Let’s talk about your supplement shelves. Are they overflowing with half-empty bottles of forgotten weight loss or immune-boosting regimens? How do you know if the vitamins, minerals, herbs, essential oils, and other elixirs you’re using are benefiting your body and well-being? This article will help you choose the best supplements to meet your basic nutritional needs in areas your environment or diet may be lacking.
Are Supplements Necessary To Be Healthy?
If you’re not especially sensitive, it’s hard to know if the money you’ve spent on supplements is having a positive impact on your well-being. More importantly, are they safe? And what’s the difference between a five dollar bottle of vitamin C and a fifty-dollar bottle?
The supplement game is overwhelming. The options are endless. And the outcomes are rarely objectively assessed by a practitioner who tests your nutrient levels with labs and makes modifications when necessary.
Still, more than half of all Americans take one or more daily supplements to get all of their essential nutrients, accelerate their healing, or to prevent illness. But the truth is…not everyone needs supplements. In fact, taking too many supplements or the wrong supplements can be more harmful than helpful to homeostasis (your body’s ability to maintain a stable internal environment).
When Are Supplements Bad For You (And Your Wallet)?
You might be wondering how supplements could be bad for you. While some people have nutrient insufficiencies, few actually have true deficiencies. Adding too many or the wrong kind of vitamins and minerals through supplementation when you aren’t sick or trying to heal from a chronic illness can do more harm than good.
To begin, taking supplements all the time can ignite the immune system. And you don’t want to ignite your immune system unless there’s an impending threat from a virus, bacteria, or other infection. Constant activation can cause low-level chronic inflammation that leads to immune system dysregulation and more serious health problems like autoimmune disease, a condition where your immune system attacks your body’s healthy cells.
Add to that the fact that excessive intake of certain nutrients can cause them to build up in your system, causing toxicity. This is especially true for fat-soluble vitamins that are stored in fat tissue and the liver. Vitamin A, for example, shuts down the body’s adaptive immune response, allowing infections in that you’d normally have immunity to. Vitamins D, E, and K are other fat-soluble vitamins that can create problems when taken in large doses or long term.
Finally, you might be wasting your money by taking certain supplements if your body is not deficient. This is the case with water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B. Because your body has a limit of how much of these vitamins it can absorb at one time, any excess will be excreted through your urine, meaning you’re literally flushing money down the drain if you’re over-supplementing.
When Should You Take Supplements?
Eating a healthy diet is the number one thing you can do to ensure adequate intake of vitamins and minerals. Supplements cannot replace a well-balanced variety of foods that provide essential nutrients. Using food as medicine is the best thing you can do to meet your body’s basic nutritional needs while preventing disease and promoting healing.
With that said, nutrient insufficiencies or deficiencies can happen as a result of poor diet and lifestyle choices or because of environmental factors such as toxins and stress. Even a whole food, organic, non-GMO, superfood diet can miss the mark of supplying your body with what it needs to thrive. If you can’t meet your basic needs through your diet, supplementation with vitamins, minerals, and botanicals may be necessary.
The safest and most effective way to know if you’re getting enough essential nutrients is to work with a certified practitioner who relies on objective laboratory tests to check your levels before and during supplementation. If you think you might be lacking vital nutrients but aren’t sure if an appointment is necessary, look for these common signs of nutrient insufficiencies and deficiencies:
Lack of energy, weakness, exhaustion
Dry/brittle hair and nails, hair loss, nail dips or ridges
Constipation or other digestive problems
Bleeding gums, cracking at corners of mouth, swollen tongue
Excessive bruising or bleeding
Anxiety, depression, memory or mood issues
Weak immune system
If you’re experiencing these symptoms or are fighting chronic or acute illness, it’s time to visit your doctor or other trusted healthcare provider to discuss supplementation.
What Are the Best Supplements to Meet Your Basic Needs?
There is no one-size-fits-all supplement regimen that’ll work for all people. Instead, adding a few key vitamin or mineral supplements depending on your symptoms, lifestyle, environment, or current healthcare situation is the best approach. Here are four of the most common supplements used to meet basic nutritional requirements.
1. VITAMIN D: Your body produces vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. If you’re not getting enough daily sunlight or your diet doesn’t contain enough food high in vitamin D, this may be one of the best supplements for you. Older adults, people of color, people who are obese, and those with conditions that restrict fat absorption such as cystic fibrosis or Celiac disease are also at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Monitoring by a physician to make sure your vitamin D levels are not over the recommended levels is important due to the threat of vitamin D toxicity, which can cause decreased appetite, vomiting, nausea, constipation, weakness, and weight loss and take months to remedy. Blood work is the best place to start, but you can also incorporate these vitamin D-rich foods into your diet if you’re worried your vitamin D levels are low:
Wild-caught salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, halibut, tuna, and cod liver oil
Egg yolks from pasture-raised chickens
Wild cremini mushrooms
Fortified foods such as cow or plant-based milks, breakfast cereal, orange juice, and yogurt
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, which keeps your bones strong and healthy. It also plays a role in neuromuscular health, as nerves need it to communicate between the brain and body so your muscles can move. And the immune system requires vitamin D to fight off infection. By supplementing with vitamin D, you’re protecting yourself against:
Higher cancer risks
Higher blood pressure
Higher cholesterol levels
Decreased calcium absorption
Higher risk of bone loss
Decreased immune function
If blood tests reveal your vitamin D levels are low, your provider may suggest a vitamin D supplement or a multivitamin that provides the recommended daily value of vitamin D plus other essential vitamins and minerals you might be lacking. As with all supplements, start slow, watching for adverse effects.
2. ENZYMES: Glands from your mouth to your digestive tract secrete small proteins called enzymes to break down food into absorbable micro- and macronutrients that are used to fuel your body. When these glands are damaged or can’t produce enough enzymes to keep up with a diet of processed or sugary foods, you might be plagued with digestive problems such as constipation, gas, bloating, reflux, and undigested food in your stool.
Approach poor digestion with a food as medicine approach by adding fresh fruits and vegetables that contain natural digestive enzymes, especially papaya, mangos, bananas, and avocados. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha are helpful as is raw honey. If your digestion doesn’t pick up after enhancing your diet or you don’t have access to quality produce, it may be best to take digestive enzyme supplements.
Look for a supplement that has a full spectrum of enzymes such as our Digestive Enzymes, a formulation of eight natural digestive enzymes that breaks down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. A digestive enzyme supplement shouldn’t be taken forever. Your provider can order a stool test to detect digestive efficiency. Once your body has restored its ability to produce enough enzymes naturally, you can take the supplement only when needed...after a special dinner out where you might overindulge, for example.
3. PROBIOTICS: Another factor contributing to healthy digestion is a balanced gut microbiome, the blend of good and bad bacteria, other microorganisms, and human cells in the intestines. If harmful bacteria take over and your gut flora becomes imbalanced, you may experience these symptoms:
Unwanted weight loss or gain
Skin rash or irritation
Fatigue or insomnia
Bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or heartburn
In the case of these symptoms or more serious illness such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), obesity, or diabetes, probiotics (living good bacteria) can restore balance, aiding proper digestion as well as immune and brain health.
Again, the best place to get probiotics is from food. Choose foods rich in one or more probiotics, including the most common: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces boulardii. Consistency is key in order to maintain probiotics in your gut microbiome, so eat some of these foods daily:
If you can’t get all the probiotics you need from your food, you can supplement with a probiotic containing 1 billion colony forming units (CFUs) or more. Remember, consistency is key. Meet with your healthcare provider to determine the best probiotic for your body, and take it daily for optimal health.
4. OMEGA-3 Fatty Acids: Environment has more of an effect on meeting basic nutritional needs than you might think. If you don’t live close to the ocean or don’t have access to fresh fish, you may be missing out on the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. There are three essential omega-3 fatty acids your body needs for proper function:
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Omega-3s help regulate inflammation in the immune system and play an important role in brain and cardiovascular health. They’re found in the membranes of every cell of your body with DHA being especially high in sperm, brain, and eye cells. But it can be difficult to get enough omega-3s. To elevate your omega-3 intake, begin with the following foods:
Green, leafy vegetables
Flaxseed (ground or oil)
These cold-water fish are a great source of omega-3 fats, but the mercury levels and other chemicals in fish meat continue to rise, often reaching toxic levels that are unsafe for regular consumption. That’s why fish oil supplements may be the safer solution, as most of the toxins are removed when the oil is processed out of the fish. In addition to fish oil, you can supplement omega-3s from cod liver oil, krill oil, or vegetarian products made of algae oil.
What Should You Look For When Buying Supplements?
If you’ve walked the supplement aisle of your local health food store lately, you know these four supplements only scratch the surface of what’s available. For most people, though, adding vitamin D, enzymes, probiotics, and omega-3s is a safe start to supplementation. Again, please talk to your doctor before beginning any new supplements.
Now, if you are adding these or any other supplements to your health and wellness routine, you’re probably wondering what to look for when buying vitamins and minerals. A good rule is to focus on quality over quantity. Sure, you can pick up 1000 vitamin D tablets for $10, but they will probably be low-quality and may be more harmful than beneficial if they contain fillers, additives, and preservatives such as these:
Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)
Reputable companies will list all active and inactive ingredients. Be sure to thoroughly read supplement labels and only buy from those who transparently label. Since supplements aren’t regulated with the same standards as prescription drugs, look for these indicators of quality and purity:
100% all-natural ingredients
If you’re just getting started, ask your doctor to recommend trusted supplement brands. Or try the TruColors line of natural supplements. Our family-owned, physician-founded clinic in Boulder, CO is one of the leading suppliers of high-quality supplements, essential oils, and personal care products available to consumers.
If you’re in Boulder County, Colorado, you can book an appointment at our alternative healthcare center to discuss supplementation. Our physicians use a combination of blood work and FDA-approved biofield scanning technology to assess nutrient deficiencies and recommend specific supplements to bring your body back into balance. We also offer intravenous (IV) vitamin therapy to treat chronic illness and address extreme deficiencies. We look forward to hearing from you.