This is a question that I get asked a lot! The answer, of course, is not a simple one. In Nutritional Therapy, we like to use food first whenever possible. (See my post “10 Ways to Sneak Nutrients into Your Diet Without Taking a Pill” for ideas. I also have an ebook in my resource library with even more ideas!) However, for a variety of reasons that are covered below, sometimes food isn’t enough.
As with everything regarding nutrition, you must take into account bio-individuality when considering supplementation. What is bio-individuality? It is the idea that each body is unique and has unique needs. Let’s take a look of some of the ways our needs may be different.
Bio-individuality in Supplements:
- Nutrient Deficiencies: It is a rare person who is not born with multiple nutrient deficiencies in this day and age, but these deficiencies will vary from person to person. Seeing a nutritional professional can help you determine which nutrients you are deficient in and then you can use supplements as well as dietary changes to restore those deficiencies.
- Food sensitivities: Many people have multiple, low-level food sensitivities that they are unaware of. Finding out what foods you are sensitive to can be very helpful before starting supplementation. Since your supplements should be made of whole foods (more on that below), you want to be sure you are not taking something that will exacerbate your inflammation and lead to intestinal permeability. To do this, see your nutritional professional or a functional doctor to get a MRT Food sensitivity test.
- Level of activity: An competitive athlete will have very different nutrient needs than a so-called “couch potato”.
- Season: Nutrients like vitamin D are easy to get through responsible sun exposure in the summer, but are nearly impossible to get here in the PNW from September to March. So, depending on your geographical location and the season, you may need to supplement this nutrient in the fall and winter months.
- Known gaps in the diet: Certain groups, like vegans and vegetarians, will absolutely need to supplement because they cannot get everything they need from their diet.
What to Look for and Avoid in Supplements:
- Whole Food Supplements: When choosing a supplement, you want to be sure that they are made from “whole foods” and that they are not synthetic. Synthetic vitamins are not absorbed well, meaning that they don’t do what you are intending them to do. Even worse the body views synthetic vitamins as toxins. Since the liver is taxed with the job of breaking down toxins for elimination from the body, this gives a lot more work. The liver has so many jobs to do, it is best not to give it more!
- Quality: When choosing supplements (as with anything that you put in or on your body), quality counts! This is not the place to skimp. Choose professional grade supplements that come from a reputable manufacturer. Now, I love Amazon, but I rarely buy supplements from there. Amazon clearly warns that some of the professional grade supplements sold on their site may be counterfeit. See this article, “Amazon warns Customers: Those supplements might be fake.” for more information. Aside from the fact that those supplements might be fake, they may actually be real but have been stored improperly. Sometimes buyers get their hands on a large amount of professional grade supplements and then store them themselves. If they choose to store them in a storage unit in the midwest that is exposed to high heat and freezing cold, your supplement might have lost potency at best or be rancid at worst.
- Food Sensitivities: Be sure to check the ingredient list of your supplements to be sure they do not contain anything you are sensitive to. The best brands generally state on the label both what is in their supplements and what is NOT in their supplements.
- Avoid enriched foods: Do not try to get vitamins through enriched foods. In fact, avoid enriched foods completely. They are fortified with toxic synthetic vitamins, one of which is Folic Acid. This synthetic vitamin should be avoided by everyone, but especially those with the MTHFR gene. Check out this article from Chris Kresser that explains why to avoid folic acid and why there is so much confusion about folic Acid vs folate (which you do want to get).
When to take (or give) Supplements:
As stated above, this will very much depend on the person.
If you find out you have a nutrient deficiency, you will most likely need to supplement to correct it. It is often hard to do this through diet alone. This should be temporary in most cases.
Reasons why you may be deficient in nutrients:
It is a rare person who is not born with multiple nutrient deficiencies in this day and age and there are many things in our modern way of life that cause or exacerbate nutrient deficiencies.
- soil depletion
- over-consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates
- digestive dysfunction
Some supplements I believe are good to take all the time. An example would be taking a methylated b-complex. This is so helpful for energy and hormone health and they are water soluble, meaning that you have to replace them daily. Even if you are eating the optimal diet, which most of us aren’t, it can be hard to hit the mark with all the Bs. The b vitamins are crucial in regulating hormone health and women’s cycles.
Everything from moods, to weight, to skin, to immunity and autoimmunity, to cognitive function and more is connected to the health of your microbiome. To keep your microbiome balanced, you should take a spore based probiotic. For transient probiotics, you can eat fermented foods and drink fermented beverages, and/or take a high quality probiotic with transient strains. More on this below in my favorite brands. I have a post on how to protect your microbiome, if you would like more information on taking care of your microbiome.
For various reasons including the Standard American Diet (SAD), stress, and more, most people have some level of digestive dysfunction going on. They may not be making enough hydrochloric acid, leading to carbohydrates fermenting and fats rancidifying in the gut, they may not be releasing enough pancreatic enzymes because they have been taxing the liver with too much sugar and refined carbs, they may have a “gunked up” gallbladder from consuming hydrogenated fats and/or vegetable oils, or poor gallbladder function from following the “low fat” craze. When any or all of this occurs, digestive support is needed. You aren’t what you eat, you are what you absorb! See a nutritional professional, a functional doc, or an integrative doc for to assess your digestive function.
The Supplements I Regularly Take:
- Vtamin D3 with K2 (Seasonally from Sept-March) I use a liquid version from Biotics called ADEK Emulsion)
- Methylated B-complex with no folic acid (you want folate or a methylated version of folate. I use Priority One B-Complex)
- Multi-strain Spore Probiotic ( I use and love MegaSpore.)
- Vitamin C with Bioflavanoids ( I do Paleo Valley Essential C Complex)
- Paleo Valley Organ Complex ( I do this because I don’t get enough organ meat in my diet.)
- Cod liver and fish oil (I rotate a Biotics EFA formulation with Fermented Cod liver oil)
- Organixx Collagen ( In my morning tea.)
The Supplement I Regularly Give my Children:
- Cod liver oil and fish oil (I do Fermented Cod Liver Oil and Wiley’s Fish oil in rotation)
- Vitamin D3 with K2 (Seasonally in Sept-March. A chewable tablet from High Energy Solutions.)
- Homemade Elderberry syrup (seasonally Fall/Winter)
- Vitamin C with Bioflavanoids (Garden of Life)
- Multi-strain spore based probiotic (MegaSpore–I open it up onto their food and bake with it.)
- Multi-strain transient kids’ probiotics (Dr. Mercola rotated with Garden of Life)
- Occasionally, non-GMO, papaya enzymes with a high protein meal (EXMelts)
My favorite supplement brands:
- Priority One
- Vital Nutrients
- Designs for Health
- Seeking Health
Where to get supplements:
- The best way to get your supplement is through a nutrition professional, a service like Fullscript, a functional doc, or a brick and mortar vitamin store that has professional brands. For things like activated charcoal or trace mineral drops, I feel totally comfortable buying from Amazon. They are cheap enough that there is no reason to counterfeit them and they don’t spoil.
- Any of the supplement brands above as well as most of the supplements from my lists can be purchased here for 10% off and come directly from Fullscript so you can be sure they are not fake and they have been stored correctly! They have free shipping on orders over $50.
Do you take supplements? What do you take?
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