I’m often asked, “Should I be taking supplements? And if so, which ones?” My go-to answer sounds something like this: “You’d likely benefit from a few basics but since we’re all biochemically unique individuals, I’d need to evaluate your current diet and lifestyle to customize a supplement plan for your needs.”
I view supplements as health-boosters that support a nutrient-dense real food diet – not a get-out-of-jail-free card for eating a nutrient-poor, highly processed diet and then taking heaps of supplements to make up for it!
While I believe diet is the cornerstone of good health, I also think supplements have an important role as well. The unfortunate truth is that much of our food has declined in nutritional value because it is grown in soil depleted of nutrients. Many of our foods are now genetically modified, sprayed with pesticides, processed, packaged, contain preservatives and are often transported long distances.
Additionally, many people are dealing with gut issues, such as leaky gut, which interfere with proper nutrient absorption. Nutrient-depleted food, high-stress lifestyles, toxic environments and gut issues can all make it difficult to get the necessary nutrients from food alone. Therefore, I think everyone can benefit from a few foundational supplements to support their healthy diet and fill in nutritional gaps. Below are five basic supplements which are a great place to start.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D, a hormone precursor (not technically a vitamin), plays a central role in maintaining proper health – it’s involved in just about everything! Over 50,000 of the chemical reactions in your body require adequate amounts of vitamin D in your blood. Vitamin D enhances muscle strength, builds bone, supports heart health, has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects and bolsters the immune system. It is also important for our mental wellbeing.
Daily sun exposure to support the natural production of vitamin D in your skin is a great way to get your daily dose of this nutrient. Many of us are inside all day and have few opportunities to get sufficient sun exposure to prevent vitamin D deficiency. Coming up short on this important vitamin can leave you vulnerable to suppressed immunity, increased risk of chronic disease and increased inflammation.
Natural vitamin D can be found in fatty fish, eggs, mushrooms, grass-fed meat and organ meats, but it’s virtually impossible to get enough vitamin D from food and most of us are deficient.
I recommend keeping your vitamin D levels between 50 to 80 ng/ml. Most people register around 35 ng/ml or below. Speak with your doctor about checking your 25-hydroxy vitamin D level to see where you’re at before you start supplementing. Look for supplements that provide D3 (cholecalciferol) and take with your largest meal of the day. Generally, 2,000 – 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 is a typical maintenance dose, but you may need more if your levels are low. Don’t take more than 5,000 IU of Vitamin D3 per day without a physician’s supervision and regular blood testing.
Supplement Recommendation: BioTech Pharmacal D3 Plus – includes Vitamin K, Magnesium, Zinc, Boron
2. Fish Oil
Fish oil supplements are rich in the essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are important components of every cell membrane in your body. Omega-3 fatty acids support a stronger immune system, healthy blood lipids and cardiovascular health. They promote healthy joints and strengthen hair, skin and nails, and are important for memory, cognition, behavior and positive mood.
In addition to maintaining sufficient levels of omega-3, it is also important to ensure you have a proper omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in your body which is around 4:1. Because our modern day diet tends to be full of processed foods and hydrogenated oils, many people’s ratio is more like 15:1. This is a recipe for inflammation and disease. Fish oil supplementation is important for optimizing this ratio and plays a key role in helping to lower inflammation in the body.
Because your body can’t make its own omega-3 fatty acids, you’ve got to get them from food and supplements. Good food sources of omega-3s are fatty fish (like salmon, sardines, mackerel) and grass-fed meats. I recommend being careful about the source of your fish oil supplements because they come from fatty fish, which can be high in mercury. Look for ones that have been tested for purity by a 3rd party and are molecular distilled, which is a process that removes contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides and PCBs. I recommend a dosage of 2g of EPA and DHA (combined) daily.
Supplement Recommendation: LifeSpa Mega Omega
Probiotics are the beneficial microorganisms that live in your gut and play a significant role in your overall health. These good gut bugs aid in digestion, manufacture key nutrients (like B vitamins and vitamin K), limit the growth of pathogenic bacteria and yeast, promote regular BMs, boost your immune system and regulate your mood.
Did you know nearly 80% of your immune system is located in your gut and approximately 90% of your serotonin is produced in your gut? This means that if your gut bacteria aren’t happy and healthy, you can experience a whole host of health issues from autoimmunity, depression, anxiety and leaky gut. Poor diet, stress, toxin exposure and antibiotic use can tip the delicate bacterial balance in your gut towards more bad than good guys. Taking a probiotic supplement every day can help keep your gut microbial ecosystem (aka your microbiome) in balance.
Unfortunately, most probiotic supplements on the market today are transient probiotics, meaning they transit through the gut but do not make a permanent or lasting change to the microbiome. They can make you feel better, but once you stop taking them, the microbiome generally returns to its original state before probiotic use. The best probiotic supplements contain colonizing probiotics which adhere to the gut wall, colonize, multiply and build microbial diversity within the gut.
Look for a probiotic supplement with around 3-5, high quality strains that have been researched and shown to survive the digestive tract and adhere to the gut wall.
Supplement Recommendation: Perfect Pass Probiotic
4. B Vitamin Complex
B Vitamins are a class of water-soluble vitamins that work as important multi-taskers in the body. There are eight B vitamins – B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic Acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folate), B12 (Cobalamin) – that work in tandem, while each one also has its own specific benefits. These important nutrients help convert our food into fuel.
In addition to performing the essential role of providing energy for our cells, B vitamins protect you against elevated levels of homocysteine which is an amino acid that, in excess, can increase your risk for heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, mood disorders and poor cognitive function. B vitamins can also protect the immune system; prevent memory loss and migraines; promote healthy skin, hair and nails; aid in hormone production; help reduce stress and anxiety and regulate mood.
If you’re eating a well-balanced, whole food diet rich in lots of fruits, vegetables, quality animal proteins, nuts/seeds, whole grains and legumes, you’re likely getting plenty of B vitamins from food. That said, alcohol, as well as a wide range of drugs, can interfere with the metabolism of B vitamins leaving you depleted.
If you’re regularly taking one of the following meds, you’re likely deficient and should be supplementing: pain relievers (aspirin), antibiotics, antacids, Metformin, asthma drugs, blood pressure- and cholesterol-lowering drugs, birth control pills and HRT, NSAIDS (Advil, Motrin, Midol, Aleve, etc.) and corticosteroids.
I recommend one capsule a day of a B Complex that contains methylated (active) forms of the B vitamins. It assists with energy production; therefore, most people like to take it in the morning after breakfast.
Supplement Recommendation: Thorne Basic B Complex
Magnesium is a mineral that your body needs for many of its daily functions. It is used in every cell of your body and is a cofactor for over 300 enzymes used to build proteins, maintain muscle and nerve function, control blood sugar and regulate blood pressure. It is required for DNA formation, metabolism, energy production and bone development. It calms nerves, helps you relax and sleep and relieves constipation.
Since the body burns through its magnesium stores every day from normal functions like muscle movement, heartbeat and hormone production, it’s crucial that we replenish those stores with a nutrient-dense diet (including leafy greens, beans, nuts/seeds, avocado, dark chocolate [yes!]) and magnesium supplements to prevent deficiency.
Magnesium deficiency is one of the leading nutrient deficiencies in adults. It’s estimated that approximately 80% of us are deficient in this important mineral. There may be several reasons for this. For one, our soils are nutrient-depleted which lowers the amount of magnesium present in fruits and vegetables. Another reason is that many people have compromised digestive function leading to malabsorption of magnesium in the gut. Other possible causes of deficiency are high-stress lifestyle, high-sugar diet, excess alcohol consumption and use of medications such as diuretics, proton-pump inhibitors and certain antibiotics.
Magnesium deficiency has been shown to cause an increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which raise your overall level of inflammation. Magnesium deficiency is believed to cause a variety of negative symptoms such as muscle aches or cramps, impaired digestion and detoxification, constipation, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, abnormal heart rhythms and difficulty sleeping.
How do you know if you’re magnesium deficient and need to supplement? It’s hard to know for sure as there is no single method of testing that is completely comprehensive and accurate. Because magnesium supplements have few risks for side effects and toxicity, you can experiment with supplementing to see if you feel better. I recommend 300-400 mg at night before bed.
Magnesium comes in various forms. I suggest supplementing with either Magnesium Citrate or Magnesium Glycinate. Magnesium Citrate is magnesium combined with citric acid. This form is good for those who are prone to constipation as it helps to stimulate bowel movements. Magnesium Glycinate is a highly absorbable form of magnesium and is less likely to cause a laxative effect.
You can also use Magnesium Sulfate, aka Epsom Salt, in the bath. The sulfate helps draw toxins out of the body through your pores and allows the magnesium to be absorbed.
Please consult your doctor or other health professional before starting this supplement program to determine if it is right for your needs.6