What’s the best vitamin for Australian women over 50?

For women wanting to stay fit and healthy in their fifties and beyond, there are a range of vitamins that are targeted specifically to the needs of that age bracket.  Maintaining healthy bones, mental acuity, good red blood cell and energy production are all more important than ever. [Click here for Best Vitamins for Australian Men over 50].  But with the usual plethora of small fonts and jargon on the back of little jars it’s hard to know which to choose.

The CompareVitamins team have made it easy for you by benchmarking Blackmores Proactive Multi for 50+, Nature’s Own Mega Potency 50+, Swisse Women’s Ultivite 50+ and Centrum for Women 50+ against the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for Australian women. We look at 20 essential vitamins and minerals and also touch on the plant extracts that round out some of the offerings, to help you make a decision on which brand is best for you.

Vitamins

All of the brands surveyed meet or exceed the Australian RDI for vitamins A, C and E.

Vitamins marked in green meet or exceed the Australian RDI for women over 50

For vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folic Acid) and B12 Swisse Women’s Ultivite 50+ is the only brand that meets or exceeds the RDI on all counts.  That said, all of the other brands come within a whisker of doing so as well, and a standard healthy diet with leafy green vegetables, nuts and so forth will ensure that your B group vitamin needs are met.

For vitamin D, Centrum and Blackmores deliver the full RDI of 10mcg recommended for women over fifty by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.   Centrum includes 20mcg which covers the increased requirements for women over seventy years.  Nature’s Own and Swisse both have a much smaller 5mcg, however the body can generate its own vitamin D with around twenty minutes of exposure to sun (without sunscreen) each week. Obviously be careful not to get burned! Salmon, sardines, oysters, egg yolks and mushrooms are all also good sources of vitamin D if you can’t get out into the sun, or choose to preserve your alabaster line-free complexion.

Vitamin K is an important component of bone-building alongside better-known calcium and D.  Given the prevalence of osteoporosis in older women it is important to ensure you are getting your required RDI of 60mcg.    A serve of kale once a week will provide you with almost ten times that amount, so get the kale smoothies pumping if you want to lower your chance of fractures later in life.  Swisse includes the full 60mcg in its tablets while Centrum includes a smaller 20mcg.

Co-Q10 is also included by Blackmores (10mg) and Swisse (2mg).  There is not currently an RDI set for this enzyme that helps with heart health but even Blackmore’s own website recommends an RDI of 75mg for “general supplementation” and twice that to support heart health.  Clearly neither brand is likely to make much of a dent with the amount included in their multivitamin offerings.

Minerals

All brands meet or exceed the Australian RDI for zinc and chromium.

Minerals marked in green meet or exceed the RDI for Australian women over 50

Calcium has an RDI of 1300mg for women over fifty in Australia. Centrum delivers 300mg which may not seem like much, but Swisse has just 10mg, Nature’s Own 50mg and Blackmores 60mg. The body’s ability to absorb calcium can become less effective after menopause, and you will no doubt be aware that studies have shown that supplementation can be beneficial in prevention of fractures.  Calcium fortified foods, dairy products and some leafy greens can help boost overall intake. Studies have also shown that, while a healthy amount of protein will help to build strong bones, it also increases the excretion of calcium.

While copper deficiency is rare in Australians, the RDI for women over fifty is still 1200mcg.  Swisse packs in the full 1200mcg, Centrum has 500mcg, Nature’s Own has 128mcg and Blackmores has none. Some studies have posited a connection between copper deficiency and Alzheimer’s but given the complexities of that disease it would be wise to hold fire on supplementation and ask your doctor for the most current thinking.

Centrum and Swisse both meet the Australian 150mcg RDI for iodine.  Blackmores has 100mcg and Nature’s Own does not contain any. Since 2009, most store-bought bread has been iodine supplemented, so if you like a couple of slices of toast in the morning you will be getting close to 100mcg. Seaweed, dairy and iodised salt (surprise, surprise) are also good sources of this important mineral. Deficiency is a major cause of thyroid disorders and Australian soils are notoriously low in iodine. Iodine is particularly important during pregnancy so, if you’re one of the very small percentage of women over fifty planning to give birth, this may be something to consider.

The RDI for iron drops from 18mg down to 8mg for women over fifty, with the assumption – or generalisation, rather – that menstruation has ceased.  Given many women are still menstruating after fifty, and the fact that having too much iron can be just as problematic as having too little iron, it is important to have a product that fits your current situation. All of the brands measured have a conservative 5 to 6mg inclusion here. If you eat meat, generally you will find you will be meeting your iron requirements.  If you are vegetarian, iron is less bio-available in legumes, nuts and leafy greens so you’ll want to ensure you consume it spaced out through the day and avoid consumption with coffee or calcium, which reduces uptake.

None of the brands included here have the full 320mg RDI for magnesium.  Magnesium has been shown to be more effective than many anti-depressants in assisting with mood disorders, is critical for energy and ATP production as well as bone and muscle health. Centrum has 100mg, Nature’s Own has 50mg and Blackmores has 40mg.  Swisse has 7.5mg. With numbers like those you will definitely need to make sure you are supplementing effectively through diet. A cup of spinach will get you well on the way with about 150mg of magnesium, two eggs (you need to keep the yolks) is about 20mg and a 100g bar of dark chocolate has about 250mg.  If you can manage to fry up a dark chocolate and spinach omelette, you will be sorted. Assuming you can stomach it!

None of the brands reviewed have the full 5mg RDI of manganese either.  Manganese is an antioxidant that also helps to build healthy bones. Swisse and Centrum both have 3mg, while Nature’s Own and Blackmores have 1.5mg and 1mg respectively. Nuts, beans, brown rice and leafy greens will help make up the gap.

Your mother probably never told you to make sure you got enough molybdenum but it is one of the essential minerals for vitality and wellbeing, and helps the liver to break down alcohol.  You only need a tiny amount of this mineral in your diet and a cup of lentils will deliver you almost three times the daily RDI of 40mcg. The recommended upper limit is 2000mcg, but unless you’re obsessed with lentils and eating twelve cups of them per day, you should be fine. Swisse and Centrum both match the RDI nicely, while Blackmores and Nature’s Own have none.

Blackmores is the only brand to include phosphorus in its mix but with just 46mg against an RDI of 1000mg. With less than 5% of your RDI in each tablet, and none at all in the other brands, you will need to look elsewhere for phosphorus.  Chicken, turkey, organ meats, whole grains and sunflower seeds are all good sources of phosphorus.

Blackmores and Centrum both come very close to the 60mcg RDI for women over fifty, with 50mcg and 55mcg respectively.  Nature’s Own and Swisse are about half that level. Selenium is important for maintaining a healthy immune response as well as DNA production, thyroid function and protection against cancer.  A 100g serve of yellowfin tuna will more than cover your RDI, as will a larger serve of salmon, prawns or crab. Or you could just eat a single brazil nut – yes that’s right just one nut – and that will cover your full RDI in one easy hit.  Just don’t go overboard, because too much selenium is toxic.

Extracts

There are a bewildering range of botanical extracts included, especially with the Nature’s Own and Swisse products. In the majority of instances these are supplied at levels well below what would be considered therapeutic, for example Blackmores includes 100mg of brahmi, Swisse has 50mg but studies have generally administered around 300mg per day. Blackmores Gingko Brahmi product contains thirty times more brahmi than its own multivitamin does, so you can begin to get a sense of the massive variances in dosage here.

There are a few exceptions to this worth noting, however.

Nature’s Own has 100mg of grape seed extract and Swisse has 1000mg.  Studies generally have shown that 100 – 300mg can be effective in combating high cholesterol, and supporting heart health. Too much grape seed extract may interact with blood-thinning medication like aspirin so bear that in mind if you’re heading to the bathroom cabinet with a headache, or using warfarin.

Nature’s Own has 250mg of gingko and Swisse has 1000mg. Studies have shown gingko to be helpful with cognition, memory, the prevention of dementia (which we all suddenly worry about when we turn fifty!).  Dosages however are generally more in line with the Nature’s Own dosage and some studies have suggested that high dosages can be carcinogenic to animals. Human studies have not yet been conducted. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/new-doubts-about-ginkgo-biloba/

St Mary’s thistle has long been hailed as a tonic to protect and restore the liver – always helpful if you tend towards the odd red wine, or ten, on a Friday night.  Swisse includes 1500mg of this extract while Nature’s Own has 200mg.

Swisse has a 800mg of cranberry extract, helpful for helping to ward off urinary tract infections as well as prevention of kidney stones. Nature’s Own has 100mg in its multivitamin and 50,000mg in its High Strength Cranberry brand.  Some studies have generally shown doses around 1500mg to be helpful, while others have shown no correlation at all between cranberry supplementation and incidence of UTIs.

Swisse includes 500mg of damiana which can be helpful for digestion, depression and as a mild aphrodisiac.  Swisse also include black cohosh which is reported to assist with hot flushes and menopausal symptoms. Black cohosh is the basis for the drug Remifemin. With 200mg included it is actually more than is delivered in the commercial drug form of black cohosh and higher than the amounts used in trials.  The trials found no difference in results between the groups taking black cohosh and those taking a placebo. But black cohosh has been used as a tonic by Native Americans for millenia so it’s unlikely that is the end of the story.

Blackmores includes an “unstated” amount of papaya, which probably defeats the purpose of bothering to include it at all.

Nature’s Own includes 25mg of glutamine and 25mg of taurine but effective doses are generally between 500mg and 2000mg per day for taurine and more for glutamine.   It certainly won’t hurt you to have these in there but in terms of decision-making this sort of dosage is essentially window dressing.

Final Word

We analyse the essential vitamins and minerals against their RDIs for Australian women and establish a score based on how each of our brands performs.  We do not factor in minerals or extracts that do not have an RDI.

Our score shows Centrum for Women 50+ with a fractional lead over Swisse Women’s Ultivite 50+, however Swisse has the advantage of a range of extracts like damiana, gingko, grape seed extract and cranberry.  On that basis either of these two are our recommendations for women over fifty.

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