Taking the Confusion out of Choosing Supplements

Cecile LaRiviere

Posted on September 25 2012

Women today are living longer, but are they living better quality lives?

Today, it is a fact of life that many women are juggling career, family, household responsibilities, and often sacrificing their own needs to take care of those around them. Some of the main health concerns that women face today are a result of these stressful and hectic lifestyles.

Stress is linked to heart disease, cancer, depression, anxiety, diabetes, and insomnia. When we are super busy, we don’t take time to eat properly, exercise and get adequate sleep, all factors that take their toll on our health – physically and emotionally.

Vitamin A Health Benefits

Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin which is stored in the liver. Found in animal foods and converted from beta-carotene in plant foods, vitamin A health benefits include: healthy vision, gene expression, reproduction, embryonic development, red blood cell production, and immune function.

Deficiency is rare in Canada, but common in developing countries due to malnutrition. It causes night blindness, dry eyes and skin, and impaired growth.

Drugs that deplete vitamin A include:  cholestyramine, colestipol, mineral oil, and neomycin.

Vitamin A supplements from beta carotene should be avoided by those at risk of lung cancer (smokers) since a number of large scale studies have shown an increase in lung cancer rates when smokers consumer beta carotene in a supplement.

Those with liver toxicity (alcoholics, liver disease) should also avoid beat carotene supplements since beta carotene is stored in the liver.

Doses greater than 10,000 IU daily should be avoided by pregnant women due to the risk of birth defects.   Supplements of vitamin A beyond what is provided in a multivitamin are not recommended due to risk of toxicity. To avoid this risk, choose a multivitamin that contains beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the liver, but is not associated with health risks. Eating a lot of beta-carotene from foods can make your skin look yellow, because  beta-carotene (which is a yellow-orange pigment)is stored in the cells under our skin. This may look odd but it is not harmful to your health.

Foods that provide vitamin A health benefits include: liver, dairy products, and oily fish (Beta-carotene is found in orange and green vegetables and fruit).

Vitamin C Deficiency Symptoms

Vitamin C health benefits include the production of the tissue that holds muscles and bones together, promotes wound healing; supports immune function and keeps gums healthy and since vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant it may reduce the risk of some cancers and prevent signs of aging. It also is helps your body absorb the iron from plant foods. 

It is found to be helpful in the prevention of cataracts, macular degeneration, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and colds and improves wound healing and response to stress.

Severe vitamin C deficiency symptoms include scurvy (bleeding, bruising, hair and tooth loss, joint pain, and swelling), which is rare today. Marginal deficiencies are common among the elderly, alcoholics, and those with cancer, chronic illness, or stress. Vitamin C deficiency symptoms include fatigue, easy bruising, poor wound healing and appetite, anemia, and sore joints.

Drugs that deplete vitamin C include oral contraceptives, aspirin, corticosteroids, and furosemide. Large doses of vitamin C (greater than 1,000 mg/day) may reduce the effect of warfarin (blood-thinning drug).

Natural and synthetic forms are chemically identical and have the same effects on the body. Vitamin C from calcium ascorbate is buffered and therefore less acidic and less likely to cause upset stomach. Side effects may include upset stomach, diarrhea, kidney stones (in those at risk), and excess iron absorption.

It is easy to get the recommended amount of vitamin C from foods including: citrus fruit, tomatoes, red peppers, broccoli, strawberries, and potatoes.

Vitamin K, The Unknown Vitamin

There are two main forms of vitamin K: phylloquinone (vitamin K1) and menaquinones (vitamins K2). K1 is found in green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli and spinach, and makes up about 90 per cent of the vitamin K in a typical Western diet.

The vitamin is less well known than vitamins A to E. Vitamin K has long been linked to blood health because about half of the 16 known proteins that depend on the vitamin are necessary for blood coagulation.

K2 makes up about 10 per cent of consumption and can also be obtained from the dietary sources like animal meat, and fermented food products like cheese, and natto. Multivitamins contain either small amounts or no vitamin K at all.

How Much Magnesium Do You Need?

Magnesium is required for nerve and muscle function, formation of bones and teeth, synthesis of the antioxidant glutathione, cell membranes, and body temperature regulation; involved in energy production, numerous enzyme reactions, and synthesis of DNA and RNA.

It is used by the body to prevent heart disease and in the treatment of high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, migraine headaches, and asthma. Although deficiency is uncommon, it may occur in those with poor diets, malabsorption syndromes (celiac disease), Crohn’s disease, intestinal surgery or inflammation, kidney disease, diabetes, alcoholism, and in the elderly due to reduced absorption. Marginal deficiency (consuming less than the RDA) is common and is estimated to affect 75 percent of people. Symptoms of deficiency include, muscle cramps and spasms, weakness, insomnia, poor appetite, kidney stones, osteoporosis, nervousness, irritability, anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. How much magnesium do you need is also determined by what other medication you may be taking. Drugs that deplete magnesium: furosemide, hydrochlorothiazine, cholestyramine, and oral contraceptives.

Magnesium reduces the absorption of digoxin, nitrofurantoin, antimalarial drugs, quinolone antibiotics, tetracycline, chlorpromazine, alendronate, and etidronate, so people should separate their intake of magnesium from these foods by two hours.

High doses of zinc (greater than140 mg/day) also reduce magnesium absorption. Since  it is difficult to meet the RDA through diet alone; therefore, a multivitamin/mineral supplement is recommended. Certain individuals may require an additional magnesium supplement.

Getting the Magnesium You Need

According to the National Institute of Health, the following are the recommended guidelines for how much magnesium you need.
  • Children

      • 1 - 3 years old: 80 milligrams
      • 4 - 8 years old: 130 milligrams
      • 9 - 13 years old: 240 milligrams
      • 14 - 18 years old (boys): 410 milligrams
      • 14 - 18 years old (girls): 360 milligrams
  • Adult females: 310 - 320 milligrams
  • Pregnancy: 350 - 400 milligrams
  • Breastfeeding women: 310 - 360 milligrams
  • Adult males: 400 - 420 milligrams
Food sources of magnesium include:  Leafy green vegetables, unrefined grains, nuts, seeds, meat, milk, soybeans, tofu, legumes, and figs.

Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms

According to Michael Holick, MD, PhD, arguably the world’s leading authority on vitamin D, about 50% of the population in Canada and the US are getting get too little vitamin D. This is true even in sunny climates, because of lack of sun exposure.

Vitamin D regulates calcium and phosphorus levels and promotes absorption of these minerals for growth of bones and teeth. It is also involved in insulin secretion, supports immune function and regulates blood pressure. It is used to prevent and treat osteoporosis, psoriasis, autoimmune disease, and to reduce the risk of cancer.

Vitamin D can be produced in the skin upon exposure to sunlight or must be obtained from the diet.  Vitamin d deficiency symptoms occur with inadequate dietary intake, limited sun exposure, kidney or liver disease, and alcoholism. Elderly, dark-skinned, obese people, or those with inflammatory bowel disease and fat-malabsorption syndromes (celiac disease and cystic fibrosis) are also at greater risk. Ten to fifteen minutes of sun exposure at least two times per week to the face, arms, hands, or back without sunscreen is usually sufficient to provide adequate vitamin D.

Vitamin d deficiency symptoms include: rickets (weak, deformed bones) in children, osteomalacia (soft bones) and osteoporosis in adults, dental problems, muscle weakness, and tooth decay.

Drugs that deplete vitamin D include: carbamazepine, phenytoin, phenobarbital, cimetidine, ranitidine, cholestyramine, colestipol, orlistat, and mineral oil.

Since vitamin D is found in few foods and at low amounts, a supplement is recommended for most people. Most multivitamins provide 400 IU (10 mcg), however the Canadian Cancer Society recommends a daily intake of 1,000 IU for adults in the fall and winter. The Canadian recommendation reflects the fact that there is reduced sun exposure in northern latitudes. The recommendation is for 1,000 IU intake year-round for people who are older, have dark skin, don't go outside often, or wear clothing that covers most of their skin. Also,people with limited sun exposure, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and those over age 65 should consider additional vitamin D.

Food sources of vitamin D include:  Fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines), fish liver oils, eggs from hens fed vitamin D, and milk.

Vitamin E Deficiency-Are You at Risk?

Vitamin E benefits many functions in the body. It is a powerful antioxidant whose main job is to protect cells from free radical damage. It also plays a role in supporting a healthy immune system. It is used to prevent and treat heart disease, cancer, macular degeneration, and cataracts, reduce oxidative stress, and improve cognitive function.

Vitamin E deficiency is rare, except in those who are malnourished or who have mal- absorption conditions (celiac disease, cystic fibrosis); however, many people receive less than the recommended amount of vitamin E and this is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include impaired balance and coordination, damage to sensory nerves, muscle weakness and damage to the retina of the eye.

Drugs that deplete vitamin E: cholestyramine, colestipol, isoniazid, mineral oil, orlistat, sucralfate, phenobarbitol, phenytoin, and carbamazepine.

Vitamin E may enhance the blood-thinning effects of warfarin. Since it is difficult to achieve the recommended amount of vitamin E from diet alone, supplements are often necessary to achieve the amounts needed for disease prevention.
Food sources that are good sources of vitamin E include:  Vegetable oils (olive, sunflower, safflower oils), nuts, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables.

Sherry Torkos, pharmacist, author, and certified fitness instructor explains how women need to make their health and well-being a priority and how this will also benefit those around them. Choosing supplements can help.

There are many reasons why people should consider taking a supplement, she says.

The most obvious reason, like it or not, is that people just don't eat healthy. Numerous surveys have demonstrated that we are not eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Not only that, but the produce we do eat is often short on nutrients for many reasons. Fruits and vegetables are sprayed with pesticides, picked before they are ripe and shipped in from foreign countries – all of which deplete important nutrients.

As well, many prescription drugs can deplete nutrients, including:
  • Statin drugs (Lipitor, Zocor, Pravachol) deplete antioxidant coenzyme Q10.

  • Birth control pills deplete B-vitamins.

  • Antacids (Zantac, Pepcid) deplete calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen) deplete vitamin C and folic acid.

  • Diuretics (Lasix/furosemide) deplete potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, B1 and B6.

Supplements can help to fill in the gaps in our diets and ensure we are getting the right vitamins and minerals for optimal health, says Torkos.

But which supplement is the right supplement? For anyone who has walked down the supplements aisle choosing supplements can be confusing and overwhelming. The supplement industry has traditionally been ingredient based instead of solution based – requiring consumers to either read vast amounts of scientific literature or take their chances. But that is changing thanks to femMED.

I found searching the aisles for the right products very frustrating and confusing. That, combined with the lack of natural options available to women, created an overwhelming desire in me to simplify things and make sense of it all.

Shawna Page, founder of femMED.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a multivitamin.


    • Look for one that contains a complete array of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in one supplement. This will keep the amount of pills you take to a minimum and will also be easier on your budget. Depending on your diet and needs, you may still need to take additional vitamin C, E and calcium as it is difficult to fit all of these nutrients into one tablet.

    • Buy from a reputable company. Ask your pharmacist or health food store adviser for a recommendation.

    • Remember it may take four to six weeks or longer to notice benefits and a multivitamin for women that is taken for prevention may not offer benefits that you can feel.

    • If you are pregnant, nursing a baby or have a chronic medical condition, be sure to consult a nutrition specialist before purchasing or taking a multivitamin for women.

    • Read the labels carefully. Look for an expiration date and make sure the product hasn't reached that date. If there is no expiration date on the label, don't buy it.

  • If you have questions about a certain brand, call the manufacturer and ask your questions.


    • Don't take a multivitamin for women with sugar, starch, corn, wheat, iron, dairy, salt, artificial flavourings and colourings (dyes) and preservatives. These are unnecessary ingredients that can cause allergic reactions in some people.

    • Don't choose a supplement based on price. Some vitamins are more expensive due to company marketing and advertising costs and are not necessarily made with better ingredients.

    • Don't continue to take a multivitamin for women if you have a bad reaction, such as prolonged upset stomach or rash.

    • Don't stop taking a prescribed drug or substitute a supplement for a prescribed drug unless under the advice and supervision of your health-care provider.

  • Don't take a higher dosage of a product than is recommended on the label unless advised to do so by your health-care provider
They have taken the guesswork out of choosing supplements by simplifying the supplement aisle and providing easy to use and understand solutions to women’s common health concerns. Plus their comprehensive solutions combine all the key ingredients in the right combination so they can safely be taken together or on their own to achieve multiple health goals.

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