Lyndon is a writer, researcher, journalist, editor, and writing-editing consultant. He has researched health and nutrition since the 1960s.
Like many people, you may be a bit overwhelmed by the barrage of conflicting information, particularly in the media, on vitamins and nutritional supplements. You're likely wondering if you need to be supplementing your normal diet with some of these nutrients. It's difficult to know where to start!
Health professionals that advocate nutritional supplementation tell us that while the food in our diets should optimally provide all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients we need, this ideal situation is disrupted by a variety of real-world problems. Examples include inadequate eating habits (skipping breakfast, for instance), improper dietary choices, processed foods that deplete natural nutrients, environmental dangers (like air pollution), and stressful lifestyles.
Back in 2002, the need for vitamin supplements was endorsed by a groundbreaking article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 287, no. 23, 19 July 2002) recommending that, to remain in peak health condition, all adults should take supplements in addition to maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. Vitamins and other supplements aren't guaranteed to keep you safe from disease or extend your life but they certainly can improve your chances.
Why You Should Trust Me
If you're considering taking supplements, it's important to identify which ones to start with. So, if you'd like to begin with, say, just the absolutely most important supplements, which ones should you consider? While I'm not a medical or nutritional professional, I am a professional researcher with decades of experience in nutritional and dietary research as well as using nutritional supplements myself. In this article, I'll describe some nutritional supplement approaches that have worked for me extremely well.
For your own needs, be sure to consult your nutritionist or another health professional (especially to make sure that your personal nutritional supplementation doesn't conflict with any special physiological, metabolic, or medical conditions you may have, or medications you're taking).
There are five primary supplements. Talk to your doctor about which one (or combination!) is right for you.
The Five Essential Supplements
Multivitamin Mineral-Nutrient supplement: A good way for any individual to ensure getting an array of the most essential vitamins and minerals, plus other nutrients like certain amino acids, is to take a multi-nutrient supplement. One example, which I've used, is Bronson's Fortified Vitamin & Mineral Insurance Formula, which includes the whole array of important B vitamins, plus other critical vitamins such as A, C, D, and K. In addition, it provides the most crucial minerals, including the less-well-known ones such as chromium and manganese.
Studies show there are verified health benefits from the use of daily multivitamins. According to a study done by the American Journal of Epidemiology, routinely taking supplements over a period of 10 years may decrease your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Vitamin C: Plenty of well-documented studies, attest to vitamin C's power as a crucial antioxidant to boost immune function and provide other benefits. Vitamin C helps produce collagen, a naturally occurring protein used by your body to form almost all tissue. Talk to your doctor about how much vitamin C you should be taking daily.
Just as an example of benefits, studies have suggested that vitamin C can alleviate the severity of common colds and reduce their duration by as much as 10%. It's important to note that some people have conditions like hemochromatosis, which yields problems with some forms of vitamin C. Be sure to consult your health professional before taking vitamin C if you suspect you have hemochromatosis.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is another crucial antioxidant that promotes cardiovascular health, brain function, and other critical body processes. A good typical dose should contain mixed tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta forms of the vitamin). Dose amounts vary by gender and size, so talk to your doctor and research the dose amount that's right for you.
Vitamin A (or Beta Carotene): Here's another extremely important vitamin that's both an antioxidant, bolstering the immune system, and a critical agent to enhance your eyesight. Over half of modern adults fail to meet the established daily requirement of this crucial nutrient.
Taking this in the form of a direct beta carotene capsule supplement is useful because your body itself then creates vitamin A from the beta carotene. Be careful not to overdose on this—a daily intake of 20,000 to 25,000 IU is typically adequate.
Another advantage of beta carotene is that overconsuming it won't cause hypervitaminosis A (a dangerous condition from overdosing on vitamin A). However, taking too high a dose of beta carotene may cause carotenoderma, producing a yellowish skin tint. So, if you take this nutrient, be sensible about it, and follow the guidelines.
Phosphatidyl Choline: A precursor of lecithin, phosphatidyl is an absolutely essential nutrient that your body itself manufactures. Lecithin is basically needed to process your body's cholesterol.
Cholesterol is frequently characterized as a bad substance that can lead to clogged arteries and other problems. In excess, this is true. But cholesterol is itself a useful nutrient, as the MedlinePlus (NIH) website explains:
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that's found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs some cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs.
However, sufficient lecithin is critical for effectively processing cholesterol. Cholesterol then retains its healthy functioning and doesn't end up as debris on the walls of our arteries.
Because so much of our modern dietary intake barrages us with cholesterol, we can use help in creating lecithin to keep up. Phosphatidylcholine does that job.
Some Additional Important Supplements
Those first five supplements would be included in my own "starter package" of basic nutrients. However, many nutrition professionals recommend certain additional supplements. Of these, here are some that I have found especially beneficial:
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): This is a particularly powerful vitamin-like nutrient found in practically all human body cells, especially in heart cells. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) has antioxidant properties, but that's only the beginning of a very long list of essential benefits.
Your body uses CoQ10 to produce ATP (adenosine-5-triphosphate), a storage form of energy that functions as a cell's major energy source. CoQ10 also contributes to a number of essential biological processes, including protein production and muscle contraction.
CoQ10 has been determined to have anti-aging, life-extension, immune system-stimulating, and anti-cancer benefits, plus additional benefits in a wide spectrum of disorders and diseases. These diseases include heart disease and hypertension (high blood pressure), Alzheimer's disease and dementia, diabetes, high cholesterol, tinnitus and hearing loss, muscular disorders, Parkinson's disease, kidney diseases, migraine headaches, male infertility, and other fertility problems.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids are essential for a number of reasons. For one thing, they help in the absorption of CoQ10. Omega-3s have many additional health benefits, such as helping your heart, your immune system, your brain function, and even the health of your skin. Omega-3 reportedly has been shown to protect against arthritis or reduce its severity. Omega-6 and -9 are also considered important for optimal benefits.
I take a complex that combines omega-3, 6, and 9 in a single capsule. This is Nordic Naturals brand Complete Omega-3-6-9.
High-Potency B Vitamins: A good multi-vitamin complex typically has at least minimum amounts of most of the B vitamins you need, but many nutritional professionals suggest that most of us need more than the usual minimums.
To make sure I get adequate amounts of B vitamins, I supplement with an additional high-potency B-vitamin complex. The one I use is Now brand B-50, available in capsules.
Choline and Inositol: These essential nutrients should be taken together, in equal amounts. Choline and inositol help both in the formation of lecithin, as well as in the maintenance of cell membranes. They're also extremely important in nourishing brain cells. Choline is involved in producing acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is critical in transmitting "messages" between our nerves and muscles. It's also believed to improve memory, emotional mood, and physical performance. In addition to producing acetylcholine, choline and inositol are also critical in maintaining serotonin, another neurotransmitter involved in the body's management of pain and control of mood levels.
Inositol, recognized as a member of the B-complex vitamins, works closely in conjunction with choline as one of the primary components of our cell membranes. There's more inositol in our bodies than any other vitamin except the B-vitamin niacin.
Inositol is essential for the growth and survival of cells in bone marrow, spinal cord nerves, our brain, our cerebrospinal fluid, our eye membranes, and our intestines. This nutrient also encourages hair growth and may help to prevent baldness.
Choline also assists the process of cleansing our systems by enabling our liver to eliminate toxins more effectively. Both choline and inositol help to move fat out of our liver. They also help prevent serious liver problems, as well as disorders resulting from high cholesterol.
I've been taking Now brand Choline & Inositol, 500 mg (250 mg of each nutrient) in capsule form for many years.
Potassium: This mineral is absolutely essential for all cells, tissues, and organs. It's especially important for heart function and the maintenance of normal blood pressure.
The biggest need for potassium stems particularly from our overconsumption of sodium, which is found in the majority of canned and processed foods, as well as restaurant foods — plus the salt (sodium chloride) most of us add to flavor natural food cooked at home. This excessive intake of sodium can increase your potassium requirements in order to maintain proper electrolytic balance, critical (as noted above) to proper heart function.
Vitamin D: This vitamin is important for keeping our bones and teeth healthy, apparently by helping maintain proper blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D may also function to protect us against common cancers, such as breast, prostate, and colon cancer. Plus it may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, particularly in combination with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
While your skin tends to fabricate vitamin D naturally as a response to ultraviolet light, nowadays most of us don't get sufficient sunlight exposure to produce adequate amounts (and we're also continually warned about the dangers of skin cancer from over-exposure). Furthermore, the amounts in common multi-vitamins are typically insufficient for our daily needs.
For years, following the recommendations of a professional nutritionist based on results from a vitamin D lab test, I've been using the Nature's Bounty brand of vitamin D3 with 5,000 IU capsules.
Personally, I seem to have benefited significantly from the regimen of supplements I've been taking now for several decades. I credit this—plus other factors such as daily exercise and a healthy diet—for helping to boost my immunity to most routine minor maladies like colds and the flu. If I do contract any of these, it has happened very rarely, and the duration is typically very short (usually a day at most). When I sense an assault commencing on my immune system, I may also resort to additional measures (like Airborne dissolvable tablets, zinc supplements, and lots of extra vitamin C)—defenses you might also want to consider.
Before starting any of these supplements for your own personal use, be sure to consult with a health professional—preferably, one that is well-grounded in a holistic approach that includes an understanding of the value of nutritional supplementation. You can also make sure you select the forms of supplements you may need, especially if you have any problems digesting or absorbing food or extra dietary nutrients.
Additional Reference Sources
- Robert J. Benowicz, Vitamins & You, Berkley Book, New York, 1981.
- Adelle Davis, Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit, New American Library, New York, 1970.
- Mark Hyman, MD and Mark Liponis, MD, Ultraprevention, Atria Books, New York, 2003.
- Roger Lewin, In Defense of the Body, Anchor Books, Garden City, NY, 1974.
- John A. Mann, Secrets of Life Extension, Bantam Books, New York, 1982.
- Earl Mindell, Earl Mindell's Vitamin Bible, Warner Books, New York, 1979.
- Mike Samuels, MD and Nancy Samuels, The Well Adult, Summit Books, New York, 1988.
- Andrew Weil, MD, Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, Facett Columbine, New York, 1997.
- Andrew Weil, MD, Natural Health, Natural Medicine, Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, 1995.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Lyndon Henry
icountthetimes on April 11, 2012:
This isn't a world away from my regimen (Multi vitamin, Omega 3, Vitamin D, CoQ10). I think it's sometimes difficult to strike a balance between good health and becoming obsessive, but I'm really happy about what I currently take.