A question I get relatively often from readers is if I take any supplements, and if so, which ones? I’ve been pregnant or nursing for much of the last ten years, so I often just focus on my core supplements for pregnancy and nursing, but there are a variety of other supplements that I take for various reasons.
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. Additionally, many companies realize the long-term income potential of supplements because they are consumed daily and there is constant marketing about supplements online and in stores.
So are supplements needed? And if so, which ones?
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 chemicals that can block nutrient absorption in our environment, there are times when it truly isn’t possible to get everything we need from food (though in a perfect world, this would be possible.)
Specific health problems can be a good clue of an underlying nutrient deficiency (or rarely, a toxicity) in the body. Even if supplements are needed, I feel it is important to address this by diet first, as even the best supplements won’t be enough to override a poor diet.
But what about those of us who have cut out the processed foods, are getting good sleep, minimizing stress, eating enough salt, and getting some exercise but are still struggling with some health problems? In these cases supplements may be worth considering and there are several that have been extremely helpful to me (when taken under the care of my health practitioner).
Please note that I am not a doctor of health practitioner and don’t play one on the internet. Please always check with your doctor or healthcare professional before taking any supplement or remedy.
The Supplements I Take Regularly
The need for supplements will vary widely from person to person, but with the deficiencies in our soil and food supply there are some usual common denominators that it seems many people benefit from including. 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, I find it worth it 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 ways I supplement with magnesium are:
- My Favorite Way: 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 and is what seems to work best for me personally. I like this particular spray as it doesn’t dry my skin like many other topical magnesium oils do. I find that this is also the easiest option for my children as it doesn’t require taking any pills or drinks.
- In powder form with a product like Natural Calm so that you can vary your dose and work up slowly. I also like this highly absorbable brand that also comes in individual pre-measured packets for easy travel and dosing.
- 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.
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 created a good source of probiotics. Now, most foods are processed and refined, and we rarely ferment them in the traditional ways. While consuming probiotics was once an effortless part of eating, it is not difficult to 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. Antibacterial soaps can artificially alter our microbiome and further deplete probiotics.
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 also now take Just Thrive spore-based probiotics daily and have seen great results with them. I love that they are dairy-free, histamine-free and have clinical studies for the effectiveness and survivability in the gut.
Gelatin & Collagen
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 Collagen Protein (it gels) and their Collagen Peptides (do not gel but mix into liquids easily) since 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.
Other Supplements As Needed:
In addition to our regular core supplements, there are some additional ones that we take as needed. For instance, I take certain supporting supplements to help avoid sunburn in the summer and others that I take to support oral health:
For Sun Protection
In the summer, I add to and change up my supplements somewhat as I’ve found that my diet and supplements make a HUGE difference in how long I can stay in the sun and what my Vitamin D blood levels are. (This is likely because these supplements lower inflammation which makes the body able to better absorb Vitamin D from supplements or the sun). I still stick to the ones above but focus especially on:
- Vitamin D3 (I take about 5,000 IU/day)- Emerging evidence shows that optimizing blood levels of Vitamin D can have a protective effect against sunburn and skin cancer. I don’t take as much Vitamin D in the summer as I do in winter months but find that I don’t burn as easily if my Vitamin D levels are optimized. I also regularly check my serum levels of Vitamin D to ensure that I don’t consume too much (since this is a fat soluble vitamin that stores in the body). I’ve also found that I am able to optimize my levels much more easily with regular sun exposure than with supplements.
- Vitamin C (I take about 2,000 mg/day)- A potent anti-inflammatory, and it is good for the immune system too. I take during the summer to help avoid burning.
- 2 Tablespoons coconut oil (or more) and some grass fed butter melted in a cup of herbal tea or coffee per day- the Medium Chain Fatty Acids and saturated fat are easily utilized by the body for new skin formation and are protective against burning.
- High Quality Omega-3s- (also great for remineralizing teeth)-Probably the most important supplement for sun protection. I take double doses during the summer and the kids take it too.
- Astaxanthin– A highly potent antioxidant which research shows acts as an internal sunscreen. It’s also supposedly an anti-aging supplement. My hubby takes this and tans incredibly well without ever burning. I don’t take while pregnant/nursing or give to the kids.
For My Teeth
Like the rest of the body, teeth are capable of healing and I have now witnessed this first hand in my own mouth and in my family. The fascinating book Cure Tooth Decay provides a strong case for the ability of teeth to heal and the specific protocol that is needed. This podcast interview with a dentist also helps explain the remineralizing process in depth.
I highly recommend the book but I’ve used a simplified version of the protocol with great success:
Diet to Help Heal Cavities and Improve Oral Health
- I drastically cut foods that contained phytic acid. I already wasn’t eating grains or beans, but I also cut or limited nuts.
- Limited foods containing even natural sugars or starches– I limited fruit and even starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and focused on mineral rich vegetables, bone broths, meats, and healthy fats.
- Ate a LOT of healthy fats. I added about 1/4 cup extra of coconut oil to my diet each day, and used only pastured, cultured butter.
- I made an effort to consume a lot of homemade bone broth for its added minerals.
Other Factors for Oral Health
- I brush with homemade remineralizing toothpaste daily and while I was actively trying to heal teeth, I swished with both calcium and magnesium powders dissolved in water daily to help provide minerals and to keep the mouth alkaline.
- I also added Ora Wellness Brushing Blend to my regimen and use their (gentler) toothbrush daily.
- I brushed with activated charcoal every couple of days to help pull toxins from the mouth and effectively whiten teeth.
Supplements My Kids Take
On top of making sure that kids are consuming a lot of protein from quality sources, an abundance of green veggies and plenty of healthy fats, I often find that my children benefit from:
- Probiotics: Especially if they’ve ever been on antibiotics, children can greatly benefit from quality probiotics. Their gut flora is still developing, and supporting gut health during childhood will have much more of an effect than attempting to supplement later in life (though I recommend it then too). I notice a distinct difference in my digestion when I take them, and both of the pills are small enough for most kids to swallow, or they can be opened and added to food.
- Vitamin D: I’m a firm believer that kids should be getting their Vitamin D outside, in the sun, and preferably barefoot. This works great in the summer, but it is more difficult in the winter, or if you live in an area where you don’t have access to direct sun daily. Most children’s vitamins contain Vitamin D (though not enough!) but the issue of supplementing Vitamin D in children can be controversial. Personally, my kids each get a 5,000 IU capsule of Vitamin D3 per WEEK. I do check their levels about once a year in the winter to make sure they aren’t getting too much, and I’d recommend this, especially if you plan to give your children higher doses. If you can get your kids to routinely take fermented cod liver oil (see below) you probably don’t need any additional supplementation unless you are in an area where sun exposure is not ever possible.
- Vitamin C: I always keep Vitamin C on hand, and we’ve avoided many trips to the doctor because of this and Homemade Elderberry Syrup. I add about 1/4 tsp of vitamin C powder to the kids water or smoothie once a day (it is bitter!) to keep their immune systems bolstered… mainly in the winter. During illness, we take Vitamin C powder until we hit bowel tolerance (diarrhea) and then back down to 3/4 that dose until the illness is gone. There are also some good chewable versions, which are much easier to get kids to take.
- Magnesium Spray and Baths: I typically use this magnesium spray on my kids before bed. It helps them sleep and is an easy way to boost their magnesium levels. Sometimes, I’ll aslo add about 1/2 cup of epsom salts or magnesium crystals to their bath water for a relaxing bath.
Need more guidance? This is what I do, but check with your doctor to find out what’s best for you. A lot of docs might glaze over if you try to talk to them about your supplement regimen, so if that’s the case learn more about how to find a doctor personalized to your lifestyle by checking out this podcast.
What supplements do you take? Did I miss any important ones? Share below!