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The supplements everyone should take for optimal health
As our collective health has grown poorer, motivation to take responsibility for individual wellness has grown stronger. We’re striving to eat healthier, move our bodies more, reduce our exposure to chemicals, and take our supplements. In fact, Americans are taking supplements in record-breaking numbers. In an annual survey conducted by The Council for Responsible Nutrition, 77 percent of respondents said they regularly take dietary supplements, the highest level reported to date.1 This is great news! In our modern world, and the modern lifestyles that come with it, taking supplements has become a necessity, but which supplements will build the foundation to help you thrive? We’ve put together a list of “Five to Thrive”—five dietary supplements that most of us don’t get enough of, and ones that everyone can benefit from (#5 is the fun part where you personalize it to make it your own!).
First up is a multivitamin. This provides the basics—the B vitamins, antioxidant vitamins like C and E, vitamin D, and minerals like iodine, zinc, and selenium. It will fill in the gaps where we fall short in our diets and is especially important if you struggle with healthy eating. Even if you generally eat a healthy diet loaded with vegetables, it’s hard to get optimal amounts of certain vitamins and minerals through food alone. Decades of chemical-intensive conventional agricultural practices have severely depleted our soils, stripping them of beneficial vitamins and minerals, leaving little for vegetables to take up as they grow. Multiple studies have found declines in a number of important nutrients in vegetables and fruit, including calcium, magnesium, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and vitamins A and C.2 And brand new research is beginning to show that climate change will also have a negative impact on the nutrient content of plants, with plants becoming more concentrated in carbohydrates like glucose, fructose, and sucrose and containing fewer minerals, including zinc, iron, and magnesium.3 While taking a daily multi will give you a solid foundation to build on, you may also consider your individual needs and take more of specific nutrients as needed (for example, vitamin D or the B vitamins).
Magnesium is one of those nutrients that plays an integral role in, well, almost everything. It is a cofactor in hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body, including those involved in protein synthesis (building and maintaining muscle mass and other tissues); muscle function (including keeping our hearts beating); the release of neurotransmitters (the chemicals in our brain responsible for mood, learning, memory, and focus); blood sugar control; and blood pressure regulation. It is also required for energy production in the mitochondria that keeps us alive and healthy, normal cell function and repair, and is a key player in maintaining healthy bones.4 5 6 7 Low magnesium levels have been associated with type-2 diabetes, inflammation, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, depression, migraine headache, asthma, and colon cancer.8 9 As you can see, magnesium is no minor player in whole body health.
Dietary surveys consistently show that intakes of magnesium are lower than recommended amounts, with 1 out of 3 Americans not getting the recommended daily allowance (RDA). Additionally, because of decreases of this important mineral in our food, and a host of modern-day magnesium drains (stress, chronic disease, prescription drugs, refined and processed foods, and alcohol), almost all of us have suboptimal levels; in other words, just enough to prevent an outright deficiency, but not enough to prevent chronic disease.10 According to research, most people need an additional 300 mg of magnesium daily (in addition to the daily recommended allowance (RDA) of 320-420 mg daily) in order to obtain optimal levels that lower the risk of chronic disease.11
In an ideal world, we would all eat an abundance of food rich in the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats EPA and DHA while limiting foods high in pro-inflammatory omega-6s. In reality, though, most of us eat way too many omega-6 fats that promote inflammation and fall woefully short on omega-3s. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in fatty fish, fish oil supplements, and certain types of marine algae, reduce inflammation via a number of different mechanisms, including producing anti-inflammatory compounds and inhibiting pro-inflammatory molecules in the body.12 EPA and DHA play a significant role in protecting the body from diseases that are either caused by or worsened by inflammation, from arthritis and asthma to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
They are also crucial for brain health. The brain is 60 percent fat and DHA makes up the majority of that fat, influencing nerve transmission and cellular communication, and less than optimal levels of DHA can negatively affect normal brain function.13 14 The omega-3s are critical in fetal and infant brain development, and in young and old alike, the omega-3s have proven to improve cognition, learning, attention, focus, and memory.15 16 They also have a positive effect on mood and mental health, particularly in depression.17 18
Most of us simply don’t eat enough cold water, fatty fish—the main food source of EPA and DHA—to obtain optimal levels. In fact, a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that a low intake of the omega-3 fats was one of the main dietary risks for death.19 A supplement is an easy way to get your daily dose of these vital fats. In healthy people, 1,000-2,000 mg of a combination of EPA and DHA daily is recommended.20
Vitamin D has become something of a superstar, and with good reason—it’s involved in nearly every aspect of health! One place vitamin D is particularly important is in immune function. We often talk of boosting our immune systems to fight off things like viruses, but what we really need is a balanced immune system that doesn’t over- or underreact, and vitamin D helps us achieve just that. It supports our ability to fend off such things as colds, flus, and respiratory illnesses, but it also keeps the immune system in check, helping to inhibit the development of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.21 22 Vitamin D is also critical for cardiovascular function and supports healthy blood pressure and vascular tone.23 It supports the health of our bones and muscles, keeping them strong and functioning well into old age.24 25 26 Vitamin D even supports learning, mood, and memory. Maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D is absolutely critical to feeling and functioning our best.
Ideally, everyone should get their vitamin D levels tested and then supplement as needed to keep them in the optimal range, which, though not firmly established, is generally believed to be between 30 and 65 ng/mL. Even if you are unable to get your levels tested, supplementing with vitamin D has been shown to be a safe and effective way to support optimal vitamin D levels.
Supplements have become one of the backbones of a modern wellness routine and you can find them at just about any big box store, grocery store, and from online retailers. But buyer beware. There are unscrupulous companies out there that sell supplements that are of poor quality or contain ingredients that they shouldn’t (or don’t contain what they say they do!). This is especially rampant online.34 Buying your supplements from a reputable store that you can trust carries only the highest quality dietary supplements without questionable fillers, artificial ingredients, and other problematic ingredients is more important than ever. Look for a store that has a rigorous screening process for choosing the supplements they will sell and that ensures all products are Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certified with certificates of analysis verified for authenticity of ingredients and to screen out heavy metals. It’s an added bonus if your go-to store for supplements also has a knowledgeable staff that can help answer questions.
Now that you’ve got the basics down, here’s the fun part! There’s a whole world of dietary supplements that run the gamut from liver health to heart health to blood sugar support to sports nutrition. We call these health-specific supplements the “super nutrients.” This is where you consider your individual needs and create your own toolbox. Is your liver sluggish and needs a little extra love? Milk thistle is your BFF! Blood sugar out of whack? You may want to consider berberine for blood sugar control and healthy weight maintenance. Are you a fitness fanatic looking to up your game? Try beetroot, MCT oil, and cordyceps for endurance, energy, and stamina. Beetroot is also especially important for cardiovascular health and maintaining healthy blood pressure. Probiotics are beneficial for everyone, but especially for those dealing with gut issues.
If you’ve recently seen a headline questioning the value of dietary supplements, you may be wondering if they are really necessary. The truth is, they are a modern day must and there is a decades-long body of research conducted at universities and research hospitals worldwide that shows supplements, from vitamins and minerals to fatty acids and phytonutrients, to be valuable. In our modern-day world, it is vital to supplement the diet, and here are four reasons why.
In addition to the reasons already covered is the idea of individuality—depending on your age, stress levels, lifestyle, digestive issues, specific health issues, etc., your body may require more of certain nutrients. As you can see, a variety of factors are at play, creating the “perfect storm” in which dietary supplements have become a modern-day must. Learn more on how to build your foundation for good health with the Five to Thrive supplements and take charge of your health now and for years to come.