Patients often inquire about which supplements they should be taking on a regular basis. During office visits, we review their supplement lists and carefully select items that are worth investing in as part of a daily regimen. Time and time again, there are three options that have such immense health benefits and lay great groundwork for overall health that they continue to rise to the top. The following are my top three supplements for every medicine cabinet:
Fish oil, cod liver oil and krill oil contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are special types of healthy fats that decrease inflammation and maintain integrity of cell membranes. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are types of omega-3 fatty acids that the body makes in small amounts. EPA has a strong anti-inflammatory effect while DHA plays an important role in the development and function of the brain, nervous system, skin health and eye health. There are many health conditions that can benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, such as: heart disease, high blood pressure, eczema, inflammatory bowel disease, migraines, multiple sclerosis, enlarged prostate, depression, anxiety, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma, cancer, diabetes and fatty liver disease to name a few. The most common side effect from fish oils are “fishy burps” which often resolve if you take fish oil with food or store your fish oil capsules in the freezer — by the time they melt, they are far enough along in the digestive tract to prevent this side effect from occurring. Fish oils need to be used with caution in conjunction with blood thinning medications, or if one has an increased risk of bleeding, as it tends to inhibit platelets, the blood’s clotting factors. Of further note, make sure that the fish oil you consume is tested for heavy metals (including mercury) and is responsibly sourced. Fish oil that is sourced from wild caught fish tends to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids than farm-raised fish.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and is vital for a healthy immune system. It has been demonstrated to have antiviral and antibacterial properties, helps the body to manufacture collagen and neurotransmitters, and promotes the breakdown of cholesterol and supports detoxification pathways. Interestingly enough, humans are among a small group of mammals that are unable to make vitamin C — this includes the other primates (tarsiers, monkeys and apes), bats, capybaras and guinea pigs. Vitamin C is crucial for almost every biochemical reaction in the human body. For this reason, it is necessary for a healthy heart and vascular system, to prevent infections of all types, and to support the integrity of connective tissue of all types, including skin, vertebral discs and joint tissue. Vitamin C has applications in the prevention and treatment of cancer and asthma, glaucoma and even depression. It competes with glucose (sugar) and is therefore more in demand with a diet high in sugar. Vitamin C is water soluble and is generally very safe. High to moderate doses of vitamin C may cause digestive upset and loose stools, but vitamin C buffered with alkalizing minerals is an option to reduce or mitigate this symptom.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that dwell inside your digestive tract and help with digestion and maintaining a healthy immune system. Probiotics have been demonstrated to be effective and indicated for treating diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. They are living organisms, so it is important to invest in a product that needs to be kept refrigerated or is guaranteed shelf stable. Take your probiotic with food if digestive upset occurs.
To take this one step further, let’s delve into what exactly makes a supplement high quality. Look for one that is stamped with the letters GMP — this stands for Good Manufacturing Practice and is a process established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that the production of supplements is handled safely and consistently, and that the label truthfully lists the ingredients therein. The GMP designation for supplements has different levels and the requirements vary for each grade of GMP. Supplements labeled with USP are recognized by the United States Pharmacopeia, which is a nonprofit, science-based organization that sets stringent quality standards for dietary supplements and food ingredients and is congruent with FDA requirements for supplement standards. Supplements that are labeled as therapeutic or pharmaceutical grade often tend to be higher quality products as well.
As you can see, certain supplements can be helpful for maintaining overall health. As always, it is important to discuss any new supplement with a health care provider specifically educated in the use of supplements before adding them to your daily regimen.