I always get asked this question in my practice: “doesn’t food have all the vitamins and minerals that we need? Why do we need to take supplements anyways”?
These questions are very valid, especially because I’m a big believer in eating REAL FOOD for optimal health, and whenever I wonder what that looks like, I think about what our ancestors would have eaten 100+ years ago. Would they have had a venti sized Starbucks latte with flavoured syrup and a dollop of whipped cream on top? Probably not. Okay, that was an easy one, but the point is, our diet and lifestyles are a lot different these days than what they used to be, resulting in a lot of vitamin and mineral depletion from the body. What about all the supplements we take these days though? Were our great grandparents taking capsules of 1000mg of Vitamin C, or taking 50 billion worth of probiotics daily? Definitely not. But there might be more to it…
It was once told to me by a professor in school that today we would have to eat 30 something peaches to get the same amount of Vitamin C as 1 single peach in the 1950s. Now, I don’t remember the exact number of peaches you would have to eat, but regardless, the amount of nutrients in our food now is considerably less than what it was 100 years ago, or even just 60 years ago. And it all has to do with our soil. Unfortunately, due to conventional farming practices over the years, and not replacing our soil with the necessary minerals that we’ve depleted through food crops, the things that are grown in that soil aren’t often left with much nutrition. Additionally, the loads of fertilizers and chemicals we’ve used on our crops have seeped into the soil, resulting in soil that is basically dead from nutrients, and fruits and veggies that are hallow of any real vitamin and mineral content. For this reason, I try to eat organic fruits and veg(because there is more nutrient density due to a difference in soil treatment) and I do take some key vitamins and minerals that I’m going to tell you about now.
*Note: I am not sponsored by any brands or products. I will not be mentioning brands in this post, but feel free to message me if you want to know which ones I take and trust as good brands.
First thing’s first: how do you know which vitamins and minerals you might be low in?
In the field of natural medicine, deficiencies can be determined by certain symptoms, or a combination of symptoms. When I see someone in my practice who experiences a combination of symptoms like low mood, chronic constipation and joint pain, for example, I look to clinical research that has been conducted over years and years, and link those symptoms to specific vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Additionally, due to our gender, age and lifestyle, we might have a need for certain nutrients over others. Basically, come book an appointment with me, and we’ll go through this all!
Should everyone take a multi-vitamin for good health?
To be honest, I don’t often suggest that people take multi-vitamins, and that’s because multi-vitamins are normally low doses of the spectrum of vitamins. Remember above, when we talked about certain combinations of symptoms, and how they can be a result of specific vitamin or mineral deficiencies? In order to help with the healing of those symptoms, it requires what’s called a “therapeutic dose” of those specific nutrients. For example, Vitamin C is one that has been shown to be highly effective in high doses, to help with immunity, collagen and skin formation and even internal stress management. The amount found in a multi-vitamin is often not even close to the amount needed to produce these results. The times when I typically recommend a multi-vitamin is for very young children and for the elderly, especially if their diet choices don’t include a full spectrum of foods. For anyone else, its best to find out which vitamins and minerals you need for your body, and load up on those.
Now we’re going to get into which ones I think everyone should be taking at therapeutic doses:
Probiotics are a collection of “good bacteria”. But why do we care to add bacteria into our bodies? Basically, these good guys are what keep our immunity up, against infections gut disturbances and even colds and flus. The “bad bacteria” is what can over-grow in our bodies and create all sorts of sickness. The crummy part about all this is that lots of things in our diet and environment feed and grow the “bad guys”, and very few things help promote the good ones. Sugar(including sugar from grains and fruit), caffeine, prescription medication, antibiotics, and even stress all feed the bad bacteria. It would be pretty difficult to avoid these things though, right? So let’s look at adding in foods that have probiotics in them: yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc. Why can’t we just eat those and get all the good bacteria we need? Well, long story short, they just don’t contain enough bacteria for all the cells in our body to benefit from them. We have billions and billions of cells in our body, all of which could use these good bacteria to help crowd out the “bad guys” and help to boost our overall immunity. If you’ve ever seen a bottle of probiotics at your local health food store, you’ll notice their numbers are often in the billions: 10, 20, 30 or even 50 billion. And this is much more than what you would get from yogurt or sauerkraut.
Who needs to take Probiotics?
If you ask me, basically everyone! But especially if:
You’ve been on antibiotics any time in the last year: antibiotics work by killing ALL the bacteria in our bodies, including the good ones, so we really need to load up afterwards. Ps. If you’ve ever noticed that you get lots of infections after a bout of antibiotics, it’s likely due to not enough good bacteria left in the body to fight off the next infection. Try taking probiotics during and immediately after any prescriptions for antibiotics to avoid this in the future.
If you experience any chronic gut issues: constipation, diahrea, gas ,bloating, or really anything else related to our digestive tract, you need probiotics! There are specific strains for each of the particular issues mentioned above, so do some research before buying one, and ask a health care professional for help.
If you tend to get sick a lot throughout the year, if you frequently get infections(ie. yeast infections, UTIs, ear infections, etc), then probiotics might be a good idea, to help crowd out the bad guys that are causing these issues.
Sounds kind of wacky, but if you often experience mood imbalance issues, anxiety or depressive symptoms, increasing the amount of good bacteria in the gut can make a world of difference. Because of the connection between the gut and the brain, changing the ratio to ensure there is more good bacteria in the gut, can help keep the brain healthy too.
How much should I take?
There are SO many different types and strains of probiotics, and it’s difficult to make a one-size-fits all statement. I would recommend getting one from a reputable store that specializes in natural health. If the one you end up choosing gives you some stomach upset, it may be too much bacteria at one time for you, or there may be a sugar component(that helps to grow the bacteria) that your body can’t tolerate at that particular time.
Much like good bacteria, magnesium is an element that depletes really quickly from the body, and not a lot of things can give us the amount that our body needs to function. Magnesium is best known as the mineral that helps to relax the muscles in the body. That includes the heart and the digestive tract too. Again, just like the bad bacteria in our bodies, and the long list of things that help to grow those, a very similar list depletes Magnesium from the body: sugar, caffeine, medication, and stress! Our bodies use tons and tons of magnesium each day to help metabolize all of these things. So if we need it for so many things, and we’re not getting it from our foods, what types of symptoms can we expect to have? Some of the most common symptoms include sleep issues(especially difficulty falling asleep), muscle cramping(particularly at night), and headaches.
Who needs to take Magnesium?
If your diet includes caffeine, alcohol or sugar.
If you often experience high stress during the day.
If you get headaches frequently, leg cramping, or any type of muscle soreness.
If you are on any prescription medications.
If you have difficulty falling asleep at night.
How much should I take?
Because magnesium is the “muscle relaxing” mineral, and our digestive tract is a muscle, our bodies do a good job telling us pretty quickly after consuming magnesium if it was too much. Everyone’s tolerance is going to be different, but the way to find out our limit, is to look at the “bowel tolerance”. Sounds yucky, but hear me out: it’s recommended that we keep increasing the dose of magnesium until we experience loose stool(this will only happen once). At that time, you know that you have taken your body’s limit, and you should dose back. And it’s often preferred to take magnesium at night: because it does such a good job with relaxation, before bed is the most ideal time.
This one’s an easy one, and most of us are catching on to how essential this vitamin is for immunity. But it’s needed for so many other things, and it’s also needed at such a higher amount than what we previously thought. My favourite fact about Vitamin C is that any time we experience stress(which is pretty much every day at least once a day, am I right?), the body just sucks up and uses up all the Vitamin C is has access to. And how often do we notice that we end up getting sick during or after a period of high stress? One of the reasons is due to a rapid release of this important immune boosting vitamin.
Who needs to take Vitamin C?
Pretty much everyone! But especially if:
Your immune system seems to be low lately.
You have a high-stress lifestyle
You experience allergies, including skin allergies.
How much should I take?
Because Vitamin C is water-soluble, your body is basically going to take what it needs and flush out the rest. I typically recommend a minimum of 500mg/day for kids, and 1000mg/day for adults. For myself, I take upward of 2000mg/day some days, especially if I feel like I’m coming down with something!
Omega 3 Fish Oils:
Okay, I understand that not everyone consumes animal products, but if you were ever considering choosing ONE animal-sourced product to take, it would be this! There is lots of different types of fats, and omega 3s aren’t the only ones, but they’re a fat source that doesn’t exist in a lot of foods that we eat, and if it does, it’s often difficult to get the proper ratio of the components we’re looking for. Without getting too sciencey, Omega 3s are composed of EPA and DHA(each of these letters are the appreviated form of a reeeaallyy long word, but that’s a story for another time!). The EPA is what gives us all the anti-inflammatory benefits: for our joints, our heart, our brain, and pretty much our whole body! The DHA is what’s predominantly needed for brain development. As adults, we don’t need that component at a very high amount, but rather, we need the EPA to be high. Just like every other supplement we’ve discussed here, our need for fish oil(especially high EPA/anti-inflammatory effect) comes from the current state of our diet and lifestyle. High sugar diets, caffeine, alcohol and stress all create inflammation in the body, creating all sorts of problems.
Who needs to take Fish Oils?
Anyone who experiences chronic joint pain
If you’ve been told you’re at risk of heart disease
If you are at risk for diabetes
Anyone who is looking for a natural way to boost their brain focus.
If you experience any mood imbalance issues, anxiety or depression.
How much should I take?
Adults should look for a sustainably sourced fish oil(or capsules) where the EPA is at least twice the DHA(2:1 ratio). Particularly for mood balance or any mental health benefits, you can consider an even higher ratio of 5:1 or higher. For children 2 years or younger, they might benefit from a higher DHA(for brain development), but for any child older than 3, a fish oil with a 2:1 ratio(EPA:DHA) can be considered. Consult a natural health care provider for more specifics for an amount that is ideal for your body.
The Sunshine Vitamin. You’ve probably heard that before, right? They call it that because we literally get it from the sun, and very few other sources. And if you live in the same part of the world as me(up north in Canada), we get very little of this vitamin throughout the year. And when it is actually sunny and warm outside, our bare skin needs to be exposed to it for a minimum of 20 minutes to get sufficient Vitamin D. Because this vitamin is SO beneficial and has SO many uses in the body, we need to make sure we’re getting enough. We know we need it for bone health(helps to get Calcium out of the digestive tract and into the bones where it belongs) but it’s also needed for 101 under things in the body including immunity and brain/mood health.
Who needs to take Vitamin D3?
We’ve already established that everyone who lives in Canada needs to take it for sure! But also:
Anyone who experiences symptoms of low immunity.
If you experience low mood, especially during the winter months
If you’re at risk of osteoporosis
Anyone who wants strong bones!
How much should I take?
Again, if you live in the northern hemisphere, it’s likely a nutrient that you’re low in. You can ask your doctor to request blood work that will give you a more definitive answer as well. Normally, capsules or drops sold at any natural health food stores come in quantities of 1000IUs per serving. I recommend at least 2000IUs per day, especially in the winter months. In the summer time, if you feel that you get enough direct sunlight on your skin and you don’t want to over-do it, you can take a break and cut the dose in half, or stop taking it all together. Vitamin D3 is fat-soluble, so there is potential for over-dosing because it gets stored in our cells. Although it’s very difficult to get to a level of over-dosing(because our bodies are typically very depleted in this vitamin and we don’t get it from many food sources), it’s important to note that the symptoms of Vitamin D over-dose is very similar to heat stroke from the sun: headache, dizziness, nausea, etc. Paying attention and listening to your body is key in this case, and all cases related to diet and supplementation.
So, What Now?
To sum it all up, I think supplements can be really helpful in addressing certain issues and deficiencies. Because of the state of our soil these days, as well as our general diet and environment, we are more rapidly becoming deficient in the nutrients that we need. And unfortunately, the symptoms that we most commonly see all around us are very closely linked to these deficiencies. But the point of this post is not to make you feel like “ooohh man, I’m so unhealthy” or that you NEED to go out and spend a bunch of money on supplements. As I always say, the basis of good health is eating REAL FOOD, and so many benefits can come from consuming a diet filled with WHOLE FOODS. But the point was to answer some of the common questions I get asked every day in my practice, and to help educate a little on what specific nutrients do in our bodies and how they can help to boost the healing process. As always, listen to YOUR body before you listen to me, and always feel free to contact me for any specific questions! J