A Surplus of Supplements
My Top 5 Vitamins To Take*
First Steps and the Foundation of Health
Walking through the “healthy living” section of our favorite grocery store can be overwhelming — hundreds of vitamins, supplements, funny-looking bottles with “miraculous” claims. Sure, they all sound great! Do we sweep all the bottles into the cart with one arm and head for the checkout?! Do we really need ALL of them? Where do we start?!
Well of course it’s confusing! With over 12.8 billion dollars spent on supplements yearly (multivitamins are the top purchased supplement in the United States), every company (and their brother) wants a piece of that pie. To set theirs apart from the other bottles on the shelf, companies hope you’ll be persuaded by social media ads or pretty packaging. But this becomes just another industry where we must wade through the waters to determine what’s in them, what’s best for our health and make our own decisions.
In my practice, I work quite a bit with supplementation and the question of where to start comes up when people first hear what I do. While I recommend a personalized approach, I do have my top 5…the ones everyone could likely benefit from if you’re breathing and living on this planet. These are about a foundation of wellbeing, not targeting specific needs.
Before we get to the details of my “Foundational 5,” people often say, “supplements are risky, they’re not regulated.” This isn’t entirely true. The Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) ensures all dietary supplements comply with the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), regulates the claims that can be made about a supplement and authorizes the FDA to establish separate GMPs for dietary supplements. With that said, enlist someone you trust who is well-versed in the space regarding ingredients, sourcing and more. I also highly recommend you speak to your pharmacist about supplements and potential interactions with any medications. Pharmacists are generally more versed in contraindications, herbs, vitamins, and minerals than many doctors.
With the understanding we are not here to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease and the Food and Drug Administration has not reviewed this article, let’s help you wade through the supplement aisle!
Miraculous Multivitamins: Fill in the Gaps where our Nutrition Falls Short
How many of us eat ONLY the foods we know we’re supposed to eat and never eat ANY of the foods we’re not supposed to eat? I’m willing to bet the number is close to zero. But let’s say someone did. They’d likely still not get the vitamins and minerals required to live optimally in our world with ever-increasing amounts of stress and environmental toxins. Not only because of this growing burden on our systems but also because of the nutrient depletion in our foods, the likelihood of us getting everything we need from only our food, is highly unlikely. OH! And that Percent Daily Value (%DV) on nutrition labels? That’s telling you the amounts a person needs to not deteriorate into rickets or scurvy, not what we need to live well.
Multivitamins can be a great option to fill in the gaps where our nutrition falls short. They offer a variety of vitamins and minerals in a single formula. However, supplements are no substitute for eating healthy! Taking a multivitamin doesn’t replace the nutrients you receive from the food you consume.
Did you take Flintstones chewables or a gummy vitamin as a kid? Multivitamins have become increasingly popular over the years due to the supplementation market and a general increase in knowledge about the efficacy of vitamins and minerals. Multivitamins come in different variations, from tablets, liquid, chewable gummies and even powders. When choosing a multivitamin, the biggest differentiating factor is the added ingredients most people ignore. Almost all will be formulated based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which say everyone should be consuming calcium, vitamin D, potassium and magnesium to make up for the lack of these nutrients in our daily consumption. When looking at the label, red flags will be hydrogenated/hydrolyzed oils (likely in your gummy options), binders, fillers and coatings like talc, Yellow #5, shellac, wax and hydroxypropylmethylcellulose, for example. These ingredients are certainly not essential for our wellbeing, can be potentially detrimental to our health or prevent us from absorbing the nutrients in the vitamin.
Choosing the right multi for you is personal. Consider age and sex to support a better balance of vitamins and minerals for your individual needs. I also recommend checking with your doctor, pharmacist, or an expert you trust to help you determine the best multi for you.
Trust Your Gut…Literally!
Bloating. Upset stomach. Diarrhea. Acid reflux. Gas. We’re told it’s normal. Truthfully though, society/our doctors/Western medicine start to agree with a common denominator instead of addressing the root cause of our health issues. Meaning, if most people have a symptom, it’s categorized as normal, rather than looking at “normal” from the perspective of proper structure and function of the body.
Becoming a buzzword has certainly helped this next element of my foundational five: Probiotics. These supplements contain live microorganisms that support gut health by helping to maintain healthy colonization of bacteria within your gut ecosystem and supporting your digestive system with helpful bacteria that neutralize harmful bacteria. Beyond digestive health, it’s the health of our immune systems as approximately 70% of your immune system is in your digestive tract. For the average person, exposure to environmental toxins and lifestyle factors like stress, alcohol consumption and unhealthy diets make sustaining gut balance increasingly important.
Probiotics regulate the microbiome that circulates through our digestive tract and reduce the chance for infections such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea, specifically caused by the bacteria Clostridium Difficile. Keeping your microbiome healthy is vital for the entire body and sets the tone for the rest of our organs and overall wellness. When interacting with a probiotic, the bacteria in our microbiome can increase vitamin production, improve mood and regulate stress responses. Probiotics increase our bodies’ immune response by working with the healthy bacteria already in our digestive system to fight back against any infectious bacteria that has entered our system.
When looking for a quality probiotic, it is critical to ensure the gut bugs are alive and the “right bugs” are delivered to the “right part” of the GI tract. I highly recommend looking for one using two technologies: LiveBac® and BIO-tract®. Choose one that has at least 1 billion colony forming units (CFUs) with a variety of types; just know the CFU quantity isn’t necessarily the deciding factor for which probiotic is best for each of us.
If you’d rather go the food route, than a supplement, fermented foods, like kombucha, miso and kimchi may need to be a regular part of your nutrition..
Remember, taking a probiotic is only part of our gut health equation. Be sure to eat fiber (vegetables and fruit) to create a supportive prebiotic environment. Prebiotics are the food for the probiotics.
Antioxidants are the Berry Best…Pun Intended
Antioxidants are one of the most popular foundational five supplements. Like probiotics, antioxidant is another buzzword in wellness. Yet, most people don’t really know what they are. Antioxidants are compounds found both in the body and in food. These compounds prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals. Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron, which causes them to be imbalanced. To fix this, those molecules steal an electron from another molecule, causing a snowball effect.
When free radicals accumulate in the body they create oxidative stress, or excessive oxidation in the body. What’s oxidation? The same process that turns cut apples brown when they are exposed to…oxygen. Oxidative stress has the same effect inside our bodies; it is our internal systems browning like an old apple. This causes inflammation, which is the underlying source of all symptoms, illnesses, and diseases. An excess of free radicals contributes to many chronic heart problems, such as cancer, cataract, and inflammatory diseases. We need additional antioxidant support to squash the firehose of free radicals in our bodies which come from smoking, ultraviolet rays, inhaling polluted air, exercise and even byproducts of natural cell processes. After comparing our bodies to a rotting fruit, I think it’s obvious this is something worthy of our attention!
Antioxidants are geniuses! They offer their own electrons to those free radicals which stabilize or neutralize them, halting the snowball. Vegetables and fruits are shown to be rich in antioxidants. Some of these antioxidants include vitamin C and E, selenium, and carotenoids. In general, we want our food to give us our antioxidants. For many of the same reasons we want a multi, the onslaught of free radicals created in modern life, supplementation with antioxidants might prove supportive for you!
When choosing an antioxidant, many people reach for the ones with a higher ORAC value. The ORAC (oxygen radical absorption capacity) value is the strength of the antioxidant. But this may not be your best bet. I like to think of antioxidants as locks and keys. It would be silly to think one key can open every lock on the planet (even if it’s extra strong!). We need a variety of antioxidants to support our optimal health. Some of my favorites include astaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E, acai, black cumin seed extract, resveratrol, and OPCs.
The Magic of Magnesium: Internal Relaxation
Isn’t waking up to a leg cramp the absolute worst feeling ever? They’re so painful and so sudden. Or maybe you wake up to an excruciating headache where light makes things worse and you just need to go back to bed. Magnesium may be your new BFF.
The body needs magnesium for many reasons, one of these being that it plays a role in muscle contraction and neuromuscular transmission. Your cramping may be a sign of deficiency or perhaps some added magnesium can help alleviate those cramps. In addition, magnesium is critical for the relaxation of blood vessels which support head comfort, heart health and more! For those on the metabolic health train, magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels. It even takes part in protein, bone synthesis, over 300 enzyme systems, among almost 600 bodily processes.
The recommended daily value for adults is about 400 mg of magnesium. However, average daily intakes are much less. A study published in 2003 in the Journal of Nutrition found that most U.S. adults — especially those over the age of 30 — were receiving, on average, approximately 290 mg of magnesium daily. That study also showed that dietary intake is particularly low among women. Unfortunately, inadequate levels of magnesium have been linked to poorer concentration, memory and cognitive function and muscle discomfort. Sleep quality is associated with higher levels of magnesium and when these levels are low, sleep quality may suffer.
Like antioxidants, magnesium can be found in many of our foods: legumes, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, some dairy products and more. If looking for supplements, be sure to choose magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate, looking for 400mg. Personally, I also like one that has a bit of potassium with magnesium.
As with everything, moderation is our friend. Excess magnesium may cause diarrhea, nausea, or abdominal cramping. Extreme intakes of magnesium could cause an irregular heartbeat and even cardiac arrest. As with all supplements, check with your healthcare providers, pharmacist or trusted expert as magnesium could interfere with medications or other dietary supplements.
Fun in the Sun Might Not Be All the Vitamin D You Need
We’ve all heard it: time in the sun is the best way to get your daily dose of vitamin D. Remember, there’s often a fine line between healthy and unhealthy when it comes to the sun. It is recommended to be out in the sun with your forearms, hands, or lower legs uncovered, preferably between 11 am to 3 pm. To get what we need from the sun for our body to produce vitamin D, we need the sun to hit our exposed skin. Preferably we live closer to the equator in an area with superior air quality and more. This may explain part of why so many people are vitamin D deficient.
Surprisingly, the key to dosing up on D might not be through food. While we can eat fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese, and mushrooms, it may not be enough to support everything our bodies need. If you see foods advertised as rich in vitamin D, it’s likely it was added. For instance, most of the American milk supply is fortified with vitamin D. Same thing with most cereals, yogurts, orange juices, and more!
Since vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, heart health and immune support, we may want to look at supplements. Again, not all supplements are the same. Look for vitamin D3 with K2. D3 is the more bioavailable form of the nutrient (ready for our body to use it) and K2 supports the normal delivery of calcium to the bones and promotes healthy arteries (note this is different from vitamin K1). While many experts suggest varying doses, I take and recommend to my clients 5000IUs or 125mcg daily.
Takeaways for Taking a Supplement
Phew! That was a lot. For many, supplementation may be an important aspect of their daily health. It helps us take an active and proactive role in our overall well-being. Sure, choosing each one might require an expert and finding your perfect regimen from the best sources takes some effort (really read those labels!), but in my experience, it’s worth it!
Still, my Foundational Five are recommended to fill in the gaps where our nutrition falls short, not license to sit on the couch and only eat bon-bons! So go forth! Walk that supplement aisle. Start slow and see how it goes. Your longevity and vitality are waiting.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.