This is another question I get relatively often from readers. Should I take any supplements? If so, which ones?
With the literal sea of choices out there, there are certainly a lot of options!
I’ve known people who will read information about a particular supplement and start taking it… and they do this a few times a month. Pretty soon, they are taking an arsenal of pills without considering if there is truly a need for them all or if they will have interactions.
Certainly, there is no blanket answer to this question, as each person will have different nutrient needs and deficiencies, but with the declining soil and food quality and the ever-increasing presence of toxins in our environment, there are times when it truly isn’t possible to get everything you need from food (though in a perfect world, this would be possible.)
If you have any noticeable health symptoms it can be a good clue that there is a nutrient deficiency (or rarely, a toxicity) in the body. This should be addressed by diet first, as even the best supplements won’t be enough to override a poor diet.
If you’ve cut out the toxic foods like grains, you’re getting enough healthy fats,getting good sleep, minimizing stress, eating enough salt, and getting some exercise but are still struggling with some health problems, supplements may be worth considering.
This will vary widely from person to person, but with the deficiencies in our soil and food supply there are some usual common denominators. At our house, we take relatively few supplements in addition to a nutrient dense diet. These are the supplements we take:
I’ve written about magnesium supplementation before, as I believe it is one of the silent and widespread deficiencies these days. While it was once an abundant mineral in the soil and in well-water, conventional farming practices strip it from the soil and fluoride and other compounds in water bind with it and make it indigestible in our bodies.
These additional dietary factors can also deplete magnesium:
- Consumption of caffeine
- Consumption of sugar (It takes 287 molecules of magnesium to metabolize a single glucose molecule! source)
- Consumption of processed food
- Consumption of alcohol
- Consumption of produce from depleted soil
- Consumption of foods high in phytic acid
Additionally, drugs like birth control pills, hypertension medicine, diuretics, insulin, and certain antibiotics (among others) deplete magnesium levels. Sweating often from exercise or other causes can also deplete magnesium.
Magnesium is used in the body in hundreds of reactions and in everything from proper hormone function, to cell regeneration and healthy bone formation. Having adequate levels of magnesium in the blood has even been correlated to a lower risk of heart disease (of course, correlation doesn’t prove cause, but since magnesium is an important nutrient anyway, it isn’t harmful to supplement).
In order to get enough magnesium, we supplement in several ways. From a previous post:
Leafy green vegetables, sea vegetables, kelp and especially nettle (in herb form available here) are good dietary sources of magnesium, though if you have a deficiency, it will be difficult to raise your levels enough through diet alone.
The best ways to supplement with magnesium are:
- In powder form with a product like Natural Calm so that you can vary your dose and work up slowly.
- Inionic liquid form so that it can be added to food and drinks and dose can be worked up slowly.
- In transdermal form by using Magnesium oil applied to skin. This is often the most effective option for those with damaged digestive tract or severe deficiency.
- Using magnesium crystals or even epsom salts in a warm bath will help relax the body and you will absorb some magnesium through your skin. While this alone isn’t usually enough to bring magnesium levels up, it is a good addition to magnesium supplementation.
I’d actually advice at least two of the above forms, including transdermal supplementation, especially if you show multiple symptoms. The easiest way to gauge your dose is to start at half of the recommended dose and work up (even above it) until you experience loose stools and then back off slightly. From this dose, you should be able to gradually increase your dose until your symptoms disappear.
Another element that is often missing or insufficient in our diets is probiotics. I’m constantly seeing more research on the many ways that gut bacteria influences our health. In the past, people often preserved food by fermenting it, which also was a good source of probiotics for them. Now, most foods are dead, and we rarely ferment them in the traditional ways, so we don’t consume probiotic rich foods without a specific effort to do so.
We also make an effort to wash our hands and our food (a good thing with the chemicals on them these days) which also wash off the beneficial soil-borne micro-organisms that provide friendly-bacteria to the gut.
Since gut bacteria is so important, probiotics are one supplement I always make sure to take. You can get some probiotics in fermented food and drinks such as:
- Kombucha Soda
- Water Kefir
- Lacto-fermenting almost any vegetable using whey (how to make whey)
We take Bio-Kult Probiotics (developed by the founder of the GAPS diet… it doesn’t have to be refrigerated) and I’ve seen digestive improvements from this brand (I’ve often see no result from other probiotics). We all take these as a daily maintenance, but at the first sign of digestive troubles or illness, we double or tripple the dose until we are better. I also took these to heal after I got food poisoning, and was back to normal in a couple of days.
I sneak them into the kids smoothies and drinks, and my older ones will even swallow or chew the capsule (they are small).
Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil
These are recommended by the Weston A. Price Foundation and are a great source of healthy fats for the body. They are also an integral part of the tooth remineralization process as detailed by Dr. Price and by Rami Nagel in Cure Tooth Decay. These two help reduce inflammation in the body and lead to healthy cell, hormone and brain development. They are especially important during pregnancy and for children while their brains are developing.
Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil are a great source of the fat-soluble vitamins A,D, E and K and as such are supportive of hundreds or processes in the body. The supplements are rather pricey, but we’ve seen a big difference from adding this to our regimen (including reversing cavities!)
We take Fermented Cod Liver Oil in Capsules or Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil blend in Gel Form.
Yes, the taste is terrible and yes, my kids do have to take it anyway. You can sneak the chocolate flavored gel into smoothies though
Gelatin, while usually added to chemicals and sweeteners to make Jello, is actually a good source of protein by itself. I’ve been taking Gelatin for almost a year as it is good to support healthy skin during pregnancy, and is also good for joints, skin, hair and nails (trying to strengthen some old soccer injuries in my knees).
While the joint benefits took several months to be noticeable, the stronger nails and smoother skin were visible within a few weeks. At 6 grams of protein per tablespoon, Gelatin is also an easy way to get some added protein into our diets. We use Great Lakes Kosher as I was able to verify with the company that it is sourced from grass-fed, humanely raised cows, and as such is higher in nutrients.
There are other supplements we take seasonally or as needed. In general they are:
- Vitamin C as it works with Gelatin to help grow and regenerate collagen (way more effective than external creams!) and in case of illness. If we get sick, we take enough to reach bowel tolerance and then maintain at a slightly smaller dose.
- Vitamin D- there is some vitamin D in Fermented Cod Liver Oil, but I take additional during the winter because I am monitoring my serum blood levels. I don’t recommend just taking Vitamin D without knowing if you need extra, and it is preferable to get from the sun if at all possible. In the summer, I make sure to get at least a half hour of direct sun each day, and make sure to take Fermented Cod Liver Oil and Coconut Oil, which keep me from burning (and I used to burn very easily!)
- Coconut Oil- We use it to cook most foods, but we also add it to smoothies or melt it in tea. I take about 1/4 cup extra per day for the medium chain fatty acids. Doses at this level have been shown to nourish the thyroid and reduce/reverse Alzheimers and other mental diseases.
- Chlorophyll- Helps deodorize the body and boost the immune system. We take a teaspoon a day in water but I give the kids double or tripple that if they get sick, as they don’t mind the minty taste, and it boosts the immune system and helps them recover more quickly.
For the most part, these are the supplements that we all take (including the kids but in smaller doses and including me when I am pregnant).
What supplements do you take? Did I miss any important ones? Let me know below!