First of all, supplements are not intended to replace a healthy diet; they merely play a support role. My foremost recommendation for better health is still to include as much wholesome, organic foods in the diet as possible. Ideally, you also want to spend some time outdoors everyday. However, for many of us, this may not be entirely feasible.
• Most of us have the habit of eating very similar foods day-in, day-out. For example we only eat boneless, skinless chicken breast instead of varying parts of the chicken, such as the organs, the tendons, the skin, and the bones, which provide different nutrients like vitamin A, iron, calcium, collagen, etc.
• We do not eat enough variety of protein foods as each contains some different nutrients. For example, red meat, egg yolks, and dark-meat poultry are rich in zinc and heme iron, whereas grass-fed beef has a high concentration of the immune-boosting conjugated linoleic acid.
• We do not consume sufficient vegetables and fruits, not to mention the ones with different colors which have vastly differing nutrients.
• Our diet consists of excess nutrient-poor and calorie-dense processed foods, GMOs, pesticides, and chemicals.
• We eat too much fast foods or restaurant foods which are frequently very high in the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid due to the type of refined vegetable oil they use in cooking.
• We devote most of the day sitting in front of a computer and seldom spend time outdoors.
Given these circumstances, it is inconceivable that our diet alone can provide us with all the necessary nutrients for good health. On top of that, majority of the population have some degree of leaky gut, low stomach acid and enzyme production, or other gut issues like Candida yeast overgrowth and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), all of which prevent proper digestion and nutrient absorption.
Hence, in today’s world, most people will need to take supplements of some sort. But because we are all unique individuals and biochemically different, the answer to which supplements one should take is not so black and white. That being said, there are five important supplements that are considered as staples and everyone can use for better health.
A high quality multivitamin can help fill nutritional gap and ensure that you are getting all the important vitamins and minerals. However, do not settle for inferior quality multivitamins. Choose one that is manufactured by a highly reputable company that has a long track record of providing quality products. This will ensure that utmost care has been taken in all phases of production, from growing the ingredients organically, to manufacturing, testing for potency, and quality control.
Whole food supplements vs. synthetic or isolated supplements
Whole food supplements are food-based supplements made from concentrated whole foods. They are highly complex structures that combine a variety of enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants, trace elements, and activators to work synergistically so that your body can easily absorb the nutrients.
Synthetic or isolated supplements are not natural as these nutrients are never found by themselves in nature. They are usually manufactured in a laboratory and come in ultra-high dose formulas. Synthetic multivitamins tend to give you massive quantities of some nutrients, usually the most inexpensive ones, and insufficient quantities of others. The problem with this type of nutrients is that the body treats them as foreign substances and can only utilize a small portion of the nutrients; in the long run, they can create imbalances in the body. Also, know that potentially nasty solvents and chemicals may be used in the manufacturing process of such synthetic supplements.
A once-daily multi vs. multis with a serving size of 3 to 6 capsules or tablets a day
A once-daily multi is typically lower in minerals because the latter tend to be bulky. They seldom include essential minerals like potassium or magnesium in adequate enough amounts to really make a difference.
Multis with a daily serving size of 3 to 6 tablets have higher potencies and often have added beneficial ingredients such as vegetables, fruits, herbs, green foods, and enzymes to enhance digestion and absorption. With these multis, you can take more or less with your meals depending on the quality of your diet and your individual needs.
Only a handful of companies produce high quality, whole food multi-vitamin supplements; over 99% of the companies make the synthetic isolate version. The following are several brands of whole food supplements that you may find in health food stores:
• Dr. Mercola
• Garden of Life
• Innate Response
• New Chapter
• Standard Process
(Author of this newsletter is not affiliated with any of these supplement companies.)
2. Omega-3 Fish Oil
The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids have been widely publicized. They reduce inflammation and may help lower the risk of degenerative diseases like arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. And since omega-3 is highly concentrated in the brain, it is also critical for behavior, cognition, memory, and mood.
Apart from maintaining sufficient levels of omega-3 in the body, it is essential to make sure you have a proper omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Your body needs both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but when you have too much omega-6 (pro-inflammatory) and not enough omega-3 (anti-inflammatory), problems arise.
In the hunter-gatherer days, the human diet had an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1 to 1. In modern days, due to the wide-use of refined vegetable oils in cooking and processed foods, the ratio can be as high as 15-17 to 1. That is probably why degenerative diseases caused by inflammation are so rampant these days.
The more omega-6 we eat, the more omega-3 we need to counteract the inflammation. For someone who is healthy and eats a good diet, a maintenance dose of 1 gram a day with food is sufficient. If you have an existing inflammatory condition or if you know you are consuming too much omega-6 in your diet, you will need at least 2-3 grams per day to help lower the inflammation.
When choosing a brand, make sure the manufacturer uses a process called molecular distillation to remove all the toxins (mercury, PCBs, and dioxins) from the fish oil. It should have been tested and certified toxin-free by a third party. In addition, you want a fish oil that has the least possible oxidation and uses minimal heat and no chemicals in the manufacturing process. Check the manufacturer’s website for a third-party Certificate of Analysis to confirm its freshness level.
Based on third-party lab tests, the following manufacturers have top scores in their freshness and purity levels:
• Carlson Labs
• Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil
• Nordic Naturals
• Pharmax Pure Fish Oil
• Vital Choice Wild Salmon Oil
(Author of this newsletter is not affiliated with any of these supplement companies.)
These days, we have come to understand more and more how our microbiome, the ecosystem of bacteria and other microbes that reside in the gastrointestinal system, affects our state of health. We know that 80% of the immune system is located in the gut and up to 95% of the serotonin (the neurotransmitter that regulates mood) is produced in the gut too.
Probiotics are good bacteria in the gut whose primary purpose is to ensure there is proper balance among various strains of intestinal bacteria. They also carry out other important functions:
• Help with food digestion
• Enhance synthesis of B vitamins
• Boost brain function
• Improve calcium absorption
• Promote vaginal health in women
• Strengthen immune system
Fermented foods are rich in probiotics. Some examples include kefir, lassi, kombucha, yogurt, fermented vegetables (kimchee, sauerkraut), naturally pickled vegetables, fermented soybeans, and tempeh. If you are not in the habit of eating these foods everyday, you should consider taking a high-quality probiotics supplement.
Opt for a well-known, reputable brand because quality matters. The probiotic activity must be guaranteed throughout the entire production process and shelf life of the product. There are somewhere between 300 to 500 strains of bacteria in the gut. Check to make sure the supplement contains one or more of these bacteria strains that have confirmed health-promoting features:
• Bifidobacterium bifidum
• Bifidobacterium brevis
• Bifidobacterium infantis
• Bifidobacterium longum
• Lactobacillus acidophilus
• Lactobacillus bulgaricus
• Lactobacillus casei
• Lactobacillus paracasei
• Lactobacillus plantarum
• Lactobacillus rhamnosus
• Lactobacillus salivarius
• Streptococcus thermophilus
Choose one with a higher bacteria count by looking at the number of organisms per capsule, expressed in billion CFU’s. Most brands range from one to 50 billion CFU’s. In general, the higher the number, the more potent and expensive the supplement is. Some probiotics are made to be taken with food, some on empty stomach. Read the instructions on the label.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is rather unique in a couple of ways. First, your body can make its own vitamin D. To get enough of it, you need to expose large portions of your skin (without using sunscreen) to sunlight. A light tinge of pink on the skin tells you your vitamin D production has reached its maximum level and it is time to stop to avoid overexposure. People with lighter skin usually need 10-20 minutes for this to occur; people with darker skin tones need more time.
Second, vitamin D is converted into a hormone in the body. Hormones are chemical messengers which travel through your blood to the tissues and organs, activating chemical reactions that control everything from metabolism to growth to mood. Over 50,000 chemical reactions in the body require the presence of adequate vitamin D in your blood. Vitamin D plays an important role in your immune system, bone strength, heart health, brain function, and cancer prevention.
If you live in an area where there is not much sun or you hardly spend any time outdoors on a regular basis, you should take a vitamin D3 supplement. A blood test (25-hydroxy vitamin D) will help determine your vitamin D status. Although conventional practice indicates that a level above 30 ng/ml is normal, keeping it at around 50-70 ng/ml is preferred for optimal health. Most people will need approximately 5,000 IU per day to reach this level.
When supplementing with Vitamin D, you should also include vitamin K2, a form of vitamin K. Vitamin D facilitates calcium absorption into the bloodstream and thus, plays an important role in maintaining bone density. Vitamin K2 transports calcium from the bloodstream into the bone. Vitamin K2 is also required by calcium-regulating proteins in the arteries. Together, vitamins D and K2 help maintain proper calcium skeletal distribution while promoting healthy arteries.
The best form of vitamin D supplement is the natural form D3, not D2 which is not as well absorbed. Since vitamin D is fat soluble, it is best taken with a meal. Some vitamin D supplements are blended with cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, which is much preferred over soybean, sunflower, or safflower oils.
Ubiquinol is an antioxidant nutrient converted from ubiquinone, also known as CoQ10. As you age, your body’s levels of CoQ10 diminish substantially, so does your ability to convert CoQ10 to ubiquinol. If you are older than 25 years, you should use ubiquinol rather than CoQ10.
Ubiquinol has many remarkable functions:
• Improve cardiovascular system
• Jumpstart the body’s energy and stamina levels
• Act as an antioxidant against free radicals and oxidative stress
• Maintain normal blood pressure and promote healthy blood circulation
• Boost immune system
• Support nervous system
If you are taking a statin drug, ubiquinol is an essential supplement. Statin drugs work to lower your cholesterol using the same pathway where the body produces its ubiquinol, resulting in up to a 40% reduction of this very important nutrient. Restocking your body’s ubiquinol with a supplement can help maintain healthy cellular energy production in the heart, brain, and muscle tissues.
For a healthy person, a dosage of 100 mg daily with food is sufficient for maintenance. If you are on a statin drug, taking 200 mg per day is preferred.