This is one of the most common questions people ask me. And while there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there are a few essentials I recommend to just about everyone (barring the rare exceptions for people with specific conditions). These are things you just don’t get enough of from even the healthiest of diets, partly because of the decline in the quality of our farming practices and partly because of environmental factors such as soil degradation.
When it comes to supplements, there is something in the naturopathic world called “The 4 Pillars.” These are: 1) multi-vitamin/mineral; 2) antioxidants; 3) essential fatty acids (EFA’s); and 4) probiotics. Although some manufacturers now combine all four into one or two pills, I don’t recommend taking them this way. Generally, quality and absorption is sacrificed when too many compounds are bound together. It’s one thing to include extra antioxidants with a multi, but EFA’s and probiotics are not easily bound together because of their more unstable and perishable nature. I do happen to agree with the idea of the four pillars. I just prefer to take them separately.
So why these four? The multi is the broad spectrum supplement that covers the basic vitamins and minerals our body needs to function properly. The antioxidants are the extra insurance that protects us against free radical cells that can lead to cancer, the leading cause of death. Essential fatty acids are called essential because our bodies are unable to manufacture these fats, yet we need them for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are hormone production and proper brain and heart function. And probiotics support a healthy gut flora, which is the foundation of our digestive and immune systems.
There are other supplements I commonly recommend to people, but they are designed to address more specific needs and health issues. For example, for arthritis or even mild joint stiffness, I recommend some combination of glucosamine and chondroitin. For blood sugar imbalance (i.e., diabetes, hypoglycemia) I recommend a broad spectrum formula that contains extra B vitamins, folic acid, and chromium. Sluggish bowels may sometimes require a fiber supplement and/or a temporary laxative. And for athletes or even people who engage in strenuous exercise frequently, I recommend whey protein, electrolytes and extra antioxidants. There are many other conditions that can be addressed and even prevented by supplements, but these are some common ones. That being said, I recommend consulting with a professional before taking supplements beyond the four pillars.
So the next question I get is, “Does brand matter?” The short answer is YES! While the temptation is to buy the cheapest brand because you figure, “vitamin C is vitamin C, right?”, consider the fact that—just like foods—all supplements are not created equally. There are some exceptions, but generally when it comes to supplements you get what you pay for. The key differences between good and bad supplements are absorption and truth-in-labeling. The cheaper brands tend to contain unbalanced formulations and inferior binders that make absorption more difficult or inefficient (i.e., you pee out more than you absorb). They also tend to use more fillers, many of which come with unpleasant or harmful side effects. These brands are also famous for misleading labels, which can mean the product may not contain the amount of the active ingredient indicated.
If you want a factor besides price to consider when determining the quality of a particular brand, at the minimum look for the “GMP” logo on the label. This indicates the manufacturer is complying with the “Good Manufacturing Practices” standard of quality control. GMP requirements cover many aspects of quality control, not the least of which are submitting to random independent lab testing and clearly defining and documenting manufacturing processes to ensure consistency and compliance with specifications.
And finally, people often ask me what I take. I guess they figure, “If I take what my nutritional consultant takes, I’ll be covered.” As you can imagine, it doesn’t exactly work that way. After all, we do have different parents….at least as far as I know. But since you are reading my Blog, I will share my personal list of essentials with you, with the disclaimer that this list is mine and is not a recommendation for you personally (can you tell I used to be a lawyer?). Also, my list tends to change from time to time. I’ve listed the brand names in parenthesis. They are all professional line products that I also use with my clients and are generally not available in stores.
- 1. Living Fuel Super Green and Super Berry powder – these contain my antioxidants, multi-vitamin, and fiber supplement all in one formula. I do 1 scoop of each upon awakening each morning.
- 2. Glucobalance (Biotics Research) – this is my blood sugar balancing supplement. It contains a broad spectrum mix of vitamins and minerals with extra B’s, folic acid and chromium.
- 3. HLC Maintenance (Pharmax) – This is my probiotic that I cycle on and off periodically to replenish gut flora.
- 4. Xanthomega Krill Oil capsules (Designs for Health) – this is my omega-3 supplement with an antioxidant bonus.
- 5. Chondrosamine Plus (Biotics Research) – the best joint supplement I’ve ever used, containing glucosamine HCL, chondroitin, manganese, and MSM.
- 6. Whey Cool Protein Powder (Designs for Health) – I use this in my protein shakes and also mix it in yogurt and oatmeal to add extra protein.
- 7. Apple Cider Vinegar – to enhance digestion with lunch and dinner
- 8. Adapt (Interplexus) – adaptogenic herbs and nutrients to support adrenal function.
If you want your own personalized recommendations, feel free to contact me to set up a consultation. Otherwise, start with the four pillars and see how supplements really can make a difference.