“Do we need to take supplements?” is one of the most common questions I am asked as a nutritionist. Whether you are a meat eater, a vegetarian, or a vegan, you need to take nutritional supplements. I will discuss the reasons why, which ones are most needed, how to choose the best brands, and tips for buying them on a budget. See my video as well!
Why Do We Need Supplements?
Everyone needs supplements, unfortunately. We live in a time of high stress, unhealthy farming practices, unsafe medical treatments, and environmental toxins. These factors cause deficiencies and burdens on our bodies that can only be solved with high-quality supplementation.
Our society has become less relaxed and more pressured. The anxiety and stress from always being “on the go” has taken its toll on our health. Not only do we tend to reach for unhealthy foods when we are pressed for time or need something comforting, stress depletes our bodies of vital micronutrients on top of that. Vitamins such as B5, C, A, and E are released to help fight inflammation from stress. This decreases our immunity against viruses and other pathogens. Minerals like magnesium are released to help us manage anxiety. When this vital nutrient is deficient, we are susceptible to high blood pressure and heart attacks. Stress also diminishes probiotic bacteria in our gut, which reduces nutrient absorption. The cascading effects to our health are overwhelming!
The long history of how we got to the unhealthy practice of chemical, factory farming is fascinating, especially as told by Dr. Zach Bush (1). I will save this intriguing journey for another blog, but briefly, about a hundred years ago, we began destroying our top soil by failing to do crop rotation and composting. That led to the Dust Bowl in the Midwest, which coincided with the Great Depression, where famine enveloped the U.S.
When we joined World War II, the increase in the manufacturing and petroleum industries saved our economy. After the war, we had a surplus of petroleum, which contains nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK), three of the most essential macronutrients for crops. Thus, it was decided to use this as a chemical fertilizer for our soil. Rather than improving our farming techniques, we compounded the problem of depleting our soil of nutrients.
Herbicides and Pesticides
Although this led to bountiful crops of soy and corn in the 1950s and 1960s, the soil was not rich enough to raise strong plants that could resist insects, fungi, and viruses. Instead of finding the root cause, we turned to the chemical industry to supply herbicides and pesticides to kill the weeds and pests.
Again, war brought us more chemicals, such as Agent Orange that was used to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam to reveal our hiding enemy. Another surplus of chemicals after this war created the “perfect” solution to the farmers’ problem. But nature finds a way. Crops became resistant.
Monsanto rediscovered glyphosate, a dangerous toxin to our environment and our bodies, and used it to make Roundup. Glyphosate takes out the essential amino acid, glycine, from plants that we can’t make without ingesting it and also blocks the shikimate enzyme pathway, which makes three aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. So, now we are deficient in amino acids from factory farming, as well as every nutrient besides NPK!
This is compounded by the rise of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, squash, arctic apples, innate potatoes, and some salmon are now GMO, unless otherwise specified. Wheat is the worst, since it is genetically modified to be Roundup ready, because it is sprayed several times to dry it out and harvest it much more quickly, making room for two crops to be grown in the South during growing season. This shortcut to nature changes the carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio of wheat gluten, resulting in gluten sensitivity. These unnatural changes to our plants are wreaking havoc on our bodies, not to mention our soil.
Even though our main food supply is less nutritious now, I still agree with Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Thanks to the organic movement, healthy produce has become increasingly accessible. In spite of that, our modern medical model relies on more chemicals to treat our symptoms, rather than finding the root cause. As anyone can see on commercials, these drugs have many potential side effects. Often, a doctor will prescribe yet another medication to counteract the side effects of the first one. This creates a vicious cycle, where neither the patient nor the physician remembers where it all began.
On the other side, holistic functional medicine seeks to find the root cause of an ailment or illness and treat that first. They can run tests for deficiencies and put you on high-quality nutrition and supplements, while also helping you to change the behavior or environment that made you sick.
We’ve already mentioned herbicides, pesticides, and GMOs, but we have many more environmental toxins to fend off. Our tap water is contaminated from the glyphosate in Roundup, since it is water soluble and we use it on our lawns. It continues to go into our water table. It even evaporates into the air and clouds, continually raining back down on us. We are surrounded by this toxin.
Our tap water also contains chlorine, fluoride, arsenic, lead, mercury, PCBs, pesticides, herbicides, gasoline additives, and prescription drugs to name just a few. We also have air pollution; off-gassing carpeting and flooring in homes and offices; BPA in plastic containers and plastic wrap; Teflon and aluminum in pots and pans;, aluminum foil; fragrances in detergents, dryer sheets, soaps, candles, air fresheners, and perfume; mercury in shots and amalgam tooth fillings; heavy metals in virtually everything; sodium lauryl sulfate in shampoo, body wash, and toothpaste; EMFs; and microwave radiation. I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I think you get the picture.
These all work together to increase our toxic burden. You may feel fine right now, but when the toxins in your body begin to spill over that full “bucket,” you may begin to experience unexplained symptoms.
My Toxin Story
For instance, I began to have weird symptoms back in 2012. I can usually figure out what might be causing any of my symptoms, because I am very analytical and I have food allergies with specific symptoms. This time, however, I was stumped. I was unable to properly predigest starches with my saliva, causing excessive phlegm in my throat, which then triggered monumental gagging, similar to dry heaves. This would continue until the phlegm came up. Afterwards, I would be physically exhausted with bloodshot eyes and completely puzzled as to what was happening.
This continued for 6.5 years, until I went on Green Smoothie Girl’s 26-day detox. As a result of detoxing the heavy metals from my body, I was completely cured of this enzyme deficiency in my saliva. I was able to trace this problem back to May 2012, just days after an amalgam filling was improperly removed and replaced. As soon as the mercury in my system was removed, I was cured of this weird symptom. Needless to say, I had my remaining amalgam fillings removed safely in 2019.
These toxins are also affecting the next generation. When a pregnant mother has amalgam fillings that off gas mercury, has a shot containing mercury, or eats fish, the mercury crosses the placenta into the baby’s blood stream. The baby’s levels become higher than the mother’s, making the baby a mercury magnet! This can cause birth defects, especially involving the brain. That’s not all:
‘In a study spearheaded by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in collaboration with Commonweal, researchers at two major laboratories found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in U.S. hospitals. Tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in the group. The umbilical cord blood of these 10 children, collected by Red Cross after the cord was cut, harbored pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage.’ (2)
So, this toxic burden, body burden, or toxic bucket begins filling before a child is even born now. The bucket fills and overflows sooner with each generation, causing serious childhood diseases, birth defects, early death, or miscarriages. Everyone, especially couples wanting children, must add detoxification to their lifestyle. This will be fully discussed in another blog.
Which Supplements Are Most Needed?
Don’t be fooled by “enriched food” claims. They are only “enriched” to make up for over-processing them into useless—and even harmful—calories. The vitamins and minerals they add back to enrich or fortify the processed food are rarely in bioavailable forms, so the manufacturers needn’t have bothered. Instead of eating this type of food that only contributes to nutritional deficiencies, eat more raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds and take high-quality versions of the supplements listed below.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted a survey, revealing that most Americans are deficient in at least one vitamin or mineral. In particular, 37 percent are deficient in vitamin C, 70 percent in vitamin E, nearly 75 percent in zinc, and 40 percent in iron (3). Since magnesium does not show up in blood tests, most of us are likely deficient in this vital mineral as well (4).
Many of us are low in vitamin B12, not just vegans. The Framingham Offspring Study found 39 percent of its meat-eating test subjects with plasma B12 levels in the “low normal” range (5). Also, vitamin D does not naturally occur in food and we do not spend as much time outside in the sunshine without sunscreen, so most of us are lacking this crucial nutrient. Omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and iodine have been known to be lacking in our diets as well.
How to Choose the Best Brands
There are plenty of excellent supplements available, but there are lots more that are worthless—or worse—harmful. I do not officially endorse particular brands, but I do have my current favorites that could change at any time. Right now, we primarily use Garden of Life for most of our vitamins and minerals.
Also, don’t be afraid to go over the recommended daily allowance (RDA) in water-soluble and some fat-soluble nutrients, since the RDA is set to avoid disease, instead of to obtain optimal health. The criteria that I use to determine the best supplements are listed below:
- It must be a raw, organic, whole food whenever possible to improve absorption and avoid toxicity.
- The company must use good manufacturing practices (GMP) or something comparable.
- The ingredients should be verified by a third party.
- The supplement must be free of gluten, corn, dairy, preservatives, fillers, binders, dye, and other allergens.
Since men and women have different needs and age makes a difference as well, keep the above criteria in mind, while also considering your individual requirements. It’s also nice when a multivitamin contains enzymes and probiotics in addition to raw, organic, whole foods to help with absorption. Garden of Life has Vitamin Code Raw One for Men and Raw One for Women and options for those over fifty years old. We have been very satisfied with their products.
Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria in the soil and in the guts of animals. We produce B12 in our guts as well, but it’s too far past our digestive tract to be absorbed. We used to get it from eating vegetables right from the ground without washing off the soil, but we wash it off now and our soil is now lacking cobalt, which is a mineral necessary for it to make B12. Factory-farmed animals rarely eat from the soil anymore, so animals eaten by meat-eaters are given a supplement. Why not just take our own? The best form is methylcobalamin. We take the pill form as a B-Complex vitamin and also the liquid form of mykind B12.
Vitamin C is necessary for tissue repair and supports our immune system, as well as our heart, eye, and skin health. Since it is water soluble, we cannot take too much of it. Taking it as a raw, whole food, such as Garden of Life Raw Vitamin C is very desirable; however, it is also beneficial to take it in liposomal form. Liposomes are tiny fat particles that aid the transport of nutrients into the bloodstream and then our cells for improved absorption. Dacha Liposomal Vitamin C is a good brand.
Vitamin D3 is the most common form and needs a little help from Vitamin K2 to direct it to our bones. The multivitamin above has D3 and K2 already, but most of us need massive doses of D3, so we add an additional 5,000 IU. Vitamin Code Raw D3 is delivered in a lipid base of cracked-wall chlorella to help our fat absorb and store it more efficiently. And don’t neglect that sunshine!
Vitamin E is a powerful, fat-soluble antioxidant that boosts our immune system and helps to prevent blood clotting. There is enough vitamin E in the multivitamin above, but we need more as we get older, especially women who are pregnant or breast feeding. Eating raw sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, peanuts, avocado, red sweet peppers, mangos, kiwifruit, and turnip greens will help, as well as a supplement such as Garden of Life Raw Vitamin E.
Calcium and Magnesium
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in our body. It is actually more important than calcium, potassium, and sodium and happens to regulate all three (4). Calcium is best absorbed with the help of magnesium and vitamins D3 and K2. Vitamin Code Raw Calcium has all of these, with some vitamin C and silica to help with cartilage and skin. Trace minerals are also added for best assimilation. Since we get calcium in so many ways, you likely do not need to supplement calcium, so we take NATURELO Magnesium Glycinate by itself.
Iodine is vital for a healthy thyroid, which directs metabolism. If our body lacks iodine, we could develop hypothyroidism. Most people receive iodine from iodized salt and seafood, but seaweed is the healthiest option. Since its taste is not very popular, though, a good supplement like Peak Performance Raw, Whole-Food Iodine from Organic Kelp is recommended. It supplies its iodine from organic kelp.
Iron is a mineral used to create new DNA and red blood cells and carries oxygen in the blood. It is best to get iron from plant-based sources, such as dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Blackstrap molasses and prune juice also contain lots of iron.
Vitamin C helps our body absorb iron better; however, calcium interferes with its absorption. And, on top of that, oxalates found in some greens and grains interfere with iron absorption. So, for best results, eat the above iron-rich foods on their own or with citrus, berries, or ripe bell peppers, which are high in vitamin C. Greens are still healthy, however, even if their iron absorption may not be optimum.
Since iron can quickly become toxic, be careful with supplementation. Women need it more than men. Find a raw, whole-food supplement that also contains vitamin B12, Vitamin C, and folate to support iron absorption, such as Garden of Life Iron Complex.
Zinc is important for immune function, repairing cells, and metabolism. The multivitamin above contains plenty of zinc, but you can further enhance this mineral with tofu, tempeh, miso, nuts, and seeds. If you are experiencing possible symptoms of zinc deficiency, such as hair loss or slow wound healing, you may want to supplement with something like Garden of Life Raw Zinc. It doesn’t hurt to add this to your winter regimen to enhance immunity against viruses.
Tips to Save Money on Supplements
High-quality supplements are not cheap. Still, you should not skimp on such an important part of your overall health. Here are a few tips to help you save money when purchasing the best supplements:
- Price any supplement in which you are interested online first, before buying from a health-food store; online is typically cheaper.
- Buy the best you can at the lowest price possible, taking advantage of discounts, sales, coupons, and online codes.
- Start with just a multivitamin, which contains most of what you need.
- Add what you can as you can, starting with the most important first.
- Take only one or two capsules if three are suggested in order to extend your supply, but only if it still gives you enough of its benefits.
- Take advantage of subscription options. For instance, Amazon gives discounts from 5-15% for supplements delivered on a regular basis. If you’re going to buy them monthly anyway, you may as well save more by subscribing. Other companies offer this as well.
- Try to budget more for each month until you can afford all that you need.
The bottom line is that you are responsible for your health. Do your own research. Use your doctor as your coach, but you make the final decision on the course you take in your health journey. I recommend that you choose organic produce as much as possible and increase your raw-food intake drastically. Avoid processed foods, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly, getting as much sunshine as possible. Invest in high-quality supplements that supply your vital nutrients and help you combat a toxic environment. You have control over what you put into your body; use that power to obtain optimal health so that you can accomplish great things.
- Dr. Patrick Gentempo. “Interview with Dr. Zach Bush.” 2018. GMOs Revealed Documentary.
- Environmental Working Group. “Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns.” July 14, 2005.
- B.N. Ames. “A role for supplements in optimizing health: the metabolic tune-up.” March 1, 2004. PubMed. Arch Biochem Biophys. 423(1): 227–34.
- Dr. Mark Sircus. “Why 80% of Us Are Deficient In Magnesium.” February 12, 2018. GreenMedInfo.
- K.L. Tucker. “Plasma vitamin B-12 concentrations relate to intake source in the Framingham Offspring study” February 2000. PubMed. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 71(2):514-22.