Supplements are one of the topics that people ask me about most frequently. Usually, it’s “should I be taking supplements? If so, which ones?” To this, I reply that in order to give the most accurate recommendation, a comprehensive assessment of lifestyle, diet and blood work by your doctor or nutritionist would paint the clearest picture. However, I do believe there are a handful of basic supplements that just about everyone can benefit from taking!
First, it’s important to note that getting your nutrients from food should always be the priority. Supplements can’t replace a healthy diet or cancel out a bad one.
So why supplement at all? Unfortunately, some things outside of our control may contribute to insufficient nutrient intake. For example, if you struggle with digestive issues or leaky gut, your body may have a harder time absorbing the nutrients you eat. Modern farming and supply chain practices have decreased the nutritional value of our food. This is also true for the mineral content of our water. Factors such as exercise, toxin exposure and even aging can all increase our body’s nutritional requirements. While it’s not impossible to get all the nutrition you need from food alone, utilizing supplements wisely can help cover your bases.
Below are my top picks for foundational supplements that provide a boost of critical nutrients and can help avoid common deficiencies.
Vitamin D is critical for supporting proper hormone function. The body utilizes vitamin D to synthesize our sex hormones like estrogen, testosterone and human growth hormone. Vitamin D also strengthens the immune system, fights inflammation, maintains bone strength and even has anti-cancer properties.
The best natural source of vitamin D is from the sun! One more reason why it’s important to get outside daily. Even still, getting enough of this sunshine vitamin every day can be a challenge, especially if you work indoors all day. In fact, 75-90% of us are deficient (1). You can get some vitamin D from fatty fish and a little bit from eggs, but it’s tough to get enough from food alone.
When selecting a supplement, look for Vitamin D3, also known as cholecalciferol (instead of D2), as this is the naturally occurring form and more absorbable by the body (2). Consult with your doctor for dosage needs as your age, average sun exposure, diet and current vitamin D levels will determine the best amount for you. For reference, supplemental forms of vitamin D can range from 1,000IU to 5,000IU per dosage. Another great tip, look for a vitamin D that also contains Vitamin K2 as these two nutrients act synergistically in the body. This one is a great option.
Magnesium plays a wide range of roles within the body acting as a cofactor in over 300+ enzymatic reactions (3)! Magnesium helps us stay energized, promotes muscle relaxation and mental health, prevents hypertension and increases bone density. Because of its muscle relaxing effects, magnesium can also help to relieve constipation, muscle cramping or headaches. Its function is widespread and most of us are deficient!
Some food sources of magnesium include leafy greens like spinach or kale, nuts and seeds, avocados, whole grains and dark chocolate. Increasing magnesium-rich foods in the diet is a great place to start, but supplementing can help ensure you’re getting adequate amounts.
It’s important to know that there are many different forms of magnesium with varying benefits and levels of bioavailability. Below are the three forms I recommend depending on your desired outcome.
- Magnesium threonate – Enhances overall cognitive function while still providing calming effects. Some studies even suggest it can fight or reverse cognitive decline! Great for memory, learning or symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Magnesium citrate – Great for relieving constipation and promoting relaxation. Start slowly 🙂
- Magnesium glycinate – Highly absorbable and great if you’re not specifically looking for constipation relief. This form contains glycine, a calming amino acid, making this option great for a pre-bedtime ritual promoting better sleep.
You’ve probably heard about this popular supplement, but what really is it? Fish oil is a concentrated formula of omega-3 fatty acids. More specifically, two long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids known as DHA and EPA. Getting enough of these omega-3s is important because your body can’t make them on its own. The best food sources of DHA and EPA are fatty fish like wild salmon or mackerel. Incorporating these fish into your diet multiple times a week is a great way to begin boosting your intake naturally.
DHA and EPA have been shown to:
- Reduce inflammation
- Promote cognitive function and memory
- Reduce anxiety
- Reduce joint pain
- Promote heart health
- Promote healthy hair and nails
- Strengthen the immune system
Something else to consider is your body’s ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids. A ratio of approximately 1-4:1 is optimal in the body– so between 1 and 4 omega 6s for every 1 omega 3 (4). However, typical western diets have become deficient in omega-3 and overabundant in omega-6, reflecting a ratio closer to 15:1! The problem with this is that omega-6 fatty acids, while necessary in the right amounts, can be pro-inflammatory contributing to pathogenesis and autoimmunity if consuming too many. Ratios are out of whack mainly due to high intake of processed foods and the prevalence of cheap cooking oils like soybean oil and corn oil. One more reason to consider increasing your intake of omega-3 rich foods as well as taking a high-quality fish oil supplement!
When buying a fish oil supplement, always make sure it’s third-party tested and from a reputable, trusted brand. Don’t just buy any fish oil off the CVS counter – this goes for any supplement. Some of my favorites are Nordic Naturals, Thorne or Pure Encapsulations.
If you keep any kind of pulse on health and wellness topics, you’re probably familiar with the subject of probiotics and the importance of gut health. These beneficial bacteria live in our GI tract and make digestion possible helping us to absorb nutrients and fight off pathogens. However, factors like poor diet, stress, antibiotics and oxidative stress can cause major problems for the microbiome leading to inadequate flora and gut dysbiosis. This is why providing your gut with a boost of beneficial bacteria through a probiotic supplement can help. Fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha and some yogurts can also be great dietary sources of healthy gut bacteria. Supplementation can help restore or maintain your gut microbiome, strengthening your immune system, promoting proper digestion, nutrient absorption and mental health.
Unfortunately, many probiotics on the market today are unable to withstand harsh stomach acid and lose their potency by the time they make it to your intestines. Formulas designed to withstand stomach acid and harsh environments are going to be the most effective. I opt for shelf stable options because if they have to be refrigerated chances are they will not survive in your body at a temperature of 98.6 degrees. Look for brands that are third-party tested to ensure their product claims are backed up and formulations made to withstand digestion (brands should call this out). I love this one because it’s formulated with a type of probiotic known for its ability to withstand harsher environments, it maintains its efficacy through antibiotic use and has been clinically shown to strengthen the lining of the gut. It’s typically only sold through doctors or pharmacies but you can look up retailers near you on their website or if you’re located in Austin you can purchase at People’s Pharmacy! This one by Thorne is also a great option.
Taking a probiotic is important, but it’s equally important to feed your healthy gut bacteria by eating plenty of prebiotic foods. Foods like onion, raw garlic, and bananas that are still a little green are great sources of prebiotic fiber! This is a critical step toward promoting positive gut health! A few other gut-friendly products I like are:
- Restore for strengthening your gut lining
- All products by Farmhouse Culture
- Coconut cult probiotic yogurt
I will always advocate for getting your nutrients from food as much as possible, but do believe supplements can be a useful tool! While these four supplements may be beneficial for many, everyone’s needs are unique. I recommend working with a practitioner that can help curate a supplement plan for you based on your specific needs. This is the best way to ensure safe and effective supplementation!
*Please note I am not a doctor and recommend that you consult with your doctor before taking any of the supplements mentioned above.