When Should We Take Supplements?
By Robert Silverman, DC, DACBN, DCBCN, MS, CCN, CNS, CSCS, CIISN, CKTP, CES, HKC, FAKTR
In a perfect world, we would garner all the vitamins and nutritional minerals we need from the foods we eat. We’d also be able to maintain robust, resilient immune systems to fight against all toxins and disease. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. The nutrients we need to maintain our day-to-day health, like magnesium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids, are also critical for maintaining our health over the long term.1 Yet Americans on average get about 11 percent of their daily calories from low-nutrient fast food.2 Even when we skip fast food and junk food, we aren’t always as careful about our diet as we should be. Stress and poor lifestyle behaviors, including smoking and alcohol use, reduce our ability to absorb nutrients.
Taking a daily multivitamin can help when your food isn’t as nutritious as it should be, but is that enough—even if you lead a generally healthy lifestyle? Aside from specific dietary needs that should be addressed with your functional health practitioner, here are five instances when I recommend leveraging the power of supplements.
To aid healthy sleep patterns
Among the many reasons to get a good night’s sleep is the link between sleep deprivation and negative health consequences. For example, people with high blood sugar often don’t sleep well. There’s evidence that not sleeping well can increase your risk of developing more serious complications. When choosing supplements for quality, restorative sleep, look to ingredients that help ease tension, support deep sleep, and promote physical regeneration during sleep. L-theanine enables the body to produce other calming amino acids, such as dopamine, GABA, and tryptophan and helps support concentration, focus, deep muscle relaxation, and improved quality sleep. Ashwagandha, another sleep-supporting supplement, contains active constituents called glyco-withanolides, which mimic certain corticosteroids, supporting healthy cortisol levels and the circadian rhythm.
The best-known ingredient, melatonin, supports sleep onset, quality of sleep, increased REM time, deep sleep, and dreaming—all factors that lead to better quality sleep and produce greater mental, physical, and emotional rejuvenation. Melatonin can decrease the amount of time required to fall asleep, increase the number of sleeping hours, and support daytime alertness. I recommend taking just 5 mg of melatonin, as taking too much can impair the body’s natural production of it and may cause us to become dependent on the artificial form.
Magnesium, a calming nutrient, can also help induce a deeper sleep, especially when taken together with calcium. Research from the Biochemistry and Neurophysiology Unit at the University of Geneva, Department of Psychiatry indicates that higher levels of magnesium helped provide better, more consistent sleep.3 Other natural supplements containing lavender oil work to encourage a restful night’s sleep by modulating the metabolism of melatonin and promoting relaxation.4
To support your brain health
Getting consistent, sufficient sleep lays a solid foundation for your brain’s health, but how you feed your brain plays a critical role in its wellbeing over time. By combining a brain-healthy diet with nutritional supplements, you’ll provide your brain with the fuel it needs for optimum levels of functioning. Here are four supplements I’d recommend to support brain health:
- Exogenous ketone salts: Ketone bodies, ingested in either mineral or ester forms, lead to elevated circulatory ketone levels. Beta-hydroxybutyrate, found in ketone salts, signals cells to release glutathione, a master antioxidant that positively impacts the brain.
- Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs): A type of fat molecule found in coconut oil, MCTs are extremely beneficial for energy and fat-burning.
- Fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids (DHA): help with cell membrane health and can support brain and cognitive health.
To feed your gut
We all know the old adage: “go with your gut.” But it turns out listening to your gut is much more than following your natural instinct. To support your gut’s health, start first with prebiotics—ingredients that induce the growth of beneficial microorganisms in your gut. You’ll also want to consume foods packed with probiotics. The combination of prebiotics and probiotics can help keep your microbiome in a healthy balance, with a good diversity of intestinal bacteria in your gut. When you have plenty of good bacteria, the harmful ones get crowded out. Your digestion also improves, because your ability to absorb macronutrients and micronutrients is better when your beneficial bacteria are diverse and balanced.
To properly rehydrate after exercise
After exercising, proper fueling requires more than just replenishing calories and fluids; it also involves consistent and adequate electrolyte support. Electrolytes are substances that are utilized by the body to create electrically charged fluids. Many bodily functions depend on electrolytes, especially in muscle and nervous system tissue. Major electrolytes found in the body include sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate. The right rehydration supplements are scientifically designed to help support fluid balance; supply sodium and potassium to help replenish the electrolytes lost during exercise; deliver key electrolytes to help replace those lost through sweating during exercise, activity, or hot weather conditions; and support hydration during exercise.5
Whether you practice health-forward habits—like consuming gut-healthy prebiotics and probiotics and exercising regularly—or your diet consists of mostly empty calories and low levels of nutrients, incorporating supplements can help. In our fast-paced, modern world, supplements provide the support our bodies need to keep up—and sustain our health for the long run.
This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues.
- Ames B. PNAS. Published ahead of print October 15, 2018.
- Frayar DC et al. NCHS Data Brief, No. 114, February 2013. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2013.
- Chollet D et al. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2000;279(6):R2173-2178.
- Koulivand PH et al. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:681304.
- https://www.metagenics.com/endura-lemonade. Accessed October 22, 2018.
Dr. Silverman is a paid consultant and guest writer for Metagenics.