Do I Really Need to Take Supplements?
Even if you eat a perfect organic, whole-foods diet, the answer is probably yes.
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Q: A lot of regular medical doctors seem to think that supplements just produce “expensive urine.” I think drugs are way worse, but it’s still confusing. Thoughts?
A: The best idea, always, is to value and preserve your health to the best of your ability. Top priority, every day. If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it’s that people who generally well tend to have milder disease, which is why maintaining optimum health is so important.
So, what are some strategies for staying healthy? A targeted regimen of dietary supplements tops the list. That’s mostly because our food—even when organic—doesn’t have the vitamin and mineral content as it did before our air, water, and soil became saturated with man-made chemicals. Our planet is beleaguered with the stuff—and so are our guts and immune systems!
Vitamin C for Tissue Repair & Much More
One example of a critical nutrient that requires supplementation is vitamin C. Humans are incapable of internally producing vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which is used by the body for tissue repair, wound healing, adrenal health, and collagen integrity. Unless you drink fresh-squeezed orange juice or use a lot of lemon/lime in your water or cooking, you probably aren’t getting a beneficial amount of vitamin C from your diet.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 65 mg per day. This is the minimum amount needed to prevent scurvy. But if your goal is optimal health, and not just scurvy prevention, you’ll want quite a bit more. The best dose is just under what would produce a loose stool. I take about 2,500 mg daily, in the evening, because it can help with tissue repair overnight.
Vitamin D3 for Overall Health
Many of us don’t get enough of this essential vitamin. Our bodies make vitamin D after being exposed to the sun, but because we now live mostly indoors (and slather on sunscreen when we venture outside), even people in Southern California and Arizona are widely vitamin D3-deficient unless they take a supplement. I generally recommend 5,000 IUs daily. It’s best to check your serum levels a few times until you understand which dose will bring them into an optimal range. Inexpensive tests are often offered at local health fairs.
Also, take note that vitamin D3 gets stored in our fat cells, so it can be tricky for overweight people to achieve optimal blood levels of 60–80 ng/mL.
Another benefit of losing weight is that your D3 levels will move toward the optimal range as the vitamin becomes liberated from fat cells that are being used up for fuel.
Melatonin for Sounder Sleep
Supplementing with melatonin at bedtime is a sensible way to offset the melatonin deficiency caused by indoor lighting. Blame Thomas Edison for our insomnia and night owling!
Melatonin is produced naturally by the body, although we lack definitive information about how much—it seems to vary with age and light exposure. Generally, humans are thought to secrete about 10 ng/mL daily, but some research says up to 60 ng/mL.
Related: The Right Way to Take Melatonin
I mention this because there is no danger of suppressing natural melatonin production if we use lower doses than the body would optimally produce naturally. So start low with your melatonin dose: 0.5 mg may be enough to allow for deep sleep onset within 20 minutes of laying your head on the pillow. I use 2.5 mg nightly. Too much can produce weird dreams, but nothing worse. And turn off your electronics an hour before bed! This will help your sleep to be more profoundly restorative.
Omega-3 Fats Are Key
If you’re lucky enough to live near a supply of wild, oily fish, they’re the best way to get your essential omega-3 fatty acids. Otherwise, consider supplementing with a high-quality fish oil blend of EPA and DHA, sourced from wild (not farmed) fatty fish, and ideally cold-pressed (like good olive oil). The best sources of fish oil come from the SMASH fish: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. Fish oil has been proven to improve cardiovascular disease, particularly in high-risk populations such as African American men.
Supergreen Powders for Healthy Blood Vessels
If you eat the rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables, you likely get enough healing bioflavonoids in your diet. If, for whatever reason, you don’t eat 5 cups of vegetables and 1–2 cups of fresh fruit daily, then consider supplementing with a supergreen food powder or an anti-inflammatory turmeric-based blend. Bioflavonoids are a major agent of repair, specifically for the inner lining of blood vessels. Healthy blood vessels don’t accumulate plaque, which is a major cause of high blood pressure and stroke.
Vitamin A for Healthy Skin
The fat-soluble fraction of a major bioflavonoid (beta-carotene) is vitamin A, which is important for skin health. And it also has significant antiviral properties. If you suffer from acne or easily irritable skin, try a course of 25,000 IUs of vitamin A (in a gel cap) daily for 6 weeks to 6 months.
Related: The ABCs of Vitamin A
Vitamin E for Women Over 40
Women over 40 should consider adding vitamin E to their health and beauty regimen, because it’s a natural attenuator of estrogen, which keeps the skin elastic and bones strong. Try 400–800 IUs daily unless you have premenstrual breast tenderness, in which case a higher dose of 1,600 IUs may be helpful for a few years.
B Vitamins for Stress
B vitamins are often referred to as “antistress,” and for good reason—they are important nerve nutrients. Red meat is a major dietary source of B vitamins, in particular B12. Vegans need to supplement with B12 (1,000–2,000 mcg daily, ideally in sublingual form). Fermented foods are a good source of B12, as is nutritional yeast—but you probably won’t want to eat ¼ cup of nutritional yeast every day!
The numbered B vitamins are water-soluble and are generally well absorbed unless you have a chronic gut issue such as celiac disease. Many folks with celiac or IBD are B-deficient—ask a nutritionally oriented doctor or naturopathic physician to check your blood levels.
There is a category of fat-soluble B vitamins as well: lecithin, inositol, and phosphatidylcholine. These are very important nerve factors that help balance the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (feed and breed) responses to our constantly stimulating environment. A high-quality B complex supplement can help you get adequate amounts of these key stress-busting nutrients.
Find a licensed naturopathic doctor for a virtual (telemedicine) or in-person consultation at naturemed.org/find-an-nd.