Healthy Tips

Supplement Pairings for Women: What You Need and When

It’s no surprise that men and women have unique nutritional needs. Knowing which supplements to take can sometimes be confusing.

Should you take your probiotic on an empty stomach? How often should you take your vitamin D? Which supplements are important for women?

It can be difficult to know the ins and outs of supplements, which are best to take, and when. If you feel like you’ve been left scratching your head with what actually works for women, here are a few easy tips for getting the most out of common women-focused supplements.


Iron and Vitamin C

Iron deficiency and anemia is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies around the world and persists in Canada. Many women of child-bearing age suffer from chronically low iron due to menstrual cycles. Iron is essential for many body systems, including the immune system and energy production.



Tips for better absorption:

  • Take iron 30 minutes before a meal with a glass of orange juice or tomato juice. An acidic environment keeps supplemental iron in the form that is most readily absorbed by the digestive tract. Taking iron before a meal while your stomach is very acidic will help with this initial absorption. Interestingly, if your meal then contains meat, fish or poultry, this animal-based protein can nearly double the absorption of iron and decrease gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Vitamin C, which itself is an acid, has been shown to increase the absorption of iron, in some cases by nearly three-fold!

Don’t take with: Calcium or magnesium

  • Iron doesn’t pair with other “divalent” mineral supplements, including calcium and magnesium. These minerals compete for the same absorption enzyme in the intestines. If you’re taking both as supplements, take iron in the morning when your stomach is most acidic after a long night’s sleep, and your calcium and/or magnesium later in the day at meal times.


Omegas and Vitamin D

These two supplements are a match made in heaven, delivering benefits for gorgeous skin, brain health and bone health.

Omega-3s from marine sources have been shown to improve cognitive health and vision in women over the age of 45, and have even been shown to assist with anxiety reduction while reducing inflammation. These good fats are also shown to help prevent UV photo-damage in the skin, retaining healthier and more youthful skin.

Vitamin D, which is produced in the skin in response to sunlight, is crucial for absorbing calcium from the digestive tract and helps to build strong bones, which is of particular importance for females. According to Statistics Canada, women in Canada are five times more likely to be diagnosed with osteoporosis than men, especially later in life. Research in animals has shown that a diet rich in long-chain omega-3s, the same variety connected to cognitive benefits, can improve bone health.



Tips for better absorption:

  • Any fat-soluble nutrient, like vitamin D and omega-3s, do well when taken with food, particularly when that food has some type of fat, like avocado, fish, or olive oil. When pairing these supplements together, the good fats of the omega-3s help the body absorb vitamin D, and natural, healthy fats in a meal help stimulate the body to release enzymes that enhance absorption.

When to take:

  • If you search the Internet, you will find every possible answer to the question of when the best time of day to take vitamin D or omega-3s is. However, time and again, there does not appear to be a definitive or conclusive answer besides “take it with a meal.” Some people may be sensitive to vitamin D’s effect on sleep and find taking their dose of D at lunch more pleasant.


Prebiotics & Probiotics

Gut health is top of mind for many Canadians these days and probiotics also offer benefits specific to women. Research has shown that supporting gut health with a balanced probiotic can also support vaginal health and reduce the incidence of urinary tract infections.

The term “probiotic” refers specifically to the bacteria in a particular food or supplement, which, when taken, provide a health benefit. “Prebiotic,” on the other hand, refers to the food that bacteria consume — dietary fibre and soluble fibre in particular. Most Canadians do not consume the recommended intake of dietary fibre each day. Inulin, obtained from the chicory root, is one of the more common prebiotic fibre supplements that support gut health.



Tips for better absorption:

  • Providing both probiotics and prebiotic fibre at the same time, whether from the diet or as a supplement, may help to ensure the good gut bugs have what they need to survive the harsh conditions of the upper digestive tract and colonize the colon.
  • Look for a probiotic supplement with an “enteric coating.” This is a protective shield that helps the bacteria survive the stomach acid and reach the lower intestines.

When to take:

  • It’s generally best to follow the instructions on the bottle for your probiotic supplement. Often, supplements are recommended to be taken with a meal to avoid gastrointestinal upset. Try taking your probiotic toward the end of the meal. This will expose the bacteria to a slightly less hostile acidic environment.

These are just a few of the power couples when considering how to get the most out of your supplements. Speak with your health care practitioner to see which natural health products are right for you.


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