Ideally, we should be getting our vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from our food intake alone. However, in this day and age, our food production is completely different from that of 50 to 100 years ago, and the sad reality is that most people eat calorie-rich but nutrient-poor foods.
Because of the world in which we live, most people need some sort of oral nutrient supplementation, and sometimes even IV nutrient repletion. This does not mean you should buy every supplement on the shelf that looks good to you or that you read about on the internet.
Remember, food = medicine. Supplements are supplemental to your food.
That being said, for a generally “healthy” person, here are some highly important nutrients in which many people are deficient, and therefore may need to supplement in their diet.
Vitamin D is not only essential for bone health, but also to combat seasonal depression and to strengthen our immune system. Optimal vitamin D levels also reduce your risk of cancer and helps reduce joint pain. Make sure you have optimal levels of vitamin D3 by asking your doctor to test your 25-OH vitamin D levels. Optimal levels should be between 50-80 ng/ml. An adult dose of vitamin D3 is up to 10,000 IU/day and a child’s dose is up to 2,000 IU/day depending on their need.
Magnesium deficiency is pervasive. Magnesium, a critical mineral, is used in more than 300 bodily functions and can be obtained through foods such as dark leafy greens and mixed nuts. Magnesium can be used in the treatment of high blood pressure, angina, and arrhythmia. Magnesium has been shown to be most effective in males with heart disease.
Essential Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of essential fats that includes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids cannot be produced internally by the human body and must be consumed through outside sources, like fish or a nutritional oil supplement. Omega-6s and Omega-9s are also fatty acids and are found more abundantly in the oil of nuts, seeds, and meats. Most western diets have too much omega-6 and 9 and too little omega-3 fatty acids. Research has shown that fish oils are anti-inflammatory, can lower triglyceride and cholesterol fats, decrease risk of blood clots, decrease progression of hardening of the arteries, and improve function of the blood vessel walls. Adding at least 2 servings a week of cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, and halibut can provide Omega-3 in your body.
B vitamins are one of the most commonly deficient nutrients in Americans. We can attribute this trend to the use of medications we consume and our stressed out lifestyles. Very common pharmaceuticals such as cholesterol lowering medication (statins), oral contraceptives, antibiotics, and antacids rob our body of B vitamins. When we think of the side-effects of a medication, it is often due to its nutrient depletion and not the actual drug itself. B vitamins are essential co-factors in your body’s many functions such as maintaining energy, mood, immunity, and nervous system. You can restore optimal B vitamin levels through B vitamin injections and with B vitamin supplements, especially with the methylated forms of B12 and Folate.
Probiotics are the good bugs found in your digestive tract. They enhance the immune system by preventing unfriendly organisms from gaining a foothold in the body. They prevent the overgrowth of yeast and harmful bacteria and produce substances that can lower cholesterol. Poor eating habits, stress and disease, and the use of antibiotics can wreak havoc in the gastrointestinal tract by destroying good bacteria and allowing undesirable bacteria to multiply. When the ratio of good bacteria to bad is lowered, digestive symptoms begin to arise such as excessive gas, bloating, constipation, and poor absorption of nutrients. When the beneficial intestinal bacteria are outnumbered, the chance you may become ill is significantly increased.
Even with these basic supplements, there are instances when taking the most benign supplement can be inappropriate for your health condition. Inappropriate supplementation not only is expensive, but can sometimes be harmful to your body or interfere with other medications. The best thing to do before taking supplements is to consult a doctor or pharmacist knowledgeable in nutrition and supplementation.
Dr. Sonja Fung is a naturopathic primary care doctor and co-owner of Live Well Clinic. She has a focus on integrative cancer care and IV nutrient therapies. For more information on integrative cancer care, go to www.livewellclinic.org or call (760) 771.5970.
References: 1) Gaby, Alan. Nutritional Medicine. Concord, NH: Fritz Perlberg Publishing, 2011; 2) Office of Dietary Supplements- NIH. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all; 3) West, August. Tackling the Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies: B Vitamins, Calcium & Other Minerals. Holistic Primary Care. Vol. 9, No. 2. Summer, 2008; 4) Oh, Robert. Brown, David. Vitamin B12 Deficiency. Am Fam Physician. 2003 Mar 1;67(5):979-986.; 5) Oral Probiotics- An Introduction. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm; 6) Delgado-Lista J, Perez-Martinez P, Lopez-Miranda J, et al. Long chain omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review. Br.J.Nutr. 2012;107 Suppl 2:S201-S213.