Ask the Doctor is a monthly Q&A series written by the naturopathic doctors of the NaturoMedica Grand Ridge Plaza clinic. A print version of Ask the Doctor is also published in Issaquah Highlands Connections newspaper.
I’m not sure which vitamins and supplements that I should be taking. I read and hear a lot of different things. Ultimately, I’ve ended up with a cabinet full of supplements that I don’t take. Can you give me any advice?
As a naturopathic doctor, I get some version of this question nearly every day. We are continually bombarded with new information on vitamins and supplements. It can be difficult to sort out sound advice from the hype. Based on current research and clinical experience, here are three supplements that I think nearly everyone should take:
Northwest residents are notoriously low in the “sunshine vitamin,” which the body produces naturally from sun exposure. Over 90% of my patients who do not take a vitamin D supplement are found deficient. Vitamin D plays a role in building bones, preventing cancer, maintaining heart health, fighting infection and elevating mood. Foods like cow’s milk are fortified with vitamin D but in small amounts. While unlikely, it is possible to overdose on vitamin D, so have your healthcare provider order a simple blood test to determine your individual vitamin D needs.
Foods and supplements that contain high quantities of beneficial or “good” bacteria that are normally found in the body are called probiotics. Friendly bacteria are essential for good digestion and a strong immune system. You may be aware of the benefits of taking probiotics after taking antibiotics which indiscriminately kill the good and bad bacteria in your body but many people experience improved health when they take probiotics daily. Foods like yogurt contain probiotics but in relatively small quantities. When choosing a pro biotic, look for a blend that contains several different species of bacteria.
The typical Western diet is low in EPA and DHA, two important omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. Omega-3s are found in oily fish like tuna, cod, mackerel and our local salmon. These oils play a key role in the function of your heart, brain, eyes, nervous system, kidneys and liver. Studies show fish oil to be preventive against heart disease, arthritis, depression and to lower cancer risk. Fish oil also acts as a strong anti-inflammatory. In higher dosages, fish oil can thin the blood, so use it under the advice of your physician.
Aside from these three supplements, I like for my patients’ supplement regimens to be more individualized. We now have sophisticated nutrient blood testing that can determine what is right for each patient. I think that many people can benefit from taking a multi-vitamin as well as calcium and magnesium for bone health. I am also a fan of bioflavonoids—compounds in fruits and vegetables which are powerful antioxidants. Bioflavonoids boost the immune system and support the health of many organs and tissues including the eyes, heart, skin and blood vessels. You may have heard of resveratrol, which is a bioflavonoid found in wine that is thought to improve heart health. It is important to get bioflavonoids from a variety of sources. My favorites include berries, turmeric, and green vegetables. A bioflavonoid supplement can give you a super dose of these substances without adding to your waistline.
It is important to understand that the supplement industry is not well regulated by the FDA. I suggest that you only take pharmaceutical grade supplements, which are supplements that have been independently evaluated as having met the highest regulatory standard. These supplements are typically available from compounding pharmacies or healthcare providers. Seek out a health practitioner trained in integrated medicine to help you select vitamins and supplements that meet your individual needs.
Dr. Jill Monster is a naturopathic physician at NaturoMedica, a full-service naturopathic medical clinic that is home to seven licensed naturopathic physicians. The clinic offers naturopathic healthcare, acupuncture and IV (intravenous) therapy. Visit naturomedica.com or call 425-557-8900 to learn more.
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