently, coenzyme Q10 (also known as CoQ10) is the superhero supplement for those with heart disease or high blood pressure. The trick, says Wylde, is to ramp up your intake with age. "Although CoQ10 is manufactured by the body, we naturally make less of it the older we get," he says.

The supplement could be dangerous for those already taking prescription medications to lower blood pressure.

Daily dose: 100 milligrams once or twice a day

Find at the grocery store: Fatty fish such as mackerel; liver; soybean oil

7. Glucosamine SulPHate to fight arthritis
According to Karolina Sekulic, an Edmonton-based registered 
dietitian with Alberta Health Services, glucosamine sulphate's arthritis-fighting powers are twofold. Not only can it provide pain relief, but it may also slow or even halt the progression of osteoarthritis by increasing the amount of cartilage and natural lubricating fluid around affected joints.

Glucosamine sulphate could cause reactions in people who are diabetic or allergic to shellfish. 

Daily dose:
Consult your health-care provider for a recommendation based on your age and weight.

Find at the grocery store:
Not readily available in food form.

8. Chromium to boost your energy
This essential trace mineral helps regulate the metabolism of blood sugar, ensuring a steady release of energy throughout the day. "It's also been found to suppress appetite, kick sugar cravings and keep unwanted weight off the abdominal area," adds Spadavecchia. Pair chromium with vitamin C to ensure optimal absorption.

Chromium can cause harmful interactions with certain thyroid medications.

Daily dose: 25 micrograms

Find at the grocery store: Raw onions, whole grain cereals, apples, grapes

3 of 4 -- Learn how to be smart when shopping for supplements on page 4
9. Lycopene to reduce the risk of cancer
This potent antioxidant, which pops up in fruits and vegetables that have a reddish tinge, may offer protection against breast, ovarian and lung cancers. According to Wylde, lycopene has also been found to play a role in the prevention of osteoporosis. 

Warning: People with high cholesterol or inflammatory diseases tend to have depleted lycopene levels.

Daily dose: Varies greatly. Consult your health-care provider.

Find at the grocery store: Tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit, pink guavas

10. Resveratrol for an anti-aging effect
Lab studies by the Natural Health Research Institute found that this powerhouse compound exhibits antioxidant, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects.

Resveratrol has a weak estrogenic effect, so it should be avoided by women with hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast, uterine and ovarian cancers.

Daily dose: There's no consensus. Consult your health-care provider.

Find at the grocery store: Red wine, red grapes, purple grape juice, mulberries

NOTE: The daily doses are recommendations based on an average healthy woman between the ages of 25 and 54. Always consult your health-care provider before starting any supplement routine, especially if you’re pregnant, planning to become pregnant or are breast-feeding.

How to be smart when shopping for supplements:

1. The Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) regulations set in place by Health Canada help to ensure that supplements sold in Canada pack what they promise. Look for an NHPD-issued Natural Product Number; the presence of an Exemption Number means an application for NHPD approval is in the works.

2. Read the ingredient list. Bryce Wylde, a Toronto-based homeopath, nutritionist and host of CP24's Wylde on Health, recommends steering clear of supplements that contain artificial colouring, sodium benzoate, propylene glycol and aluminum silicate.

3. In addition to the familiar capsules and tablets, an increasing number of supplements are also available in liquid form. "Liquid vitamins or minerals are the easiest to absorb," says Wylde. They're also easier to take for those who have difficulty swallowing pills. "Just beware of the extra sugars that are often added to these mixtures to enhance the taste."

This story was originally titled "The 10 Best Supplements for Women" in the May 2012 issue.

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Prevention & Recovery

The 10 best nutritional supplements for women