The question of supplements if very confusing for most people. After all, shouldn’t eating a whole, fresh, unprocessed foods diet provide all the necessary vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients we need?
The media, by oversimplifying or misinterpreting studies, only adds to this confusion. One week research will come out “disproving” a multivitamin’s effectiveness, and the next week they'll tout how important a particular nutrient is for a certain condition.
So are supplements actually necessary?
The short answer is that even with a perfect diet, many things — including depleted soils, the storage and transportation of food, increased stress, and a toxic environment — make it impossible for you to get nutrients you need solely from the foods you eat. And studies show that incorporating nutritional supplements can help lead to optimal health.
Of course, you needn’t go overboard. A few basic supplements can become “dietary insurance” to cover the nutrient gaps you’re probably not getting.
When patients ask me for a “just the basics” guide, these are the five supplements I recommend:
1. A high-quality multivitamin
This should include high-dose therapeutic amounts — not Recommended Daily Allowances — of vitamins and minerals. This will probably involve taking two to six capsules.
2. Vitamin D
The vitamin D deficiency is epidemic, with up to 80% of people deficient or suboptimal in their intake and blood levels.
So depending on what’s in your multivitamin, I recommend taking an additional 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 with your breakfast. Vitamin D3 improves metabolism by influencing more than 200 different genes that can help prevent and treat diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
3. Omega-3 fats
I also recommend taking 1,000 to 2,000 mg of omega-3 fats (with a ratio of approximately 300/ 200 mg of EPA/ DHA), once with breakfast and once with dinner. These important fats improve insulin sensitivity, lower cholesterol by lowering triglycerides and raising HDL, reduce inflammation, prevent blood clots and lower the risk of heart attacks.
Take 100 to 200 mg of magnesium, ideally in the citrate or glycinate form, at breakfast and dinner. Over 300 enzymes in your body rely on magnesium. And like vitamin D, studies show many Americans aren't getting recommended amounts, which leads to increased inflammation and other problems.
5. PGX fiber
Taken before meals, this super fiber slows absorption of sugar and fat and makes you feel full so you eat less. In fact, one study found that 7.5 grams of PGX mixed with water corresponded to a 34% increase in fullness.
All of these, with the exception of fiber, should be taken with meals. Additionally, you might benefit from a high-dose probiotic supplement as well as digestive enzymes before meals.
You should also consider working with an integrative doctor or qualified healthcare professional to address unique nutrient needs. In the long run, a trained practitioner who can test and determine your specific nutrient needs becomes more economical rather than guessing. To learn more about other nutrients that can benefit certain conditions, check out The Blood Sugar Solution.
Do you take a multivitamin or other supplements to complement a healthy diet? Share what you use below or on my Facebook page.
Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in the field of Functional Medicine. He is the founder and director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, a 13-time New York Times best-selling author, and Board President for Clinical Affairs for The Institute for Functional Medicine. He is the host of one of the leading health podcasts, The Doctor’s Farmacy. Dr. Hyman is a regular medical contributor on several television shows and networks, including CBS This Morning, Today, Good Morning America, The View, and CNN. He is also an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show.