Nutritional Deficiencies Women are at Risk For

Nutritional Deficiencies

There are different health issues that affect certain groups more than others. Here are a few health issues that occur when you are undernourished with certain nutrients. While they may affect more women than you would think, eating the correct diet and having certain lifestyle habits may help prevent them.


What is it? Anemia is defined as having less than 12.0g/100mL of hemoglobin in women and less than 13.5g/100mL of hemoglobin in men. This can occur because production of red blood cells have decreased or the destruction and loss of red blood cells have increased. Having a normal level of red blood cells is important because they carry oxygen to the body and get rid of carbon dioxide. There are different types of anemia: aplastic anemia, iron-deficiency anemia, hemolytic anemia, sickle cell anemia, and pernicious anemia.

How many women have it? It is estimated that 1 in 5 women of childbearing age will get anemia. This is due to blood loss during their periods.

Risk Factors Include:

  • Diet low in iron and minerals
  • Family history of anemia
  • Blood loss
  • Erythropoietin, a hormone need to make red blood cells, is low
  • Having chronic illnesses such as AIDS/HIV, cancer, liver disease, and heart disease

How to Prevent it: Eat a diet rich in iron such as green leaves, red meat, and egg yolks. If your diet does not have enough minerals and iron in it, consider adding supplements to your dietary regimen. Sickle cell anemia cannot be prevented, however, since it is genetic. In this case, qualified health care professionals can prescribe medication to help treat or manage the disease.

Vitamin A Deficiency

What is it? Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is an insufficient amount of Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is important to bone growth and vision. According to the National Institute of Health, the recommended amount per day is 400-600 mcg for children, 600-700 mcg for an adult, and 750-1300 mcg for pregnant or lactating women.

How many women have it? Vitamin A deficiency is a prevalent preventable condition in children and pregnant women that can cause blindness and death. While first world nations have a low risk of VAD, it is a widespread phenomenon in low-income countries in Africa and Asia. World Health Organization has estimated that about 33.3% of children and 15.3% of pregnant women are at risk for VAD worldwide.

Risk Factors Include:

  • Being an infant, child, or pregnant woman in a low income nation
  • Vegan diet
  • Alcoholism

How to Prevent it: Eat plenty of food with Vitamin A in it such as sweet potatoes, carrots, mango, cantaloupe, and dark green leafy vegetables. Adding Vitamin A supplements to your diet should also be considered if you are at risk for VAD.

Vitamin D Deficiency

What is it? Vitamin D is when your blood has less than 12 ng/mL; a healthy person should have at least 20 ng/mL. Vitamin D is essential to the body and helps the bones absorb calcium and helps the muscles move. It also helps prevent osteoporosis and osteopenia. Those with Vitamin D deficiency is at risk for rickets, a deformation and softening of bones. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with cognitive impairment, cancer, and severe asthma in children. According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended amount for an adult is 600 IU per day, with over 800 IU for those over 70 years old.

How many women have it? According to a CDC study in 2012, 65% of African American women have Vitamin D deficiency compared to only 20% of Caucasian women.

Risk Factors Include:

  • Obesity
  • Malabsorption
  • Lactose intolerance or allergy to milk
  • Aging – Your ability to synthesize Vitamin D from the sun decreases as you age
  • Having darker skin – Melanin in the skin diminishes the ability to synthesize Vitamin D from the sun

How to Prevent It:

  • Get enough sun
  • Eat food with Vitamin D in it such as salmon, mackerel, milk, and orange juice
  • Take Vitamin D supplements


What Is It? Osteoporosis is a loss of density in the bone which causes the bone to become weak, brittle, and easily fractured.

How many women have it? 80% of the 10 million Americans affected by osteoporosis are women.

Risk Factors Include:

  • Being a woman
  • Menopause – Estrogen, a hormone that helps protect the bone, is decreased during menopause.
  • Low Vitamin D – Vitamin D helps the bone absorb calcium. When there is lower Vitamin D, that also means that there is a lower chance of calcium getting absorbed by the bones.
  • Low calcium – Calcium helps solidify the bone
  • Not enough exercise
  • Asian and Caucasian women are more likely to get osteoporosis over other races and ethnicities of women.

How to Prevent It: Get regular exercise in along with a healthy balanced diet. You can get Vitamin D from fish, soy milk, orange juice, and from the sun. Calcium can be found in dairy products such as milk and yogurt. When your diet does not provide enough of each nutrient, you can always turn to supplements.