I received a great question to my Facebook page last week asking the reason behind my vitamin selection. This is a great question because so many of us (my past-self included) would take supplements and not really understand why. I would take a supplement because I heard it was healthy and that’s all I really needed to know (so I thought). There is SO much nutrition and health misinformation out there now and I encourage everyone to think critically about the information they hear before implementing it in their lives.
SO – today I want to go through some of the top supplements that I take and that I recommend to clients most often.
If you’ve read any of my post you know I am a huge advocate of the “food first” approach, meaning – if you can get a vitamin or mineral from food, then by all means get it from food. I used to preach that we could get all of our nutrients from our food, but as I dug into more and more research and worked with more and more clients, I realized that it would be irresponsible for me to suggest this. Getting our nutrients from food is always going to be number one, but strategic supplementation is important and very necessary, in most cases.
Before we start I must mention: please do not start a new supplement regimen without discussing it with your personal health practitioner. Some supplements can have an adverse reaction with other medications or could be toxic at high levels.
So let’s start with the basics.
The first supplement that I recommend to almost everyone is a good quality vitamin D supplement. If you remember from this post here, vitamin D plays a critical role in our body as it is important for bone health, immunity and cognitive function.
How much vitamin D a person needs is going to vary depending on ethnicity, where you live and your lifestyle (a typical recommendation is 1000-5000 IU per day). Right now in Alberta our provincial health care no longer allows us to get our vitamin D levels checked, which is extremely unfortunate given the role of vitamin D in our overall health.
You do have to worry about vitamin D supplementation at high levels due to the fact that it is a fat-soluble vitamin (meaning we can’t just pee it out if we have too much). Typically we must supplement with over 10,000 IU per day for a period of several months before we need to worry about toxicity. Vitamin D is beneficial for bone health because it enhances the absorption of calcium. Too much vitamin D can cause high levels of calcium in our blood (called hypercalcemia).
The symptoms of hypercalcemia include (1):
I love when vitamin D is in combination with vitamin K2 (which we can find in the diet from grass fed dairy products). Vitamin K2 helps with the proper absorption and utilization of calcium in the body. We want calcium to be deposited into our bones, and vitamin K2 helps with that (sometimes we can end up with calcium deposits in our blood vessels and kidneys, something we want to avoid).
I can’t stress the importance of good quality enough when I talk about omega-3 supplements. Many people pop a fish oil everyday but why is it important? If you remember back to my post on cooking fats you know that omega-3 fats are potent anti-inflammatories. Inflammation is the building block of many chronic diseases and most of us walk around with low-grade inflammation all of the time. To keep inflammation under control we want to make sure we have a good balance of omega-3 fats in relation to omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats are PRO-inflammatory and omega-3 fats are ANTI-inflammatory. A great relationship between omega-3 and omega-6 is somewhere between 1:1 and 4:1.
Two of the major ways we can help get our omega-3:omega-6 ratios balanced is by reducing consumption of omega-6-rich oils like corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil and increasing our intake of omega-3-rich foods like fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines, trout, etc). If you look, these inflammatory oils are used A LOT in store bought salad dressings and condiments - so be mindful of this and always look at the ingredient list.
As I’ve noted in previous posts – I don’t recommend plant-based foods containing omega-3 fats as a good way to decrease inflammation. Plant sources of omega-3 fats contain a type of omega-3 fat called alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). In order to be used properly in the body ALA must be converted to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (the animal sources of omega-3 fats). This would not be an issue if the conversion of ALA to DHA/EPA wasn’t so poor. In a healthy person the conversion from ALA to DHA and EPA is under 5%. If you are following a vegan diet, I recommend NutraVege – an algae-based omega-3 supplement.
One of my FAVOURITE ways to get in omega 3 fats with some vitamin D and active vitamin D is through cod liver oil. If you're wondering which brands I use and recommend, you can check out my dispensary here to get professional grade supplements at a discount and see exactly what I use every single day!
There are two types of magnesium supplements that I recommend for two different reasons. Magnesium glycinate I recommend to clients who are struggling with getting good quality sleep, whether it’s difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep, this supplement can often do the trick (better than melatonin, in my opinion). I suggest 400 mg of magnesium glycinate in the evening to start and typically the 400 mg dosage is enough to do the trick. If you want to read more about the benefits of magnesium, check out my post here.
The second type of magnesium supplement I recommend to clients is magnesium citrate. This supplement I recommend as a better alternative to laxatives from the pharmacy. Again, 400 mg in the evening is usually enough to do the trick but be sure to check with your personal health practitioner before beginning any supplement regimen.
A vitamin B complex can be helpful for many people, especially those who are just coming off of birth control, since the pill has a negative effect on vitamin B status in the body. Supplementing with a vitamin B complex may also be useful if you consume alcohol on a regular basis, since alcohol consumption depletes B vitamin levels (particularly thiamin).
I also recommend a vitamin B/C supplement for those who struggle with stress management. If you remember from this post, vitamin C and B vitamins have been associated with lower levels of cortisol (our stress hormone) and our perceived levels of stress.
Probiotics are so incredibly important to our overall health and wellbeing. Not only is our gut our first line of defense against infection and invasion of pathogens but it's also responsible for the majority of our serotonin (feel good chemical) production. There is a strong relationship between gut health and levels of depression, making probiotics key not only for digestion but also for our mental health. Read more about this relationship here.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid (building block of protein) in our bodies. Glutamine is made in the body but we also get it from protein sources like beef, pork, milk, yogurt, ricotta/cottage cheese, poultry, raw spinach, parsley and cabbage. Periods of prolonged stress can lower our glutamine levels and make supplementation extremely valuable. I often suggest clients with serious digestive issues to try supplementation with l-glutamine powder twice per day. Also, if you remember from my post on sugar cravings, l-glutamine can also be helpful in reducing cravings when they strike.
Tip: if you’re using a powdered l-glutamine supplement, only use it with cold or room temperature foods or liquids, as heat will destroy the glutamine and it will no longer be effective.
So often there are so many fillers in the supplements we find on the shelf that they may even do more harm than good. We should be looking for third party testing on all of our supplements to make sure that what they say is in the bottle is acutally in the bottle! For access to high quality supplements, click here and don't forget to consult your personal care practitioner for guidance on what is right for you.
Have some time and want to watch an interesting Fifth Estate episode on the supplement industry? Click here.
Do you have a question you'd like answered? Submit your question here.
Until next time,
Yours in Health,
Probiotics have been named the future of preventive medicine and disease treatment. Over 100 trillion microbes live in your intestines right now and they are responsible for so many beneficial processes within our bodies, from proper digestion to boosting our immune system.
Probiotics are non-disease causing bacteria that live in our intestines. They produce vitamins (B6, B12 and K2), short chain fatty acids, aid in digestion and absorption of our food (including minerals magnesium, calcium and iron) and help prevent inflammation and infection (fighting off bad bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli).
The more strains (types) of bacteria you have in your gut, the better.
In our intestines there is a constant battle between the good and bad gut bacteria and the key is for the good bacteria to always outnumber the bad bacteria. When there are more bad bacteria than good bacteria in our intestines we have something called gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis can lead to many issues, which we will discuss later.
Two major known benefits of probiotics are digestive health and immune support but research is emerging in the area of probiotics and obesity. We will cover digestive health separately in the next couple of weeks so for today we will just focus on immunity and obesity.
Over 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut. This immune system is called GALT, which stands for gut-associated lymphoid tissue and it works by helping to protect the body from invasion of bad bacteria.
If you’re prone to developing urinary tract infections, eczema or allergies, a good quality probiotic can help. The good gut bacteria form a sort of shield that prevents pathogens from adhering to the intestinal wall, which helps to keep us healthy.
Let’s look at some of the data:
Studies have already demonstrated that the intestinal flora of obese individuals differs from that of thin people. One hypothesis for this relationship is linked to consumption of dietary fibre, suggesting that thin individuals consume more fibre than overweight individuals. Foods containing large amounts of fibre (prebiotics) act as food for good gut bacteria so naturally, if we consume more prebiotics we are going to be able to better support a robust population of good gut bacteria and in turn, starve off the bad. As we discussed last week, a diet high in sugar feeds bad bacteria and starves the good.
Another hypothesis is linked to the relationship between an imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria and inflammation. As we discussed last week, inflammation often causes a halt in weight loss and can even promote weight gain through insulin resistance.
A third hypothesis is that our gut bacteria can influence glucose and fat metabolism, which directly impacts our weight and likelihood of becoming obese (1).
“According to Angelo Tremblay, probiotics may act by altering the permeability of the intestinal wall. By keeping certain proinflammatory molecules from entering the bloodstream, they might help prevent the chain reaction that leads to glucose intolerance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.” (2)
The number of human studies linking probiotic intake to obesity is limited at this time, however it is a promising area of research and the relationship will only continue to get clearer.
Remember – not all probiotics are created equal. Probiotics can contain many different strains and number of colony forming units (CFUs). There is no magic number for amounts of CFUs in a probiotic but some researchers believe you need a minimum of 2 billion CFUs for at least a 2 week period in order to get maximum benefits.
On the label you will want to look for
If there are just two words (ex. Bifidobacterium longum) with no strain designation afterwards, it could be any one type of hundreds of bacteria. This is often a red flag when choosing a probiotic because it demonstrates that the company is either unaware of which particular strains exist in the supplement or they do not realize the importance of distinguishing the strain.
You’re going to want to choose a probiotic that is multi-strain. Some of the most popular probiotics in supplements today are:
Lactobacillis acidophilus (this bacteria readily colonizes on the intestinal wall and supports nutrient absorption and assists with digestion)
Bifidobacterium longum (this bacteria helps maintain the integrity of the gut lining – remember, inflammation occurs when foreign particles crosses the gut barrier and enter the bloodstream) *Fun Fact: This is one of the first strains of bacteria to colonize after birth.
Bifidobacterium bifidum (this bacteria is essential for the proper breakdown of carbohydrates, fats and protein)
*Tip: For all you travellers out there – look for a probiotic containing Lactobacillis rhamnosus to help prevent travellers diarrhea.
This is an unfair generalization however when my clients have been on antibiotics, I would estimate that 95% of them had no idea that it would be beneficial to take a probiotic following their course of antibiotics. With the frequency of antibiotic use in the world today, a probiotic protocol following a course of antibiotics has GOT to be put into place.
Recommendation: Consume a serving of fermented foods daily for a good maintenance dose of probiotics. After a course of antibiotics consume a good quality, multi-strain probiotic for at least two weeks after finishing the treatment.
Caution: Probiotics should not be taken by anyone who is immunocompromised. Please consult your physician before taking a probiotic.
Believe it or not, you can actually send a sample to the American Gut Project for a full analysis of your gut microbes through stool analysis. With the population of your gut bacteria playing such a huge role in our health, why not see what's actually going on in there?
Hope you found today's post informative. Keep checking back - over the next few weeks we will go over everything you need to know about housing a robust population of beneficial bacteria!
Yours in Health,