Many women take a daily multivitamin because it helps them insure they get all the micronutrients and vitamins they need for the day.
(Especially for women on-the-go)
Women in particular have nutritional needs that are different from men. These include their B vitamin intake, their vitamin D ratios, and more.
For vitamins, supplement companies have created female-specific vitamins. But which ones are the best? We looked through the options to rank the best women’s multivitamins.
1. Ritual Essential for Women
Ritual designed Essential for Women to be the only daily vitamin you need.
Ritual’s developed a cult-like following for its simplicity, traceability and ingredients that work best in the body. It has completely traceable and transparent ingredients — you can see all of the suppliers and their sources on their website — so you know exactly what you’re putting in your body.
The average multivitamin contains 20+ ingredients, and most of those are things women already get enough of in their diets.
Plus, not all ingredient forms are created equal: most multis use forms that don’t work well in the body. Ritual’s team of in-house scientists identified the essential nutrients women actually need and put them in a single non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, patent-pending capsule without any synthetic fillers or colorants.
Then they created a capsule that actually absorbs the vitamins better:
Vitamins of the future.
They’ve received praise from Wired and The New York Times for their no-nonsense approach and transparency in the “shady” vitamin industry.
One of the better daily habits any women can have.
BodyNutrition.org 2019 women’s multivitamin winner.
2. Garden of Life Vitamin Code for Women
Garden of Life is known for its unique approach to vitamin and mineral supplements, and it shines in the multivitamin category.
Its vitamin and mineral contents are bolstered by the inclusion of fruit and vegetable powders which have an untold number of nutrients that support the main “alphabet vitamins” and minerals. Independent lab testing ranks its purity and quality very high, which makes it a winning choice.
3. Optimum Nutrition Opti-Women
Optimum Nutrition shows that they’ve done their homework with their women’s multivitamin. Instead of just amping up the vitamin B content and throwing in some extra calcium like second-rate women’s multivitamins, they put in some extra nutrients that are truly useful for women, like soy isoflavones.
Scientific research shows that these are particularly useful at building and preserving bone mass in women, which is a critical component of health as you get older. Fans of herbal extracts will find a few choice ingredients as well, with dong quai extract and the potentially fat-burning garcinia cambogia.
4. Now Foods Eve Women’s Multivitamin
Now Foods provides standard doses of pretty much everything except B vitamins, which come in hefty-sized mega-doses. The presence of mineral ingredients as chelates, instead of inorganic salts, is an attractive feature; these are absorbed much better by your body.
Now Foods Eve scores well on purity and label accuracy testing by independent labs, and it doesn’t have much in the way of shady ingredients, so it’s a very smart choice.
5. Naturelo One Daily Multivitamin for Women
Naturelo might be the company that does “natural” best. The vitamins and minerals in their women’s multivitamin are extracted from a wide range of naturally-occurring sources, ranging from acerola cherries (vitamin C) to kelp (iodine).
These actually stand a chance of being absorbed much better than standard multivitamin ingredients, and the fact that many of the metals are bonded in amino acid chelates only helps the case. It could use a higher calcium and vitamin D content to help women build bone mass, but aside from that, it’s a strong choice.
6. MegaFood Women’s One Daily
MegaFood Women’s has an unusual approach to providing its multivitamin nutrients. Instead of the inorganic chemical forms that most supplements deliver their vitamins and minerals in, MegaFood’s nutrients are isolated from specially-bred strains of brewer’s yeast–because the nutrients are directly salvaged from a natural process, the hope is that they will be easier for your body to absorb.
The downside is that the product takes a purity hit: the label-stated contents of the multivitamin isn’t always in line with what’s actually in it; some key ingredients are off by as much as 30%!
7. New Chapter Every Woman’s One Daily
New Chapter takes a naturally-produced vitamin and mineral approach like a few of its competitors, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. Purity and label accuracy are still big sticking points for vitamins and minerals derived from bacteria, algae, and yeast.
They may be more easily absorbed, but it looks like the quality control isn’t quite there in the manufacturing process.
8. Smarty Pants Women’s Complete
Smarty Pants gummies claim to be “more than a multivitamin,” and upon further inspection, the ingredients look pretty impressive. They contain at least 100% of 3 important nutrients: iodine, folate and vitamin D. Iodine is the most important nutrient for women’s thyroid health (often omitted in other women’s multivitamins). Folate is provided via methylated folate, the ideal form of folate in those with genetic mutations on the genes that code for vitamin conversion and absorption. Experts estimate that close to half of the population has this genetic mutation. These gummies also contain 1000IU of vitamin D, the most common vitamin deficiency among adults.
The downsides? One serving six gummies from the bottle, but even in these six gummies, there are only 72 mg of EPA and 54 mg of DHA, the two most important and influential omega three fatty acids in fish oil. You’d be far better off getting a separate fish oil supplement than try to scrape by with these low amounts.
That said, the gummies are tasty and slightly sweet, which may be exactly what you need for you to remember to take your vitamins.
9. Centrum Women Multivitamin
The biggest national brand when it comes to multivitamins is, as you might expect, a bare minimum supplement. It will meet your recommended daily intake, but it doesn’t have much in the way of added extras or cutting-edge features.
The vitamins and minerals are derived from the least-expensive and most efficient industrial processes. The presence of artificial coloring agents will also be a real turn-off for a lot of people.
10. GNC Women’s Ultra Mega
GNC is a pretty standard “boilerplate” women’s multivitamin. It scores well on purity rankings, though one thing you’ve got to watch out for is the herbal extracts in the “energy blend.”
It’s got caffeine as well as green tea extract, so you’ll be getting a kick of caffeine every day. If you aren’t caffeine sensitive and you take it in the morning, it shouldn’t be a problem, but this will be a big drawback for a lot of people (especially when the label doesn’t disclose the exact amount of caffeine).
11. Vitafusion Women’s Gummy Vitamins
Gummy vitamins taste great, but the problem is that all that sugar and gelatin displaces vitamins and minerals that need to be in a multivitamin. Vitafusion falls short with their women’s multivitamin because it does not contain some of the key nutrients women need most.
It only has 100 mg of calcium per serving (10% of your daily value), and it doesn’t contain any vitamin D, which helps boost calcium absorption and is important for bone health in its own right.
Similar problems plague other ingredients. The hard truth is that to get a good multivitamin, you’re going to have to take a pill or swallow a capsule.
Part Two: Multivitamins for women benefits and side effects
If your diet isn’t as good as it could be, you might be able to benefit from a multivitamin. Women are particularly vulnerable to a number of dietary deficiencies, and they also have some unique biological characteristics that shift the amounts of vital nutrients their body needs.
The health benefits of taking a multivitamin in women are robust and numerous. Women tend to have a high prevalence of several nutritional deficiencies that can be addressed with multivitamins, and moreover, there is even good evidence that taking a multivitamin is directly associated with positive health benefits.
Let’s look at the the major nutrients influencing women’s health.
Vitamin D – Bone and Immune Health
One deficiency people are becoming increasingly aware of is vitamin D. Vitamin D acts more like a hormone than a vitamin, affecting nearly every system in the body – skin, bones, immune and gastrointestinal function, muscle growth, brain health, nerve function, proper infant development in utero, metabolism and more (1). Vitamin D exists in two forms – D2 and D3, of which D3 is the active form.
Approximately 1 billion people worldwide suffer from vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency, mainly due to a lack of sunlight or an inefficient ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight .
Vitamin D deficiency is also intimately linked with calcium deficiency, and these go hand-in-hand with preventing loss of bone density as you get older.
An older study from 1992 in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that the combination of calcium and vitamin D had a significant impact on the reduction of risk of hip fracture in older women (2). A 2014 review of 53 studies confirms these findings. Researchers stated vitamin D in combination with calcium may prevent hip fractures and any other bone fractures in older women and men (3).
It is recommended for those with digestive, kidney or liver diseases, the elderly or obese, high-risk pregnancies, and those with darker skin supplement with vitamin D to avoid deficiency (7). Look for D3 combined with calcium in your multivitamin for optimal benefit. Additional or high-dose D3 may also be needed depending on your own deficiency risk factors.
B Vitamins – The Brain, Mood and Fertility
But it’s not just bone or immune health that’s at risk. Women have specific needs with regards to the vitamin B family, too, and if these aren’t met, deficiencies can be associated with a higher risk of developing chronic diseases, mood disorders and infertility.
A 2000 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that the risk of severe depression increases two-fold in women who are deficient in vitamin B12 (3), providing evidence that nutrient intake is connected with both your physical and your psychological health.
Low levels of vitamin B12 (and high levels are homocysteine, an amino acid increased mainly with meat intake) is associated with poor cognition, dementia, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorders (9).
Folate, B9, is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a critical role in fertility, fetal development and DNA and RNA synthesis. Folate is the form present in food, while folic acid is the synthetic version. In order to fully benefit from folate, the body must convert folate to its usable form, methylfolate, through a process known as methylation (13). Unfortunately, it is estimated that nearly half the population has a genetic mutation or polymorphism on the gene that codes for methylation, increasing the need for folate intake (10). Folate is converted more quickly in the digestive tract while folic acid must be converted in the liver and other tissues. This process is less efficient and can result in unmetabolized folic acid in the blood stream, limiting the body’s access to folate. Quality supplements will contain methylated folate or folate, not folic acid (11).
Fortunately, a multivitamin supplement for women can address these nutritional deficiencies, improve health and longevity, and possibly even decrease your risk of serious disease.
Vitamins and Cancer
One 1998 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine examined multivitamin use in women and risk of colon cancer (4). The paper, first published in 1992, looked at a large cross-section of women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, one of the largest and longest women’s studies to date.
The study found that long-term daily multivitamin use containing more than 400mcg of folate, at 15 years of follow-up, was associated with a significant decrease in risk of colon cancer. This effect was not found in those whose supplements contained folic acid.
Death due to breast cancer may also be significantly affected by supplementation. A 2013 study found postmenopausal women with invasive breast cancer had lower breast cancer mortality when consuming daily multivitamins (15).
Vitamins and Aging
Multivitamin use is also associated with overall indicators of health and longevity. A study by a team of researchers at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences examined the relationship between multivitamin use in women and telomere length, an indicator of “biological age” (5).
Telomeres are segments at the end of your DNA strands that protect the DNA from damage each time it multiplies. As you get older, your telomeres get shorter, and so your DNA is less protected from damage during cell division.
So, among people of the same chronological age (e.g. all 60-year-old women), the ones who have longer telomeres are younger and healthier, biologically speaking.
The researchers found that women who used multivitamins had telomeres that were, on average, five percent longer than women who did not. That may or may not translate into a 5% difference in “biological age,” but that’s still pretty good!
Vitamin C has also been shown to affect the aging process, primarily in the brain because it acts as an antioxidant in the body, helping to neutralize oxidation or damage to tissues. The brain is particularly sensitive to oxidation through the lifespan. Vitamin C also helps neurons send messages via the nervous system and plays an integral role in the maintenance of collagen in the skin. Vitamin C deficiencies have been associated with reduced brain volume and growth during utero and infancy, acceleration of brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s, and rapid aging (16).
Iodine and Thyroid Health
Iodine is a critical micronutrient for fetal development and thyroid health and is one of the most common deficiencies worldwide. Salt iodization programs have been implemented in many countries around the world for decades with improved outcomes in infant birth weight and growth, and reduction of iodine deficiency disorders, including hypothyroidism (17). Those who live in areas with iodine-poor soil, have existing iodine deficiency, or have limited intake of iodine-rich foods like iodized salt and seaweed, supplementation may be necessary. Excessive iodine intake may result in hyperthyroidism and other health issues, therefore appropriate amounts are key (18). The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends daily intake of 150mcg for non-pregnant, non-lactating women and 250mcg/day during pregnancy and breastfeeding (19). While the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with WHO and issued a policy statement recommending all prenatal multivitamins contain 150mcg of iodine in the form of potassium iodide, it is not federally mandated and therefore not yet common in multivitamins (20).
When it comes to side effects, multivitamin supplements rarely come with side effects. The vast majority of products don’t contain any ingredients that are harmful even at fairly high doses.
Some products are more than multivitamins however. Be cautious with women’s multivitamin supplements on the market that contain herbal and chemical compounds that are intended for weight loss purposes. Some herbal ingredients lack safety information and carry health risks at high doses or when combined with other herbal ingredients. Some products also contain caffeine, or caffeine-containing extracts like green tea extract.
Caffeine levels are typically low, but it may still cause jitters or sleeplessness if you take it late at night or if you are especially sensitive to caffeine.
Some research has connected very high doses of B vitamins with an increased risk of cancer, but only in men. This has not been shown to be the case in women.
According to Consumer Labs, a third-party testing lab, the following women’s multivitamins are not recommended due to label or ingredient inconsistencies, lack of disintegration within the 30 minutes time limit set by the United States Pharmacopia (USP), or nutrient levels that exceed the upper recommended limits: Member’s Mark Women 50+, Mega-Food Multi for Women, VitaFusion Platinum 50+ gummies, Well at Walgreens Women’s Multivitamin gummies, Olly The Perfect Women’s Multivitamin, Rainbow Light Menopause and New Chapter Every Women Multivitamin.
When it comes to dosage, you are at the mercy of the supplement companies and their formularies. You can’t do much about the ratio of the different nutrients in a given product aside from increasing or decreasing dosage yourself by cutting the pills or gummies in half, or increasing how many you take.
Ideally, shop around for multivitamins that have appropriate amounts of the nutrients you need. You may need more or less of specific nutrients than your family member, friend or neighbor. For women, critical nutrients include vitamin D, the B vitamins, iodine, and calcium, among others. Check with your doctor or dietitian to determine your personal nutrient needs.
If the supplement includes other “extras” like fish oil or green tea extract, try to find out if these are included in dosages that are high enough to actually be beneficial. If they aren’t, you’re probably better off taking them as a separate supplement, and not as a part of your multivitamin.
While it is optimal to obtain all your nutrition from your diet, the reality is that very few people do. For women who want to improve their physical and mental well-being, reduce their risk for chronic disease, and fight off nutritional deficiencies, multivitamins can help bridge the gap between what your body needs and what your less-than-perfect diet is providing.
If you choose the right product, you’ll get a safe, effective, and scientifically-backed way to improve your overall health and longevity. Do your homework when you are shopping for a multivitamin, because it’s critical to choose the right one.
Some of the health benefits of a multivitamin supplement require daily intake over months or longer, so consistency is key.
For BodyNutrition.org #1 women’s multivitamin recommendation, click here.