What Supplements Should I Take Daily?
One of the most common questions we get is some variation of “What should an otherwise healthy person use, supplement-wise, to be healthier?”
Our advice always starts with a brief word of caution. People take too many of the wrong types of supplements. Our goal should be to only take a few, high-quality supplements that we truly need. We must understand why we are taking supplements. We should take a “food first” mentality because a great diet will have benefit tenfold compared to most supplements out there. Supplements should be just that - supplements to our already excellent diets.
The Vital 5 Supplements
Even with that said, there are some key supplements that I would call almost necessary for most of us. We call these “The Vital 5 Supplements” because not only do we feel almost everyone will benefit from them, but they are more convenient and affordable than their dietary versions.
The Vital 5 Supplements are chosen based on the following criteria:
- They contain nutritional components that are missing from most diets, despite our best efforts.
- They have benefits on multiple systems due to their crucial role in our bodies.
- The doses needed for benefit are above and beyond what would be found in a normal, easy to maintain diet.
- They have, typically, an overwhelming amount of data to support their use.
These 5 supplements are the Woodstock Vitamins Vital 5:
- Fish Oil
- A Bone Support Formula
- A Whole Food Vitamin Formula
Of these Vital 5 Supplements, the first two, Fish Oil and Probiotics, are the two I feel strongest about. In fact, if we sold nothing but 2 kinds of products, it would be those two.
Let’s discuss each type of supplement and why they are so important, plus discuss what to be careful of when buying these supplements.
The active ingredients in fish oil are the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Omega-3 is an essential fat, meaning our body doesn’t make it and we have to get it from our diet. We’re not so good about that, generally. Omega-6 is another essential fat found in plant oils, but it’s one we certainly don’t have a problem ingesting. Most Americans over-consume Omega-6 fats and under-consume Omega-3. We like to see a ratio of 4:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3, but we’re closer to 20:1.
By fixing that ratio, there’s evidence of benefit to heart, joint, skin and brain health. That’s a big impact from a single intervention.
To do so from diet alone, be prepared to eat more than 6 ounces of fresh salmon or a few cans of sardines every day, while reducing unhealthy Omega-6 intake (no more vegetable oil!).
But let’s be real, not many people can (or want to) do that. Using a high potency, properly made fish oil can have a tremendous impact on your health.
What to Watch Out ForPotency: Supplement manufacturers like to dilute their products, especially in fish oil. Check out our label compared to a typical fish oil:
OUR FISH OIL
Has 1000mg of EPA + DHA in 1 Softgel
THEIR FISH OIL
Has 275mg of EPA + DHA in 1 Softgel
(550mg in 2 softgels)
Look at the amount of EPA and DHA in each pill of your fish oil, and I’ll bet it’s close to 300mg total. We shoot for 3000 mg to get that ratio back to 4:1 - which is 10 times more than most people take.
Rancidity - Omega-3s are oils and can spoil. If it has a strong fishy taste, the brand recommends freezing the pills, or they are enteric coated, there’s a great chance you have a rancid fish oil on your hands. We’re neurotic about this stuff and can prove it - is your brand's fish oil as crazy as we are?
Contaminants - Fish are kinda gross, swimming in our polluted oceans. Heavy metal contamination, PCBs, dioxins, and more can be found in the fish oil. What is your fish oil brand doing to ensure their product is pure?
- Reduce your intake of things like vegetable oil and canola oil.
- Use a high potency fish oil like our Alaskan Omega, or UltraPURE 2000 if you are cool with liquids.
- Shoot for 3000 mg of EPA and DHA a day, but consult with an expert on what is best for you.
The normal flora, or the collection of microorganisms that live in and on us, is under constant attack. Stress, diet, medications, and more vary day to day and person to person. As a result, some of the unsavory microorganisms can take hold and cause problems with digestion, bowel habits, and more. “Everybody Poops” as the kid’s book eloquently stated, but many of us don’t do so with the regularity you are supposed to, partly due to a jacked up normal flora. On top of this, a big chunk of your immune system is found in and around your gut, so keeping your gut in check helps not only the gut but the rest of your wellness too.
We traditionally think of things like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir as foods rich in healthy bacteria. For homemade products, that’s true. The problem is that those homemade lacto-fermented foods vary widely in the types and amounts of the strains. The benefit of probiotics comes from consistently getting the right doses of specific strains.
Think of your gut like real estate. If you don’t have enough good neighbors and cops, the neighborhood will get overrun with seedy characters and crime. It’s only with a steady supply of the good guys can we keep the property value up. Keeping our gut real estate prime has profound benefit to digestive, skin, and immune health.
What to Watch Out For
We’re taught shortcuts for identifying good probiotics. “Look for refrigerated probiotics with lots of strains and high CFUs - billions and billions.” These are gimmicks and half-truths. The natural product industry shows its true colors when it comes to probiotics - and they’re not pretty. Buying a probiotic is actually more complicated because most probiotics are made with little regard to the science and more to profit.
We want to select the right amounts of the right strains, and we must understand the properties of those individual strains to be successful.
I’ve simplified the process down to four points:
1. Temperature Stability
Some strains of probiotics NEED to be refrigerated, some do not. The key is the manufacturer KNOWS this and has data to prove a probiotic dose is good through expiration based on how it is stored.
Just because it is in the fridge doesn’t make it superior. In fact, the first time some products hit the fridge is when they arrive in store; they are shipped warm, stored in warehouses and back rooms, and put in the fridge at the last minute.
Think of strains like factions of barbarians. They’re simple - only out for survival of their tribe. Some live peacefully together and some want to wage war. If we put competitive strains together, who knows how that battle in that individual capsule will end up. What if the “winner” isn’t a good strain? And didn’t you pay for two strains?
3. The Human Benefit
Some strains help humans, some don’t. There are studies to prove it. So while it looks great to have all those strains listed on the label, it doesn’t make much sense if they don’t colonize the gut. In fact, we reject many leading brands because they have bacteria only found in soil, not in the human normal flora.
We look at probiotic strength by looking for CFUs, or colony-forming-units. While bigger is better when it comes to trucks and hamburgers, it’s not the case with probiotics. Think of it like this, would you rather have 1 billion archers, or 10,000 tanks? Efficiency matters, and that is dictated by what strains are chosen, not how many you jam in there.
For general health, you’ll want a mix of acidophilus and Bifidus bacteria, as acidophilus is found primarily in the small intestine and Bifidus in the large intestine. Selecting the proper strains requires a pseudo-degree in probiotic manufacturing, so we’ve done the work for you.
Probiotic Complete was created to simplify the process. It has a great dose of 4 of the most studied strains in humans. These strains are NOT competitive, so they’re into the peace and love scene like us in Woodstock. They are also temperature stable, and we have data to support it; they will last a year at 80 degrees! You don’t even need to turn on the air conditioning in your house.
Calcium-Magnesium-Vitamin D (The Bone Support Formula)
Almost everyone will benefit from at least one ingredient found in most bone support formulas. There are 3 major players in many bone support products are Calcium, Magnesium, and Vitamin D.
Calcium and magnesium are vital minerals that many of us don’t get enough of in our diet. Low calcium intake may affect bone health, especially in women or older men. Vitamin D levels in America are low, on average, compared to the rest of the world. Hitting target nutritional goals of these 3 are crucial to maintaining good health in humans, but it proves difficult in most of us.
Wait a sec - didn’t you say “Calcium Doesn’t Work?” Yes we did. Calcium doesn’t build bones like everyone believes. That doesn't mean you shouldn't use it. Having low intake of calcium will certainly speed up bone loss, as your body will use calcium in bones to replace what's missing from the blood. Men have thicker, bigger bones than women, so our osteoporosis risk is lower already. For guys, calcium is optional, mostly.
Another reason calcium and magnesium make my list is because many Americans take medications that interfere with their absorption. Proton-pump inhibitors like Prilosec or Nexium, for example, have been shown to do so, and supplementation with Cal-Mag products is recommended. If you don’t need calcium for bone health, you may need it because of your reflux meds.
Vitamin D is crucial to almost all of us, particularly us here in the Northeast. When we compare our blood levels of Vitamin D to others all over the globe, most American’s numbers are low... real low. Vitamin D probably isn’t the miracle supplement that everyone claims it is.
If you raise your levels, you probably won’t notice. The jury is still out on what higher than normal Vitamin D levels can do, so we’ll play it safe. Our general recommendation with Vitamin D is to get your Vitamin D level from your doctor during your physical, and shoot to get it to 50 or slightly over if you are below. For most people, that means taking about 1000-2000 units daily.
What to Watch Out For
- The Form - Minerals don’t exist freely, they must be bound to something. The cheaper options like carbonate, citrate, and oxide often result in higher doses and less pills a day, sure, but they come with higher adverse effects like constipation, diarrhea, GI cramping, and even hardening of major arteries! Since we are working so hard to make our guts and hearts healthier, we don’t want our Bone Support products to erase all our hard work. We recommend well made chelates of minerals.
- Too Much Calcium - A woman over 40 needs 1200mg TOTAL calcium daily. Since we get 1-2 servings of calcium (2-300mg each), Most people only need to supplement 600-900 mg of calcium a day.
- Megadose Vitamin D - There’s so much misinformation about how much Vitamin D to take. Keep it lower, keep it simple. 1,000-2,000 IU each day is probably more than enough unless your doctor needs you to take more to correct a deficiency.
It would be great to have an all-in-one bone support formula, sure. Since most people’s needs are different, it’s hard to make a one-size-fits-all product. Here’s how we see it, based on what you need:
- Vitality True Food Calcium Care: Formulated by us and exclusively manufactured to exceed our strict Vitality Approved standards, this is our top-pick calcium supplement!
- Ultimate Bone Support is an all in one option for someone looking for calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and other nutrients important in supporting bone health.
- Calcium MCHA and Magnesium is great for someone looking for an excellent Cal/Mag product.
- Vitamin D 2,000 IU is a tiny, inexpensive, high quality Vitamin D that is easy to adjust the dose based on what your doctor recommends
A Whole Food Vitamin
The last two Vital 5 Supplements are excellent for those who just can’t pull off a perfectly balanced diet everyday.
We’re the first to tell people that multivitamins (especially as most of us take them) won’t work.
That being said, our diets are garbage. Most of us rarely get good amounts of foods rich in vitamins. However, vitamins are just a small part of the micronutrient picture. Antioxidants, minerals, bioflavonoids, and more are as crucial, if not more so than vitamins, yet are often lacking from our diets. If you are committed to lots of dark leafy greens, bright reds, and vibrant blues in your diet, you don’t need to supplement. If you can’t consistently get these, using a true whole food supplement rich in these would be a smart move.
What to Watch Out For
- The Fakers - As we discussed in our Garden of Lies article, most products marketed as whole food are not. Isolated vitamins are not the same as eating concentrated, properly handled food powders. There are only a few brands that are truly 100% Whole Food, 0% Nonsense.
- The Dose - Food takes up space, plain and simple. To get the amounts of micronutrients we need, we need to take lots of tablets. One-a-day only works if you are using tiny amounts of isolated vitamins. Many whole food products recommend between 2 and 6 tablets a day, which is a drag, but it is worth it.
There are two whole food supplements I would recommend to help fill in the gaps in your diet:
Vital Greens and Reds: Vital Greens and Reds is our new innovative and comprehensive blend of organic greens, vegetables, fruits, berries, phytonutrients, fiber, probiotics, and digestive enzymes.
SuperGreens: If you are missing greens in your diet, this is a great blend of important, nutrient-rich greens. We consider this our vegetarian whole food multivitamin, as it is rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are the three types of macronutrients we need. Proteins give our body lasting energy and important amino acids. Proteins support literally every cell in the body. Proteins are also the macronutrient that many people don’t get enough of in the day. This commonly manifests as a problem in our rapidly dividing cells: skin, hair, and nails. Protein is the main building block for all of these things, so improving protein intake will have a dramatic impact on these common problems.
How much protein do you need? Well, that depends on your size and activity level. In general, it ranges from 0.8-1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. Here’s a helpful calculator that you can use.
Without straying too far into the debate of how much protein is needed, the bottom line is most of us eat below our modest requirements. When we do eat protein, most of it comes in one or two meals a day. We need protein all throughout the day, especially before and after any exercise.
Proteins don’t have to come from just fatty animals like beef, but lean proteins are great too. Even better, incorporating plant-based proteins is a healthy way for omnivores to reach their protein goals.
It’s tricky though. Protein supplementation is necessary for many people for convenience and consistency.
What to Watch Out For
- Complete Proteins - If you choose to supplement with plant proteins, ensure you are getting a complete protein. This means you are getting all the essential amino acids. This normally comes from plant blends, meaning different plants like pumpkins AND peas are used together.
- Contamination - Many leading protein supplements have been shown to have heavy metal contaminants such as lead. There are numerous examples of body-building protein products adulterated with anabolic steroid compounds.
- Heavily Processed Proteins - Proteins are foods and can degrade if handled inappropriately. Gentle processing steps are needed to ensure you are getting digestible, complete proteins. Some companies have been known to use over-processed protein powders and add in amino acids to give the appearance of a high potency protein.
- Myocep - Our number one choice for whey protein. We selected this formula as it uses minimally processed whey from antibiotic, hormone free cows that are grass fed. It’s super smooth with a great taste, not like many bitter proteins out there.
- Balanced Plant Protein- For a complete plant protein, we like the Balanced Plant line.
The Vital 5
When trying to determine what supplements one should take on a daily basis, look to our Vital 5 Supplements as a starting point. These highlighted items are often referred to by us as "Vital" because they are the center of any wellness plan we develop for our customers.
Utilizing these supplements consistently as part of a wellness plan can address many health problems people face.
As with anything in the natural products industry, be aware of the variance in quality within these categories.
Just trying to keep it real...
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth