Which supplements should I take? That’s a recurring question when you become interested in your health and want to find ways to improve it. (As an aside, what’s with this current strive to optimize everything? I know I always fall for it and then, with hindsight, I wonder why I always want everything to be “best” instead of just good.) Today, I’ll talk about the supplements that I’ve tried and the ones I take regularly.
The first thing that comes to mind is a disclaimer. Of course, what works for me might not work for you and, with anything related to your health, medical advice is always recommended (especially if you have a specific health condition because some supplements can indeed interfere with your medication). Besides, there are ways now to check for deficiencies and be advised by a professional as to what you could add to your diet or take as a supplement to change that. It is especially important with some supplements because taken in excess, they can result in toxicities. Also, the obvious thing is that supplements should be used on top of (not instead of) a healthy varied diet.
That being said, I have been taking supplements for years now and I wanted to address this topic. I remember that my interest in supplements began with wanting to have better skin (and for my adult mild acne to go away). I had just learned about the link between inflammation in the body and skin health and that taking Omega-3s could be beneficial. I immediately went to my local pharmacy to get some. It was a success. I was able to see results in weeks (it was even more compelling since I hadn’t changed anything else in my routine). My skin was clearer, less red and looked more hydrated. I was hooked. Since then, I’ve discovered other amazing supplements. With all available options, I find it can be daunting to know where to begin. Here is my little guide.
The ones I take every day
I believe most people could benefit from these as they are good for your general health: they are the omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics.
As I’ve touched on earlier, omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and, as such, great for your cardiovascular and brain health. They are called essential fatty acids because our bodies can’t make them which means that we must get them from food. As for skin benefits, they plump the skin and help keep it calm (with less redness and breakouts).
I began taking the traditional fish oil capsules and later transitioned to a vegetarian option, namely, flax seed oil. The difference between animal and plant-derived omega-3s is in the type of fatty acid. The three main omega-3s are: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, found in plant oils) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) mainly found in marine oils. EPA and DHA are the biologically active form of omega-3s meaning that they have a more beneficial effect on our health. Our bodies can convert ALA into EPA and DHA but this conversion isn’t always efficient. That’s why marine-derived omega-3s are said to be superior. However, they too present a problem. With the excessive presence of heavy metals and other toxic compounds in the sea, toxins concentrate in the fatty tissue of fish which can then accumulate in your body when you take fish oil supplements. Plus, the environmental aspect of fish oil production shouldn’t be ignored. It isn’t a sustainable practice because of overfishing.
All this to say that I don’t take fish oil supplements anymore but instead I go to the source i.e. algae-derived omega-3s. I get mine from a french company – Nutrixeal- where the Ulkenia micro-algae is grown in closed containment, free of environmental contamination.
Now, let’s talk about probiotics. These microorganisms – called the good bacteria – are considered to improve gut health and stimulate the immune system. They also promote skin health (for example, through reducing inflammation). It’s especially important to take them when you’ve had a course of antibiotics, so that you can replace the bacteria you’ve lost and balance your gut flora.
They are different bacterial species associated with different benefits (lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, bacillus…). The best option is to get a supplement that contains different strains (or opt for one with strains specific to your condition). You also have to think about the delivery system of the supplement you choose. Research on this issue is actually confusing because, according to some people, it’s unlikely that these bacteria survive the production, storage and digestion processes and actually reach your gut. For that reason as well, it’s important to look for probiotics with a high count of living bacteria per capsule. To me, it’s mainly a case of trusting the brand’s claims. Again, I get mine from Nutrixeal.
The ones I use regularly
I tend to alternate between these nutrient-dense supplements depending on my needs of the moment:
– Chlorella (here), a micro-algae high in chlorophyll, protein, vitamin A, B, iron and zinc.
– Spirulina (here) acts similarly to chlorella. It’s rich in protein, vitamins (A, B, K…) and minerals (iron, manganese, chromium…).
– Turmeric (here) for its great antioxydant and anti-inflammatory properties.
The ones on my radar
I have a few supplements that I’m looking into at the moment:
– Adaptogens : Ashwagandha (balances hormones, supports adrenal function), Astragalus (protects against stress), Rhodiola (boosts energy, improves mood), Tulsi (balances hormones, lowers stress).
– Antioxydants: Astaxanthin, Coenzyme Q10, Resveratrol.
– Reishi mushrooms (anti-inflammatory, boosts immunity, improves liver function).
I’ll update you if I try any of these.
What shouldn’t be in your supplements
Finally, I wanted to talk about something important that I’ve learned through my research: the ingredients you shouldn’t find in your supplements (or in your food, for that matter). The main two culprits that I’ve come across are titanium dioxide (E171) and magnesium stearate (E572). When ingested, titanium dioxide is said to be inflammatory and to create DNA damage. Magnesium stearate, on the other side, tends to form an occlusive film in the digestive tract which decreases the absorption of certain nutrients and favors the growth of bacteria that can cause gut flora imbalances. So I try to avoid them.