What are the best supplements for you? Do I really need to take the best supplements?
In an ideal world, we would not need to supplement. We’d get all we need from food—especially if we’re eating real food, fruits, veggies, meats and fish, nuts and seeds.
However, as great as real food is for us, it’s important to recognize the outside forces working against our optimal health and absorption of these nutrients in our modern lifestyles including:
- Chronic stress
- Toxic burden (both from foods, additives, environmental chemicals, hygiene/cleaning products)
- GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
- A decrease in soil diversity and health (leading to a decrease in nutrient quality)
- Poor sleep quality
- Poor water filtration (tap water)
- Less outdoor/nature exposure
- Disconnectedness with community/social relationships (a la technology)
- Sedentary lifestyles—traffic, desk jobs, screen time
- Over-use/reliance on antibiotics and other medications (damaging the gut and liver)
With multiple variables working against us in all directions, supplementation with particular vitamins and minerals is like health insurance for all the daily healthy habits that you practice.
This will help you get the most out of them. And, while you cannot out-supplement a poor diet or poor lifestyle choices, you CAN have the best supplements to compliment all the “hard work” that you already do for self-care (like eating a nutrient-dense diet, regular exercise and movement, social connectedness, outdoor exposure, organic skincare, etc.).
So what are the best supplements to choose if you want to maximize your health?
Not just any supplements—smart best supplements.
There are some general rules of thumb to consider for “smart supplementation,” including:
1. Be selective with your supplementation (Not all supplements are created equal).
2. Customize your vitamin and mineral needs for your body (not what Google or a news
headline tells you that you need).
3. Get nutrients from food whenever possible.
Here is your Guide to Smart Supplementation, with 7 things to consider when investing in your “supplemental” health insurance.
1. Not All Supplements Are Created Equal
Just because the label says “fish oil” does not mean “fish oil.” Unfortunately, just like the words “natural” and “organic” are not regulated by the FDA when it comes to food (“certified organic” is), supplements are not regulated—thus, even though it looks like fish oil and says “fish oil,” does not mean it’s fish oil. And the same goes for most all vitamins and minerals on shelves.
Many of these formulas and best supplements sound good in theory, but with long shelf lives, unknown processing practices, hot shipping conditions, and potential for rancidity (particularly fish oils), how do you know what is legit? Typically with this one, you get what you pay for. Cutting corners in the name of cheap best supplements can have long-reaching health effects. Especially, if a product contains the wrong ingredient form or potentially harmful contaminants. Or if the active ingredients aren’t absorbed properly.
There’s a reason there is a difference in a $50 probiotic compared to a $10 one.
In addition, pharmaceutical-grade best supplements—those straight from the company and/or a healthcare practitioner have a likelihood of being “more legit” than those you find from third-party sellers or on the generic supplement aisles at the grocery stores.
In a study (FDA, 2012) of 120 immune support and weight loss supplements purchased from retail stores (CVS, Walgreens, etc.) and Internet sites, the FDA found that not one supplement met criteria the that the FDA recommends for competent and reliable scientific evidence when best supplements boast claims and that the majority of supplements had not been tested on humans.
Another study (Newmaster et al, 2013) tested 44 bottles of popular supplements sold by 12 retail companies and outlets. They found that many were not what they claimed to be, and that pills labeled as popular herbs were often diluted — or replaced entirely — by cheap fillers like soybean, wheat and rice. For examples, two bottles labeled as St. John’s wort for treating mild depression, contained none of the medicinal herb. And of the 44 herbal supplements tested, one-third showed outright substitution, meaning there was no trace of the plant advertised on the bottle — only another plant in its place.
Go with a reputable company, and consult a holistic healthcare practitioner who often has a direct line to pharmaceutical-grade (much more regulated) supplement companies. Many pharmaceutical-grade companies have higher regulation and are continually researching and testing the efficacy of products, such as Thorne Research and Metagenics.
2. How is Your Digestion?
Before we even talk any more about supplementing properly, let’s first talk about your digestion—how is it? If you are not digesting your nutrients in the first place, than the best supplements you take matter very little (unless they are digestive supplements).
That said, boosting your supplement (and nutrient) power with some helpful digestive practices could be the secret sauce for getting the most out of any supplements you take, including the basics like:
- Chewing your food well, drinking water throughout the day.
- Refraining from processed and refined foods. Slowing down while you eat, eating healthy fats and foods containing fat soluble vitamins (especially Vitamin D, Vitamin K and Vitamin A).
- Reaching for organic produce and grass-fed/pastured meats as much as possible.
- Resorting first to investing in digestive best supplements, before spending money on any other supplements (that may or may not digest properly).
A quality probiotic, plus potentially some digestive enzymes, HCL (hydrochloric acid) could be the “secret” sauce for you, particularly if leaky gut, digestive distress, or other gut-related inflammation (like allergies, headaches, food sensitivities, blood sugar imbalances, etc.) are at play. Ensure your digestion is up to speed (daily bowel movements, decreased bloating/gas, etc.)
3. More is Not Necessarily Better
More always seems better right? So, more greens and more working out. Additionally, more kombucha as well as more vitamins and minerals. But it’s not always the case. When we take more than we need—of any best supplements for too long toxicity can happen (overload), and have the opposite effects we originally intended in the first place.
The alternative? Maintenance supplementation—using best supplements generally as a baseline and extra little booster to the foods you do eat. Maintenance supplementation involves supplementing with selected micronutrients that are difficult to obtain even in the context of your nutrient-dense whole-foods diet. Best supplements in this category are generally taken in small doses, indefinitely and vary from person to person, depending on your body’s needs.
For instance, I take a daily B-Vitamin Complex, Cod Liver Oil and Zinc supplement because of my history of being low in the nutrients these supplements provide as well as noting a significant difference in how I feel when I take them (way better).
All this said, there IS such thing as therapeutic supplementation—a short-term dosing of supplements to help boost any deficiencies you may have—often times in “therapeutic dose,” or higher amount.
For example, you might take a round of “anti-microbial” (gut killing) supplements for a solid 30-60 days if you’ve been diagnosed with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Also, you might kick up your vitamin C a notch if you feel a cold coming on. A healthcare practitioner can help guide you in therapeutic supplementation.
4. Multi-Vitamins Aren’t All They Are Cracked Up to Be
Taking a multi? You may want to think twice. The problem with multivitamins is that they often contain too little of beneficial nutrients (like magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K2). Too much of potentially toxic nutrients like folic acid, calcium, iron, and vitamin E. This means that multivitamins can cause nutrient imbalances that contribute to disease.
Research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (2013) found that multivitamins were ineffective in preventing cancer, cognitive decline and other claims multi-vitamins had been known to make. And another review in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that evaluated more than 68 trials with 230,000 participants, found that treatment with synthetic vitamins (i.e. fake, cheap vitamins) often found in multivitamins (such as beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E) may actually increase the risk of death.
The consensus on taking a multi-vitamin? Save your money, and instead, reach for the actual single vitamins and minerals that you DO need.
So how do you know what vitamins or minerals you really do need in the first place—and is it even worth it? Vitamin and mineral supplementation CAN be tremendously beneficial. Particularly, given the lack of nutrient-density in much of our modern-day food supply and overburden of outside toxins—given you do invest in quality supplements; you lack certain micro-nutrients in your diet; and you are taking the right supplements for your body.
Interestingly, it is always advised, for starters, you work with a knowledgeable healthcare provider—such as a nutritionist or functional medicine practitioner—who can help you navigate what your body needs. However, simply being in touch with your body can point you in a good direction.
Here are common signs and symptoms, and the minerals and vitamins most often associated with them:
- Craving chocolate often?—Magnesium (Topical Oil, Natural Calm, Greens, Raw Nuts/Seeds, Raw Cacao)
- Neeeeeed Coffee or Caffeine?—Amino Acids (Tyrosine, DLPA), Sodium (Sea Salt), Phosphorus (pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, lentils)
- White Spots on Fingernails? Zinc deficiency
- Fatigue, Muscle Aches or Weakness?—Vitamin D , Iron (grass-fed red meat, organ meat, shellfish, canned sardines, broccoli, kale, spinach, *never supplement with iron unless you are extremely low)
- Low Energy, Anxiety, and/or Anemia—Vitamin B-12
- Skin Breakouts, Acne, Inflammation– Omega 3, Digestive Enzymes
- Dry Skin, Wrinkles—Biotin, Sulfur (egg yolks, meat, poultry, and fish, garlic, onions, brussels sprouts, asparagus, kale, sauerkraut).
- Thyroid Imbalances (enlarged thyroid), Shortness of Breath, Weight Gain/Weight Plateaus—Iodine (iodized salt, plain yogurt, fish, seaweed, pastured eggs)
- Suppressed Immunity (frequently sick)—Vitamin A (Cod Liver Oil), Omega 3’s, ProbioticsConstipation- Zinc, B-12
6. Test, Don’t Guess
In addition, to observation and checking in with yourself (signs and symptoms), testing—(both lab and functional evaluations) conducted by a nutritionist, functional medicine practitioner or other healthcare provider can help take the guesswork out of “what to take.”
Instead of supplementing with a cocktail of nutrients you think you do need, get some blood work, or other necessary clinical labs run to address other imbalances (such as gut-health or hormone needs) in order to determine a no-nonsense nutritional therapy supplement protocol to help bolster your bod back to it’s happy place.
7. The Bottom Line: Get as Many Nutrients from Food As Possible
Best supplements can be great, but nothing beats real food. Aim for food and nutrient density (fresh organic produce, pastured and grass-fed meats, organic organ meats, wild caught fish and seafood, quality fats—avocados, coconut oil, ghee, pastured butter, fermented foods) and variety to get the diversity of minerals and vitamins you need.
Sure chicken, broccoli and sweet potatoes are healthy, but when we eat the same foods day in and day out, are we truly being healthy?—Getting the diversity of health-giving nutrients our body desires?
In addition, Whole foods are more effective than supplements in meeting nutrient needs.
For example, cancer-fighting antioxidant-rich berries, spinach and broccoli. These are tremendously more effective than any synthesized supplemental form of Vitamins and Minerals we could take. Or a balanced plate at meal times throughout the day. This is consist of proteins, veggies and healthy fats. This balanced plate can provide a pure amount of vitamins and minerals you may try to get in your multi-vitamin.
Ultimately, aim to get the majority of your nutrients from food as possible. Use supplementation wisely to help re-calibrate the body when deficiency is warranted.