Supplementation is still a controversial topic. Despite tens of thousands of studies demonstrating the benefits of correctly taking nutritional supplements, skeptics still have their doubts about whether supplementation is necessary or even helpful in any way.
Later in this article, we’ll cover best practices for optimizing the benefits of your nutritional supplement regimen. We would be amiss, though, if we didn’t begin by addressing some of the doubts and worries often expressed about supplementation in general.
Common arguments against supplements
“There’s no need to take supplements if you’re eating properly.” This argument is inherently an ideological one—it’s based on the desire to believe that all we need to do to stay perfectly healthy is to eat a healthy diet. It is, after all, a simple and elegant solution (and ignoring supplements can theoretically save us some money too).
In many ways, the general idea behind this argument is true. Diet should be your first priority—if you’re trying to patch up the damages caused by a terribly unhealthy diet with lots of supplements, you’re going about it all wrong (and it probably won’t work anyway). The more healthy, nutrient-dense whole foods you eat, the less likely you are to need supplements for optimal health maintenance.
Here’s the problem, though: this argument is not based on facts. Plenty of people who do eat healthy diets still suffer from nutrient deficiencies (as well as the health imbalances to which they can lead). Many others were raised on the Standard American Diet that we’re conditioned to accept—and even when they switch to healthy dietary choices, supplements may still be necessary to repair acute issues and deficiencies.
“Vitamins and other supplements are useless anyway.” The logic behind this argument is that, even if there’s some people for which supplements could be useful or necessary, the products available to us don’t work, so we shouldn’t bother buying them.
While it is true that there are countless low-quality products on the market, it’s important to remember that there are plenty of high-quality ones too. Condemning all supplements because some of them are made by unscrupulous manufacturers is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
As with all consumer goods nowadays, choosing high-quality supplements (and using them properly) simply requires some forethought and self-education. As long as you’re following even a limited number of best practices for taking supplements, you can experience remarkable, long-lasting benefits for far less than the cost of conventional healthcare.
So without further ado…
Best practices for getting the most out of supplementation
Figure out which supplements you actually need to be taking. Supplement enthusiasts have a tendency to go overboard with their regimens. Keep in mind that taking more supplements is not always necessary or better. It’s easy to forget that many supplements and herbal remedies are very powerful—just because they’re not a prescription medication doesn’t mean we can take them indiscriminately without ill effects.
The next time you go to your doctor for a check-up, get blood panels to ascertain which (if any) nutrient deficiencies you have. Decide which (if any) health imbalances or symptoms you want to address—and get confirmation from your doctor that these imbalances actually exist, in the form of hard data if possible. Then build a supplement regimen based on this data. While there are some nutrients that are almost universally helpful to take on a maintenance level—such as magnesium, vitamin D3, and vitamin C—you still want to be calculating about why you’re including a specific supplement in your daily regimen.
Take the right kind of supplements. Even when you’ve dialed in what supplement regimen is right for you, the battle still hasn’t been won. You still need to sift through the veritable ocean of products available to you, in order to find the ones that will provide the most benefit for your buck.
First and foremost, avoid multivitamins. All too often, they contain fillers, use inferior nutrient forms (to save on costs), and combine nutrients in ratios that are inconvenient for addressing any health concern in a meaningful way. Instead, seek out the highest-quality, most absorbable form of each nutrient in your regimen. This approach may seem a bit more tedious or costly (more products to buy, more pills to take), but it’s really the only way to go if you want to experience real benefits.
Make sure the vitamin formulations you’re purchasing are made with the optimal nutrient form (e.g. methylcobalamin for vitamin B12, D3 for vitamin D, l-ascorbic acid for vitamin C, and MK-7 for vitamin K2). Then ensure that the product implements a formulation method that optimizes bioavailability (e.g. micelle and liposomal formulation are proven to increase absorption dramatically; any product that combines these two delivery methods is going to provide stellar results).
Time your supplementation properly. Lastly, proper sequencing is also important. Most supplements shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach. Only a limited number of vitamins (such as vitamin C, B vitamins, and some brain supplements like 5-HTP) tend to cause stomach upset when taken without food, but better safe than sorry. The exception to this rule is vitamin B12, which tends to absorb best when the stomach is empty—take it in liposomal form to avoid stomach upset.
Further, nearly all supplements will absorb more effectively in the presence of fat (this is why liposomal supplements have such a high bioavailability). A great percentage of nutrients will also be absorbed if the body isn’t overwhelmed by too many at once (in the case of a “supplement traffic jam,” your body tends to excrete more of the nutrients unmetabolized). For these reasons, aim to take half of your supplement regimen in the morning after breakfast (or whenever your first meal is), and the other half in the evening after your last meal.
Always talk with your doctor or health professional about interactions between different supplements (e.g. fiber slows the absorption of fatty acids, vitamin E blocks the absorption of iron, vitamin D should not be taken without vitamin K2, and so on).
As long as you follow these guidelines, supplementation can be amazing low-cost tool for addressing acute health issues and optimizing your overall health.