Where to Begin With Supplements
Taking supplements can be an overwhelming task to initiate. There are so many different varieties of vitamins & minerals, brands names of vitamins & minerals, and a lot of variation on mixed feelings about the successfulness of absorption rates. When I first decided to look more into proper supplementation, I must say I was slightly overwhelmed with the synergistic properties.
The fact that some supplements need to be paired with others in order to be fully absorbed was a concept that seemed beyond me, I wasn’t even sure which supplements to take that would work on their own. But! Alas, my wariness did not heed my eagerness to learn more, so I put my nose to the books and have come up with the ultimate basic list of supplements and what they can be used for. As always, I recommend getting your vitamins and minerals from the food you digest but I also understand that sometimes that is not possible in today’s crazy world. Enter the supplement.
Some of the supplement information I have provided below does not elaborate on the synergistic qualities of supplements. For instance, Vitamin D is excellent for the immune system but also can provide relief from anxiety and depression. If you are browsing through and are not seeing a supplement that you had expected under a particular category, try reading through the other recommendations to see if there are alternative vitamins and minerals that can work for multiple symptoms.
Calcium and Vitamin K2: If you are deficient in calcium and supplementing instead you may want to think twice, or do some research on your vitamin K levels. Vitamin K actually helps carry the Calcium into your bones, meaning if you are deficient in Vitamin K2 and supplementing with Calcium then you may not really be doing any good.
Take this if Your Immune System Needs Help or If You Are Feeling Fatigued
Taking D3 keeps me cold-free all year long (literally, I got terrible colds until I started taking it), and keeps me from being depressed and anxious in winter months. If you don’t take cod liver oil, and even if you do but need more D, this is the supplement to take. Vitamin D is associated with overall improved health, and can help with diseases as advanced as cancer.
Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins, and one we are most likely to be deficient in as Americans. Some estimates say anywhere from 80-90% of the population may have sub optimal levels of Vitamin D in the blood.
This is worrying because Vitamin D plays such an important role in health. From reducing autoimmune issues and inflammation, to preventing disease, Vitamin D is a nutrient we shouldn’t neglect. Vitamin D has a protective effect on the immune system, helping T-cells and B-cells to to fight immune threats while also preventing autoimmune issues.
Several autoimmune diseases (including Lupus and MS) have a high range of deficiency and supplementation with Vitamin D has been shown to improve health in these individuals.
Having sufficient Vitamin D has been shown to reduce upper respiratory infections in both summer and winter. Those with deficiencies of Vitamin D are found to suffer from upper respiratory infections much more often, even accounting for the seasons.
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is primarily processed through the skin rather than through food. During the summer, we wear less and tend to spend more time outdoors, and this increases the amount we produce. In turn, we get sick less often and feel altogether happier. Vitamin D deficiencies are also associated with lower mood and decreased cognitive function.
However, Vitamin D needs range depending on specific conditions. Recommendations for average adults age 19-50 are about 600 i/u a day to prevent deficiency. This can come from sunlight, diet, or supplements, but it may take up to 1500 or 2000 i/u a day, depending on the individual, to keep blood levels about the recommended 30 ng/ml.
Vitamin D foods: Salmon, Mushrooms (cooked), egg yolk, canned tuna, sardines and cod liver oil.
This vitamin is crucial for immune system health, for the manufacture of neurotransmitters, and for adrenal (stress system) health.
Foods that contain Vitamin C: Leafy greens, other vegetables, and all fruits (yes, citrus, but others too!) all have high quantities of vitamin C. If you are a paleo dieter but don’t go heavy on the veggies you may want to consider upping your dose.
Take this for Mood & Sleep Improvement
70% of Americans do not get the recommended daily dose of magnesium. And magnesium is crucial for more than 300 essential chemical reactions in the body. Without magnesium, these vital reactions simply don’t take place.
Without magnesium, systems malfunction all over the map, from bone growth to adrenal health to the ability to fall asleep at night. Magnesium is also, and perhaps most importantly, one of the primary nutrients involved in the regulation of cellular stress and activity. And when I say stress here, I do mean stress. Any sort of cellular activity is a stress of sorts, because it upregulates activity and requires energy and resources.
Magnesium’s role is simple: it opens channels on cell membranes. When a muscle fiber, for example, needs to tense up and become active, magnesium will open the membrane and help usher in calcium, which helps make it tense. Then, when the period of stress is over and the muscle can relax, magnesium opens up the cell membrane to usher the calcium out of the cell again. The problem for most people is that they have enough magnesium to usher calcium into the cell, but not enough to usher the calcium out.
This leaves them in a chronically up-regulated state, leaving muscles tense, nerves firing, and neurons on high alert. This is why magnesium deficiency is associated with muscle tension, with headaches, with poor adrenal health, and with anxiety.
Without magnesium, the body simply cannot calm down.
Magnesium is very hard to get in a paleo diet (really only in grains) and is CRUCIAL for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. You need it to prevent headaches, relax your muscles, calm anxiety, prevent depression, and fall asleep at night, among so many other things. At one point it nearly saved my life.This is the form of magnesium that is easiest on the gut. Other forms in high doses can cause intestinal motility to speed up enough to cause diarrhea. This one is the best for avoiding that if you have a sensitive stomach.
As important as magnesium is, it unfortunately is no longer abundant in the human diet. Research estimates that at least 48% of Americans do not get nearly enough magnesium in their diets. This is in part because magnesium has been depleted from American soils.
Unfortunately for paleo dieters, the majority of foods high in magnesium are not on the typical paleo menu. High magnesium foods include mostly legumes, nuts and seeds: soybeans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, quinoa, black beans, cashews, navy beans, sunflower seeds, almonds. Grains are also reasonably high in magnesium.
Fortunately for paleo dieters, kale, swiss chard, and beet greens are all great sources. Nevertheless, magnesium is probably one of the greatest “risk” minerals for paleo dieters, which is why I typically recommend supplementing.
Take this if You’re Breaking Out
Zinc is an essential mineral that is not only found in several enzymes–which makes it crucial to lots of bodily functions–but it also, notably, is critical for immune system function. It also plays a key role in the metabolism of RNA and DNA, and promotes plasticity (flexibility) in the brain. It is important for immune health, hormone health, insulin modulation, and brain health. Zinc also has anti-inflammatory properties that resist and combat bacteria, making it wonderful for helping acne relief.
The best sources of zinc are oysters (by almost a factor of ten), followed by liver, beef, and lamb. Turkey and shrimp also have good amounts of zinc. From plants, zinc can be obtained from lentils, quinoa, chick peas, and many kinds of seeds including pumpkin and sesame seeds.
Take this if You’re Trying to Heal Your Gut
This vitamin is rare because even though you think you might be getting it every time you eat a carrot (the packaging always says “good source of vitamin A!”), you are unfortunately being misled. Carrots do not have vitamin A in them. Neither do any other plant foods. What these foods have in them instead is beta carotene.
Beta carotene can be converted into vitamin A in your intestines by gut flora (here’s a great probiotic and great probiotic foods that can help with that). If you do not have the right gut flora it just won’t happen. Unfortunately that’s the case for a lot of people today. Gut flora just aren’t as robust as they could be.
So many people are deficient in vitamin A. The only robust source of true vitamin A in the diet is organ meat, particularly liver. Most people cringe at the idea of eating liver. Yet ancestral human cultures prized the liver above almost all other parts of the animal. Presumably this is because they figured out how important it is for health. If you cannot stomach the idea of eating liver a couple of times a month (but you should because it’s delicious), you can try a desiccated liver supplement like this one, which is my favorite.
You can also obtain vitamin A from cod liver oil, which is actually a better supplement for absorbing vitamin A specifically because oil is the right form for a fat soluble vitamin. (Desiccated liver is the best for a lot of other nutrients, though, including the rare and important choline). Most people do well with 10-15,000 IU’s per day.
This is the healthiest, most nourishing cod liver oil supplement on the market today.
Take This if You Are Combating Brain Fog
Vitamin K is rare in the diet today for a few reasons. One is that people do not eat organ meats anymore, and organ meats are one of the only good sources of vitamin K2.
Another reason is that most animals today are raised on grain products and other random bits of food instead of grass. Yet grass is the natural diet for cows, bison, and other ruminants. The highest quality beef comes from cows that eat grass specifically because it enables them to make the right nutrients that they need.
Vitamin K2 can be found in grass-fed butter, but it cannot be found in grain-fed butter. So you can boost your vitamin K (K2, specifically) intake by getting some grass-fed butter in your diet. If you cannot do that, then you may definitely want to consider that cod liver oil supplement I mentioned earlier. Because not only does it have cod liver oil and vitamins A and D in it, but it also has high quality butter oil added, which is rich in vitamin K.
This is how fermented cod liver oil kills three birds with one stone. Most people will do well with 100 mcg/d.
Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, is necessary for energy production and normal cell function and growth.
Riboflavin deficiency is common in women of child-bearing age and of a low socioeconomic level. Using hormonal birth control exacerbates that problem. Studies have shown that vitamin supplements remediate riboflavin issues in women taking the pill.
Altogether, these findings suggest that vitamin B2 supplementation in women taking OCs may be important where vitamin nutrition is poor.
Greens, eggs, turkey, other sources of animal protein, and plant protein sources such as beans and legumes tend to be good sources of vitamin B2. With a diet rich in animal products, vegetables, and fruits, B2 should probably not be a problem to obtain enough of. Not many sources of B2 are excellent sources, but there is a wide variety of foods which contain a decent amount of it.
If Your Liver is Needing Assistance Detoxing
Vitamin B12 (also known as cobalamin) is an essential nutrient for many things, but perhaps most of all liver support and detox.
Vitamin B12 is fortunately very rich in pretty much all animal protein sources, especially liver. But beef, lamb, poultry, seafood, and eggs all have fairly abundant B12. Dairy also has a reasonable amount of B12 in it. If you are a vegetarian, and especially if you are a vegan, you will need to supplement with B12.
If you struggle already with a slugglish liver or have a condition like estrogen dominance or PCOS, the following supplements help support the liver through Phase I and Phase II detoxification and can be really helpful:
- Methylated forms of B12 (find it here), B6 (find it here), and Folic Acid (find it here): important for the passing of methyl groups which helps with the excretion of hormones like estrogen and is sometimes difficult in women with PCOS.
- DIM (I like this one): contains the strongest components of cruciferous vegetables known to help break down excess hormones.
- Calcium D Glucarate (I like this brand) supports the glucuronidation of the liver and prevents excess estrogen from being re-absorbed in the bowels.
- Glutathione (find it here): important for the detoxification of alcohol. Smoking, chronic stress, and infections or inflammatory disorders also deplete this important nutrient
So there you have it! Where will you be starting on your supplementing journey? Maybe you are sticking to food instead? Leave me a comment and let me know!