There are a myriad of supplement options on the market making it very difficult to determine which to take, in what dose and for how long. Furthermore, as supplements are not regulated by any agency (including the FDA), there are plenty of companies out there with flashy marketing that are more interested in making a buck than investing in your long term health. Some supplement companies can offer their wares at lower prices because they get their ingredients from lower quality sources and may include contaminants such as lead, mercury, cadmium or be unsustainable for the environment.
Assuming you have found a good source for your vitamins, what should you be taking as a healthy individual? Isn’t it true that a healthy diet will provide everything you need? The short answer is probably not. Many studies have been completed showing that the average American is not getting adequate amounts of certain nutrients and while every individual is different there are some supplements to your diet that you should be considering:
**Be aware: this article should not be construed as medical advice. Talk with your health care provider about the use of supplements for your specific health concerns.**
Magnesium: It is estimated that ~50% of adults are not getting enough Magnesium in their diets. Considering that Magnesium is involved in more than 700 metabolic reactions in the body, helps us deal with stress, aids in activation of Vitamin D and promotes immune function, this is a big deal. Additionally it has been shown that the calcium to magnesium ratio in food has been going in the wrong direction as people rely more on processed options, and this trend correlates with the rise of health issues such as Diabetes. There are many different forms of Magnesium on the market which can be important because some of them are not absorbed well (in fact MDs will give Magnesium salts prior to a colonoscopy to clean out the gut!). Typically Magnesium Malate, Glycinate or Citrate are shown to be the most effectively absorbed.
Vitamin D: This is a tricky one for us in the PNW because Vitamin D must be converted from precursor molecules in our skin by sunlight before the liver and kidneys help convert it to its active form. Because it is fat soluble we can store it for the winter, but we often do not get enough direct sunlight during the warmer months this far north of the equator to accomplish this. Check out this chart to see some of the issues of vitamin D synthesis in our northern climes. A daily dose of sunlight that turns the skin red but does not burn is what is required (typically 10-15 mins) and obviously the more skin exposed the more is made. Vitamin D is essential in immune function, calcium absorption (strong bones) and proper muscle function. Low levels have been implicated in such varying medical conditions as: depression, peripheral neuropathies, autism, dementia, brain or heart issues and others. With all fat soluble vitamins one should be careful not to take too much so please get this tested before beginning a regimen!
Multi Vitamin: Even with the best diet there are often things missing and a good multivitamin can help to fill in the gaps. A good multi will provide good sources of vitamins like B’s, C, minerals like selenium and zinc and other nutrients not always found in large enough amounts in a typical diet and often in more absorbable forms. Because this is typically a long term supplement there are some considerations for safety that everyone should be aware of. Choose a multivitamin that does not have iron or copper, if you need these nutrients your doctor can help you figure it out and you can get them in another form. Choose a high quality supplement recommended by your healthcare provider, not the cheapest one on the market. It is best to think about this type of supplement like food, because the high quality ones are. The body breaks down and uses the nutrients to perform essential daily functions. Lower quality supplements will have cheaper, often less absorbable forms, ratios of nutrients that are not optimal and have contaminants that can harm health.
Omega 3 Oil: Traditionally our diets had a good ratio of about 1:1 of omega 6 and omega 3 oils. In today’s world of processed foods that ratio has shifted to be 25:1 on average. When you consider that omega 6 oils are found in foods like corn, soy and vegetable oils it is easy to see why people are getting so much. Omega 6 rich foods make up a large portion of the average American diet and they are inflammatory leading to all sorts of health concerns. The ideal situation would be to cut the omega 6 oils in your diet down and increase healthy omegas from nuts, fish and avocados, but we often need a boost. Fish is the best source for these oils though a very limited amount can be converted from flax, a common approach for vegans. Fish oil can be helpful in treating a number of conditions from depression, lowering cholesterol (especially LDL and triglyceride numbers), lower inflammation, fighting dementia, osteoarthritis and pain from sciatica. Fish oil can be taken in capsule form or as a liquid. Locally Barleans’ produces some great options for fish oil that is high quality and sustainably sourced.
Vitamin K: K vitamins come mainly from animal products and dairy and even people that eat those foods may have trouble getting adequate amounts of certain K vitamins. There are actually 3 forms of vitamin K labeled K1, K2 and K3. K3 is a synthetic form and will not be discussed here. K1 is essential for blood coagulation and is processed in the liver while K2 is essential for helping calcium get processed into bones making them stronger as well as keeping calcium out of places it is not wanted, like arteries, joints and soft tissues. More healthcare providers are recognizing vitamin K as an essential part of bone health along with its benefits in blood sugar balance, cardiovascular support and protection against free radicals in the brain.
A summary you say? Likely even with a careful diet most people are not getting all their essential nutrients from their diets. Considering that humans love to cheat here and there and we tend to have a better outlook on our diets than reality allows it is a good idea to fill in the gaps with some daily vitamins. Supplement companies are not regulated so you are at the mercy of the company making the pills you intend to put in your body, so choose wisely! Doses of daily supplements are something you should discuss with your healthcare provider as this varies person to person and there are lab tests, like Spectracell’s Micronutrient Test which can help you determine what is right for you.