Supplements

Your Go-To Supplement Super-Guide: What To Take, When, & Why

The best way to get vitamins and minerals into your system is through a healthy diet, but supplements can help fill in where even a diverse diet may not help most people reach their daily recommended intake of vitamins and minerals. This supplement guide will highlight the vitamins and minerals that all of us should consider when choosing supplements to maintain optimal health. Keep in mind that it is important to buy supplements from trusted brands.

While it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the wide selection of supplements out there, only a few of them should be staples in every medicine cabinet. Here are the five types that we’ve included in our supplement guide, based on information sourced from the National Institutes of Health.

The Ultimate Go-To Supplement Guide

Calcium

Our bodies need calcium to support healthy bones. Calcium also plays an important role in our nervous, muscular, hormonal, and circulatory systems. Most people don’t get enough calcium through their diet, especially preadolescents and adolescents, postmenopausal women, and elderly men. People who do not consume dairy also may not get enough calcium through diet alone. If your body is not taking in enough calcium through diet, it will start to take it from your bones, leading to osteoporosis. Getting the recommended amount of calcium can reduce the risk of developing hypertension.

Supplements come in the form of calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. The former is cheaper and absorbed better when taken with food, while the latter can be taken on an empty stomach; it is also easier to digest than calcium carbonate by people with low levels of stomach acid. Supplements may cause gas, bloating, and constipation. If you are also taking magnesium supplements, taking these two together can ease the symptoms of constipation. Take 500mg at a time for best absorption.

Daily recommended intake: For most people 1000 mg is the recommended intake. No more than 2500mg should be taken by anyone.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that regulates muscular and nerve functions, as well as blood sugar levels and blood pressure. It plays a role in building bones, protein, and DNA. Most people don’t get the recommended amount of magnesium through diet, but healthy bodies are able to adjust to low intakes of magnesium. Over the long term, magnesium deficiency can lead to problems such as seizures and abnormal heart rhythm. People with type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, long-term alcoholism, and the elderly are more likely to be deficient in magnesium.

Magnesium lowers your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It also increases bone mineral density and may therefore reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Daily recommended intake: While 300-400 mg is recommended for people 14 or older, no more than 350 mg should be consumed through supplements. This means that you will need to adjust your diet rather than solely relying on the supplement to get your magnesium.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is critical for healthy bones, but it also is necessary for our nervous and immune systems. Though our bodies are capable of producing vitamin D through sun exposure, most people do not receive enough sun because of a healthy avoidance of direct, unprotected sunlight. Many people do not get the recommended amounts of vitamin D through diet.

Vitamin D3 supplements may reduce the risk of bone loss in aging populations. It’s critical to not intake excessive amounts of vitamin D3 supplements; overuse can lead to kidney damage.

Daily recommended intake: For people aged 4 and older, 600 IU is the recommended daily intake. However, each body absorbs vitamin D differently, so more may be optimal. After taking vitamin D supplements for three months, get your blood levels tested to see if you should adjust your vitamin D intake.

Zinc

Recently, people have begun taking zinc as a way to bolster their immune systems. Zinc also is needed for the production of proteins and DNA, and is critical in wound healing. People who have gastrointestinal disorders or who have had gastrointestinal surgeries may not get the recommended amount of zinc. Also, vegetarians and vegans tend to be deficient in zinc, since meat is a good source of the mineral.

Zinc lozenges may help people recover from the common cold if taken at the first sign of illness, though more research needs to be done to confirm this. Zinc is also a part of nutritional therapy used in treating age-related macular degeneration. Too much zinc can lead to problems like diarrhea, lower immunity, and low copper and HDL cholesterol levels.

Daily recommended intake: For people aged 9 or older, the recommendation ranges between 8-12 mg. The upper limit is 23mg in children under 13, 34 mg for teens aged 14-18, and 40 mg in adults.

Choline

Choline plays a critical role in your nervous system and brain function. Though your liver can produce small amounts of choline, this in addition to dietary sources is usually lower than the recommended daily amount of choline. However, most people do not have issues with choline deficiency. When choline levels are too low, people can experience liver damage, muscle damage, and develop nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Daily recommended intake: Men 14 or older and breastfeeding women need 550mg, while women 14 or older need a little less at 400-425mg. The upper limit of intake is 3000-3500 in anyone aged 14 or older.

Honorable Mentions

While this vitamin guide covers traditional vitamin and mineral recommendations applicable to anyone, there are a few other supplements that you may want to consider.

Folic Acid/Folate: Anyone who is pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant should take 400mcg of folic acid to supplement their diet. Folic acid is critical in preventing neural tube defects and premature deliveries.

Iron: Women and teens with heavy periods, as well as pregnant women, should take iron supplements as recommended by their doctors; too much can be toxic. Teens and premenopausal women need between 15-19mg of iron, while pregnant women need 27mg. Vegetarians need almost twice as much iron as the daily recommended amount since nonheme iron is not absorbed as efficiently as heme iron.

Probiotics: Oral probiotics have been shown, in preliminary studies, to prevent diarrhea and help manage symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Probiotics are not created equally—there are many different strains of bacteria in probiotics on the market, and each of them have different properties. More research needs to be done to support widely recommended usage guidelines for probiotics.

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