When a wellness influencer with flawless skin and flowing locks promises to cure bloating, adult acne, or insomnia by increasing our intake of Vitamin X, Y, or Z, it can be hard to keep scrolling — even on our best days. But, it’s important to know that health advice isn’t one-size-fits-all. To cut through some of the static surrounding supplements, we consulted with a registered dietitian, and she’s breaking down a list of eight commonly-recommended supplements and tips for taking each one to reap the most benefit.
“We each have a unique internal ecosystem, so blanket statements can be dangerous,” says Emmeline Huddleston, a registered dietitian in Nashville, TN. “You might hear that ‘all women should take fish oil’ or ‘everyone should take a Vitamin D supplement,’ but food is always the preferred source of nutrients, and you shouldn’t add supplements to your diet without consulting with your healthcare provider first.”
Taking supplements unnecessarily can not only be a waste of time and money, but over-supplementing can have potentially negative effects. If you’re not feeling your best, Emmeline recommends requesting a Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP) to test your essential nutrient levels (typically covered by insurance at your annual checkup). That way, you can determine if you actually have a deficiency before tossing another pill into that daily organizer. “If your levels are normal, there’s no need to supplement,” says Emmeline. “If you are deficient, a ‘food first’ philosophy is recommended, but supplements are helpful for filling in nutritional gaps.”
Read on to learn about eight commonly-recommended supplements, including:
- Each supplement’s role in the body
- Potential symptoms of deficiency + which populations are at greatest risk for deficiency
- Ways to boost your intake naturally through diet
- Tips for optimizing the benefit of each supplement
And, as a bonus, Emmeline wraps up by sharing the one supplement she personally DOES recommend that everyone take!
What it does: Unlike other vitamins found predominantly in food sources, Vitamin D is created in the body — it’s actually produced in the skin as a reaction to sun exposure! However, since we don’t get as much sunlight these days (due to indoor work and simply avoiding the harmful effects of the sun), Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common. Vitamin D is a precursor to your hormones, so a deficiency can affect your immune system, mood, and gut health. Vitamin D also helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus, which are necessary for healthy bones.
You might be at risk of deficiency if you: get little to no sun exposure, have a dark complexion, are over the age of 65, or suffer from obesity or general poor nutrition
Symptoms of deficiency: low energy, muscle weakness, depression
Foods containing Vitamin D: mushrooms, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, cod liver oil, beef liver, sardines, Vitamin D-fortified grocery items like orange juice, milk, and cereals
How to incorporate a Vitamin D supplement: Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so you’ll want to take this with a meal — ideally one that includes some healthy fats like nut butter, eggs, avocado, etc. — in order to properly absorb it. There are two types of Vitamin D: D2 and D3. For supplementation, look for D3, which is available over the counter; it’s more easily absorbed and lasts longer.
What it does: Known as “nature’s chill pill,” magnesium is a relaxation mineral. Your body and brain depend on it to stay relaxed, so it’s vital to organ function and the ability to get restful sleep. Cells need magnesium to produce energy, so low magnesium can affect energy levels.
You might be at risk of deficiency if you: lead a high-stress lifestyle, use alcohol regularly, are over the age of 75, have Type 2 Diabetes, are undergoing chemotherapy treatments, use loop diuretics (such as Lasix)
Symptoms of deficiency: poor sleep, fatigue and muscle weakness, muscle stiffness
Foods containing magnesium: dark leafy greens, yogurt, milk, beans and legumes, whole grains, high-quality dark chocolate
How to incorporate a magnesium supplement: Look for “magnesium glycinate,” which is the more absorbable version and is best for folks with an actual deficiency. (Another common option is “magnesium citrate” — but that’s used predominantly for constipation relief.) Because magnesium promotes calm and relaxation, it’s best taken at night. It’s not fat-soluble, so it can be taken on an empty stomach.
What it does: The master antioxidant, Vitamin C prevents cell damage, fights disease, reduces respiratory infections, and promotes healthy aging.
You might be at risk of deficiency if you: have a high alcohol intake, use tobacco, have generally poor nutrition
Symptoms of deficiency: Though Vitamin C deficiency is rare, signs include chronic respiratory infections, fatigue, depression, impaired wound healing, and gingivitis.
Foods containing Vitamin C: citrus, carrots, apples, bell peppers, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli
How to incorporate a Vitamin C supplement: Widely accepted as an immune booster, Vitamin C is very easy to find. You can take it any time of day, with food or on an empty stomach. The supplement you choose should be indicated as ascorbic acid (the scientific name for Vitamin C).
What it does: ‘Omega 3s’ aren’t vitamins or minerals, but rather a grouping of fatty acids. They are extremely valuable for brain function and overall mental health and are recommended in the treatment of autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. They can help reduce triglycerides (a type of cholesterol reported to contribute to belly fat) and can increase your sensitivity to insulin (which is a good thing!). Omega 3s are a natural anti-inflammatory and crucial energy source that keeps your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and immune system working properly.
You might be at risk of deficiency if you: True deficiency of Omega 3 fatty acids is rare, and most panels don’t test for Omega 3s, but folks with allergies or aversions to foods containing Omega 3s may be at risk.
Symptoms of deficiency: dry or irritated skin, stiff joints, mood swings and depression, poor circulation, poor memory, fatigue
Foods containing Omega 3s: cold-water fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines, nuts and seeds (flax, chia, walnuts), and flaxseed oil
How to incorporate an Omega 3 supplement: Fish oil is the best option for Omega 3 supplementation, but make sure the bottle indicates that the formula includes EPA and DHA (the two most crucial Omega 3 fatty acids). Take with a meal for best absorption! And, if you are vegan or have a fish allergy, you can still supplement your Omega 3s — simply swap fish oil for algae oil.
What it does: In Emmeline’s opinion, zinc is underrated for its benefits to the immune system. Zinc acts as an anti-inflammatory and can slow aging and support hormone production. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it’s crucial for folks with autoimmune disorders. It’s widely available and very inexpensive — you can find it in the form of capsules, gels, syrups, or lozenges.
You might be at risk of deficiency if you: are vegan or vegetarian, have chronic gastrointestinal disease, chronic infections, diabetes, liver disease, or have a high alcohol intake
Symptoms of deficiency: loss of appetite, impaired immune function, diarrhea, unexplained weight loss, slow wound healing, hair loss, decreased ability to taste food
Foods containing zinc: red meat, poultry, mushrooms, kale, shellfish, beans and legumes, cheese, milk, eggs, whole grains, high-quality dark chocolate
How to incorporate a zinc supplement: Zinc is widely available and inexpensive! You can find it in the form of capsules, gels, syrups, or lozenges. Common forms are zinc sulfate, zinc gluconate, and zinc acetate — all three are equally effective. Choose any form you like, but it’s most effective to take zinc on an empty stomach.
What it does: There are eight B Vitamins total, and the different vitamins (and deficiencies thereof) will yield different symptoms. B Vitamins are valuable for energy production, brain function, and metabolism. They support the liver, nerves, skin, and eyes, and help convert other nutrients (such as carbs) into energy. The most common B Vitamin deficiencies are B12 and folate, which are linked to DNA production and cancer prevention.
You might be at risk for deficiency if: Those at the highest risk for deficiency are vegans and vegetarians, as Vitamin B12 is found only in animal products. “It would be very important for a pregnant woman on a vegan diet to supplement B12,” says Emmeline. “It’s required for fetal development.” Other groups at risk: those over age 75, those who use PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) or histamine H2 blockers (commonly used to treat indigestion, heartburn, and reflux disease), sufferers of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), bariatric patients, and those taking Metformin (a common diabetes medication).
Symptoms of deficiency: fatigue, headaches, uncharacteristically pale skin
Foods containing B Vitamins: red meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs, avocado, peas, spinach, tofu, beans and legumes, mushrooms
How to incorporate Vitamin B supplements: You can supplement the individual B Vitamins, but if your results indicate that you’re low on most of them, a B Complex will be beneficial, as it should contain all eight B Vitamins. These vitamins can be taken on an empty stomach.
What it does: Probiotics aren’t vitamins or minerals, but rather living bacteria that you can take to promote your gut health. “Basically, your body has good and bad gut bacteria. The point of probiotics is to promote good bacteria production in your gut,” says Emmeline. Bad bacteria feed off of sugar and refined carbs, which can cause bloating, cravings, weakened gut lining, and an increased risk for diabetes. Probiotics help strengthen your gut lining, protect against inflammation, and reduce the risk of gastrointestinal issues. Good gut health helps prevent inflammation in other parts of the body.
You might benefit from probiotics if: You suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, chronic constipation or bloating, diarrhea, or if you regularly use antibiotics.
Foods containing probiotics: fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, tempeh, kombucha
How to incorporate probiotic supplements: “It’s important to choose a spore-based probiotic to ensure it can survive the acidic environment of your digestive system,” says Emmeline. Probiotics should be taken daily with food — it comes in a variety of forms, but it doesn’t matter what kind as long as it’s spore-based.
Since it’s hard to know without regular testing if you’re getting enough essential nutrients, that’s where multivitamin supplementation can come in handy. According to Emmeline, a good multivitamin should be non-GMO, iron-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and contain no artificial sweeteners. Because multivitamins do contain many fat-soluble vitamins, it’s important to take those with food to allow for optimum absorption.
If you opt to take a multivitamin, it should contain Vitamin C, Vitamin D, folate, B12, B6, niacin, magnesium, zinc, copper, Vitamin K, Vitamin A, biotin, selenium, and manganese. If you’re someone who struggles to eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and healthy fats, a multivitamin would be a good option to supplement your overall nutrition.
Zyflamend: Zyflamend is an herbal anti-inflammatory that supports the whole body’s inflammation response — it’s even recommended at many cancer centers for its anti-inflammatory benefits and pain-relieving properties. “I take Zyflamend myself and can’t recommend it enough,” says Emmeline. “I’ve seen amazing results for everything from my own shoulder injury to arthritis relief in family members.” The blend contains holy basil, turmeric, ginger, green tea, rosemary, hu zhang, Chinese goldthread, barberry, oregano, and skullcap.
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