Nutrition
Apr
23
are supplements useful or useless?

I have learned a lot about dietary supplements in the last couple of years and I do keep learning. Before I became a parent, I was never rigorously taking any supplement. Only occasionally, I purchased a low-quality multivitamin from a drug store and I have never noticed any effect. After my second daughter was born, I was sleep deprived, constantly exhausted, not functioning as normal. It seemed like my body was not only missing sleep but some nutrients as well. But little I knew at that time about the power of proper nutrition. At some point, in the act of desperation, I decided to try a high-quality mineral supplement.

And I was blown away. On the days I took it, I felt and functioned much better and I even looked much better. It was not only my perception, even people around me could tell a difference. My poor nutrient status became obvious then. It was also the time when I realized that proper nutrition and supplementation can be very powerful.

Fast reading:

  1. Do I need to take supplements at all?
  2. Maintenance supplementation vs therapeutic supplementation
  3. What supplements should i take?
  4. How to select a high-quality supplement?
  5. My favourite supplement brands

With the knowledge and experience I have now, I am quite critical as to what I supplement myself and what I recommend to my clients. I always look for high quality, high purity, and high bioavailability products. No trash supplements are on my list. Poor quality supplements are a waste of money.

supplements

Do I need to take supplements at all?

If we lived in a perfect world, ate nutrient dense foods, had no chronic stress, no sleep issues, no environmental toxins and chemicals, if we had plenty time to relax, if we were born naturally to a healthy mother, if we were breastfed for few years, if we used no drugs and antibiotics - then none of us would ever need to take supplements. 

Does it describe your life?

It does not describe my life and I am afraid there are only few lucky ones who fit this description. Unfortunately, for most of us - being chronically stressed, malnourished, sleep deprived, and over-medicated is normal, rather than exceptional. It is always essential for your wellbeing to build a healthy foundation by eating a clean diet, reducing exposure to toxins, managing stress, cultivating a positive attitude, having a quality sleep and getting most nutrients from foods. If you are able to get and absorb sufficient amounts of all essential nutrients naturally from foods, and your body is able to utilize them, that's the best way to go. Sometimes however - getting all we need from foods is not optimal, especially with chronic health problems. Then, the right supplementation can be very valuable in achieving good health. On the contrary, if you focus only on taking supplements without addressing your stress, sleep, attitude and a diet – the supplements will not be a magic pill to sustain good health. Some people do well without supplements but they would do better with them. For some people, supplements are completely out of discussion as it does not feel right to take them. That’s ok. If you are open to taking supplements, at first try to find out what you need and what you want to achieve. The best way is to use supplements as a supportive tool to enhance health, prevent disease, and/or reach certain health goals.

Maintenance supplementation vs therapeutic supplementation

Nutritional supplementation incorporates the use of vitamins, minerals, other various molecules and botanicals to promote good health and to prevent or treat disease. You can take supplements as a form of a maintenance regimen or to meet some specific therapeutic goals.

Maintenance supplementation

Maintenance supplementation involves supplementing with basic micronutrients that may be difficult to obtain from a healthy diet. Examples might include a multivitamin, vitamin D, vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA. Even if you eat a healthy diet, it can be very difficult to get all the required nutrients from foods alone. Firstly, the vitamin and mineral content of conventionally grown foods has decreased over past decades. Secondly, not everyone can digest, absorb and assimilate nutrients very well.

Therapeutic supplementation

Therapeutic supplementation is focused on addressing a particular health condition or a symptom, like iron deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, anxiety or insomnia. Therapeutic supplementation is beyond the scope of this blog as it largely depends upon the individual health status and the problems to be addressed. Even though maintenance supplementation may also vary based on your circumstances, there are some common guidelines I want to share with you.

What supplements should i take?

If you do take supplements, do it wisely. Take the supplements that have the potential to support you. 

A high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement

It will provide you with the essential nutrients, can be highly effective in preventing common deficiencies and more convenient to take than few separate mineral and vitamin supplements. Multis are best taken with meals, for example breakfast or lunch. My favourite brands for synthetic multivitamins include Pure Encapsulations, Thorne Research, Seeking Health, Vitals and from food based multi products consider Terranova, Garden of Life or New Chapter.

Fish oil - Cod liver oil

It can be a quite potent food-based supplement if you want to boost your immunity for example. It is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, vitamin D3, and vitamin A. My favourite brand at the moment is Rosita cod liver oil (CLO).

What supplements should i take?

If you do not take (regularly) a multivitamin and/or fish oil, consider individuals nutrients such as:

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is quite common, however it’s best to get your vitamin D level tested before supplementation. We can get vitamin D from two sources: food and sunshine. Seafood is the only significant source of vitamin D, but you’d still have to eat a lot of it to get enough. The D3 produced after sun exposure, along with the D3 we get from food, gets converted by the liver into 25-hyrdroxy-vitamin D (25D), which is what typically gets measured when you have a vitamin D test. The optimal blood serum level of 25D level is around 50 ng/mL. One of the best sources of vitamin D is high-vitamin cod liver oil. It contains not only vitamins A & D, but also omega-3 and natural vitamin E and other quinones.

Magnesium

Magnesium is needed for hundreds of enzymatic reactions within our body and most of us, to lesser or greater extent, is on a magnesium deficient spectrum. High stress, poor diet and lack of sleep increase your need for this nutrient. Most multivitamin supplements do not contain enough magnesium to meet your daily needs. Magnesium is also obtained from foods, such as leavy greens, nuts and seeds but most people does not get the required amounts. Therefore, many of you will benefit by taking extra magnesium, for example between 150 – 350 mg daily. Select chelated forms of magnesium such as magnesium glycinate, or magnesium malate because they’re better absorbed and tend to have fewer side effects. If you are constipated, try magnesium citrate.

Omega fatty acids

Depending on your diet, health status and goals, you may consider to supplement with omega-fatty acids. There are omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. Among various omega fatty acids only two fatty acids are considered to be essential for humans, meaning they cannot be synthesized by humans. It is alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). Some other fatty acids are sometimes classified as "conditionally essential", meaning that they can become essential under certain conditions such as disease, malnutrition; examples include docosahexaenoic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and gamma-linolenic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are omega-3 fats found primarily in cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, and halibut. EPA and DHA play an important role in fetal development, cardiovascular and immune health, weight management, cognitive function, and much more. Low intake of these important nutrients, or their precursors, has been associated with a wide range of health problems. It’s a good idea to supplement with a high quality DHA/EPA if you do not eat fatty fish, approximately 500–1,000 mg on regular basis of EPA and DHA combined, or have a cod liver oil as it contains EPA and DHA and fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A and D. ALA (α-Linolenic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid found primarily seeds and oils, including flaxseed, walnuts, chia, hemp, and many common vegetable oils. GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) and LA (linoleic acid) are omega-6 fatty acids found in plant foods (seeds and nuts) and plant oils (flaxseed oil, evening primrose oil, borage oil, canola oil). Omega-9 fatty acids are not essential in humans because they can be synthesized from carbohydrates or other fatty acids but we still need the and the most common source if olive oil. Using a cold press, organic quality blend oil combing flax seed oil, borage oil, hemp oil and olive oil is also a good way to get the various fatty acids from foods. 

Plant-Based Antioxidants such as Flavonoid Extracts or “Green Foods”, or plant extracts with an anti-inflammatory effect

Consider it in particular if your diet is deprived of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Consider grape seed extract, pine bark extract, green tea extract, ginkgo biloba extract, ashwagandha, curcumin, milk thistle extract, bilberry extract, Hawthorn extract, red beets, berries, or leafy greens. The plant kingdom is very diverse and there is plenty of potent nutrients within. Think of well-known herbs such as thyme, rosemary, basil which are wonderful nutrient boosters for your health.   

Vitamin B-complex

B vitamins are essential to coordinate various processes within our body such as neurological function and energy production. Most B vitamins do not remain stored in the body, so they must be acquired daily from the diet to help maintain optimal health. Especially when you have chronic health issues, the chance is high you don’t get enough of them from foods to meet our daily needs.

Fiber

If you do not consume many fiber rich foods such as veggies and you have poor gut health or blood sugar swings, supplementing with various fiber powders may be very beneficial. 

How to select a high-quality supplement?

Not all supplements are created equal. Therefore, choose high-quality supplements containing bioavailable forms of vitamins and minerals, high quality plant extracts, or standardized plant ingredient formulations. You also want to use supplements that do not contain unnecessary additives, fillers, coatings, colourings, sweeteners, hydrogenated fats, allergens, heavy metals and other unwanted contaminants. Be aware that supplements might also be a source of impurities acquired during the manufacturing process. Supplement manufacturing and marketing is not strictly regulated, therefore there is a lot junk supplements on the market that do not contain what they claim and even may have harmful ingredients. Thus, quality first! 

Forms of supplements: select a powder or a capsule form over tablets, if possible. In general, tablets contain more additives than powder/capsule forms, or liquid forms. Liposomal forms are good especially for plant extracts such as curcumin, resveratrol or active form of glutathione. Watch out for additives such as sugars, colorings. 

In addition to a quality product, choose the formula that’s right for you, a child formula for children, an adult formula for adults, or a prenatal formula during pregnancy.

Food based (natural) vitamins and minerals versus synthetic ones?

Sometimes natural is better (vitamin E, K), sometimes synthetic and sometimes it does not matter with respect to their activity. They all can be helpful at the right dosages and harmful when over-dosed. Most of us think that food-based vitamins are a better idea than synthetic ones. They do work for some people but not everyone will tolerate food-based supplements. For me, not all food-based supplements work well as I can develop an allergic reaction. On the other hand, I see great results with high quality synthetics. If you tolerate food-based multivitamins, then take them. If you don’t, then try synthetic ones. Sometimes, you just need to try to find the best match.

Consider following when taking food-based vitamin and mineral supplements:

  • food-based products can cause mild to severe reactions (reactivity to foods) as they contain food-based compounds
  • many food-based supplements contain - apart from food-based nutrients - also synthetic ones, these products often contain misleading labels such as “natural”, “whole food based”
  • food-based supplements will not necessarily provide you more vitamins and minerals, dosages of vitamins and minerals are often inexact and low in food based supplements but you may get other plant compounds of potential health benefits
  • food-based supplements may be contaminated with heavy metals such as lead or fungus 
  • food-based supplements can consist of a dry extract from plants or a combination of purified compounds from plant food
  • food-based supplements are often more expensive

My favourite supplement brands

Some of my favourite supplement brands include Seeking Health, Pure Encapsulations, Thorne Research, NOW Foods, Designs for Health, Life Extension, AOV, Vitals, Bonusan and Jarrow Formulas. From food-based supplements, I recommend brands such as Terranova, Garden of Life, Viridian, New Chapter. 

There is no single brand that has it all. For certain nutrients, I like one brand over the other brand and a certain brand might have a better combination of nutrients for one client and another brand will work better for the other client.  

Category: Nutrition icon April 23 2021
Dr Joanna Krzeslak-Hoogland
Author: Dr Joanna Krzeslak-Hoogland

Being inspired by the effect of nutrition, lifestyle and mind on our health, I am dedicated to help people on their journey to wellbeing.

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