There are many supplements available to health-minded individuals. It can be difficult to know which ones to take. It is wise to have guidance in this area from a knowledgable individual who knows your health concerns and lifestyle. In my practice I individualize the supplements I recommend for my patients, but there are three supplements that I think are beneficial for most people.
1. Fish oil. Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (they have much longer names that I’ll spare you). EPA acts as an anti-inflammatory, and DHA helps maintain brain health.
When evaluating fish oil brands make sure to look at the amount of omega-3 in each capsule, not just the dose of fish oil per capsule. Concentration varies. Some capsules only have 300 mg of omega-3 per 1000 mg capsule and the rest is other oils. I think these are more likely to give you the fishy aftertaste that some people complain about. The capsule I give my family has 800 mg omega-3 per capsule.
How much should you take? It depends on your current health. I individualize the recommended dose for my patients. For someone who is overall healthy without issues, 1 gram daily is a good dose. For those with chronic inflammation, high triglycerides or auto-immune conditions higher dosages may be necessary. You should be under the care of a physician before using the higher dosages, as omega-3 fatty acids can cause blood thinning at high doses.
A word of caution–poor quality omega-3 supplements may actually be harmful, as these fatty acids are easily oxidized and become rancid. If this occurs they can increase inflammation and cause more harm than good.
2. A good Probiotic. Our intestines contain nearly 3 trillion bacteria. The right ones help us digest food, secrete compounds that nourish the cells that line our intestines, and neutralize toxins to prevent them from harming us. Each time we take an antibiotic these bacteria are killed. When we eat meat from animals that were treated with antibiotics this can also happen. If we don’t have enough good bacteria in our guts the door is open for bad bacteria to multiply, increasing constipation, diarrhea, and the risk of colon cancer.
3. Vitamin D. This vitamin is known by most people as the sunshine vitamin that helps us absorb calcium. It does this, but also SO much more. Vitamin D helps our immune system, is anti-inflammatory, and helps our hormones function. In order for a hormone to bind to our DNA to unlock a certain function, vitamin D is a necessary cofactor that helps it attach. Without it our hormones don’t function as well. It may even help prevent auto-immune disease and cancer.
Health agencies tell us that the normal range for vitamin D in our blood is 30-100 ng/ml. 30 ng/ml will prevent rickets, the disease of bone softening causing deformation, for which vitamin D became recognized as preventing. This concentration will not promote all the other benefits of vitamin D however. The Metabolic Medical Institute and Institute for Functional Medicine advise that an optimal level of vitamin D is 60-80 ng/ml. I may be proven wrong some day, but to date I have never found a person to have this optimal level without taking supplemental vitamin D. It is hard to find in food sources, other than cod liver oil. Most of us work indoors during the daytime, and when we are outdoors we wear sunscreen. The sunscreen is helpful to prevent wrinkles and skin cancer, but it also blocks the UV rays from reaching our skin to trigger the making of vitamin D.
How much should you take? It depends on your current blood level and how much sun exposure you get. You should have your blood level checked. I routinely order this test on all my patients, and find that most people are not optimal.
These three supplements are a good start at improving and maintaining optimal health. Others may be necessary if you have specific concerns. While the ideal would be to get all our nutrients from the food we eat, I do not believe this is possible with our current lifestyle and food growth and preparation habits.