What minerals are important for women's health?
General Nutrition • • 1 minute to read • By Praveena Kuchipudi, INFS Faculty
Author– Praveena Kuchipudi
In previous article, we have learned about vitamins that are majorly important for women during their different life phases.
In this article, we will discuss the minerals that are essential and to keep their status in normal levels, and they also play better role together with the vitamins.
The conceptual framework for the cycle of micronutrient inadequacies across the life span (adapted from ACC/SCN)
The most common minerals that are important for women are,
Iron deficiency is most common and highly prevalent in women. The deficiency leads to anemia, a condition where blood lacks enough red blood cells to carry oxygen efficiently throughout the body. The deficiency can disrupt the endocrine and immune systems.
Iron deficiency usually co-exists with other nutrient deficiencies (folate, vitamin A and vitamin B12), known as nutritional anemia.
Pregnant women would need higher recommendations compared to other age group or phases due to high demand for supply for transport of nutrients and growth of fetus.
Foods rich in iron are legumes such as beans, lentils, soybeans, peas, chickpeas, spinach, broccoli, red meat and tuna. Foods rich in vitamin C helps with absorption of iron when consumed together with the iron sources.
Folate is also known as Vitamin B9, is necessary for the body to make DNA and other genetic material. It is the most important nutrient for women, particularly pregnant women. It helps the fetal cells to divide and grow without any defects. Low-levels of folate in maternal tissues would lead to neural tube defects, pre-term birth and congenital heart defect. Hence, it is critical to maintain folate status in tissue even before the conception to reach the adequate levels.
Folate is a natural form that comes from food, whereas folic acid is a form of folate that comes from supplements or fortified foods. Folic acid has absorbed more than folate present in foods.
Foods rich in folate are, animal liver, dark green leafy vegetables, oranges, nuts, peas, and beans. Fortified foods that contain folic acid are cereals, bread, and pasta.
Calcium is the most abundant and essential mineral in human body. It is important for bone health, muscle function, vasodilation, signalling and hormonal functions. In women, deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, preeclampsia in pregnant women. Pregnant women need to consume adequate foods rich in calcium to supply the fetus for proper growth and also to avoid depletion of its storage levels in bones. Deficiency also leads to amenorrhea (absence of periods) in women.
In postmenopausal women due to decline in estrogen hormone, rate of calcium absorption will be decreased leading to bone disorders.
Foods rich in calcium are, milk, cheese, tofu, orange, kale, fortified foods.
Zinc is also an essential mineral that is involved in numerous catalytic activities and plays a role in immune function, and wound healing. The main function of this mineral is synthesis of DNA and RNA in reproduction.
Increased demand of zinc in pregnant and lactating women predispose them to deficiency. Sufficient levels of zinc supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, adolescence, and childhood phases as well.
The deficiency increases the rate of pregnancy and delivery complications in women and also contributes to deteriorating fetal growth and development, increasing the newborn morbidity.
Foods sources are, chicken breast, oysters, crabs, pumpkin seeds, cashews, fortified cereals, whole grains, milk and milk products.
Iodine is a trace mineral that is essential for normal thyroid function and proper production of thyroid hormones. Inadequate or low levels of iodine can lead to less production of thyroid hormone (leading to ‘hypothyroidism’), and also iodine deficiency disorders such as ‘goiter’.
During pregnancy, mild to moderate deficiency affect the thyroid function, which can have long-term impact on child neuro-development like mental retardation, cognitive impairments. Deficiency can also lead to stillbirths and abortion.
To reduce iodine deficiency globally, the most practical strategy is iodization of salt. Consumption of adequate iodized salt and other fortified foods can avoid the deficiency.
Following the revised recommendations of each of the micronutrients and making sure of consuming all food groups would help a woman maintain these important nutrients in their body. Use of supplements are advised only if there is clinical evidence of deficiency and should be prescribed by a proper medical physician.
- ACC/SCN: Fourth Report on the World Nutrition Situation: Nutrition throughout the Life Cycle. Geneva, ACC/SCN in Collaboration with IFPRI, 2000
- Bailey, R. L. (2015) ‘The Epidemiology of Global Micronutrient Deficiencies’, Ann Nutr Metab, 66(2), pp. 22–33. doi: 10.1159/000371618.
- Bartley, K. A., Underwood, B. A. and Deckelbaum, R. J. (2005) ‘A life cycle micronutrient perspective for women’s health’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 81(5), pp. 1188S-1193S. doi: 10.1093/AJCN/81.5.1188.
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