Happy New Year 2022!by Laura J Hieb, ND on December 28, 2021
As we embark on another trip around the Sun, we tend to make some resolutions and/or institute some changes in our lives. Usually these are good. Sometimes they are overwhelming.
Sometimes less is more.
I want to talk about something you are probably already doing and help you streamline it for the new year.
I'm talking about supplements, specifically vitamins, minerals.
Taking supplements is important, because we can't always get everything we need from the foods we eat. Also, due to stress, alcohol, prescription medications, environmental toxins and not the best food choices, we use up vitamins and minerals, etc, more quickly than we can get them from our diet.
First, let's streamline and then I'll talk about which supplements I believe are the most important to take.
Go to where you keep your supplements and do the following:
1. Discard any supplements that have been opened for more than 6 months. These are most likely not helping you and could possibly be harmful, since they could be rancid.
2. Discard any unopened supplements that are past their expiration date.
3. Discard any supplements that make you feel queasy when taken with a meal. (If a supplement makes you queasy on an empty stomach, try it with a meal before discarding.)
4. Discard, or donate to family members, any supplements you find difficult to take: pills that are hard to swallow; liquids or powders that don't taste good to you; supplements you never actually take, etc.
Now you probably have a lot fewer supplements!
So which supplements should you take? While it can be an individual thing, here are some that I think are essential for everyone.
1. Vitamin D3
Vitamin D is mostly available from the sun. Because the sun has to be at a certain angle above the horizon in order for us to make vitamin D from it, it depends a lot on where you live. The further away from the equator you live, the smaller the window of time for making vitamin D. Living in the beautiful Pacific NW, that means between May & September. Also, to make vitamin D, we need to be outside between 10am and 3-4pm, exposing as much skin as possible for 10-30 minutes without sunscreen (except on your face). Avoid burning. In 30 minutes, a fair-skinned person can make up to 10,000IU or 250mcg of vitamin D this way. But, it may not always be possible, like say, if you work inside from 9-5.
Vitamin D is found in small amounts in some foods, notably salmon, eggs, mushrooms and reindeer meat. Milk is fortified with vitamin D2--which is not a very absorbable form of vitamin D--and not in large enough amount to make much of a difference unless you drink A LOT of milk. But it is better than nothing.
Vitamin D is crucial for a healthy immune system. It has been shown to prevent colon and breast cancer. It helps to decrease pain, and helps prevent osteopenia and osteoporosis/promote healthy bones.
How much should you take? An average sized adult could take 50mcg (2000IU) daily in the summer (depending on sun exposure) and 100-125mcg or 4000IU-5000IU daily in the winter. Vitamin D should be taken with a fat-containing meal (I hope all your meals contain fat) for best absorption.
Magnesium takes part in over 600 chemical reactions in our bodies. Most soil in our country is depleted of magnesium, which means that plants grown in the that soil will also be deficient in magnesium, making it hard to get enough of it from your diet alone.
Magnesium is nature's sedative. It helps to relax our nervous system, skeletal muscle, and smooth muscle (like the muscle in our heart and in our intestines). It helps to promote healthy blood pressure, healthy blood sugar metabolism, helps balance hormones, helps prevent muscle spasms, and cramps, helps prevent headaches and migraines, helps reduce anxiety and depression, among many, many other things. The US recommended daily allowance (USRDA) of magnesium is 300mg per day. This is not the optimal amount, but the amount below which a person will notice deficiency symptoms (see the above). It is estimated that the average American consumes 250mg daily. Not good. Even if you eat a lot of leafy green veg and nuts and seeds--which are good sources of magnesium--a supplement is still a very good idea. Take 250-500mg 1-2 times daily, with a meal and/or at bedtime. Please note, 1 capsule or tablet of magnesium may not contain 250 or 500mg. Please check the back of the bottle to see how many you need to take to equal the amount you want to take.
The best forms of magnesium include magnesium glycinate, threonate, taurate, malate, and citrate. If you take more magnesium than your body needs, you may get loose stools. If this happens, try dividing the dose in half and take the half dose 2 times daily. If that doesn't work, decrease your dose. The most common forms that cause loose stools are magnesium oxide and magnesium citrate.
3. Fish oil
Fish oil is high in omega-3 essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids (EFA's) are those we cannot make ourselves--we can only get them from our food. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, which is good. Omega-6 fatty acids, which are more abundant in our diets, are pro-inflammatory, meaning they cause inflammation--which is not all bad, but not good if we make more omega-6 EFA's than omega-3's. The ratio of omega-3 to omega- 6 fatty acids should be roughly 1 to 1. But the ratio in the Standard American Diet (aka SAD) is typically much higher on the omega-6 side. Omega-3 EFA's are found largely in fish and seafood, but most abundantly in fish oil. It is difficult to get enough omega-3 EFA's from fish in your diet. Also, too much of certain fish like tuna or sword fish will increase your toxic mercury level. Fish oils are usually purified to decrease their mercury levels. Fish oil is rich in DHA and EPA, which are long chain fatty acids, which are the most anti-inflammatory. Flax seed oil is also high in omega-3 fatty acids, but these are medium chain fatty acids, as opposed to long chain fatty acids. Ideally we should be able to convert these medium chains into long chains, but some of us do this better than others. If your are vegetarian or vegan, try algae oil instead of flax seed oil for the longer chain omega-3 fatty acids.
Because omega-3 EFA's are anti-inflammatory, they are especially good for those suffering from pain, since inflammation causes pain. If you have arthritis, a high CRP, an auto-immune disorder, eczema, asthma, etc, you will definitely benefit from a higher level of omega-3 EFA's, but they also help prevent inflammation--so everyone will benefit.
Take 1000-2000mg 1-2 times daily with food. EFA's are nutritionally dense foods and are best absorbed when taken with a meal. If you take fish oil and it comes back on you (very unpleasant) it may not if you take it with your largest meal. If it still repeats, then it is probably rancid and you should take it back to where you bought it and ask for your money back. Because fish oil is a polyunsaturated oil, it is not very stable and prone to going rancid. You can help prevent this by buying it in smaller quantities (Costco is not your friend when it comes to fish oil--unless you have 10 family members sharing 1 bottle) and storing it in the fridge.
4. Multivitamin and mineral supplement
A good quality multi, usually in a capsule form because, unless it is a very high quality one, a capsule will be absorbed much better than a tablet. Look for one that has 10mg or more of vitamins B-1 (thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3 (niacin or niacinamide) B-5 (pantothenic acid), and B-6 (pyroxidine). Also check how much vitamin D is in it. Lately, some multi's are including 50mcg = 2000IU of vitamin D, so you will need to take that into account when you calculate your vitamin D dose. Typically they include magnesium, but not usually in significant amounts, so you will still need to supplement. Some (better quality) multis are to be taken more than once daily, since there is only so much that can be crammed into one small capsule or tablet. Read the label and take accordingly. Do not take all the capsules at once. Many of the vitamins and all of the minerals are water-soluble, meaning that whatever you cannot use at the time you take them, you will lose in your urine. So if it says, "take 1 capsule 3 times daily, then take at least 1 capsule 2-3 times daily. Because vitamins and minerals are found in foods, take them with meals to ensure good absorption.
5. Vitamin C
We are among only a very few mammals that cannot manufacture our own vitamin C. Vitamin C is antiviral, good for the immune system, adrenal glands (where we get most of our energy) and skin and blood pressure. There is a theory that cardiovascular disease is due to a mild case of scurvy--scurvy being the name for disease(s) caused by vitamin C deficiency. Very fresh vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamin C. But by the time these picked veg and fruit are packed, shipped and then linger in your grocery store produce department, a lot of their vitamin C has gone. That is why taking a supplement of vitamin C is a good idea. Take 500-1000mg 2-3 times daily. If you are prone to allergies, take a vitamin C with bioflavonoids. BTW, store-bought orange juice is NOT a good source of vitamin C.
Put your supplements in 1 convenient place--except for the fish oil which will reside in the fridge--where you will remember to take them at meal time. If you tend to forget the fish oil, put a sticky note with your other supplements to remind you to take it.
I hope this has simplified the amount of supplements you take, and give you overall good nutritional support.
In my next blog, I will discuss additional supplements and why you might find them helpful.