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The Big 4

Looking to start a supplement plan and aren't sure which nutrients are most important to take? Start with the essentials-four vital nutrients everyone needs 2014 Buyer's Guide to Essential Supplements. The Egyptian pyramids have lasted for more than 4,000 years because of one thing-a solid foundation.

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2014 Buyer’s Guide to Essential Supplements

The Egyptian pyramids have lasted for more than 4,000 years because of one thing-a solid foundation. Your supplement regimen needs
a sturdy base too.

The supplements comprising this foundation support basic life processes, such as cellular energy production, growth, repair, and regeneration. No matter who you are or what you’re going through, you need the same foundational supplements as everybody else. Think of them as the essential nutrients for living well as
a human. They include four building blocks:

1. An ideally dosed multivitamin/mineral

The very first and most important supplement of your foundation is a daily multivitamin/mineral. Never think of the basic vitamins and minerals as outdated. From vitamin A to the mineral zinc, your body is totally dependent on these nutrients for optimal health. You can always live without the latest Amazonian herb that claims to cure everything, but you can never live without vitamins and minerals.

It can’t be stressed enough, though, that not all multivitamins are the same. There are your basic, bare-bones multivitamins that provide minimal doses of some essential nutrients. And then there are your robust multivitamins that deliver ideal doses of a full spectrum of essential nutrients.

What is the main difference between these multiples? Dosage. The first type is based on the government’s “recommended dietary allowance,” or RDA, and the second reflects what is called the “ideal daily intake,” or IDI.

To fully comprehend the difference between these two approaches, we have to go back a little bit in time. Have you ever wondered who established the RDAs for all the vitamins and minerals, and how they got the numbers they did?

During World War II, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) had a goal of preventing nutrient-deficiency diseases in the armed forces, in civilians being rationed food, and in children enrolled in school lunch programs. The NAS created a committee, later named the Food and Nutrition Board, to answer questions such as: How much vitamin D is necessary to prevent rickets? How much vitamin C is needed to prevent scurvy? How much vitamin B1 (thiamine) is required to prevent beriberi?

The numbers they came up with in 1941 eventually became the RDAs. Although they’re updated every five to 10 years, those numbers haven’t changed significantly over time.

Today, most conventional doctors use recommended daily intakes or RDIs, instead of RDAs. These are basically the same thing, but they’re broader in scope because they establish the daily dose needed to keep 98 percent of people healthy (or, more accurately, free of nutrient-deficiency diseases) across every demographic.

Here’s the point: Both the RDAs and the RDIs are pretty much useless, because they set the bar very, very low. It’s time for our government to stop asking, “What level of a nutrient prevents horrible, disfiguring diseases?” and start asking, “What level of a nutrient will create the most vibrant, optimal health in human beings?”

And that’s exactly what the IDI does. This ideal dosing system is based on research proving the positive benefits of vitamins and minerals in treating various age-related disorders.

As an educated consumer, get into the habit of looking at the back of the label-where the Supplement Facts are-not the front. Look at the doses. Are they based on the RDA/RDI or the IDI? The chart on p. 34 can help you identify an ideally dosed multivitamin.

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The second building block of a strong nutritional foundation for optimum health should be a high-quality omega-3 fatty acid supplement. In the simplest terms, omega-3 fatty acids
are healthy fats. They’re sometimes called “essential fatty acids” because, quite simply, they are essential to health. Yet your body can’t make them, so you have to get them either through your diet or supplementation.

The United States hasn’t set an RDI for omega-3 fatty acids yet, but several other countries have, including Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan. It usually falls somewhere between 300 and 500 mg per day of EPA and DHA-the primary omega-3 fats you want. I’m betting within the next decade or two the U.S. government will assign them an RDI, giving them equal status with vitamins and minerals, as they are so critical to human health.

The recommended 300-500 mg per day, however, is a bare minimum. If you have cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association recommends 1 gm of fish oil daily. And raise that dosage to 2-4 gm if your triglycerides are elevated.

How can you find a high-quality fish oil? Look for the IFOS score. IFOS stands for International Fish Oil Standards. It’s an independent group that measures purity and potency. Purchase only fish oil products with an IFOS of 4 or 5.

3. Ubiquinol Coenzyme Q10

The third supplement of your foundation is coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), in the ubiquinol (not ubiquinone) form. This one supplement can make such a big difference in your health and well-being that every single American adult could benefit from taking it.

What the heck is a coenzyme? Well, “co” means “with” or “together.” And enzymes catalyze all the chemical reactions in your body that sustain life. So coenzymes work together with enzymes to keep you alive. Sounds important, huh?

If your CoQ10 levels are low, you won’t just feel tired and drained-every cell, tissue, and organ in your body will suffer.

This vital nutrient is best known for promoting cardiovascular health. And that makes sense when you think about it, because your heart demands more energy than almost any other organ in your body. But CoQ10 has other benefits too-benefits to your brain, nerves, and immune system.

CoQ10 is naturally produced in the body, but you make less of it as you get older. Tissue samples have revealed that CoQ10 levels tend to peak around age 20 and then gradually decrease with age.

It’s not just aging that diminishes CoQ10 levels. Statin drugs, used for lowering cholesterol, are also notorious CoQ10 robbers. Just one month of statin treatment can lower your CoQ10 levels by 40 percent. And people with certain cardiovascular diseases are prone to having low levels of CoQ10 in their heart tissues, where they need it most.

Take between 100-200 mg per day of ubiquinol CoQ10.

4. Probiotics

The fourth supplement of your foundation is probiotics, the good-for-you bacteria that inhabit your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The truth is, you’re only as healthy as your gut. When your gut health is compromised, it doesn’t matter how healthy your diet is-you won’t be able to extract all of the nutrients from food.

Not only that, a good portion of your immune system-about 70 percent-is located within your GI tract. As long as you have a healthy balance of good-to-bad bacteria in your gut, it’s OK (and normal) to host some of the bad guys. If you don’t have this healthy balance, digestive and immune function can suffer, resulting in problems from indigestion to inflammatory bowel disease.

So why are so many of us lacking in these friendly flora? For starters, antibiotics. They don’t just kill harmful bacteria-they wipe out the good guys, too. Other factors that can lower levels of beneficial bacteria include alcohol, smoking, stress, aging, and the typical, enzyme-deficient American diet.

A quality probiotic will provide at least 5-20 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of two primary strains: Lactobacillus and bifidobacteria.

Recommended intakes of vitamins and minerals

5 Ways to Spot a High-Quality Supplement

  1. Check for GMP Compliance
    As of June 2010, it became mandatory that all nutritional supplements made or sold in the United States be manufactured in accordance with GMPs, a set of manufacturing processes, safety procedures, packaging standards, and laboratory testing protocol that help ensure a quality product. The requirements include provisions related to cleaning of work areas, quality-control procedures, and proper manufacturing operations with calibrated machines.
  2. Choose Brands that Test and Test Again
    The only surefire way to know a product is accurately labeled is to test it. By law, every nutritional supplement manufacturer should be subjecting each raw material they use in a particular product, as well as the the finished product itself, to a series of identity and purity tests. And purity tests can easily determine if a product has been contaminated or adulterated.
  3. Consider the Ingredients’ Origins
    In general, the best sources of raw materials are the United States, Japan, and Europe.
  4. Ask for a Certificate of Analysis
    Don’t just take a company’s word for it that they test their raw materials and finished products. Ask for proof. Pick up the phone and request that the company send you a Certificate of Analysis, commonly referred to as a C of A. If a company tells you they don’t have a C of A or doesn’t release it, then that’s probably a good reason to find another company from which to purchase supplements.
  5. Do a Search on
    One way to find out if your nutritional supplement makes the grade is to do a search on This company routinely tests what’s inside a product versus what’s stated on the label, and reveals which brands passed and which didn’t. The site is subscription-based, so plan on spending about $33 per year for access to their testing results.

Supplements for a strong foundation

Doctor’s BestBest Probiotic is a new product featuring six strains of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Each nonGMO, gluten-free capsule contains 20 billion CFU.

Life ExtensionSuper Ubiquinol CoQ10 (100 mg) is made with Kaneka QH Ubiquinol, a patented form of the nutrient known for its superior absorption rates.

Natural FactorsDr. Murray’s Women’s MultiStart, a comprehensive multi, is purity and potency guaranteed. Also try: Women’s Plus MultiStart (for menopausal-age women).

Nature’s Way Alive!
Whole Food Energizer Multi-Vitamin, Max Potency, is one of the bestselling multis around. The product is available with and without iron.

NutrigoldTriple-Strength Omega-3 GOLD boasts fish oil concentrate sourced from certified sustainable, wild-caught Pacific fish with a minimum
of 1 g of EPA and DHA.

Michael A. Smith, MD, is the author of The Supplement Pyramid: How to Build Your Personalized Nutritional Regimen. The book includes a series of health quizzes that guide you in developing a personalized plan that meets your individual needs. You can purchase the book online at, as well as take all the quizzes by creating a free online account. All of your supplement suggestions, quizzes, and health inventories will be stored digitally for easy access.

Here’s the point: Both the RDAs and the RDIs are pretty much useless, because they set the bar very, very low.

The truth is, you’re only as healthy as your gut.