To Supplement or Not to Supplement?

If the word “overwhelm” comes to mind anytime you take a stroll down the supplement aisle you are not alone. Shelf upon shelf of colorful and oh so beautiful packages will easily make you feel like you “should” be taking supplements [or maybe MORE supplements]. How is it possible to know which supplements are important [or maybe even more importantly which ones you personally might benefit from?] Let’s explore.

First let’s define the word supplement.

A supplement is a term for a category of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients that have been extracted in some way from food or synthetically created in a lab to fill in nutritional gaps. Your specific needs for supplements are based on your diet, goals and of course lifestyle. But here’s the truth, supplements will never take the place of sound nutrition. Ever. I like to call them catalysts and as such they can be used in a strategic way to augment an already intentional diet.

What to consider when purchasing supplements.

Just like food, it’s important to consider sourcing when you purchase anything you are going to ingest. Be sure to find a company that is reputable with 3rd party testing for potency and purity. It’s also important to consult a medical professional you trust before too much experimentation on your own. It’s tempting to want to take all the things to treat all the things. But there is no such thing as a miracle pill. You will get so much more traction out of supplementation if you actually need it. And finally it’s important to check on any drug + nutrient interactions. [Yes, these can be problematic too]. Some supplements [particularly herbs] have different drug nutrient interactions with certain medications that can be dangerous. So before bringing in any supplement while taking a pharmaceutical drug, be sure to check with your doctor to ensure compatibility.

My top six staple supplements:

While I don’t recommend supplementation to just anyone the 5 supplements listed below are the ones I recommend most frequently to fill in nutritional gaps that I find to be most prevalent.

fish oil – Unless you are vegan or eat fish 3-4 x per week I rarely see anyone replete on their omega status. I run a lab panel often on my clients checking their omega status and 9 out of 10 come back quite low, making a high quality fish oil such a simple fix to fill in the gaps for low omega 3 intake. Omega 3s fight inflammation, nourish the brain and combat aging beautifully.

probiotics – The gut is the central cog to the body. And the gut is protected by billions of bacteria that help us digest food, guard against invasion, and create hormones that balance our neurochemistry. Consuming fermented food is a wonderful way to augment these faithful probiotic warriors from within; but, if even the thought of consuming fermented food [such as kimchi, sauerkraut, raw pickles or kefir] has you squirming in your seat, you can purchase high quality probiotics to fill in that nutritional gap. High quality probiotics in my book include at least 20 different strains [and or spores cultivated from dirt].

b complex – I know you are a busy little bee and as such you blow through your B vitamins. B vitamins play a role as cofactors in the creation of hormones, energy and neurochemical balance. B vitamins are found in many different foods but if you are super active and or chronically stressed there is no way to keep up with your utilization of B vitamins from food alone. A good b complex will be that insurance policy that is very safe since all Bs are water soluble [meaning you excrete what you don’t need].

adaptogens – The adrenal glands often get weary from our busy fast-paced lives. A family of herbs called adaptogens are not only protective to adrenal gland function but can also rehabilitate poor adrenal function. The thing about adaptogens is that they are not one size fits all. Nor do I think the combinations you often find on the supermarket shelf to be best when utilized long term. However, if the idea of supporting your adrenals [energy + sleep + cognition] resonates, it’s time to talk to a practitioner you trust about weaving them into your protocol. Adaptogens can be sipped in the form of tea [ex: tulsi tea] or taken like a tincture [ex: rhodiola] or even taken in the convenience of a capsule [ex: ashwagandha]. But timing and personalization is everything.

vitamin D – I’m sure I sound like a broken record player especially in this day and age as I echo the wisdom of so much research re-iterating how important it is to have adequate levels of vitamin D. For this one though, it’s important to have a lab test in your hands indicating how much to ingest supplementally based on your current D status. While the “normal” range on a test is wide- I find optimal to be between 50-70 ng/ml for immune function support, cognition and bone density [3 invaluable assets to women].

magnesium – Oh magical magnesium. I preach whole food nutrition from the hilltops but I hate to break it to you, it’s nearly impossible to get enough magnesium from food alone. Why? Our topsoil is relatively depleted of this magical mineral that does everything from muscle relaxation to sleep therapy to mood stabilization. Upwards of 80% of women are deficient in magnesium. Take a low risk test by taking an epsom salt bath [1/2 cup epsom salts in tub of water] and just notice how you sleep that night. My favorite form of magnesium to be taken internally is magnesium glycinate since it is relaxing to the body but does not stimulate a bowel movement. If you err on the side of irregularity, consider magnesium citrate. [Watch out – it might just be your new BFF.]

Altogether I’m sure as you read about the mighty benefits of each supplement you are “sold!”

But before you jet to the store and pick up all 6 start with a critical evaluation of what you can get more of from food. Consider weaving in fermented food or more fish. Or maybe you simply start bathing more for that magical magnesium boost! Regardless of what looks like a fit, consult your trusted health care practitioner about what, if anything, to start with. And only add in 1 at a time to note how it makes you feel instead of blindly investing each month in something that may or may not be an asset to your wellness. Every 3 months take a week long “holiday” from your supplement regimen and just notice… what happens upon omission. Supplements can be a wonderful asset as long as you are savvy about implementation, as well as, removal to ensure you investing in that embellishment to your already sound nutrition and lifestyle design commitment.

To your vibrant wellness,
Ellie

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