Supplemental Nutrition: Where To Begin

There is much debate over whether supplements are really necessary, especially for those who are already eating well. Some swear by their customized supplement stack, while others believe it to be a complete waste of money.

I believe fully that food is medicine. And yet, I also believe that the food we eat it is still not quite enough.

Just this week, my meals contained:

  • phytonutrient-rich rainbow carrots
  • graffiti and cheddar variety cauliflower
  • holofractal romanesco
  • purple kale
  • sulforaphane-rich broccoli
  • cancer-killing brussel sprouts
  • red and napa varieties of cabbage
  • antioxidant-rich asparagus
  • zucchini
  • shiitake mushrooms
  • bok choy
  • iron-dense spinach
  • arugula
  • heirloom apples
  • blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries
  • yellow and red onions, and leeks
  • garlic and ginger
  • dill, cilantro, and mint

Our household produce shifts with the seasons, but we still aim for fresh, local, organic items that offer nutritional variety week-over-week. The produce is supplemented with humanely-raised and -slaughtered meat, and homemade sauces and seasonings loaded with a variety of international spices. I avoid dairy, grains, legumes and most nuts due to serve food allergies, though these may be part of a balanced diet, depending on your personal situation. Over the last several years, I have extensively researched how to optimize my nutritional intake, to the extent it has almost become a game.

Fresh from the farm — yum!

However, despite my efforts to ensure I am hitting all of my body’s nutritional needs, repeated tests show that I’m insufficient and deficient in many key vitamins and minerals. While the depletion of minerals from our soils and an abundance of everyday toxins that stress our system, it’s hard to get all the nutrition we need from food alone. Even if we are eating a wide variety of healthy foods. That’s where dietary supplements come into play.

I would highly recommend working with a dietician to assess where you are presently. However, if you want to be begin or refine your supplementation plan independently, here are some tips to help you get started.

1. Identify Your Needs or Deficiencies

We often being our supplement search by identifying a symptom we would like to resolve. Maybe you’re experiencing menstrual cramps, early balding, or are so emotionally overwhelmed that you’re considering venturing off into the woods indefinitely. Whatever you may be experiencing, we tend to seek out the experience of others and their proposed solutions. After conducing a preliminary internet search, you may decide to talk to a doctor about whether a new supplement may be a helpful option for you without interfering with other prescriptions.

If covered by your medical insurance or within your budget, I would recommend seeking out a dietician or functional medicine doctor, both of which tend to be better-informed on nutrition that the average physician, as and more open to and supportive of nutritional supplementation. The normal levels on lab tests have slid with time to reflect changing averages. Those who specialize in nutrition are more keenly aware of the optimal levels, rather that simply the average amongst a generally-unhealthy population.

2. Do Your Research

After conducting some preliminary internet searches, you may consider reviewing peer-review studies on PubMed or reading through books on a topic or supplement to better understand the risks and benefits. If you have any hesitation, this would be the time to involve your physician and present them with some of the medical journal articles for review.

If you gain the confidence to start a low-risk supplement independently, the next step is to do your research. Look at quality, third-party testing, and figure out where a product was manufactured. If a product is unbelievably cheap, it likely is not as potent as the supplements used in the research studies or contains harmful fillers. I have found the consumer lab website to be helpful. High-quality supplements can support your health and well-being, but low-quality products can actually cause harm and the damage they cause may cost more in the long run.

After a decade of compounded research, the brands that I personally trust include: Ortho-Molecular, Pure Encapsulations, Jarrow, Apex Energetics, Life Extension, Now, Doctor’s Best, Uckele, Enzymedica, Healthy Origins, Carlson’s, Nordic Naturals, and MesoSilver. Some must be purchased through a compounding pharmacy (Ortho-Molecular, Pure Encapsulations, Apex Energetics, Uckele), some may be available at your local health food store (Jarrow, Now, Doctor’s Best, Carlson’s, Nordic Naturals), and the rest can be found at online through health product vendors like Vitacost or iHerb (Enzymedica, Healthy Origins), or directly through the manufacturer (Life Extension, MesoSilver).

3. Give It Time & Pay Attention

It often takes weeks to months for supplements to have a noticeable impact and some, like nicotinamide riboside and resveratrol, fortify the body over time and you may not recognize their effects for decades. I would recommend keeping a journal of the supplements you take, the dosage, the reason you are taking it, and and positive or negative side effects you may encounter. This will give you some tangible data to determine whether a supplement is having the intended effect and whether it is worth the cost. If the negative side effects are concerning, you should discontinue the supplement and talk to a doctor.

When introducing new supplements, start with one at a time and allow one to three month for your body to acclimate to the new product before introducing another. This will allow you to make correlations between how you feel and what has changed. If you start five new supplements at once, it may be more difficult to identify which one is making you feel better or worse. Practicing patience in this case will be worth it.

4. Look for Deals & Buy In Bulk

If you find supplements that work well and show benefit, identify the normal cost and watch for sales, deals, and discounts. Some of the brands listed above offer 20% deals on Black Friday, their only discount of the year, so we buy a full years’ worth at once. When the local health food store hosts their 25% off supplements sale, we cross-compare costs to determine if it is, in fact, the best deal. If it is, we stock up on six to twelve months’ worth at one time. The upfront cost is high, but the cost over time is reduced.

If there is a supplement that you take often or in high doses, you might consider buying the power rater than packed capsules. I’m on high-doses of potassium and taurine, per the recommendation of my dietician, so I take both in powder form, simply adding the supplement to water. Some supplements are less palatable, like the anti-viral amino acid l-lysine. I would generally not recommend packing capsule yourself as, in my experience, the capsules are pricey and the inevitable spillage makes the endeavor the least cost-effective option.

5. Make It Easy

Once a month, I lay out sixty plastic condiment cups. Rather than ketchup or hot sauce, I drop in my all of my daily supplements for morning and evening. Rather than opening up twenty bottles twice a day, almost everything is stored in one place. Our vitamin c lives next to our water filtration system and the digestive enzymes are on the dining room table. Each morning, I grab my morning and evening supplement packs and set them within eye-shot on my work-from-home desk.

If you commit to taking nutritional supplements, especially upon recommendation from a specialist, find a way to build the habit into your everyday routine and make the process as foolproof as possible.

Bulk supplement cabinet — most items were purchased at 15-20% retail

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