Do I need supplements to feel better now, be healthier and live longer? Are they a waste of money? Can I get all of the nutrients I need from the food I eat? If I do need them, where on earth would I start? These are common and fair questions. Ones that send us searching hours upon hours looking for answers. And often times we are left just as confused as when we started the search. Here are the simple answers.
“I want to live a life full of energy, mobility and with a clear mind. I want to move through this life and experience it to the full. Enjoy my days and the people around me.”
I think this is a fair assumption for most of us.
And, it is commonly known, a key component in keeping our bodies at their optimal capacity is found in the foods we consume. Some believe if we eat the “right” foods our bodies receive everything they need for optimal health.
Research is proving different.
I was eating all the “right” foods and still found myself low in energy, with muscle and joint pain, brain fog, weight gain at one point, among other ailments. I was confused and set out to understand why.
This article is the cumulation of my likely hundreds of hours of research and self trials. This is the information I found to resound across numerous of the top trusted Functional Medicine Doctors—what they commonly agree as definitive, what science seems to support. And what I have found works for me. The supplements we should all be taking every day and why.
Do we need Supplements?
The short answer is yes. Research has consistently shown we need supplements to our food—even when we are eating the best possible diets.
Some argue we should be getting all we need from our food and do not need additional supplements. Research, however, begs to differ. Primarily due to the way our foods are grown and processed today, plus the environmental stressors to our bodies in this modern world. Supplements should be viewed as essential concentrated sources of food nutrients.
It was once commonly agreed in the medical community that if one ate the “right” diet they would not need supplementation and in fact could see adverse effects such as toxicity from supplements.
That train of thought has seen a shift over the last several years as more and more research has shown the opposite. Research is showing the majority of us are deficient in several key vitamins and minerals. Key nutrients that are crucial to our bodies performing at their best and staying healthy.
Why are we Nutrient Depleted or Deficient?
The foods we eat today are not as nutrient rich as those our ancestors might have consumed. This is due in large part to our farming and production practices. Plus our increased intake of processed foods which are devoid of vitamins and minerals and high in sugar which require even more nutrients to process them.
Today a prevalence of farms are over-farmed and the practices of crop rotation have declined. There has also been an increase in pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
These changes in practice are due in part to the shift in how we source our foods. Typically there is a larger demand as less and less people grow their own foods and thus a higher demand on the producing farms. As a result, the nutrient levels of the soil is depleted and thus the food product itself, by way of obtaining their nutrients from the soil.
Another contributing factor is the transportation of foods. Research has shown vegetables start to diminish their nutrient content within 1-3 days of picking. Given today’s growing and transporting practices, a food item can travel 1,500 miles to reach the stores. Just the sheer timing starts the degradation. On the bright side, today’s packing, storing and transportation practices do help to offset the effects to some degree.
Another caveat to nutrient depletion as mentioned above is the large amount of processed foods being consumed on a daily basis. These foods have been stripped of their nutrient content or contain none and can require even more nutrients to process them in our bodies.
This brings us full circle back to supplements. These should be viewed as just that, a whole food “supplement.” Whole foods in their concentrated states in a sense to add to our plates for optimal health.
How to Choose Supplements
We’ve established the need for supplements to our diet. And there is no denying it is a huge market with an overwhelming offering available. This is where it becomes quite confusing.
It is important to know that not all supplements are created equal. It is also crucial to remember you do not need every supplement on the shelf.
Look at the labels and the ingredients. There are numerous companies producing supplements with added and even harmful ingredients. Look at these labels as you would any food label and aim for a supplement that contains little to no additives, colors, fillers, etc (there will be some additives to make the casing and even these can be produced in a more healthful way).
Look to the company practices. There are myriad supplements on the market produced with the lowest quality vitamins and minerals and even varying sources. Take Folate for example. Many companies provide the cheaper “folic acid” which can actually be harmful instead of the needed folate. It is important to look for companies with the highest production standards just as you would your foods.
Narrow your choices down to the essentials of what you actually need.
When in doubt, skip it. If you are unsure if you need something skip it.
Read labels and compare daily values. In addition to the ingredients and forms of the vitamins and minerals included look to the daily values included. Just because Vitamin C or D3 may be good for you, it is good in a certain quantity. Taking a multi plus additional sources may be too much depending on your needs and the supplements in questions. Know the recommended values and monitor your intake. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing.
Be familiar with supplement interactions. If you are currently taking any medications be familiar with any possible interactions from supplements. For example, someone on blood thinners would not want to add in vitamin k. Always consult your physician if taking medications.
Supplements We Should All Be Taking Everyday
Across the board there are several supplements nearly all of the top Functional Medicine Doctors recommend. After comparing the lists from several, these are the recommendations I found commonly recommended that every one (nearly) should be taking. This is a great place to start with your supplementation routine.
The key in choosing your supplements is quality. Equally as important to what is in them is what is not. Again, this list is from a consensus I found across top Functional Medicine Practitioners that broadly speak to what most everyone needs. I am not, however, a medical doctor or a dietician, and advise you to check with your doctor before making any changes in your medicines or supplements. This is not intended as medical advice, but a sharing of the information I have found and what is working for me.
These are the top supplements I have found recommended and the links take you to the actual brand I am using based on my research.
1. Whole Foods
First, get the majority of your nutrients from your food. It is imperative to keep in mind adding supplements to your diet is not intended to take the place of a good diet. We should always look to first provide our bodies with a well balanced diet consisting of primarily whole foods, healthy fats and organic, grass-fed or will-sourced protein sources.
2. Vitamin D3
This is a critical and perhaps the most important supplement we should all be adding to our routine. In fact, studies show up to 80% of Americans are deficient in this critical vitamin. Yet, most do not take this seriously.
Vitamin D3 acts more like a hormone than a vitamin by regulating hundreds of pathways in the body. And it is needed by every single cell to function properly. I began to see results such as increased energy and elimination of muscle and joint pain almost immediately after beginning my supplementation of Vitamin D3.
Make sure you are supplementing with D3 as this is the form most needed and utilized in the body. Recommendations show between 2,000 and 6,000 IU of vitamin D are needed each day. As this is a fat soluable vitamin it is a good idea to take with a fatty meal in the morning (good, healthy fats that hopefully you are already adding to each meal).
Vitamin D3 is reported to have these benefits:
Assists in calcium formation and bone formation
Improves immune function
Boosts brain power
Enhances physical performance
3. A high-quality, high-potency Multi Vitamin
Look for a quality, high-potency multi-vitamin. And, remember you get what you pay for. You want high quality and the right forms and mixes of the essential vitamins and minerals. The right multi-vitamin will provide you the essentials and make it unnecessary, unless directed by a doctor, to supplement with additional sources of many items (such as your Bs, E, C, selenium, alpha lipoid acid (300-600 mg), chromium (200-600 mcg), biotin (2-4 mg). The other supplements included on this list are ones typically recommended in greater quantities than found in the multi.
A critical mineral needed in over 300 processes in the body and contained in every cell. Often under appreciated, as with Vitamin D3, and one nearly 80% of people are also deficient in.
It is needed for:
Energy Creation (ATP)
Syntheses of DNA/RNA
Muscle & Nervous system function
Blood glucose control
Blood pressure regulation
It has been shown to be helpful with:
There are multiple forms of Magnesium, look for magnesium glycinate (if you tend to be constipated, you can instead use magnesium citrate). Other forms readily found in supplements are the cheapest forms and not as well absorbed. Diarrhea is a sign you are getting too much magnesium—if this occurs reduce your dose.
200 - 400 mg of magnesium per day is recommended. Start low and then increase. It is often recommended to take magnesium at night before bed as it aids in better sleep.
Omega-3s are one of the most widely researched nutrients and have been shown to be critical to our health. Omega-3 is a healthy fat and is essential for optimal brain health.
It also helps with
fights auto-immune diseases
good for your skin
aids cognitive function
There are different forms of Omega-3 (EPA & DHA) and it is recommended we should be getting 2,000 to 4,000 mg of Omega-3 fats in a ratio of approximately 300/200 mg of EPA/ DHA. Be sure to check the ratios in any Omega-3 supplement.
Inflammation is at the root of many of the diseases and ailments we face today, including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer's and various degenerative conditions.
Curcumin is the active component in Turmeric, a natural powerful anti-inflammatory. Studies show it even matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs, without side effects; is a powerful antioxidant, helps fight cancer and improves heart health, and helps fight depression.
More and more studies are showing the link between our gut and our overall health, indicating many of the diseases we face begin in our gut. It is reported that the more diverse our microbiome—the trillions of live bacteria in our gut and on our skin, essentially all through our body—the better our health.
Our gut alone contains 100 trillion bacteria and it’s health is directly linked to myriad health concerns including our overall immune function. Our gut is also known as our “2nd brain” as 95% of our happy neurotransmitter serotonin is made and stored in our gut—and the gut is directly tied to the brain through the vagus nerve.
Proper gut health can also help:
Other digestive disorders
Cue the probiotics (live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you). The aim is to help balance “bad” bacteria with “good” bacteria in the gut. When choosing a probiotic look for ones with strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, as these have been shown to reduce inflammation.
Collagen is a protein that makes up about 75% of the dry weight of our skin and has essential amino acids needed to maintain and repair our tendons, joints and bones and improve our hair, skin and nails. As we age, we tend to break collagen down much faster than we can replace it. This is what makes a collagen supplement so attractive. An easy way to add this to your diet is in powder form (add to smoothies, coffee, or any other liquid). Look for a collagen protein that derives their collagen from grass-fed, pasture raised sources. I add mine to my Superfood Smoothie each morning and sometimes to a hot water cocktail with lemon that I sip in place of a tea or coffee in the afternoon.
This blue-green algae, commonly used in a powder form, is the superfood of the sea. It is packed with protein, Vitamins B1, 2, 3, Copper, Iron as well as magnesium, potassium and manganese and has many beneficial qualities.
Studies have shown it to be:
Lower “bad” LDL & Triglycerides
Fights certain cancers
Reduce blood pressure
Lower blood sugar
Boosts Immune System
Increases endurance & muscle strength
When choosing a Spirulina supplement make sure to look for a product that is organic, non-GMO, gluten-free and where Spirulina is the only ingredient. It is also beneficial to source from a company providing 3rd party verification and/or sources to where their Spirulina is grown and sourced.
Just 1 tablespoon of this power food packs a hefty health punch. I like to add mine to my Superfood Smoothie each morning.