I get SO many questions about supplements!
Which supplements should I take? Which brands should I look for? Where should I buy them? Do I need to take them?
Before I dive in, I want to emphasize that supplements are not meant to be a replacement for a healthy diet. A diet rich in whole, colourful, nutritious foods is always going to be your best bet when it comes to health and nutrition.
HOWEVER, in today’s fast-pace world, it can be difficult to ensure we are eating all the right foods at all the right times, and supplements are a great way to provide the body with a little extra support.
While we are all different in terms of the nutrients we may or may not need, here are my five basic, foundational supplements that I recommend for almost everyone.
Magnesium is at the top of my list when it comes to supplementation, especially since magnesium deficiencies are becoming increasingly common these days. This is because the nutrient quality of our soil is sadly declining, meaning our food is no longer as rich in minerals (like Magnesium) as it has been previously.
Known as the Stress Mineral, Magnesium functions like a natural muscle relaxant and is amazing for sleep, stress, muscle tension and anxiety. Actually, the reason we recommend Epson Salt Baths after a tough workout is because the salts themselves contain so much Magnesium and that’s what helps the muscles relax!
Magnesium is also a wonderful way to naturally combat constipation – Our colon is a large muscle and when we’re constipated, that muscle is very tense... Magnesium helps the colon relax and really gets things moving!
Please Note: If you are not using the washroom at least once per day, you are considered constipated. While occasional constipation is okay, chronic constipation can be a major issue (I dealt with this for years!). While Magnesium is super helpful, it is also very important to find the root cause of the issue. This is where working with a Nutritional Practitioner can be extremely beneficial!
I generally recommend taking magnesium in the evening, about 30 minutes – 1 hour before bed time, although you can also take it during the day. Magnesium is actually a great supplement for headaches and period cramps, and it is a great substitute for Advil. Before taking that pain medication, try a magnesium supplement in conjunction with an Omega 3!
Types of Magnesium
There are a few different forms of magnesium and they are not all equal when it comes to quality and benefit.
Magnesium Glycinate and Magnesium L-Threonate are the two most absorbable forms of Magnesium and are the most beneficial when it comes to sleep, stress and anxiety.
Magnesium Citrate is next on the list: While it is less absorbable, this is my go-to it comes to relieving constipation.
Magnesium Oxide is the least absorbable form of Magnesium and I recommend avoiding it. It is often found in cheaper drug store brands and does not provide the body with much benefit at all.
Food Sources of Magnesium
· Dark, leafy greens - Kale, Spinach, Collard Greens, Swiss Chard
· Raw Cacao and Dark Chocolate
· Nuts and Seeds
#2) Active B Complex
A B Complex Supplement is made up of all 8 of our B Vitamins, all of which serve different functions within the body. B Vitamins play a role in hormone production, hormone balance, brain function (especially memory) and macronutrient metabolism, and they also influence the health of our skin, hair, nails and liver. They also help to produce our “Feel Good” hormones and can help with boosting energy levels in people who are highly fatigued.
Supplementing with a B Complex is especially important for people who are under a lot of stress. This is because some of our B Vitamins are actually depleted by stress. This is especially true for Vitamin B5, which the body uses to produce our stress hormones.
While each B Vitamin serves a different function, they are rarely ever found in isolation in nature, which is why a supplement containing the full spectrum of B Vitamins is typically more beneficial than taking one type of B Vitamin on its own. Moreover, taking singular B Vitamins can create imbalances within the body that lead to unwanted symptoms. For example, Vitamin B7 (Biotin – the “Beauty Vitamin”) is often taken by females to promote nail and hair growth, but high doses can actually cause cystic acne due to an imbalance of our other B’s.
B Vitamins are also water soluble, meaning they are not stored very well in the body and need to be replenished daily through either diet or supplementation. When buying B Complex supplements, ensure you are buying an Active B Complex!
Food Sources of B Vitamins
· Whole grains – Barley, Millet, Brown Rice
· Legumes – Beans and Lentils
· Dark, Leafy Greens
· Sunflower Seeds, Almonds
#3) Fish Oil or Omega-3 Supplements
Omega 3 Fats – also known as Essential Fatty Acids – are often referred to as the “Oil for the Brain”, as they play a massive role in supporting things like memory, concentration and overall brain function. Fun Fact: Our brains are actually made up of 60% fat!
Aside from the brain, Omega-3 fats provide major nourishment for the endocrine system. They help to regulate hormonal issues, especially symptoms of PMS, and are great supplements for those experiencing hormonal acne. In fact, Omega-3’s significantly decrease inflammation and are particularly beneficial for anyone dealing with issues like acne, psoriasis or eczema. Omega 3's also help to lubricate the skin from within, which is great for anyone who suffers with dry skin.
Omega 3 supplements have also been shown to have a positive effect on blood pressure, thereby lowering the risks associated with CVD. They can also be helpful when it comes to things like blood sugar regulation and weight loss, and they increase serotonin levels, having a great effect on mood!
Food Sources of Omega 3 Fats
· Cold Water Fish
· Flax Seeds or Flax Oil
· Hemp Seeds
· Pumpkin Seeds
· Chia Seeds
#4) Vitamin D-3
Vitamin D is known as our “Sunshine Vitamin” because it is literally produced in the skin when we come into contact with the sun’s rays. This is why we see such low levels of Vitamin D in the wintertime, when sun exposure is typically more difficult to come by. In fact, research has shown that 100% of Canadian’s are Vitamin D deficient during times of the year that sunlight is scarce.
Vitamin D plays a very important role in bone health, as it regulates calcium metabolism and normal calcification of the bones. Without healthy levels of Vitamin D, the risk of low bone density (and eventually, Osteoporosis) is much higher. Vitamin D also assists with brain development and hormone regulation, and helps to support the immune system.
While supplementing with Vitamin D in the summertime is not completely necessary, it may be worth having your levels checked if you tend to avoid the sun, keep your skin covered or regularly use SPF. Vitamin D levels will also be lower in cities where tall buildings block the sunlight, or places where there is lots of smog and pollution. Vitamin D production in the skin also declines with aging!
Note: Vitamin D-3 supplements are derived from animal sources and are much more absorbable than the plant form of Vitamin D-2.
I recommend Probiotics to everyone and anyone I know. They serve so many functions in the body and are especially beneficial when it comes to healthy digestion.
Gas, bloating, indigestion, sensitivities to certain foods (especially gluten or dairy), constipation, diarrhea (or both) – These are all signs of a weakened microbiome that is in need of some healthy probiotic support!
In addition to supporting healthy bowel movements and improving digestive health, probiotics kill bad bacteria in the gut and help to prevent bacterial overgrowth (aka Candidiasis). They are also involved in the production of our B Vitamins and play a key role in combatting inflammation. Additionally, 70% of our immune function actually occurs in the gut – Meaning a healthy microbiome is crucial in supporting immunity!
I always recommend starting with a multi-strain probiotic supplement with at least 15 billion active cultures. The best probiotics are the ones found in the refrigerated section, and you should always take them with food.
Food Sources of Probiotics - Fermented Foods!
· Kimchi · Tempeh
· Sourdough Bread
A few Final Notes
· Choose supplements that come in liquid form, when available. Liquids are absorbed much more rapidly and readily compared to tablets and capsules.
· Quality, Quality, Quality! Avoid purchasing supplements from places like Shoppers Drug Mart, Costco or Walmart... Instead, shop at your local Health Food Stores or Dispensaries. Some of my favourite brands include: Genestra, AOR, NFH (nutritional fundamentals for health), Douglas Labs, Pranin Organics and Mega Food.
· As a general rule of thumb, Vitamins should be taken in the morning (before noon) while Minerals should be taken in the evening. This is because Vitamins give us energy, while Minerals help us relax.