If you eat a healthy diet, you probably don’t need to take supplements at all. Still, there are solid arguments for taking at least a few supplements; and in special categories such as pregnancy and over-65 years of age, you are well-advised to take specific supplements.[1]

Here is a list of suggestions with attached rationales. Clearly, you need to adjust this list to your circumstances and consult with a medical practitioner, especially if you have a specific condition or are considering megadoses.

Six Key Supplements

  1. A multivitamin-multimineral 3x per week. On a healthy diet, you are unlikely to develop micronutrient deficiencies. But just in case, it makes sense to ensure that some hidden marginal deficiency doesn’t keep you feeling and performing under par, or even lead to a health problem such as lowered immunity. Also, getting more of several vitamins and minerals might improve your overall health and performance. Most generic formulations will do. For females, this supplement should include iron; for males, it should contain no iron.
  2. Vitamin C, 100-250 mg/day. Vitamin C boosts immunity, scavenges oxygen radicals, supports the absorption of other micronutrients, and performs a range of other tasks. 100-250 mg will do in addition to the amount in a multivitamin. Steer clear of megadoses beyond 500 mg/day.  In the event of a respiratory infection, 500 mg/day could help, as it could for a special indication such as protecting against the growth of an existing cataract.
  3. Fish oil, 1000 mg/day for women, 3x/week for men (excessive fish oil may promote prostate cancer). Fish oil softgels are best taken with meals. They contain omega-3 fatty acids that were present in much higher levels in our ancestors’ diets and have proven effectiveness as antioxidants and optimal constituents of cell walls as well as competitors of the omega-6 fatty acids that can increase oxidative stress.
  4. Calcium. There are a wide range of suitable intakes for calcium, which is essential for bone development and maintenance. For women over 45, higher doses are warranted, in consultation with a medical practitioner. For others, if the dietary intake of calcium is limited, then supplementing with 1000 mg/3x/week can be beneficial.  However, for those under 50 who consume dairy products daily, calcium supplements are not generally needed.  Men over 50 should probably take 1000 mg of calcium 3x/week in addition to a moderate intake of nonfat milk products, especially yogurt.  They should, however, not take high doses of calcium because genuinely excessive calcium can promote prostate cancer.
  5. Vitamin D. While Vitamin D is readily synthesized by the skin, people living in northern climates, with darker skin, or unable to get outside enough are well advised to supplement with 1000-5000 units/day. Vitamin D is essential to bone health.
  6. Zinc. For the elderly, 50 mg of zinc 2-3x per week may help prevent zinc deficiency.

For most people, selecting among these six supplements can ensure optimal nutrition. Taking more kinds of supplements or, especially, megadosing make little sense if one is consuming a healthy diet and otherwise living a healthy lifestyle. The danger of overdosing and serious resulting toxicities is too palpable, particularly in the long run.

However, in special cases other supplements make sense. For vegans, receiving Vitamin B12 is essential; and it is likely essential for many ovo-lacto-vegetarians as well. For patients with diseases that cause nutrient deficiencies or with medications that compete with the intake of nutrients, appropriate supplementation is required. And any discussion of supplements needs to consider two major possible areas of use. First, in sports medicine, there are arguments for a range of supplements as well as against them. Second, in the field of natural medicine, there are many substances that arguably can contribute to the treatment of various disorders. But these are topics for another discussion.


Note

1. Eat a Mediterranean Diet but Still Supplement?

*****

Kenneth J. Dillon is an historian who writes on science, medicine, and history.  See the biosketch at About Us.

 

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