Health Issues for Single Moms; Your Vitamin Questions Answered!

By Robert Mushnick, M.D.

Dear Dr. Mushnick,Single Mom running with kids

I’m a 31 -year-old single mom, to one adorable, rambunctious boy, age five. I’m not overweight, I exercise regularly and try my best to eat right. Although I’m not currently in a relationship  the idea of getting pregnant again has crossed my mind. What vitamins should women take to ensure I’m in the best health as well as ones that will give me an extra boost of  energy to keep up with my son?

-Jill, single mom of  one  little rascal living in Austin, Texas.

In the U. S. today almost 50% of our population takes vitamin supplements costing an estimated $23 billion. Unfortunately the majority of studies evaluating people who took single or combinations of vitamins have not shown the vitamins to be of any benefit in preventing cardiovascular diseases, cancer or prolonging life.

In fact some studies have even revealed that vitamins can be harmful. The National Institute of Health (NIH) consensus conference May, 2006 unceremoniously concluded that the present evidence is insufficient to recommend either for or against the use of multivitamins/multimineral (MVMs) by the American public to prevent chronic disease.

However don’t throw the supplements out with the bath water; women who are looking forward to babies in their bath water usually benefit from a prenatal vitamin and should be taking up to 1000ug of folic acid. In addition single women, who are considering getting pregnant, should begin taking these prior to becoming pregnant in order to be in optimal health on conception.

Another population of women proven to benefit from supplements are postmenopausal women who are at risk for or who have osteoporosis. These women should be taking Vitamin D 400-800 IU/day and calcium 1200mg/day. While much of the news about vitamin supplements has not been supportive of their use, Vitamin D shows great promise. Supplementation of Vitamin D has been shown recently to possibly prevent the development of diabetes, high blood pressure, colon cancer and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

While we are on the subject of what to take, I have been impressed by recent studies showing that people who took the antioxidant Vitamins E, A, and beta-carotene alone or in combinations did worse than control populations not taking pills.  Therefore at this time, with a few exceptions, strong evidence for taking vitamin supplements to improve health is lacking. However, I do agree with The American Heart Association (AHA) and recommend regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, high fiber and whole grains and minimizing fat and sugar. This appears to be a more sensible strategy to promote health.

AHA 2006 Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations to Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Disease:

  • Balance calorie intake and physical activity to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Consume a diet rich in vegetables and fruits.
  • Choose whole-grain, high-fiber foods.
  • Consume fish, especially oily fish, at least twice a week.
  • Limit your intake of saturated fat to <7% of energy, trans fat to <1% of energy, and cholesterol to <300 mg per day by
    • choosing lean meats and vegetable alternatives;
    • selecting fat-free (skim), 1%-fat, and low-fat dairy products; and
    • minimizing intake of partially hydrogenated fats.
  • Minimize your intake of beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt.
  • If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation.
  • When you eat food that is prepared outside of the home, follow the AHA Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations.

Check out these helpful guidelines from the some the American Heart Association (AHA).

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