The relationship between nutrition and health is complicated. Even if you eat a balanced, nutritious diet, it can be difficult to consume enough different foods to check every nutritional box. Thus we offer suggestions on the top supplements to help your body get the nutrition it requires.
Experts agree that vitamin D deficiency is widespread. In fact, researchers are exploring this deficiency and its connection to several diseases, including certain types of cancer, bone disorders and autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
While soaking up the sun’s rays was once the way we got our vitamin D fix, sobering statistics about skin cancer made diet and supplementation a smarter, safer way to partake of this essential vitamin.
Although vitamin D can be obtained from some foods, such as dairy, fish and mushrooms, studies show that diet alone isn’t enough to keep blood levels of D between 40–60 ng/ml. This guideline is recommended by national and international scientists with GrassrootsHealth, a nonprofit public-health organization dedicated to vitamin D research.
Choose a supplement that supplies 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day. If you are taking a multivitamin, check the label—most contain vitamin D as well. Vitamin D toxicity is rare—the safe upper limit established by the National Academy of Sciences is 4,000 IU per day.
Important for bone health, calcium is also essential for healthy heart, muscle and nerve function. The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, too, so you’ll often see these two nutrients supplemented together.
Health experts advise getting as much of the recommended 1,000 milligrams per day of calcium from diet as possible and supplementing the rest. For those who avoid dairy, leafy greens such as kale are good options. Most milk substitutes, such as almond and soy, are fortified with calcium, too.
Women over 50 and patients with osteoporosis have slightly greater calcium requirements, and should consult with a doctor to determine the right supplement dose.
Although most people are able to get the recommended doses of essential B vitamins from their diet, some of these vitamins, like B12, may be lacking because of dietary restrictions.
Vitamin B12 (also called cobalamin) is necessary for a healthy nervous system, DNA and RNA synthesis, as well as a strong immune system and healthy brain. It’s found only in animal-based foods, including sardines, lamb and beef, as well as raw cheese and cottage cheese, so those who eat vegan or vegetarian diets may want to supplement.
Some prescription drugs may also impact vitamin B12 levels. People with type 2 diabetes using metformin, or anyone taking drugs known as proton-pump inhibitors for digestive issues such as GERD or acid reflux, may want to be tested for B12 deficiency.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms per day.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and trout. Primarily known for their heart-health benefits, omega-3s also benefit brain and eye health, and may reduce symptoms of depression, studies show.
People who are generally considered healthy and consume the recommended two 3.5-ounce servings of omega-3-rich fish per week may not need to supplement. However, vegans, patients with heart disease and those who don’t eat fish may benefit from supplementation.
Although there is no RDA for omega-3 fatty acids, the general recommendation from experts to achieve heart-health benefits is 500 mg per day. For those with cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association recommends 1,000 mg per day. There is no RDA for brain and eye health, but studies suggest taking 1,000 mg per day and making sure the supplement contains both DHA and EPA.
There’s no fountain of youth or magic pill to keep us looking and feeling young, but years of research have shown that good nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices, including moderate exercise, keeping stress under control and getting a good night’s sleep, can reduce the risk of chronic diseases associated with aging.
Supplements that include plant-based nutrients known as phytonutrients have antioxidant benefits that protect our bodies from the free-radical damage that contributes to aging. A good anti-aging supplement contains a variety of nutrients benefiting the skin, as well as the heart, joints and more. Look for one that contains vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant known for fighting damage from environmental toxins.