4 supplements you should be taking for general wellbeing

The manufacturing, selling and consumption of herbal and nutritional supplements is becoming increasingly popular these days. This is largely due to the increased popularity of natural medicine and people wanting to seek more “natural” options for their ailments. It is also becoming more common because our society thrives on the notion of a pill for every ill in the treatment of disease, even though they are seeking more “natural” forms of healthcare. The overuse of pharmaceuticals to treat symptoms of disease has led people to seek out a quick fix or a “treatment,” rather than addressing the underlying causes of their issues.

Furthermore, supplement companies are very good at marketing their products through social media, “health gurus” and via celebrities, making people believe that they can cure their ailments by taking this one supplement. However, so many times people are disappointed and don’t see results because supplement efficacy can vary greatly between brands due to quality and some nutrients/herbs used in supplements lack research for their efficacy in humans.

In saying this, good quality, evidence based supplements, which are safe and effective due to good manufacturing processes, can help support your health in the backdrop of a nutrient dense diet and healthy lifestyle.

In the ideal world we would be able to get all of our nutrients from our food. However, due to current eating patterns and certain health issues, it can be hard to get certain nutrients in the diet in adequate amounts, therefore supplementation for general wellbeing may be necessary.

Also, if you are facing a chronic health issue, supplementation can come in handy, however you should seek a qualified, evidence-based practitioner before you engage in any supplement regime.

For general wellness and overall well-being, here are 4 supplements that most people could benefit from.

  1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble essential vitamin that our skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun. It benefits us in many ways, from bone health to mood.

It is one of the 24 micronutrients critical for human survival. The sun is the major natural source of the nutrient, but vitamin D is also found naturally in fish and eggs. It is also added to dairy products.

Supplemental vitamin D is associated with a wide range of benefits, including increased cognition and mood, immune health, blood pressure regulation, skin health, blood glucose regulation, bone health and well-being. Supplementation can also reduce the risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and multiple sclerosis. People deficient in vitamin D may also experience increased testosterone levels after supplementation.

The body produces vitamin D from cholesterol, provided there is an adequate amount of UV light from sun exposure. There is only a sufficient amount of UV light coming from the sun when the UV index is 3 or higher, which only occurs year-round near the equator, between the 37th parallels.

Most people are not deficient in vitamin D, but they do not have an optimal level of vitamin D either, due to a lack of sun exposure during the day, as well as poor dietary habits.

Furthermore, the conversion of vitamin D in the skin to its active form, as well as the dietary absorption of vitamin D can be impaired due to a number of factors. These factors include obesity, gut issues, old age, dark skin, inflammation in the body, magnesium deficiency and the use of certain pharmaceutical drugs like statins, corticosteroids, blood thinners, metformin, beta blockers and ant-acids. Therefore, if you don’t eat a lot of fish, spend quite a lot of time indoors, live in a cold climate and are effected by the factors that contribute to poor vitamin conversion/absorption in the body, then it is likely vitamin d levels will be less than optimal.

It is evident that due to the many health benefits of vitamin D, supplementation is encouraged if optimal levels are not present in the body.

The recommended daily allowance for Vitamin D is currently set at 400-800IU/day, but this is too low for adults. The safe upper limit in the United States and Canada is 4,000IU/day. Research suggests that the true safe upper limit is 10,000IU/day. For moderate supplementation, a 1,000-2,000IU dose of vitamin D3 is sufficient to meet the needs of most of the population. This is the lowest effective dose range. Higher doses, based on body weight, are in the range of 20-80IU/kg daily.

Furthermore, to be more specific, on a blood test, research shows that the optimal range for vitamin D should be around 87-125nmol/L. Bone density peaks at 112nmol/L. Therefore, if you are below 50nmol/L on a blood test, 4,000IU per day for 12 weeks should bring your levels up into the range. If you are over 50nmol/L, then 2,000IU per day for 12 weeks should be fine to bring you up to maintenance levels.

The body is quite sophisticated in the sense that once you bring nutrient levels back up to optimal ranges, it does a very good job at maintaining it at those levels, as long as the nutrient is still in constant supply and not in extremely high amounts. Therefore, after you reach your adequate levels, a maintenance dose of 1-2,000IU per day should support vitamin D levels and your health.

Vitamin D3 supplementation (cholecalciferol) is recommended over D2 supplementation (ergocalciferol), since D3 is used more effectively in the body.

Vitamin D should be taken daily, with meals or a source of fat, like fish.

2) Magnesium

Magnesium is a crucial nutrient and has over 300 metabolic functions in the body. Many of us are deficient in this nutrient because many factors can impair its absorption and increase its excretion in the body. For example, stress increases the excretion of magnesium and factors like digestive issues, ant-acid and contraceptive pill use, impair the absorption of magnesium. Magnesium plays a crucial role in brain function (e.g. memory, learning, cognition and behaviour), mood regulation, muscle contractions, blood pressure regulation, blood glucose regulation, energy production, stress reduction and hormonal regulation. Therefore, deficiencies can contribute to diabetes, high blood pressure, muscle cramps/spasms, headaches, constipation, insomnia, brain fog, anxiety, behavioural issues and fatigue. Its role in hormone regulation is one of the reasons why women tend to experience menstrual and infertility issues when they come off the pill. As you can see, these issues are fairly common these days, which is why magnesium is a common nutrient deficiency.

Also, magnesium is found in nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, cacao and leafy greens, however the soil is becoming depleted of magnesium, which means it is also becoming harder to get it from our diet.

400-800mg per day of magnesium is a good maintenance dose to keep levels adequate in the body for physiological functions, along with adding foods high in magnesium. When looking to buy a magnesium supplement, look for magnesium biglycinate on the label, as it is the most bioavailable form of magnesium you can get. Other forms that are commonly used in supplements like magnesium oxide are poorly absorbed; therefore you will not get the benefits.

Biotic supplements

“All disease begins in the gut.”

– Hippocrates

Hippocrates said this more than 2,000 years ago, but we’re only now coming to understand just how right he was. In fact, many researchers believe that supporting intestinal health and restoring the integrity of the gut barrier will be one of the most important goals of medicine in the 21st century.

Research over the past two decades has revealed that gut health is extremely critical to overall health, and that an unhealthy gut contributes to (even causes) a wide range of modern diseases and disorders that we see today.

In simplistic terms, within the gut, there is both “good” and “bad” bacteria. The “good” bacteria is obviously health promoting and the “bad” (in excessive amounts) is not. The good bacteria keep the bad in check. If the bad are allowed to flourish and overrun the good (i.e. overgrowth) then they start to cause issues. In the gut, it is all about balance.

People with chronic diseases have been shown to have a significantly different composition of gut bacteria when compared to healthy individuals, which demonstrates how gut composition plays a large role in the development of diseases.

A biotic supplement along with a healthy diet and lifestyle can help restore the balance of good bacteria in the gut, therefore supporting optimum health.

Biotic supplements are any supplement that is designed to influence the composition of bacteria that resides within the gastrointestinal tract, as well as the bacteria that reside in mucous membranes throughout the body (i.e. respiratory, reproductive tract, urinary tract, skin). Therefore, these supplements derive benefits to the body secondary to the actions of these bacteria. Biotic supplements are divided into three categories:

1) Prebiotic supplements are usually fermentable fibres, but are characterized by proliferating and supporting the microbiome of the gut. Such supplements can be seen as a sort of ‘food’ for pre-existing microbes. Pre-biotic essentially help good bacteria grow in the gut as they are a fuel source for good bacteria.

2) Probiotics are ingested bacteria that then reside in and alter the overall bacteria population of the gut. Most, if not all, bacteria sold as dietary supplements (things measured in CFU) are probiotics.

3) Synbiotics are supplements that have both prebiotic and probiotic properties

Whey Protein powder

Whey protein makes up 20% of the protein in milk, with the remaining 80% being casein. Whey protein is one of the highest quality proteins in terms of both digestibility, bioavailability (absorption) and amino acid composition. It is essentially the gold-standard protein supplement for sports nutrition research.

Whey is used as a protein supplement. Its high bioavailability makes it a far superior protein supplement compared to plant protein supplements like pea protein. It is very useful for hitting targeted daily protein goals. Whey is also absorbed faster than other forms of protein, which means it also increases muscle protein synthesis used to break a fasted state.

Whey protein powders are a great way to add some protein into diet when you are in situations where you may not have access to good, clean protein sources (e.g. when travelling). It can also be used to help increase an individual’s protein intake if they are struggling to eat enough protein in their diet and/or their needs have increased due to situations where a person may have a chronic disease, chronically stressed, injury recovery, if they are an athlete, going through weight loss or they are ageing.

Whey also delivers a large amount of the amino acid L-cysteine, which can alleviate deficiencies that occur during ageing and diabetes, as well as other conditions. While whey has also been claimed to increase fat loss, this is a function of protein, rather than the whey itself. This means that the whey itself does not reduce fat, but taking in more protein often aids with fat loss efforts.

Whey does not harm the liver or kidneys, but it can exacerbate pre-existing damage. People with damaged livers or kidneys should exercise caution when increasing protein intake quickly without the guidance of a doctor.

The amount of whey protein to supplement depends on individual daily protein goals. For example:

If you are an athlete or highly active person attempting to lose body fat while preserving lean muscle mass, a daily intake of 1.5-2.2g/kg bodyweight (0.68-1g/lb bodyweight) is a good goal.

If you are an athlete or highly active person, or you are attempting to lose body fat while preserving lean mass, then a daily intake of 1.0-1.5g/kg bodyweight (0.45-0.68g/lb bodyweight) is a good goal.

If you are sedentary and not looking to change body composition, a daily target of 0.8g/kg bodyweight (0.36g/lb bodyweight) is a good goal.

If daily protein targets are achieved through dietary protein alone, supplementation is unnecessary.

Note: Obese individuals should not follow the above recommendations, as bodyweight calculations would result in very high dosages. Obese people should calculate their protein targets based off of what their weight would be, assuming an overweight BMI.

Lastly, whey does not contain lactose or casein, therefore if you are allergic to casein in milk (the common allergen in milk that people react to) or you are lactose intolerant, whey protein is fine for you.