Ask The RD: What And Why Do You Supplement?

Ask The RD: What And Why Do You Supplement?

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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.

 

Vitamin D/K2

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):

  • feeling sick or being sick
  • poor appetite or loss of appetite
  • feeling very thirsty
  • frequent urination
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • muscle weakness or pain
  • bone pain
  • feeling confused
  • feeling tired

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).

Omega-3

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!

 

Magnesium

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. 

 

Vitamin C/Vitamin B Complex

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.

 

Probiotic

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

 

L-Glutamine

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.

 

How Do I Know Which Supplements Are Good Quality?

 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,

Kristin

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