Dear Nutritionist, I was wondering if you can tell us readers which supplements are most important for most people? Are there some that everyone needs, like a multivitamin? — Rayn
Thank you for the great question. As readers know, I feel supplements are necessary for a myriad of reasons. If you missed that article, you can read it here.
The problem readers may find in searching for information on supplements is threefold:
- When walking into a supplement store, the people hired to help you do not take the time to get to know your specific conditions and health history in depth. They can’t with the time they are given. They are also typically not seasoned clinicians, as those in clinical practice take their craft seriously and would not make recommendations without a health history and signed consent. It goes against our licensing standards and to do so cannibalizes our practices. Think about it. Would doctors work for minimum wage assisting customers with walk-in sales at a pharmacy so you don’t need to go see the doctor to get advice with prescriptions? It’s a seriously flawed model. In addition, the staff are trained by the companies who manufacture/sell the products about their merits. This is inherently biased toward more expensive products that have more funding to promote them. That does not mean these products are superior or work better. And without follow-up consults and full health information, it’s impossible to really know how they perform. At least purchasing online clients can search on third party platforms to see how the product is rated by actual users.
- People who create supplements are often those who sell them online and in person what clients often find is that nutritionists sell specific brands because they have stocked them. Although I understand why they do it, to my mind this is a conflict of interest. How can the consumer trust that the product recommended is the best when the professional making the recommendations stands to profit more from that particular brand/sale? This is why I do not stock or work with any particular brand. If I recommend it, it’s because I feel it’s the best product for the client, not because I want to move it off my shelf. I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but to me it creates client trust.
- Different nutrition experts suggest totally different supplements and that can be confusing. The reason I think this happens is that different nutritionists / holistic physicians research and encounter different disease states and as they learn about those they understand the nutrients and products that are most important and effective for treatment of those states. In this regard I am no exception. I will thus pre-empt my recommendation with the caveat that my research and practice focuses largely on holistic mental health care and assisting people with chronic health conditions that have not responded well to other treatments. Think chronic constipation, IBS, fatigue, headaches, rashes, acne, arthritis, thyroid issues, anxiety, depression, and mood swings. These make up a good portion of my practice.
Having qualified my recommendations, I will share some supplements I turn to and why/when I use them. These are brands I like because I have found that they help clients, not because I have any financial interest in the particular product or brand.
A multivitamin is important because it’s difficult to get all our nutritional needs met through commercially produced foods today and because we are exposed to ever more toxins that require more nutrients for our bodies to stay well. The problem with most multis is that they don’t pack enough of the most important nutrients into one pill to make a difference unless you’re taking eight to 10 of them at a time.
The other problem I have is that most of these are not food grade nutrients, which are better absorbed and utilized by the body. As such, I rely on a few multis in my practice, but all are food based, depending on client needs. A few I really like are the Pure Synergy line of multis, including the Multi Vita Min and the variations with herbs for men/ women.
The formulations with herbs can be contraindicated for some conditions so it’s important to see a practitioner first to determine if there is any conflict with medications or conditions. The herbs included in these blends are powerful and active and can cause unpleasant symptoms in some people. Just because something is natural does not mean it’s benign.
Natural ingredients can trigger reactions just like unnatural ones can, especially if you take a high enough dose of active ingredients. So it’s best to consult with a licensed nutritionist or herbal professional before taking therapeutic doses of herbs.
I also like VEGA One food based protein shake, and the Progressive VegEssential All in One. These are vegan meal replacement shakes that contain good amounts of many nutrients from foods and herbs. They make an incredible difference clinically in numerous conditions. Different people react to them in different ways, though, so a small bottle is preferable to test the way a person’s body reacts to them before putting the money out for a big container. They are less palatable than whey shakes but many people I see are sensitive to dairy and even when they aren’t dairy can be inflammatory. So I prefer these shakes to ensure I’m bringing inflammation levels down while getting the missing nutrients in.
Sometimes I use liquid multis for clients with digestive issues. These depend on the client's needs.
The next most important supplement in my practice is a good quality B-complex. The Bs are essential for energy production, brain and nervous system function, immunity, tissue health, and cellular metabolism. Many people don’t consume enough B rich foods to get all their Bs naturally.
Organ meats are full of B vitamins, but they are out of fashion now. If clients are open I suggest eating liver weekly and I typically recommend clients to take grass fed beef liver capsules for their Bs. This is best if they have digestive issues or it’s unclear if they need the methylated form of Bs. This ensures they absorb the nutrients.
As most people have experienced when taking B vitamins, the urine turns bright yellow. This indicates that you have not absorbed all of the nutrients and are passing the unabsorbed nutrients out. But this does not happen when a client eats liver or takes liver capsules and it happens far less once a client has incorporated fermented foods into the daily diet.
You see, humans cannot synthesize B vitamins. They are synthesized by plants, yeasts, and bacteria. As such, we can get our B vitamins from food and eight of them are synthesized by the bacteria in our guts: including biotin, cobalamin, folate, niacin, pantothenate, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and thiamin. Therefore, if we have a damaged or less than optimal gut biome - which I would suggest most people today do - we are not synthesizing these at optimal levels - if at all.
The multi-vitamin smoothies I recommend above contain these vitamins as well, but many clients need more if they have been seriously depleted. Every vegan I have seen is seriously depleted, as are people who eat a high sugar diet, which damages the microbiome. Again, the vegan meal replacements I’ve listed are a great addition to the diet for such individuals.
But nothing beats beef liver 1x a week and taking fermented foods daily. That brings us to the next supplement that is essential.
Probiotics and prebiotics
Every single person needs probiotics and prebiotics regularly, as they seed then shed, seed then shed. This is a continual process within the gut biome. And more and more we are learning how these bacteria impact health - from synthesis and absorption of necessary nutrients (as above) to immune system function to hormonal and neurotransmitter regulation. A diverse and healthy gut biome is essential for optimal health. So which supplement is best for this?
I honestly can’t say. I’ve had good results with two brands, which are very expensive, but the results do not compare at all with the effect of consuming probiotic foods and prebiotic fibre daily. My current recommendation is that clients take a fermented dairy or coconut product of their choice in the mornings and a fermented vegetable product with dinner. These should be rotated monthly and adding fermented beverages like kombucha and kefir are a great idea.
There is an upcoming class through Barrie library on Kombucha making called Brew Ha Ha if anyone is interested. It will be taught online with starter packs for everyone who signs up.
There are a few other nutrients that everyone needs, which must be supplemented because our soil or diet is depleted. Almost everyone I test is deficient in these core vitamins:
For this I recommend taking kelp tablets or foods and / or an iodoral supplement. I also suggest avoiding commercial baked foods, which contain ingredients that compete with iodine in the thyroid gland. In addition, anyone living anywhere near a nuclear energy plant should always supplement with potassium iodide preventatively, in my professional opinion. The iodoral I use contains this type of iodine in balance. For optimal levels, my recommendation is to read the work of Dr. Brownstein. I think it’s unwise to supplement with iodine without professional supervision or reading the work suggested.
I see this deficiency a lot. It’s very common in clients with sleep issues, ADHD and ADD issues, as well as learning troubles and cramping or horrible cramps with the menses. It’s water soluble so it's very safe to take. I recommend a variety of forms, depending on client needs, but often an epsom salt bath can help acutely, while a product called CALM is great ongoing. It’s a flavoured powder you stir into water and drink. It’s palatable and works almost instantly. Magnesium is best taken before bed because it is, as the name suggests, calming, to the body.
I’m uncertain to what degree the zinc deficiency I see is dietary related, due to stomach acid issues, due old copper pipes or due to copper imbalances due to birth control devices, but it’s a common imbalance in the body. A deficiency in this nutrient contributes to many learning disabilities and to disordered eating, as well as poor immunity. Wounds don’t heal without zinc.
You may have heard me say before that the telltale signs of very low zinc levels are brain fog, poor immunity, slow wound healing, and a loss of the sense of smell, followed by loss of appetite. People will often not recognize they’ve lost their sense of smell but they do recognize the loss of appetite. The two are directly related and this is a classic zinc deficiency. It boggles my mind that clinicians and researchers studying COVID-19 don’t recognize this symptom for what it is.
In any case, this is an exception to my food-based recommendations. When a client suffers zinc deficiency it’s difficult to get enough from foods. Fresh raw oysters and cooked crab and lobster are not abundant in most people’s diet today. Nor is red meat, which is also a good source. Because of this I rely on supplements. I recommend picolinate or orotate forms and see good results. Orotate is superior. Brands vary according to availability. Other zincs have problems with absorption, so they aren’t my recommendation.
Other supplements I recommend a lot in my practice include fish oils and vitamin D3. I prefer cod liver oil over simple fish oils for many clients, due to the vitamin A ratio. I think most people know these are core recommendations for health after so much media attention. My suggestion with D is to get tested by your doctor to discern your levels then optimize them. This usually falls in the 5000IU per day range, but that can vary.
It’s essential with the fat soluble vitamins to have professional guidance because they stay in the tissues and can harm us if they are too high for too long. These vitamins include vitamin A, D, E, and K. In my experience overdose is rare, but not unheard of. Please seek guidance with these ones.
Thank you, Rayn, for your question. I hope readers find this information helpful. As always, if readers have their own health questions, I welcome them. Just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers can read past questions on my blog at Askthenutritionist.ca and sign up for my free newsletter at hopenotdope.ca for upcoming events like my kombucha and soup making classes. Have a wonderful week!