Of all the questions I’ve been asked in the past 27 years, there are a few that I call “perennials”. They just keep coming up anytime I engage with readers or listeners—Facebook, Twitter, lectures, workshops, morning television shows—and they come up consistently, year after year.. An example of a “perennial” is “How do I get more energy?” Another is “How do I lose weight?”
And a third—the subject of this eponymously named column-is “What supplements should I take?”
Before I answer it, I want to note a caveat.
I’m not a believer in one-size-fits-all in anything—not in nutrition, diet, supplement programs, exercise, or, really, anything in life. My mantra is that everyone is different– we are, after all, biochemically, hormonally and metabolically unique—and we need to honor and celebrate that uniqueness, not ignore it. A supplement program for a stressed out 68 year old male executive is going to be vastly different from a supplement program from a 19 year old female college basketball player.
That said, there are still five basic supplements that I believe 99.99% of the population would benefit from, based on my own clinical experience and based on research about what they do. The value of each of these five supplements is– in my opinion– pretty incontrovertible. Whatever additional supplements an individual might benefit from, these five are still a terrific foundation.
- Fish Oil (2-4 grams daily of combined EPA / DHA)
Fish oil is one of the most anti-inflammatory molecules on earth and inflammation is a promoter of every degenerative disease we know of. We consume way too much pro-inflammatory omega-6s and not nearly enough anti-inflammatory omega-3s (such as ALA, EPA and DHA). I’ve been using Barlean’s brand for years, and their emulsified fish oil—Omega Swirls (soon to be renamed as Seriously Delicious Omega-3s) is even acceptable for kids.
- Magnesium (400-800 mg daily)
Two things to know about magnesium: One, It’s needed for over 300 biochemical metabolic operations and almost no one gets enough of it. Magnesium relaxes, builds bones, relieves stress and helps prevent muscle cramps. And it’s good for the heart. My favorite way to supplement is with Natural Vitality’s Calm, the perfectly named fizzy magnesium drink that I have every night before bed.
- Vitamin D (2,000-5,000 depending on blood test)
An estimated 1 billion people worldwide have inadequate or deficient levels of vitamin D. Why does it matter? Only because literally dozens of conditions are associated with vitamin D deficiency, from obesity to heart disease to depression. I recommend getting your blood levels checked when you go to the doctor, and aiming for a blood level of at least 50 ng/ml. Levels lower than that can usually be brought up to optimal with 2,000- 5,000 IUs of vitamin D a day (make sure it’s in the D3 form.) Good vitamin D3 supplements are relatively cheap and readily available from many manufacturers. One reliable consumer manufacturer you can’t go wrong with is Jarrow.
One of the biggest topics in nutrition research is the microbiome, which is the name scientists give to that huge, teeming population of bacteria and microbes that lives inside our gut. We have more of these non-human cells than we do human ones, and keeping them happy is turning out to be one of the central goals of modern, integrative, functional medicine. That’s because just about everyone now believes that all health starts in the gut. Probiotics are the “good” guys in your microbiome, and they’re constantly in a turf war with the bad guys—like candida albicans (yeast). Dr. David Perlmutter—whose recommendations I take very seriously—suggests looking for a brand that contains these five species: Lactobaccilus plantarum, lactobaccilus acidophilus; lactobaccilus brevis; bifidobacterium lactis; and bifidobacterium longum.
- A High-Quality Multiple Vitamin
Here’s the reason I include a multiple vitamin in my top five: micronutrient deficiency. As many researchers have pointed out, even small deficiencies of micronutrients you might not think about (like selenium, molybdemum, folic acid, zinc, etc) can throw a kink into your metabolism and have nasty consequences down the road. We need to be sure we’re getting everything we need, plugging all the holes, and a high-quality multiple is a reliable way to do that. Up until now, most of the multiples that I considered high quality enough to recommend were considered “doctors brands” only available through licensed health professionals. But Rainbow Light’s new Vibrance Line is as good as any I’ve ever seen and it’s available everywhere. So that’s the one I now recommend.
For those who don’t mind swallowing some extra pills, there’s no reason to stop with these five. Next month, I’ll tell you about six more superstar supplements that I consume every day in addition to the five foundation nutrients discussed this month.
See you then!
Jonny Bowden, “the Nutrition Myth Buster,” is a board-certified nutritionist and the best-selling author of 15 books including The Great Cholesterol Myth, Living Low Carb, the 150 Healthiest Foods On Earth and Smart Fat. To learn more about healthy living, motivation and nutrition, visit jonnybowden.com.
Note: The statements presented in this column should not be considered medical advice or a way to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. Dietary supplements do not treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before altering your daily dietary regimen. The opinions presented here are those of the writer.