Americans are now spending more than $17 billion a year on supplements for health and wellness. Many people have no idea if they should be taking something, what they should be taking, why the should taking it, or whether or not those supplements are actually doing anything for them. It’s total pill-popping confusion out there!
Many people who are perhaps taking the right basic categories of supplements, often are still not getting much out of them due to poor quality. So what’s a forward-thinking, health-minded individual, or health-minded-wanna-be to do? In this article, I hope to shed a little light on the topic so that if you’re one of the people currently experiencing “supplement overwhelm,” you can get a better idea of where to start…
The supplements that will be the most important for you will ultimately depend on your gender, your overall state of health, your typical diet and lifestyle habits, and your age. That said, there are still several foundational nutritional supplements that can be considered to be the most important and that would be highly supportive for most people when taken on a daily basis.
The Top 3 Most Important Daily Supplements
- Whole food form Multi-vitamin
- Whole food form Trace Minerals
- High quality Omega 3 Fatty Acids
High Quality, “Whole-Food” Multi-Vitamins
Most vitamins cannot be made by the body. They must be taken in as food. In an ideal world, our best sources would obviously be fresh, organic, in-season whole foods rich in vitamins and minerals. But let’s be honest, accessing and eating nothing but pristine quality whole foods can be a bit of a challenge. Your busy schedule and financial concerns may make it difficult to commit to cooking high quality organic, healthy foods as often as you know you should.
Even for those of you who are able to eat only the most pristine, natural diet, another factor involves the actual food supply itself. As a result of conventional farming methods, soil depletion, pesticides, air pollution, and erosion, the foods now grown in American soil have only a fraction of the nutrient value that they did 50 years ago. That means a fraction of the vitamins and minerals necessary for normal human cell function. Some sources say even up to 50% less!
And as if that’s not enough, the common cooking methods used in the US also deplete the nutrients in your food and seriously impair its nutritional value.
So, realizing that you cannot always obtain the organic, whole, unprocessed foods you need, and knowing how easy it is for valuable nutrients to be reduced and destroyed, you now know why I believe adding a high-quality multivitamin to complement your diet is a sound move.
Hint #1: Not all vitamins are created equal! The best vitamin supplements out there are referred to as whole-food vitamins. This means that they are created from real plant or animal sources, not synthetically manufactured in a lab.
Hint #2: If the suggested daily dose is one pill/capsule/tablet per day, odds are you’re wasting your time and money. It’s virtually impossible to get all the necessary nutrients in a high quality form from a single unit vitamin, if that’s the dose they’re recommending, you can bet they’re using cheap, synthetic forms of the vitamins.
For the complete low-down on how to choose the right high quality brand for you, check out “Are You Taking The Right Vitamin Supplements?”
High Quality Probiotics
Optimal digestion is the first critical step for your body to absorb – and thus, subsequently utilize – all vital nutrition. The act of digestion requires that your body has the proper balance of quality food, enzymes and a healthy population of beneficial microorganisms that live in your gut, known as Probiotics or “the friendly bacteria.”
Our ancestors never had to take probiotics supplements because during ancient times, these little bacteria were plentiful in the soils and we easily got what we needed from eating natural, whole foods. In today’s world, however, antibiotic drugs, chlorinated and fluoridated water, antibacterial soaps and gels, alcohol and pollutants have dramatically reduced the population of not just the dangerous microbes, but also the beneficial microbes that we rely on in order to maintain healthy digestive and immune systems.
For everything you need to know to pick out the best quality probiotics, check out Probiotics- Essential For Optimal Health.
High Quality Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids
Fat is a critical component of the membranes of every cell in your body. It also makes up 60-70% of your brain, is the precursor to many of your major hormones and is required for the proper absorption of many vitamins and minerals. The list of reasons why low-fat diets are bad and why you absolutely need healthy fats in your diet is a long one.
Obviously, fats are not all created equal. There are certain fats that are detrimental to your body and others that are essential to every cell in your body. The essential fats are literally known as “essential fatty acids (EFA’s).” Your body cannot manufacture these fats. In other words, you have to get them in our diet. The best sources of the Omega 3 Fatty Acids (EPA and DHA) are healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil and virgin coconut oil, chia and flax seeds, avacados, walnuts, and especially lots of fresh, organic wild-caught fish and grass-fed, free-range meats and eggs.
However, because most people’s diets are not as rich in these healthy fat sources as they should be and because much of what they do get get’s damaged during typical cooking methods, it’s still advisable to take a supplemental form of Omega 3’s such as a high quality fish or krill oil. Personally, I recommend Krill oil over fish oil. Krill oil is similar to fish oil but compared to fish oil, offers better absorbability, lower toxicity, and a more concentrated dose of EPA and DHA.
Other Important Nutrients
High Quality Trace Minerals
Trace minerals are the same as elements—the very same elements that grace the periodic table inside a high school chemistry text book like chromium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and so on. They are the elements that comprise the entire universe, the earth, and your very own body.
Chemical and electrical processes are occurring within your body at every moment. These processes can only function correctly if the proper balance of minerals is continually being supplied to your system. Traditionally, you’d get all the minerals you needed by eating fresh fruits and vegetables grown in nutrient-rich soil, but as I’ve already mentioned, modern farming techniques and erosion have left our soil nutritionally bankrupt.
Some sources claim that 90 percent of Americans suffer from trace mineral deficiency. If you are one of these folks—whether because of frequent exercise or stress and a diet of overly refined or nutrient-poor foods—your body will attempt inform you of the dire situation by creating food cravings, muscle cramps, and general fatigue. You might be able to find a good quality multi vitamin that also supplies adequate trace minerals, or you might need to take them separately.
See The Truth About Salt, to find out how natural sea salt (vs chemically stripped white table salt) can support healthy mineral levels.
A flood of scientific research has emerged over the last four years revealing that vitamin D is far more important than was previously thought. It is now known that Vit D deficiency can lead to cancer, osteoporosis, depression, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disorders, suppressed immune function (leading to frequent colds, Flu’s, infections, etc) and depression…and that many Americans are significantly Vit D deficient.
Currently, the U.S. RDA for vitamin D is 400 IU (international units) for the majority of the population. This dose was recommended to prevent rickets, which works well, but does nothing to give the far more important protection from cancer, heart disease and infections and still leaves most people pitifully vitamin D deficient.
The best way to optimize your vitamin D levels is through safe sun exposure. Your body has the ability to transforms sunshine into all the vitamin D it needs. You will need to carefully determine your own sunlight needs and tolerances, and learn what kind of exposure you need to tan without burning. To be very general, think exposing 40% of your skin, without sunblock, to sunlight anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours at a time, at least 3 times per week, depending on your skin type and environmental factors. Use your skin as a guide- If you have light-colored skin, you can use the color of your skin to tell you when you’ve had enough sun and it’s time to get in the shade (or cover up using a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a hat). Stay out just long enough so that your skin turns the very lightest shade of pink.
There are times, however, when seasonal or geographical factors make it nearly impossible to get enough sun and supplementation is recommended. When choosing an oral vitamin D supplement, be aware that there are two types – one is natural and one is synthetic. The natural one is D3 (cholecalciferol), which is the same vitamin D your body makes when exposed to sunshine. The synthetic one is vitamin D2, which is sometimes called ergocalciferol. Vitamin D3 is converted 500 percent faster than vitamin D2, and is clearly a better alternative.
Based on the most recent research, the current recommendation is around 35 IU’s of vitamin D per pound of body weight. That means for a child weighing 40 pounds, the recommended average dose would be 1,400 IU’s daily, and for a 170-pound adult, the dose would be nearly 6,000 IU’s. Take a dose of 35 IUs per pound of body weight of a high quality Vitamin D3 supplement per day. This ends up being between 2,000-6,000 IU for most people. Elderly and darker skinned people will need higher doses. Just remember that vitamin D requirements are highly individual, so although these recommendations may put you closer to the ballpark of what you likely need, it is simply impossible to make a blanket recommendation without blood testing.
You’ll notice that the headline of each section of this article read, “High Quality…” Folks, this is really important- don’t be fooled by very low-priced, or even by very high-priced supplements! Many supplements claim to provide great benefits at very low prices, but when you dig deeper you often find out that cheap, synthetic ingredients were used. At the other end of the spectrum, the producers of more expensive supplements try to convince you a special process or hard-to-find ingredient is needed to justify the higher cost. In my opinion, often times this is simply a marketing ploy. My best suggestion is to contact a qualified healthcare provider to recommend a formula with proven results.
This information brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Austin Acupuncturist, Melanie Irvine, L.Ac., MAOM, owner Turning Point Wellness. For more info about how Acupuncture, Oriental Medicine, and natural nutrition can help you achieve vibrant health and well-being. Feel free to visit my website, www.TurningPointAcupuncture.net for more details and direct contact information.