Don’t be Fooled by Supplements
This article discusses vitamins, minerals, essential nutrients, and supplements. Nutrient deficiencies cause devastating health effects. Maximizing foods and supplements is the ultimate goal. But, the industry is confusing and overwhelming. It’s hard to know the best ways to supplement to avoid deficiencies and maintain optimal health. (And do so without tossing money in the garbage!) We’re here to help!
Before we get started, here’s a quick analogy. Think of your body like a car. All the parts of the car are essential; we’d never expect to run the car with just the engine and not an exhaust system. The car might run, but not optimally. The same analogy works for vitamins, like biotin. People often take biotin for hair growth. Biotin works with other B vitamins, so expecting magical improvements from this one isolated nutrient is like expecting it to make it across town with just your engine. These foods and nutrients work synergistically in the body. We always promote food first because there’s so much we still don’t know about our food, soil, harvesting, and utilization.
- If you have medical conditions, to talk to your doctor or dietitian before supplementing on your own.
- This article wasn’t created to induce worry and anxiety. It’s to further your education, help you understand the value of variety, why we need to consume quality produce and proteins, and how to eat intentionally.
Whole Food vs Supplements
Similar to confusing and misleading food labeling, supplements can be downright perplexing. For example, when a vitamin is labeled “natural,” it must include 10% of actual, natural, plant-derived ingredients. The other 90% can be synthetic. There’s no way to achieve all of the health benefits from plants in a supplement form. You just can’t. Nature provides nutrients, enzymes, antioxidants, and fiber, none of which a lab can replicate. There are also specific foods for specific issues, like thyroid function. Knowing which foods to choose can literally reverse symptoms and promote healing.
Synthetic Vitamins vs Whole Food Vitamins
Just like refined foods, refined supplements are robbed of extra nutrients and enzymes that occur naturally in these foods. Isolating nutrients or supplements creates imbalances if used long-term or without proper monitoring. They begin to act more like drugs by shutting down or speeding up certain pathways in the body. Even supplements made from “real food” are not equal to whole food. However, supplementing is the best option if diet alone isn’t enough.
Though supplementation is helpful short-term, the long-term goal is to repair the permeability of the gut. Thus, nutritionally improve to better absorb nutrients from the foods we eat.
There’s no perfect supplement form for everybody, but there is a big difference in quality, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with price. Let’s go over some basics when it comes to quality in some of the different forms, and what to look for.
Gummies are often the only way parents can get children to take a supplement. It’s important to keep in mind that gummies are often filled with sugars, fillers, flavorings, and food coloring. Gummies, chewables and flavored melts, just like capsules, must go through the stomach and make it into the intestines for absorption. An individual must first have a working digestive system to benefit from these forms. Read the ingredient label closely, rather than relying on online customer reviews. Then, do some research about the specific type of supplement within that. Other tricks for kids to take supplements include using powder forms in smoothies or breaking open a capsule and stirring into applesauce or yogurt.
Intravenous (IV) Vitamins
If you hate needles, this one may not be your best option. However, if you hate taking a handful of horse-sized supplements every morning (and you wonder if you’re actually digesting and absorbing them properly), then you may want to look into a weekly or occasional IV infusion. Though a little pricey, IV forms go directly into the bloodstream with immediate effects. IV infusion shops have popped up everywhere across the country, but use caution when visiting a clinic that doesn’t disclose exact dosages or focuses on trendy “hangover fixes.” You want to work with a reputable facility overseen by a integrative medical staff. You also need to know the constitution in each IV, and the dosage. Some common IV nutrients include: methylated B12 and the other B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and glutathione.
Sublingual means you place the fluid or a dissolving tablet below the tongue for absorption. Digestion really begins in the mouth, so some nutrients are best taken sublingually. Effectiveness for this method varies. It’s commonly used for vitamin B12.
A liposome is a phospholipid vesicle that mimics the body’s own cell structure. Liposomes may be better absorbed across cell membranes in a way that’s not possible for ordinary water-soluble or fat-soluble nutrients. Generally in liquid form, they don’t always taste the best. But, some people do find them more effective. Common nutrients in liposomal form include: glutathione, vitamin C, turmeric, CoQ10, and B vitamins.
Enteric Coated Vitamins
Enteric coating means the supplement is coated with a layer to help it bypass stomach acid. You’ll see this in things like fish oil. Many people complain of burping fish oil after consumption. However, it’s likelier a digestion issue than a pill issue. Switching to a form with an enteric coating, or just a higher-quality supplement, often alleviates burping and unpleasant aftertastes. Continue working on digestion issues too.
How Often to Supplement
Timing and whether or not to take supplements with food varies based on the nutrient and person. For example, while glutathione is best taken on an empty stomach, zinc and iron are best taken with food. Many people take probiotics with a meal, while others take it right before bed. Digestive enzymes are meant to be taken with meals. Some nutrients, like magnesium, are best taken at night. Others, like B vitamins, work best in the morning. Not all nutrients need to be taken every day, either. Starting to understand the pattern of individualization??!
Common Nutrient Deficiencies
If we were to take an in-depth look into every single vitamin and mineral we produce and require, this would be an extremely long article. So for now, let’s go into the most common ones:
Though foods like fatty fish, liver, and eggs do contain a small amount of vitamin D, it’s almost impossible to get all your vitamin D from food or the sun (depending on where you live). Our bodies make Vitamin D naturally when we’re exposed to sunlight, but with today’s use of sunscreen and indoor life, most people do not get enough exposure. Suffice it to say, most of us need more D. Look for vitamin D3, the variation best absorbed by the body. We encourage asking your healthcare provider for a vitamin D (25OH) blood test to retrieve your baseline level.
Supplement Brand recs: Thorne, Seeking Health, Ortho Molecular, Rx Vitamins
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for neurological, hormonal, and immune system health. A deficiency in omega-3s can result in increased inflammation, higher risk for heart disease, digestive disorders, allergy symptoms, arthritis, muscle and joint pain, depression, and decreased blood flow to areas of the brain. This results in cognitive decline.
Having the right balance of omega-3s to omega-6s is essential. Most of us get plenty of omega-6s in our diet, but finding quality sources of omega-3s proves more challenging. The best way to get enough is to eat whole foods naturally rich in omega-3s. The best natural sources include: fatty fish like wild-caught salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, sardines, and some white fish. Other sources to try: grass-finished meats, chia seeds, walnuts, egg yolks, and organic dairy products.
For most people, if you don’t eat a lot of wild-caught or fatty fish, you may want to consider taking a quality fish oil supplement. If you’ve tried fish oil only to find it has an unpleasant aftertaste, we suggest you consider a high-quality supplement, a liquid variety, or one with an enteric coating. Supplement Brand recs: Metagenics, Nordic Naturals, Seeking Health, Xymogen
Vitamin K is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in bone and heart health. Fat-soluble means we need to combine it with a fat source to absorb it. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamin K is one of the main vitamins involved in bone mineralization and blood clotting, but it also helps to maintain brain function.
There’s a difference between vitamin K1, (mostly known for blood clotting) and vitamin K2, most known for its help with bone and cardiac health. Many people in the U.S. could use a little K2. Top sources of vitamin K1 include: green leafy vegetables, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cultured dairy like kefir, and many more. Vitamin K2 sources include: natto (a Japanese soybean), organ meat, egg yolks, and dairy.
Zinc is a mineral required for brain function, gut health, immune function, adrenal and thyroid function, energy, hair growth, and digestion. The World Health Organization estimates over ⅓ of the population is deficient in zinc (1). Zinc and copper compete in the body. Many women on birth control have higher copper levels, which throws off the ratio.
Supplement Brand Recs: Zinc Citrate or Zinc Picolinate by Douglas Labs, Pure Encapsulations or Seeking Health.
Another hot topic…magnesium! And for good reason. An estimated 80% of the population lacks magnesium through food. Many common medications deplete it even more, like antacids. Magnesium is a co factor in over 300 reactions in the body, which means without the presence of adequate magnesium, other vitamins and minerals prove ineffective. So, to say it’s important is an understatement. Magnesium plays a big role in digestion and the nervous system. Low intake affects gut health and sleep.
Supplement Brand Recs: Magnesium Glycinate, Citrate, Malate, Taurate, Threonate by Thorne, Xymogen, Pure Encapsulations, Seeking Health
A more familiar mineral, iron carries oxygen to different parts of the body (brain, muscles, organs) which significantly impacts energy levels. It makes the proteins hemoglobin and myoglobin in our bodies.
When iron levels are low, the body doesn’t produce enough energy, leading to fatigue and an intolerance to temperature changes. Cooking with a cast iron pan increases iron levels. We provide food sources inside the 131 Method Micronutrient chart. These can be rough on the stomach, and also toxic at high levels. Definitely test before you start self-supplementing.
Supplement Brand Recs: Floradix, Iron Extra by Vitanica
Iodine is a trace mineral. When present in the body, it’s first used by the thyroid gland. It also exhibits antioxidant properties that help support healthy eyes and brain function. It’s also important for breast tissue, specifically fibroid prevention. Most people in the U.S. get iodine in iodized salt. However, a 2008 study found that less than half of U.S. table salt meets the RDA for iodine (2). Himalayan sea salt contains less than iodized, so if you’ve made a switch, consider your intake of iodine. Foods sources include: seaweed, nori, kelp, fish and shellfish. Those with allergies or opting for a vegan diet may want to give this nutrient some attention.
Kelp source: Maine Coast Kelp Sprinkles (¼ tsp per day is a decent dose)
Moving forward, throw away all the old supplements that you’ve bought from the grocery store a year ago, or years ago, that don’t fit any of the standards we’ve covered. Focus on the micronutrient rich foods in your diet. And remember the impact that proper supplementation has on your health.
Inside the 131 Method, we provide a Micronutrient Chart with Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA’s) for a variety of nutrients. But keep in mind, any reference is simply a guideline. The numbers on the charts are based on disease prevention and not necessarily optimal wellness. Essentially, it prevents you from getting scurvy with a vitamin C deficiency, but it doesn’t ensure enough vitamin C for optimal immune system function.