According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of adults in the U.S take at least one daily dietary supplement in the name of better health, spending a whopping $28 billion per year.
Although no dietary supplement can replace a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits & vegetables, supplements do have the potential to play a critical role in covering inevitable nutritional gaps, supporting your immune system and boosting your body’s antioxidant levels. However, with such a range of multivitamins and antioxidant products on the market, it can be difficult to know what to choose.
Dr. Bill Rawls, a primary care physician from North Carolina, comes to the rescue with guidance for choosing a safe daily supplement with the ability to have a real impact on your health & well being.
Tip 1: Take Vitamins Your Body Can Absorb
Did you know that the vast majority of multivitamins sold in stores include vitamins in their non-activated forms? This means that these vitamins are not being absorbed and utilized by the consumer (aka flushed down the toilet).
It’s hard to watch Americans waste such an incredible sum each year on vitamins that aren’t doing anything. But even more disturbing is the concern that these non-activated vitamins may be having a harmful impact. Since synthetic vitamins are not delivered in forms that the body normally utilizes, they have the potential to disrupt normal biochemical pathways in the body and increase risk of disease.
The term bioavailable is used to signify the portion of a supplement that is absorbed by your body. Natural food sources of vitamins are the best bioavailable form, but manufacturing costs for purely “food source” vitamin supplements are often outrageously expensive due to complicated extraction processes. A viable alternative to expensive food-sourced vitamins is bioidenticals, which are bioavailable synthetic substances that are are identical to the natural compounds found in your body.
Our recommendation for a cost-effective option that is also safe and effective? Look for a supplement that is formulated by an expert for a balance between natural and bioidentical.
Tip 2: Make Friends with Minerals
Due to the modern unbalanced diet, most Americans aren’t getting enough minerals from their diet. For example, 57% of Americans do not meet the US RDA for dietary intake of magnesium which can lead to a range of health issues such as muscular twitching and cramps. Taking a daily supplement to cover your mineral needs is a smart idea, but understanding the way that your body is intended to absorb these minerals is more important. This will allow you to make smart investments in products that will actually work.
Amino-acid chelation provides minerals in a form that can actually be absorbed by your body and does not just pass through1. Chelate comes from the Greek word for claw, and when listed on supplement bottles, denotes ingredients where an essential vitamin or mineral is binded to other molecules to increase its absorption. It is a natural function of the body that allows for more effective transport of minerals across the intestinal wall.
Amino acids are exceptional at being absorbed by the body because they are vital to all biochemical processes, so using them as chelating agents is super efficient. Check labels for the words “citrate” or “chelate”, for example Zinc Amino Acid Chelate.
Amino-acid chelation provides the following improvements in absorption of minerals:
Compared to ionic minerals, amino acid-chelated mineral supplements provide 3-6 times better absorption2.
Tip 3: Don’t Skimp on Key Antioxidants
Supplementing with vitamins and minerals can be a basic insurance plan, but not a premium plan which actually promotes your health and protects from diseases. What’s most important when evaluating supplementation is providing your body with powerful antioxidant support to minimize cell damage from free radicals and toxins that contribute to aging and can cause disease.
If you eat a relatively healthful diet, you are likely getting many of the nutrients you need from food. What your body really craves is therapeutic doses of antioxidants & herbs. Even if you consume salads and juice every single day, you are still not getting the levels of powerful plant-based chemicals that your body could use to protect itself in our modern world.
Herbs produce antioxidants and anti-microbial properties to defend themselves, and by consuming herbs you can obtain this same protection. Herbs contain concentrated amounts of these powerful protective chemicals, which is why they can often flourish in delicate conditions where vegetable plants do not make it. The plants with the most potent chemicals often are the most bitter (such as Milk Thistle); therefore, taking them in capsules is an ideal delivery system for most individuals.
Consuming herbs is very safe for most individuals because humans have such an extensive history with herbal therapy. Our bodies are very familiar with the chemicals found in antioxidants and herbs. These plants work with your body to restore normal balance and optimize your ability to combat free radicals.
Here are the key antioxidants & herbs to look for in a daily supplement:
- Milk Thistle – promotes protection of the liver
- Resveratrol – potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties
- French Maritime Pine Bark – offers cardiovascular benefit
- Rhodiola – known for decreasing fatigue and supporting memory
- Lutein/ Zeazanthin – protects eyes & skin from sun damage
- Astaxanthin – helps to fight cell damage from free radicals
Tip 4: Divorce Your Multivitamin From Your Omega-3
You may be all too familiar with the fishy smell, taste, and burps associated with Omega-3 supplements; the good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. If this is was case with an omega product you tried in the past, it was most likely oxidized.
What is the risk of taking an oxidized Omega-3 supplement? Many people do not realize that fish oil is prone to spoiling and continues to oxidize as it becomes exposed to heat, oxygen, and light. Oxidized omega-3 supplements contain very little DHA/EPA (the important omega-3s). But even worse, an oxidized supplement can contribute to the formation of plaques in your arteries.
How can you ensure a quality Omega-3 supplement? It is encouraged to take an omega-3 as a separate supplement from any other ingredients, as this significantly decreases the risk of omega-3 oil oxidation. Be sure to store your omega-3 supplement in a cool and dark environment (no leaving them in a hot car!). You may consider trying krill oil instead of fish oil, as the phospholipid form is more shelf stable than the triglyceride form found in fish oil.
Tip 5: Choose Capsules for Maximum Absorption
Capsules are the most absorbable way to obtain ingredient goodness and are generally easier to swallow than tablets. Your body only has to break down the outer capsule and then has direct access to all the good stuff inside, therefore offering better absorption. Tablets require your body to work much harder to break down the tightly packed mass to gain the nutrients.
In recent years, antioxidant drink mixes & green smoothie powders have exploded onto the scene. While these sound good in theory, they rarely deliver the potency of antioxidants to make a difference and are often very overpriced. Instead of choking down a bitter green drink, taking a capsule with water can be a more efficient way to achieve therapeutic dosing in a cost-effective way.
We know that gummies & chewables are hard to resist, but don’t be fooled. The reason these products taste so good is because they typically contain very little active ingredient compared to the sugar content. Don’t let yourself be tricked into this “healthy” [overpriced] candy. Yes, it is too good to be true!
Tips for Taking Supplements
✔ Take supplements right after your meals to increase absorption. Vitamins are best absorbed by your body when taken with food-based micronutrients.
✔ Set a reminder to take your supplements at the same time each day. Taking your supplements consistently is critical if you are serious about seeing an impact on your health, so that you maintain high levels of antioxidants in your system. Store your supplements in a place that you frequently access, such as in your kitchen or at your desk, and set reminders until you develop a habit of taking your supplements regularly.
✔ Store your vitamins in a cool, dry place. Be careful not to store your supplements in your car in the summer, as this can cause oxidation & spoilage.
✔ Don’t take vitamins with green tea or coffee. This can interfere with proper absorption of the supplement ingredients.
✔ Don’t smoke for at least 30 minutes before and after meals (if you must smoke at all). Smoking decreases the absorption of nutrition and minerals in food by restricting gastric acid secretion.
Sources referenced for this article:
1. Schurgers LJ, Teunissen KJ, HamulyÃ¡k K, et al. Vitamin K-containing dietary supplements: comparison of synthetic vitamin K1 and natto-derived menaquinone-7. Blood. 2007 Apr 15;109(8):3279-83.
2. Journal of Applied Nutrition 22:42 1970 Ashmead H: Tissue transportation of organic trace minerals. J Appl Nutr 22:42-51, 1970.
3. Thiel RJ. Natural vitamins may be superior to synthetic ones. Med Hypotheses. 2000 Dec;55(6):461-9.