For some, the world of supplements can be a confusing, overwhelming and sometimes challenging space to navigate. With so many supplement brands and varieties available at the store and online, and considering consumers are constantly bombarded with opinions from media, close friends, self-proclaimed health coaches and social media, the barrage of options and voices can often point person in the wrong direction.
Whether you’re currently taking supplements, you’ve dabbled in taking them before or you’re convinced you just don’t need them, we’ll answer the most pressing questions about core supplements: what they are, their benefits, why you might need them, when to take them, recommended quantities and which delivery forms are best.
Understanding supplements based on personal needs
The human body is a complicated biological system that needs adequate nourishment to maintain life and energy-producing metabolic reactions. Because a majority of the population can’t meet their daily nourishment needs through diet alone, supplements are staple components to achieving optimal health.
Our bodies are amazing machines when adequate nutrients – vitamins and minerals – are available to support energy production, healthy metabolism, hormone production and function, cell repair, and immune function. However, due to today’s food environment, dietary ecosystem and our constant one-the-go mentality, our diets lack key nutrients and keep us from feeling and being at our best.
In fact, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 80% of adults don’t consume enough fruits and veggies to supply adequate vitamins and minerals in their diets.  While many Americans are overfed, many remain significantly undernourished and lack these core supplements:
- Quality multivitamin
- Omega-3 fish oil
- Probiotics, additional Vitamin D and Magnesium, based personal needs
It may come as no surprise that deficiencies in key micronutrients — including magnesium, vitamin D, B12, and calcium — have become increasingly common. When our bodies are low on vitamins and minerals, our metabolic health and overall health can suffer, and without them, normal biological function is compromised. When we do get adequate micronutrients, research shows it can support whole-body energy metabolism, blood flow, resting energy expenditure, fat metabolism, and might even be enough to promote weight loss, fat loss, more normal glucose sensitivity, and improved cholesterol profiles.[x],[vi]
In addition to pinpointing the areas where you may be deficient based on the Recommended Daily Allowance , it’s also important to consider other lifestyle factors that may impact your needs.
If you live an overly stressful or demanding lifestyle, or you’re active or athletic, regularly drink alcohol or take medication, or you’re trying to restrict calories for weight loss, you’ll likely have considerably higher micronutrient needs than indicated by any given RDA. For example, active individuals who exercise frequently tend to burn more energy and inflict more metabolic and mechanical stress on their bodies. As such, this person will have considerably higher calorie and micronutrient needs,[xii] which means that if you exercise frequently, you need more nutrition.
When looking for a high-quality multivitamin, you can bet that the fastest way to ineffectiveness is buying a multivitamin that is cheap, synthetic and formulated in such a way that your body can’t absorb, convert or put it to actual use. In this instance, be aware that most once-daily multivitamin tablets are poor options. Always opt for high-potency capsules that are easily digestible, can be absorbed and utilized effectively. Avoid gummies that have added sugars and artificial flavors and steer clear of tablets as they lack potency and are packed with binders, fillers and glues.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are two types of omega-3 fatty acids in particular, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docohexaenoic acid (DHA), that are known as essential fatty acids. They’re categorized as “essential” becauseour cells need these fatty acids in order to function normally. The body can’t make these on its own or from other fats, meaning they’re supplied through some foods and supplementation.
Just as it’s important to supply our cells with adequate vitamins and minerals to function, Omega 3s have incredible potential health benefits and have been linked to reducing cardiovascular risk, improving cognitive brain function, supporting inflammatory response and promoting mood.
When it comes to getting enough omega-3’s, supplementing with fish oil is necessary because we don’t consume enough foods high in EPA and DHA on a daily basis (e.g. grass-fed beef, walnuts and fatty fish). We tend to overconsume the pro-inflammatory fats – omega 6s (e.g. nuts, seeds, oils). This omega-3 and omega-6 imbalance can have a negative effect on inflammation patterns and may also be implicated as a contributing factor to other disruptions related to cellular metabolism, hormone signaling, and even weight regulation.
Similar to a multivitamin, opt for high-potency formulas that are easily digestible, absorbable and can be utilized effectively. In this instance for fish oil supplementation, choose soft gels or a liquid form that use triglyceride form of oil.
Magnesium not only supports bone health, but it is an essential mineral that is available in all cells and involved in over 300 enzymatic processes in the body. Some of these include maintaining cardiac rhythm, muscle and nerve function, and blood glucose regulation.
Unfortunately, the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements estimates that over 75% of American adults have deficient daily intakes of magnesium. This comes as no surprise as many components of the modern lifestyle increases magnesium loss, including stress (physical or emotional), alcohol or coffee consumption, exercise, excessive sweating, and certain medications such as birth control pills, various antibiotics, and common diuretics.
These factors cause many individuals to require extra magnesium to compensate. Most multivitamins contain very little magnesium due to the fact that magnesium takes up a large amount of physical space within the capsule/tablet. As such, a stand-alone magnesium supplement is often recommended to ensure adequacy. Chelated forms of magnesium are preferred over cheaper oxides or salts (sulfates or chlorides.
Without the right type of bacteria present in your digestive system, you can become susceptible to a variety of health complications. In the large intestine specifically, good bacteria helps protect us from pathogens, produces neurotransmitters to support our brain function and mood, and also produces certain vitamins and fatty acids that help regulate our whole-body metabolism. When our digestive system is healthy, it does more than just break down food and help us absorb nutrients, it keeps bad bacteria from getting into the rest of our body. It can also keep incompletely digest food particles from entering our blood stream, where they can influence autoimmune diseases and food sensitivities.
Issues can arise when bacterial biodiversity becomes imbalanced due to antibiotic use, modern food choices or dietary habits, or from not eating enough fermentable fibers or fermented foods. When the relationship between “good” vs “bad” bacteria gets off track, our risk for chronic yeast or upper respiratory infections, food or environmental allergies, digestive disruption (gas and bloating), insulin resistance, and inability to lose weight increases. Knowing that 70% of our immune system is found in our gut, when it comes to preventing disease and illness, it’s crucial to prioritize digestive health maintenance even if that means through supplementation.
When looking for a probiotic, it’s important to note that the various strains of bacteria in probiotics each provide different benefits in our bodies. Based on their many benefits, it’s wise to look for products that provide a variety of strains in them. Many food-based products have only one or two strains of probiotics, whereas supplemental probiotics provide a wide variety of strains, and usually in much greater numbers. Look for a diversity of strains including multiple Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Vitamin D is one of the most common deficiencies in the U.S. today. Known as the “sunshine vitamin” as it is primarily produced in the skin by way of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, this fat-soluble vitamin supports full-body function and healthy metabolism. While it can be absorbed through certain foods including fatty fish and some dairy products, because Vitamin D is not prevalent in our food system, the best solution is to use supplementation to meet daily needs.
On a cellular level, Vitamin D receptors have been detected in almost all tissues of the body, including the bone, heart, adrenal glands, stomach, liver, skin, breasts, pancreas, immune system, brain, prostate, ovaries, and testes. It’s no wonder that Vitamin D has been shown to play a role in immune function, muscle function, cardiovascular health, respiratory function, brain development and has anti-cancer effects.
Most person need at least 2000-4000 IU per day but monitoring blood levels with periodic blood testing (at least once a year) is highly recommended. For those at the beginning stages of a cold or when flue symptoms first hit, higher doses of Vitamin D are recommended to help ward off sickness.
If you’re ready to take a closer look at your core supplement routine or have questions on how you can better understand your personal needs and what supplement routine will be best to help you thrive, reach out to our team of coaches who can help you get started.
Life Time Personal Training and Nutrition Experts
– Anika Christ, Registered Dietitian and Life Time Weight Loss Director of Digital Programming & Events
– Paul Kriegler, Registered Dietitian and Life Time Program Manager, Nutritional Products
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.