At age 40, some may say you're "over the hill." In fact, your best years are ahead of you. Keeping your nutrition on point and getting enough of the most important vitamins for a 40-year-old woman will make that hill nothing more than a pebble.
Vitamins for Metabolism and Energy
Many women notice that it becomes harder to maintain their weight in their 40s. Metabolism slows with age, and you may not be as active as you used to be. It's important to retain a healthy weight, however, because overweight and obesity are linked to myriad health problems, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.
Eating a calorie-controlled diet that matches your activity level will help you do this, and if you make it as healthy as possible, it will help you get all the most important vitamins for a 40-year-old woman.
All of the eight B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, biotin, B12, B6, niacin, pantothenic acid and folate, play a role in your metabolism, which is the process by which your body uses food for energy. Not getting enough of any one of these nutrients could affect the efficiency of your metabolism and make you feel sluggish.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is fairly common, according to Harvard Health. As you age, you become less able to absorb the vitamin. If you eat a vegetarian and vegan diet, you are at a higher risk of deficiency because there are no reliable plant sources of B12. A common symptom of low B12 is fatigue. Other symptoms include:
- Difficulty thinking clearly, poor memory
- A swollen, sore tongue
- Numbness or tingling in the hands, legs or feet
- Difficulty walking and poor balance
The recommended daily intake of B12 for women is 2.4 milligrams, according to the National Institutes of Health. If you're pregnant, you need 2.6 milligrams, and if you're breastfeeding, you need 2.8 milligrams. The richest sources of B12 are animal foods, including clams, beef liver, trout, salmon, tuna, beef, milk, yogurt and cheese. Some plant-based foods are fortified with B12, including nutritional yeasts and cereals.
Folate, also called folic acid, is an especially important vitamin for pregnant women because adequate levels of the vitamins can help prevent birth defects. Even if you aren't planning to get pregnant at this point in your life, it's still important to focus on folate.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly 50 percent of pregnancies in the United States in 2011 were unplanned. Since you never know what might happen, it's better to be safe than sorry. The Office on Women's Health recommends getting 400 to 800 milligrams of folate per day from food or supplements.
Vitamins for Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, resulting in approximately one in five female deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You might think you're still too young at 40, but one out of every 16 women over the age of 20 has the most common form of heart disease, called coronary heart disease. Maintaining a healthy weight is key to preventing heart disease, as is getting plenty of nutrients from your daily diet.
Getting enough vitamin D may also be crucial. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as a hormone and regulates over 200 of the body's genes. It also helps prevent abnormal breast and colon cells from multiplying and helps regulate blood pressure in the kidney and blood sugar in the pancreas.
According to a research review published in Clinical Hypertension in June 2018, vitamin D deficiency may cause a rise in blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure. Low levels of this vitamin are common.
Your body can synthesize vitamin D when it comes in direct contact with UVB rays from the sun; but due to more time spent inside at desk jobs and the increase in sunscreen use, dietary vitamin D is the primary source. However, according to NIH, the vitamin is present in very few foods.
The recommended daily intake for vitamin D is 600 international units (IU) per day for all women. Fatty fish, including salmon and tuna, are the best dietary sources of vitamin D, as well as fortified foods such as milk and cereal. Many people can benefit from a vitamin D supplement, so talk to your doctor about whether or not you are getting enough of the nutrient.
Vitamins for Strong Bones
Vitamin D is also crucial to prevent another major concern for 40-year-old women — osteoporosis, which affects half of women over the age of 50, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. During perimenopause — the several-year period before menopause that usually begins in your 40s — estrogen levels begin to decline.
This comes with some unwanted side effects, including irregular periods and night sweats, and it also affects bone health. Estrogen is protective of bones, and lower estrogen levels can lead to bone loss.
The mineral calcium is responsible for supporting the structure and function of bones and teeth. Bone remodeling is the process by which the body breaks down old bone and uses calcium to create new bone. In adolescence, bone regeneration typically outpaces bone breakdown; but as you age, breakdown begins to exceed rebuilding, which results in bone loss. Having adequate calcium stores is important to combat this.
Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium in your gut, and it helps maintain adequate levels of calcium and phosphate also required for the creation of new bone. Without enough vitamin D, bones become brittle, thin and misshapen.
In addition to the recommended daily intake of vitamin D, be sure to get the 1,000 milligrams of calcium recommended for all women in their 40s. The best sources of calcium are dairy products, including cheese, yogurt and milk. Fish with bones, such as canned sardines, and fortified juices and cereals also contain measurable amounts of calcium.
Vitamins for Skin and Hair
While age is just a number, the inconvenient truth is that your skin and hair will change. Even when you moved from your 20s into your 30s, you probably noticed some changes. In your 40s, those changes may become more pronounced and you may notice new ones.
Nutrient deficiencies can show up in your appearance, causing pale, dry skin and hair loss. According to a research review published in Dermatology and Therapy in March 2019, vitamins and minerals play important roles in cellular turnover, which can affect both the skin and hair.
A type of hair loss called alopecia areata that affects males and females, for example, has been associated with low vitamin D levels. Telogen effluvium is a type of hair loss that occurs primarily in women and has been linked to low iron levels, which are also more common in women. In addition to getting more iron, vitamin C should be increased because it improves the absorption of iron, reports the NIH.
Vitamin C is also a vital nutrient for healthy skin due to its role in the synthesis of collagen, a protein that provides structural support for skin and other body tissues. A lack of collagen weakens the skin and results in fine lines and wrinkles.
Sun damage further decreases collagen and has other damaging effects on the skin. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, both dietary and topical vitamin C may help prevent and treat sun damage. Higher consumption of vitamin C has also been shown to decrease the risk of dry skin.
The NIH recommends getting at least 75 milligrams of vitamin C each day to prevent deficiency. If you're pregnant, you need 85 milligrams daily, and breastfeeding women need 120 milligrams each day. Vitamin C is abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables, including bell peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli, strawberries and Brussels sprouts.
- NIH: "Health Risks of Being Overweight"
- MedlinePlus: "B Vitamins"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Vitamin B12 Deficiency Can Be Sneaky, Harmful"
- NIH: "Vitamin B12"
- NIH: "Folate"
- Guttmacher Institute: "Unintended Pregnancy in the United States"
- Office on Women's Health: "Healthy Living in Your 40s"
- CDC: "Women and Heart Disease"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Vitamin D and the Heart"
- Clinical Hypertension: "Vitamin D Deficiency and Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases: A Narrative Review"
- NIH: "Vitamin D"
- National Osteoporosis Foundation: "What Women Need to Know"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Perimenopause: Rocky Road to Menopause"
- NIH: "Calcium"
- Dermatology and Therapy: "The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review"
- AOCD: "Telogen Effluvium Hair Loss"
- NIH: "Vitamin C"
- Oregon State University: "Vitamin C and Skin Health"
- Harvard Medical School: Listing of Vitamins