Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Choosing the perfect supplementation program is a huge challenge. Although we’re all alike in some ways, we’re profoundly different on many more levels. A postmenopausal woman, a 40-something man, and a pregnant 23-year-old have very different nutritional needs. So how do you come up with a program that covers the basics, yet respects the fact that we’re all biochemically unique?
That’s the question I asked myself when tackling this guide. I decided to choose supplements that have the greatest systemic effect, could reasonably be useful to the widest range of people, and would provide the greatest amount of protection for basic metabolic processes that we all share. I’ve also included three extra supplements just for women, along with some honorable mentions.
1 Fish Oil
It’s taken a while, but even conventional medicine now admits that omega-3 fatty acids are vital for a healthy body. Fish oil supplements, with their generous dose of the omega-3s EPA and DHA, can reduce the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease. They lower blood pressure slightly, and triglycerides even more. Most important, they are anti-inflammatory. Since inflammation is a central feature of every degenerative disease from Alzheimer’s to cancer, supplementing with fish oil is one of the single best things you can do for your overall health.
Recommended Daily Dose: At least one gram (1,000 mg) of combined EPA and DHA.
2 Vitamin D
According to vitamin D expert William B. Grant, PhD, the health benefits of vitamin D extend to at least 100 types of disease, most notably cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory infections, and autoimmune diseases. Vitamin D has been linked to better mood, better physical performance, and even better results with weight-loss programs.
Recommended Daily Dose: 2,000 IUs.
“Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful micro-organisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function” says the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. You can get these probiotics from yogurt that contains active cultures, but most of us don’t get the optimal amount in our diets. Daily probiotic supplements can help keep your digestive and immune systems functioning at their best.
Recommended Daily Dose: As directed.
What nutrient is critical for a healthy heart, helps control blood sugar, is essential for strong bones, and helps relax you when you’re stressed? Magnesium! Several studies show that a majority of Americans don’t get enough of this important mineral. According to researchers at MIT, magnesium deficiencies have been tied to allergies, asthma, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, heart disease, muscle cramps, and a host of other conditions.
Recommended Daily Dose: 400-800 mg.
Curcumin is the general name for a group of plant compounds found in the spice turmeric. The number of things this supplement does could fill a small book, but the Physicans Desk Reference on Nutritional Supplements provides a good summary: “The curcuminoids may have anticarcinogenic (anti-cancer), anti-inflammatory (including anti-arthritic), antiviral, antifungal, and immune-modulating effects.” ScienceWatch recently highlighted 19 core papers on the health benefits of curcumin, many of them focusing on its anticancer activity. I now consider it one of the most important supplements to take on a daily basis.
Recommended Daily Dose: 1,000 mg.
Resveratrol has drawn a lot of attention as an “anti-aging” nutrient-research has shown that resveratrol extends the life of every species studied so far, from fruit flies to monkeys. But it’s also a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and there are at least 10 active research projects investigating its potential as an anticancer agent. I now recommend it as a part of every supplementation package for optimal health.
Recommended Daily Dose: At least 250 mg trans-resveratrol, the active form of the compound. (If a 500 mg capsule of resveratrol is “standardized for 20% trans” that means each capsule delivers 100 mg of trans-resveratrol.)
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health state in the Journal of the American Medical Association that “suboptimal intake of some vitamins-above levels causing vitamin deficiency-is a risk factor for chronic diseases and common in the general population,” adding that, “it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.” Dr. Alex Vasquez, co-author of the Textbook of Functional Medicine notes that, “Vitamin deficiencies-especially when mild-can result in ‘long-latency deficiency diseases’ that can include osteoporosis, chronic pain, depression, heart disease, and cancer.” Taking a quality, high-potency multiple every day just makes good sense.
Finally, let’s be very clear: Ultimate health is about a lot more than supplements. It’s about what you eat, what (and who) you surround yourself with, your attitudes, your relationships, your lifestyle, and even how much time you spend outdoors in the sun.
Ultimate health is about who you are in the world-it’s the sum total of everything you do, and it can’t be gotten by supplements alone. But assuming that you’re doing most of the other good stuff, this basic supplement program will be a terrific asset to your overall health program. As my grandmother used to say, “Use it in good health.”
FOR WOMEN ONLY: SUPPLEMENT ESSENTIALS
Calcium: Though recent studies reported the scary finding that taking calcium supplements can slightly increase the risk for heart disease, it’s important to remember that in those studies people were taking calcium supplements without any magnesium or vitamin D. Women-and men-need calcium (though there are good reasons for men not to over-supplement with it.) But women should feel safe taking up to 1,000 mg a day, provided their calcium is mixed with other important bone nutrients like magnesium (preferably in a ratio of 1:1 cal/mag), vitamin D, vitamin K2, boron, and silica. Any high-quality bone protecting formula will contain at least the first three of these ingredients, if not all of them.
Indole-3-Carbinole or DIM: Decades ago, scientists puzzled over the fact that Eastern European women had significantly lower rates of breast cancer than their relatives who moved overseas and adopted the typical American diet. Many studies later, they identified cabbage as being the prime cancer-protective food in the European diet. The reason? Cabbage, broccoli, and other members of the brassica vegetable family contain plant chemicals known as indoles, which help steer estrogen metabolism into benign pathways less likely to be carcinogenic. The most powerful indole is indole-3-carbinole (also called I3C) and it’s available as a supplement. Other research has shown that indole-3-carbinole metabolizes into an even more powerful chemical called DIM (di-indole-methane), which many health professionals (myself included) now recommend as a daily cancer-fighting supplement for all women.
Herbs for varicose veins: Varicose veins are a common problem among people who are middle-aged, especially women. Herbal supplements can help reduce varicose vein symptoms and strengthen vein health in the legs. In some cases, herbs can help diminish, or even completely resolve, spider veins. Butcher’s broom has a long history of use for treating all sorts of venous disorders, including varicose veins and hemorrhoids. Popular in Europe, butcher’s broom extract has been shown to provide anti-inflammatory benefits and vasoconstrictor effects. Horse chestnut seed extract is another important herb for alleviating varicose veins. Some research has shown that escin, a compound in horse chestnut, is as effective as compression stockings for the condition. The herb appears to help reduce edema and inflammation.
Sanhelios circu caps higher dose gives you a therapeutic amount of butcher’s broom extract in one pill daily. It works great for heaviness in the legs and also hemorrhoids.
essential formulas dr. ohhira’s propolis plus is an innovative supplement that combines a probiotic extract with antioxidant-rich Brazilian Green Propolis and astaxanthin.
Peter Gillham’s Natural vitality natural calm in organic raspberry-lemon is a sugar-free powder that contains magnesium citrate, a highly bioavailable form of the mineral.
Nordic naturals kenai wild Alaskan salmon oil is a new product that has more than 500 mg of DHA and EPA per serving from sustainably harvested wild salmon (from Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula).
buried treasure purely organic ladies’ multi is a whole food multivitamin for women. The tasty liquid features 100 percent USDA certified organic ingredients, including high-potency vitamins and herbs for women, such as chaste berry, dong quai, rosemary, pomegranate, and red clover.