Optimal health, it is what we strive to for in life in order to have vitality and longevity. We exercise and we eat healthy but all too often I have found my clients are missing a crucial piece of the puzzle…supplementation.
I am not suggesting my clients or those reading this blog go and purchase every supplement on the shelf. Supplement/nutrient recommendations are unique to an individual’s health, medical history and their goals. In addition specific supplement recommendations should be made by a healthcare practitioner after a full evaluation has been conducted. However, there are, in my professional opinion three supplements that I recommend for almost everyone and I consider these a necessary foundation in the quest for optimal health. Here are the three I recommend, the reasons why, what I recommend to look for, and the contraindications for some.
Why: For many reasons, the amount of nutrients in our foods continues to diminish. Reasons include, over cultivating of soil, the use of pesticides and herbicides, genetically modified foods, limited crop rotation and increasing quantities of packaged, processed foods that are void of key nutrients. In 1936, a US Senate document stated, “the alarming fact is that foods – fruits, vegetables and grains – now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contains enough of certain needed nutrients, are starving us – no matter how much we eat of them.” Fast forward 77 year and things did not get any better. Add in prescription and over the counter medications, illnesses and co-morbidities, and the standard American diet, and you can understand why it becomes crucial to supplement with a multivitamin to insure adequate nutrient intake. Estimates are that 66% of all illnesses can be associated with a nutrient deficiency, thus another reason to insure optimal nutrient levels through supplementation.
Specifications: Are all multi vitamins created the same? The answer is absolutely not! Do your research and homework before popping a generic “One a Day” in your mouth. Without naming names, a popular well advertised multi also provides tar, sugar and wood in its tablet form, yes you read that right!! Follow the guidelines below to insure you are taking a good quality multivitamin.
Gender Specificity: Men and women have different nutrient needs. For example, women need increased amounts of folate for child bearing years whereas men generally do not require iron supplementation as they have no way to leach excess iron from the body. These are just two examples but suffice to say the quantity as well as specific nutrients vary based on gender. Always choose a multi that was created for your gender to insure it meets your needs.
Capsules: In general, capsules are usually better tolerated than tablets and less harsh on the gastrointestinal tract lining. A multi vitamin that also has its minerals chelated (wrapped in amino acids) insures better absorption. A newer trend is multis that are derived from whole foods or raw ingredients, as nutrients are better absorbed when they are in their “natural” environment instead of a lab where someone is extracting single nutrients and mixing them with binders and fillers to get a multi vitamin. When looking at the research on multis a delivery source of liquid or capsules were overall better absorbed than tablets. *Note this is only for a multivitamin not single nutrients, i.e. Calcium, Vitamin D etc.
High Amounts of B Vitamins: I recommend my clients look for a multivitamin that provides well above 100% of the RDA for B vitamins as many Americans are deficient in them due to medications binding their availability, increased activity level causing loss of them via sweat and urine, or complaints of symptoms of depression or anxiety . B-vitamins have multiple functions in the body and they are essential for overall health. Their responsibilities include: mental and nervous system health, energy levels, and metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. They are water soluble, therefore it is difficult to overdose on them. As a reminder Riboflavin, one of the 8 B vitamins, will change your urine bright yellow so don’t be alarmed if this happens after supplementing with a multivitamin that includes a high amount of riboflavin. An easy guide to whether or not your multi is providing enough B vitamins is to buy one that has the words: active, sport or performance. As a rule of thumb these words insure higher amounts of B-vtiamins.
Contraindications/Warnings: Multi vitamins are recommended for all over two years of age. The one contraindication or warning is kidney and/or liver disease. If either of these organs are compromised, nutrients may not be filtered through the body sufficiently and toxicity as well as further damage can occur. If you have been diagnosed with either, check with your physician before starting a multivitamin.
Why: I am extremely passionate about supplementing with Omega 3’s as most Americans do not receive enough of these essential fatty acids in their diet. By definition, they are essential meaning the body can not make them and one needs to insure they are a part of the diet. Unfortunately, most Americans fall far short of including enough Omega 3’s in the diet and instead ingest high amounts of the more inflammatory Omega 6. Optimal ratios of Omega 6:Omega 3 is 3:1, however the average American is eating close to 30:1!
Omega 3’s incredible anti-inflammatory health benefits have been making headlines for many years now, and falling short of a panacea, they may be the closest nutrient associated with a medical miracle. Omega 3s have been linked to reducing cardiovascular risk such as reducing risk of stroke and heart attack by decreasing both triglycerides and total cholesterol, decreasing C-Reactive Protein, increasing HDL, and changing the particle size of LDL thus reducing atherogenic risk. Second to cardiovascular benefits, omega 3’s are beneficial to the brain in improving cognitive brain function, reducing depression and anxiety, and improving symptoms of many mental health disorders. Additional benefits are documented in decreasing inflammatory symptoms associated with autoimmune disorders, anticancer benefits, improving insulin resistance, a positive role in metabolism and much, much more!
Supplementing with Omega 3 Fish Oils is the best way to increase the concentration of these anti inflammatory fats in the body! Even for those whose diets include ample amounts of cold water fish, the best source of Omega 3’s, there is a benefit in additional supplementation in order to reach the optimal 3:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3.
Specifications: Research and clinical trials recommend 2,000mg of DHA+EPA per day for the anti-inflammatory benefits listed above. Unfortunately flax seed or vegetarian omega 3’s do not provide high amounts of DHA and EPA and are almost exclusively ALA. While beneficial and still anti-inflammatory, the bigger benefits are seen with DHA and EPA thus the need for fish oil. As a result of these recommendations, I coach clients to focus on the amount of DHA+EPA instead of the milligrams of fish oil. Clients are often shocked at how many pills or doses they need to take per day with their current supplement in order to get to the 2,000mg recommendation. Focus on a high quality, mercury free, and a high amount of DHA and EPA per dose in order to avoid multiple doses per day. Fish oil can be found in either capsule or liquid form, but I advise against the gummies as they are usually high in sugar and low in EPA and DHA.
Contraindications/Warnings: If you are allergic to fish, you cannot take an Omega 3 Fish Oil supplement. To date, that is the only contraindication. Caution and warnings exist for those who are on prescription blood thinners, such as Coumadin, as Omega 3 fish oil is anti-inflammatory and can also thin the blood. If you are on blood thinners, consult with your physician before starting an Omega 3 supplement.
Why: 70% of the immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract, therefore a healthy gastrointestinal tract means a healthy immune system. Unfortunately, more and more Americans are in a state of dysbiosis, meaning they have too many negative or bad bacteria in their gastrointestinal tract and it is out numbering the beneficial bacteria. This state of dysbiosis is occurring in many due to a variety of reasons including, poor diet, use of pesticides and herbicides that kill probiotics naturally found in foods, processed foods, sugar in the diet, and increased use of prescription and over the counter medications.
I am often asked if eating yogurt can be done in place of supplementation, and almost always the answer is no for several reasons. Many of the probiotics in yogurt are often dead or dying as a result of the shelf life of the product,and in addition many yogurts have large amounts of added sugar or artificial sugars. Sugar will counter the benefits of probiotic and further feed the negative bacteria in the gut. Probiotic supplementation is an easy and effective way to increase the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Specifications: When referring to probiotics, more is better! I encourage clients to look for supplements that offer in the billions with respect to cultures, and to look for a variety of cultures. This is one of the few times you want a list of ingredients you may have trouble pronouncing. My minimum recommendation is 4 billion, but more is better. If you have any immune issues to include allergies, auto-immune disorders, adrenal dysfunction, cancer or you are the one who is always getting sick, aim much higher than 4 billion and you can take probiotics several times a day with meals for best absorption.
Contraindications/Warnings: You are suppose to have probiotics in your gastrointestinal tract, therefore there really arent any side effects or contraindications/ reasons to not take them. They are silent workers and it can take months to achieve a positive gut flora balance. Benefits include an improved digestive system including regularity with stool as well as an improved immune system, but be patient as it wont happen overnight.
Bottom Line: If you have ever built a house, you know the most important component is the foundation. Without it, the house crumbles. The same is true of your health. These 3 supplements are your foundation to achieving optimal health and in my professional opinion without them your health will falter. Being compliant with your supplements is the easiest part of your journey to obtaining optimal health. Really “it is elementary, my dear!”
Jaime Coffey Martinez, MS RD is a registered clinical and integrative dietitian that practices in the Washington DC metro area and is owner of Nutrition CPR, LLC a nutrition consulting company providing both one to one nutrition coaching and corporate nutrition and wellness programs. Jaime coaches her clients on the importance of choosing real, nutrient dense foods that will nourish the body, optimize health, and help clients achieve their personal goals.
The information provided in this post is for education only and is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor should it be used as a replacement for seeking medical treatment.
Copyright © Jaime Coffey Martinez, MS RD Nutrition CPR, LLC