Popping handfuls of supplements has never been my thing.
Surely a good multivitamin is enough, I thought.
It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve started to question that thinking. I’ve got aches and pains. I’m not sleeping great. Stress is through the roof.
Welcome to real life. That’s why you need supplements.
Supplements help your body when you’re just not feeling your best.
Maybe your energy is slumping, you’re always coming down with colds, or headaches are getting you down.
Sure, you could—and should—go to your doctor. But doctors are best at treating medical problems … and not feeling as good as you should feel isn’t a medical problem.
The vitamin craze has exploded in recent years. The market for supplements is expected to reach $278 billion by 2024, driven by an aging population. 
But many people find it hard to believe the hype. Why spend so much money on something that doesn’t seem to make a difference? Surely you can get all the nutrients you need by eating a balanced diet.
That may have been true once, but soil depletion and modern farming methods means that the fruit and vegetables that hit our grocery store shelves aren’t as nutritious as they once were.
Plus, the standard American diet doesn’t provide the recommended minimum of most vitamins and minerals. You should aim to get most of your nutritional needs from organic wholefoods. But unless you’re a health nut, you’re probably coming up short.
That’s where supplements come in.
When I was growing up, common wisdom said that all you needed was a good multivitamin. So I always made sure to take a multivitamin.
I didn’t pay much attention to which brand I bought. They’re all the same, right? Who reads labels? 😉
It wasn’t until I hit middle-age and started slowing down that I bothered to do the research.
It turns out that there’s a lot of good information out there on what you should be taking. You don’t have to listen to the miracle-promising marketers. Medical professionals like Dr. Frank Lipman, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Oz, and many others provide clear, scientifically-sound information about how you can supplement a healthy diet.
If you’re on any medications, you smoke, or you drink a lot of caffeinated beverages or alcohol, then supplementation becomes even more important. These “nutrient thieves” leach vital nutrients from the body.
More and more medical professionals now believe that you can’t get your full nutritional needs by just one capsule a day. You should be taking supplements twice a day at the very least.
You’ll also need to pay close attention to co-factors, which are nutrients which should be taken together to ensure maximum absorbency.
Too much bother?
It depends on how interested you are in health and long life.
No one should hit the age of 18 without a basic understanding of nutrition. Unfortunately, what many of us learned in school all those years ago is now severely outdated. The classic USDA food pyramid, with its emphasis on grains and animal products, has been shaken up.
As adults, we’ve got to re-learn the basics of nutrition, and understanding supplements is part of that.
You don’t have to buy into the hype surrounding certain vitamins—vitamins C and D spring to mind—to know that adequate levels are important.
So what should you be taking?
Dr. Frank Lipman suggests the “Fab Four”:
- A quality multivitamin with minerals
- Vitamin D3
- Fish oil (EPA/DHA)
If you’re getting older, than add Co-Q10 to the list.
Once you know what you should be taking, there’s an even bigger question. Which brand should you choose?
Vitamins are like food. The cheaper brands often save you money by skimping on quality. Because the FDA doesn’t review supplements for safety or effectiveness before they’re put on the market, you don’t always know what you’re getting.
ConsumerLab.com found that, in their tests, 32% of multivitamins don’t meet quality standards. Either they don’t have the stated amount of a vitamin, or they don’t dissolve properly.
Bioavailability is a big deal when it comes to choosing the right supplement. It describes the percentage of an active ingredient that is actually absorbed into the bloodstream. Enteric coatings increase bioavailability, as do co-factors.
Yes, it’s a lot to learn. Yes, it would have been nice if we’d been taught all this a long time ago. But we can learn it now.
Become an informed consumer. Don’t rely on marketing to learn which vitamins you should be taking. If you’re taking any medications or have any health conditions, talk to your doctor before starting a vitamin regime. Consulting with a naturopath can also be helpful.
Vitamins aren’t health insurance. They’re no replacement for a healthy diet. But they can give your body extra support when you’re worn down by stress, by illness, by late nights, or just by getting older.
Will they make you live longer? The jury is still out on that.
But if they help you catch a few less colds this winter, then they’re worth it.