Updated: Oct 17, 2020
I’m always a food first person, but there are times when supplements can come in handy—not even just to fill the gaps, but to optimize your health. When the daily requirements were set, people were still dealing with conditions like scurvy (from a vitamin C deficiency) that are rare these days. Instead of full-fledged deficiencies, I more often see insufficiencies—people taking in inadequate amounts of certain nutrients. There may be reasons for this outside of your diet. Some nutrients are hard to obtain through food alone, soil depletion might impact the actual amount of nutrients in your food, and medications and common conditions can also play a role.
A supplement regimen should be highly targeted to you, but there are five supplements I recommend most often. They’re commonly considered the best supplements for health.
In full disclosure, I work with a magnesium brand, but that means I’ve learned a ton about magnesium. Up to 80% of people aren’t meeting magnesium needs for various reasons. Magnesium is found in dark leafy greens, whole grains (like quinoa and oats), beans (like chickpeas and black beans), nuts, and dark chocolate (yay!) so it isn’t hard to come by in foods, but you have to eat really well in order to meet the optimal intake levels.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 reactions in the body and I like to think of it as the relaxation mineral. It relaxes muscle tissue, so it can ease cramps, including those from PMS. It also relaxes your mind, so you deal with stress better and sleep better. Studies link magnesium to many additional benefits, like regulating heart rhythms, regulating mood (with reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms), playing a role in bone strength, and being a key player in regulating blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
If you want to take magnesium, be careful about the form you’re using. In essence, for magnesium to be available to your body, it needs a carrier to help. Common carriers include glycinate and citrate. Citrate draws water into your intestines, thereby potentially causing cramping and a laxative effect. Glycinate is gentle on your GI system and has also been shown to promote better sleep.
Read my post magnesium is one supplement you should pay attention tofor more info.
Read my post on natural ways to sleep betterfor more on that topic.
Here’s a link to OMG! Nutrition magnesium(client).
Gut health is EVERYTHING! The trillions of bacteria in your gut are collectively known as the microbiome and your microbiome is unique to you. It’s like a fingerprint. But what all healthy guts have in common is a diverse species of bacteria along with a predominance of health-promoting strains of bacteria. There’s growing evidence that this community is a key player in everything from mood regulation (1), stress regulation, weight management (2), type 2 diabetes, and cancer. That’s why I say gut health is everything!
To favorably shift your microbiome, it’s important to eat a fiber-rich diet with a variety of plant-based foods. These foods—whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, veggies, and fruits—give the bacteria raw material to feed on, which promotes diversity. It’s also a good idea to enjoy naturally probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt, kombucha, and natural sauerkraut.
A probiotic supplement may also make sense, particularly under certain situations, and it’s definitely a contender for one of the bets supplements for health. Specific strains or combinations of strains have been studied for their role in prevention of traveler’s diarrhea, treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), management of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and more. (3)
I suggest using a probiotic that’s specific to what you’re trying to address, but for a good general probiotic, you can try Nature's Way Fortify Optima. (Also be sure to check out my blog on natural remedies to ease bloating.)
Collagen is the main support structure for your skin, bones, ligaments, and tendons. Your collagen production declines as you age, and other things—including sun damage—can weaken it over time. That translates to sagging and wrinkly skin and possible joint and tendon issues.
Since collagen is a protein, all the protein that you eat will get broken down into the amino acids that form collagen. However, there seems to be some additional benefit from taking it in supplement form. Though it’s unclear exactly why, supplemental collagen seems to be really available to your body, and studies suggest it may be beneficial to protect you from tendon or joint injuries, reduce pain from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and make your skin less prone to wrinkling and other signs of aging. For these reasons, I take and often recommend a supplement—especially if you’re really active.
For a summary on collagen, read my Collagen Q&A
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because you need a little sunshine to activate your body to make it. Sounds easy enough, right? Except most of us don’t get sufficient, unexposed sun time—meaning, no sunscreen, no hats nor other protective clothing—for this process to work well. Plus, here in New York City and other northern locations, it’s especially hard to come by sufficient sunshine in the winter.
Vitamin D plays a role in regulating your immune system and it’s also a key player in bone strength. Since it’s unlikely you’re hitting your targets, it’s one of the best supplements for your health.. There’s also evidence that it’s involved in mediating the inflammatory process, which is a big driver of health problems. (4) You can get some vitamin D from salmon and egg yolks along with fortified milk, but I generally think most people could benefit from 1,000 to 2,000 IUs of supplemental vitamin D daily.
These essential fatty acids are found in oily fish, like salmon, along with certain nuts and seeds—mainly chia, hemp, and flaxseeds as well as walnuts. The fish-based fats and plant-based ones are different, but all types help lower body-wide inflammation and can also lower triglyceride levels.
Though the evidence on supplements is mixed, some researchers I’ve spoken with think it’s because studies are too short to produce outcomes. In other words, it may take YEARS before you can see whether an intervention helps reduce the risk of heart disease or another chronic concern, whereas studies might only last a year or two. Some of the most promising research suggests that omega 3 fatty acids may be helpful for certain people with anxiety and depression, perhaps because these fats are some of the key players in the brain’s mood regulating pathways.
If you’re not already consuming seafood twice a week, you might want to boost your intake. If you want to consider a supplement as well, look for one that contains a mix of fish fats, including both DHA and EPA. Nordic Naturals ProOmega 2000 meets this criteria.
As with all supplements, quality is key. You always want to buy from a reputable brand. Third-party testing is usually a good indicator of this so look for brands with an NSFor USPmarks on the package. Another indicator is good manufacturing process (GMP), which is often indicated on the label. It ensures the manufacturer is in compliance with the FDA regulations that help ensure consistency and quality.
As I started off saying, to find out the best supplements for your particular health, it’s best to look at your overall eating patterns and look at where there might be opportunities to boost your intake of a certain nutrient, depending on your current health and where you want to take it. I’m here to help make this easy and enjoyable for you, so please book a call to chat about my process and programs.
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Want to geek out on the science with me? Reference below.