This is a great question. I see so many people who come into the office with a huge shopping bag full of supplements they've either self-prescribed or started taking based on someones (or many peoples) recommendations. It's craziness.
Let's make this simple.
For millennium all we had was food and herbs. Food was designed to keep a heathy body healthy, and herbs were used medicinally during times of illness. We consumed what was available and despite the odds, got every one of us here today.
Enter the modern age. We have processing, synthesizing chemicals, almost indefinite shelf-life, juicers, pills, tablets, powders . . . all being heavily marketed to us to take them all if want to be healthy.
Without a doubt, the bulk of our nutrition should come from food. Like I said, it is what our ancestors used to remain healthy, pass along their genes, and got us here today. While there are vast amounts of health promoting nutrients in food, I don’t think we know the half of it. For example, there may be an energetic quality to food that we can’t accurately measure yet. And it seems almost every month, a new health-promoting compound has been discovered in food.
So to be and remain healthy, the bulk of our nutrients should come from a good whole-food diet. I don’t know if anything will ever replace the importance of that for us.
However, our food supply has changed. Some studies suggest our soils aren’t as healthy as they used to be, making the food grown on these soils to be less healthy as well. Thus, we may want or need to supplement.
What supplements you should be taking will be somewhat individualized. For example if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, supplementing with a little extra B-vitamins and maybe some extra protein may be in order. If you work in or near an industrial factory, you may benefit from supplementing with things that help promote healthy detoxification pathways. If you live in northern latitudes, you may benefit from additional vitamin D. If you work crazy hours and live with a high degree of stress, adaptogens may be a help. So what you need to take is somewhat individual.
But are there things we could all benefit from? I think yes.
For starters, a good quality multivitamin/multimineral is likely of benefit for just about everyone. I personally prefer low-potency, food-based vitamins. (I’m not convinced some of the super-high potency synthetic vitamins are actually that good for us, and some limited research backs this up.) If you take nothing else, a good quality multi, while not necessarily sexy, is probably a good idea.
There are ample studies suggesting many people are deficient in what are called essential fatty acids, which you’ve likely heard of as EPA and DHA, typically found in fish oil. While I think the jury is still out about how much we need, I think a little fish oil (or krill oil) is probably beneficial as well. If you eat fatty fish (eg salmon) a couple times a week, you may not need extra fish oil.
Vitamin D is in the news quite a bit, but I’m not convinced that we should be supplementing with it as much as people are doing. In fact, I think we’re causing more harm than good with all this vitamin D supplementation, but that’s a conversation for another time. What is pretty clear however, is that many people are likely deficient in the other fat soluble vitamins as well. And to say they are important is an understatement. Therefore I’ve recently decided that an additional low-potency fat soluble vitamin containing ideally vitamins A, D, E and K, is beneficial above what is contained in a multi.
Beyond that, a little extra magnesium in the realm of 300mg a day would likely benefit more people. (And for the record, I am actually against calcium supplements for women, despite what you’ve heard.)
If you’re feeling energy issues, an additional B-complex vitamin – again from a whole food vitamin source – could be helpful as well.
You may be thinking, “That’s a lot of pills to take every day”. You’re right. But few of us are taking the time or energy to eat good quality food today, so we need to do something to make up the difference. We also live in a time where there seems to be an endless supply of stress, poor sleep, chemical toxins all around us, electromagnetic frequencies, etc. No one knows the cumulative effects of all of these thing on our physiology. There’s some evidence that we have increased needs for nutrients when stressed or are exposed to chemical toxins, which most of us are.
Beyond that, if you have digestive issues, you might benefit from digestive enzymes, probiotics, and resistant starches.
Keeping it Real
I’m going to make a quick plug for multinutrient powders here because today, there are powdered formulations that are loaded with great stuff for us, taste great, and are super convenient to make into a morning and afternoon smoothie. Most of them contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fiber, herbs and a number of things we can take all at once. If you don’t want to take too many pills, powders can be a great substitute.
Interested in figuring out what you really need to take? Sign up for a Strategy Session. It will save you boatloads of money wasted on unnecessary, poor quality supplements and hours of time wasted on internet searches.