Are there nutritional supplements that everyone should consider taking? We posed that question to five nutrition-savvy doctors who have served as experts for Bottom Line Personal for years. Surprisingly, they not only all said “yes,” but they all generally agreed on what these nutritional supplements are.
That consensus is even more surprising given the negative attention that multivitamin/mineral supplements have gotten lately. Some studies have failed to find that they protect against heart disease, for example. But that’s not why most people even take multis—or should, our experts say. Better reason: To ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of essential nutrients to function at your best day to day.
Many Americans don’t get enough. According to the latest Dietary Guidelines report, common nutritional shortfalls include the B vitamin folate, vitamin D and magnesium. And deficiencies become more common for certain nutrients after age 50, when nutrient absorption often declines.
Important: Our experts agreed that in addition to the specific recommendations below, everyone should take a multivitamin/mineral supplement that supplies 100% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for most vitamins, minerals and trace elements (especially selenium, chromium and iodine). Exception: Iron deficiency is rare in people over age 50, so iron should be part of your multi only if a doctor-ordered test shows that you are iron-deficient. Why? Too much acts as an unhealthy oxidant.
A healthy diet always comes first, our experts agree. Example: Fruits, vegetables and beans provide fiber and potassium that supplements generally don’t provide.
Does everyone need all these supplements? No. If you eat fatty seafood at least twice a week, for example, you could safely skip omega-3 supplements. But most of us would benefit from taking all of these supplements.
What follows are the amounts that our experts agree are safe and beneficial for everyone. They often prescribe higher amounts for certain patients. Important: Share your supplementation plan with your health-care provider, who can offer individual guidance.
A good multi is just the beginning, our experts told us. Here are four additional daily supplements that benefit nearly everyone…
Magnesium strengthens muscles, builds bone, energizes the brain, regulates the heart, reduces high blood pressure, balances blood sugar, aids sleep, eases pain, improves digestion, helps your body utilize calcium and more. Before processed food dominated the diet, Americans consumed 600 milligrams (mg) of magnesium a day on average. Today, that number is about 275 mg—well below the RDI of 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women.
Recommended daily dose: Our experts most often prescribe 200 mg twice a day—once in the morning, once in the evening—for a daily total of 400 mg. Avoid: Magnesium oxide, which can sometimes cause loose stools. Best: Magnesium glycinate.
B vitamins play important roles in the health of your brain and nerves, blood, digestive tract, muscles, skin and eyes. They help power every cell in the body. Our experts put a special emphasis on folate, B-6 and B-12.
Recommended daily dose: Take a “B-50-complex” supplement either once a day or in divided doses twice a day. This formulation, sold under a number of different brands, includes all the Bs. The name refers to the fact that the daily dosage is 50 mg or 50 micrograms (mcg) for many of the Bs. Those levels exceed the RDI in most cases but are safe to take daily.
Additional recommendation: If you are a vegetarian or a vegan or are over age 50, also take a separate B-12 supplement. While a B-50-complex supplement will have a small amount of B-12 (typically 50 mcg), taking an additional B-12 supplement is important because B-12 deficiency is particularly common as we age, in part because we produce less of the stomach acid needed to absorb it from food. Tip: Look for a sublingual (under-the-tongue) product providing the most active form—methylcobalamin—at a daily dose of 1,000 mcg.
Vitamin-D deficiency is disturbingly common in the US. Indeed, most Americans have blood levels below a minimally healthy level of 30 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). Our experts agreed that blood levels above 50 ng/mL (but not higher than 80 ng/mL) are best for peak functioning of muscles, bones, digestion, immunity, hormones and circulation. Vitamin D also may help prevent breast and colon cancers.
Recommended daily dose: 2,000 international units (IU) of D-3, the form that’s best absorbed. That supports a blood level of 50 ng/mL for most people and is safe to take daily long-term. Important: Get your vitamin-D level tested. If it’s very low, your doctor may prescribe higher doses, up to 10,000 IU daily.
Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines are rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). If you don’t eat fatty fish at least twice a week, consider a daily omega-3 supplement.
It’s true that recent studies have failed to find that these supplements prevent heart disease in healthy people. But omega-3s are key nutrients for every cell in the body, and most Americans don’t get enough. And there is evidence that they are key to lifelong health. Example: In a study from Harvard Medical School and several other leading institutions, researchers looked at 15 years of health data on more than 6,500 postmenopausal women and found that those with the highest levels of EPA and DHA were 11% less likely to die from any cause during the study than those with the lowest levels. Another recent study conducted at Tufts University on men and women found that higher blood levels of omega-3s were linked to healthier aging.
Reason: Omega-3 fatty acids make all cell membranes more flexible and youthful—and every part of the body benefits. They can ease arthritis, improve mood and ward off depression, protect against dementia, reduce high triglycerides (blood fats) and even slow skin aging.
Recommended daily dose: A supplement that supplies 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA combined. Higher doses may be prescribed to reduce high triglycerides. Caution: Omega-3 supplements act as anticoagulants, so talk to your doctor before taking one if you already are taking a prescription anticoagulant.