There are thousands of different supplements in the market today, and the efficacy is questionable for at least half of them. Let me start this first by saying that I believe diet and lifestyle are always best, but in cases where this is not enough, taking a supplement can certainly be beneficial.
Here is a list of supplements that I get the most questions about - and which I actually recommend you take on a daily basis. I recommend after reading this post you check out Labdoor which is a company that ranks brands based on efficacy, safety, and label accuracy.
1. Omega-3 DHA/EPA
Just about everyone could benefit from taking an omega-3 DHA/EPA supplement because most are not getting enough from the diet. There are many benefits with taking DHA/EPA, the most notable being that it decreases your overall risk of cardiovascular disease (think decreased risk of stroke, heart attack, etc) because it decreases systemic inflammation, lowers triglyceride cholesterol, and decreases blood pressure . Make sure your supplement contains at least 1,000mg combined DHA/EPA.
Dietary sources: Fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel) are best. Other sources include fortified foods, most notably eggs - just note that this is highly dependent on what the chickens eat. So if chickens are fed flax, this means you are not getting DHA/EPA omega-3, but instead ALA omega-3. More on this below.
Note: The most common and easily absorbable forms of omega 3 are DHA/EPA. Plant based sources of Omega-3 contain ALA and not DHA or EPA. ALA must be converted to DHA/EPA which your body has a hard time doing. So yes, flax and chia are a "good source of omega-3," but this is highly deceiving because your body has a hard time absorbing any of it.
One of the most important minerals, magnesium is essential for bone formation and adequate vitamin D absorption. Magnesium can help with many ailments, but the most common everyday uses include prevention of headaches and migraines, constipation, pre-menstrual syndrome, and muscle aches. If you suffer from any of the above, a 400mg daily magnesium supplement may help, I recommend magnesium citrate.
Dietary sources: Almonds, sesame seeds, black beans, leafy greens, and cashews.
Note: There are many different types of magnesium and most are readily absorbable, but a few that you should avoid include magnesium oxide – this formulation is not easily absorbable by the body and unlikely to give you any benefit. Also avoid magnesium glutamate and aspartate which are linked to the artificial sweetener aspartame.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D also promotes calcium absorption and is therefore a necessary factor for keeping bones strong. Very few foods contain much Vitamin D, so the best way to get is from UV light – which most of us will not get especially with the winter and with the use of sunscreen. Low levels of vitamin D are linked to headaches, depression, dizziness, and fatigue. Make sure you take Vitamin D3 and not Vitamin D2 because Vitamin D3 is much more absorbable by your body. Take at least 1,000mg per day and make sure to take with a fatty meal because Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and needs fat to be absorbed.
Dietary sources: Fatty fish contain the highest amount. Other foods that contain minimal amounts include eggs, cheese, and beef liver.
For those of you who want strong, healthy hair and nails (who doesn't?) this is a supplement worth trying. Studies have shown that getting adequate biotin helps brittle nails become stronger and firmer and makes hair stronger thereby preventing hair loss.
Dietary sources: Eggs, fatty fish, meat, almonds, and beans.
If you are a woman of child bearing age and there is a chance you could become pregnant make sure you are taking at least 600mg of folate daily. Folate protects against major birth defects (i.e. neural tube defects) because it is essential for proper brain and spine development of a growing fetus - additionally it helps protect you from developing a folate induced anemia.
Folate (aka L-methlyfolate, L-5-Methyltetrahydrofolate) is the natural form found in foods and is preferred over folic acid. Folic acid is a synthetic version of folate and it must be broken down via several different steps into a compound that can be absorbed (aka its active form). This means when you take folic acid rather than folate there is a higher risk of buildup of folic acid derivatives and less vitamin being absorbed. Read more about this here.
Dietary sources: Eggs, green leafy vegetables, beef liver, and fortified foods.
Note: If you have the MTHFR mutation you should definitely be taking folate rather than folic acid, because this mutation means that you cannot fully break folic acid down to its absorbable form and this can lead to dangerous buildup of folic acid derivatives.
There are many benefits of taking a probiotic, but the most common everyday benefits include decreasing chronic gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, as well as improving immune function, absorbing nutrients, and for a healthy weight.
Fun fact: Microbes in your gut will eat up some that food you put into your system meaning this prevents you from absorbing calories – another reason to skip antibiotics if you can.
Your gut has trillions of bacteria so aim to get a probiotic that has at least 5 billion CFU (ideally 30-50 billion), because anything less is not going to do much for you . I recommend Ultimate Flora by Renew Life.
Dietary sources: Kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, and miso.
Note: I always recommend taking a probiotic when taking antibiotics, just keep in mind there is a chance of the antibiotic deactivating the probiotic when taken together. To prevent this from happening, take your probiotic on an empty stomach and make sure it has been a couple hours since you took your antibiotic or are going to take it.
If you are someone who gets cold sores regularly, this may be a good option for you. Studies have shown that taking 500-1000mg of lysine daily can decrease cold sore outbreaks as well as decrease severity and duration of the outbreak. I've heard great success from many patients who take lysine, and I recommend trying if you get cold sores regularly.
Dietary sources: Eggs, beans, meat, cheese, fish, and nuts.
Note: At the first sign of a cold sore, contact your provider immediately to get a prescription of anti-viral medication. Prescription anti-virals, such as Valtrex, work best when taken within the first 24-48 hours of an outbreak.
Board Certified Nurse Practitioner in California. Blogging about health, fitness and mindfulness.