Just like there are staple foods to keep around your home to make healthy eating simpler, there are also supplements to always have on hand to support your healthy lifestyle.
By Dr. Bianca Drennan, ND
I call these “supplements for everyday,” and they are for almost anyone. I often get asked what supplements are good for “overall” health and what are the things people should take on a daily basis. While I always use diet and lifestyle as my first and least invasive intervention with patients, there are certain nutrients and functional foods that are challenging to obtain in our diets, especially in the amounts needed to achieve a therapeutic effect. I am not the kind of Naturopathic Doctor that is going to prescribe numerous supplements, all providing a different action and benefit (unless absolutely needed). Rather, whenever I prescribe a supplement to a patient, I aim for things that are multipurpose and as a result have multiple benefits. This increases compliance long-term (which is what produces results), in addition to being much more cost effective for the patient. Naturopathic medicine often gets a bad rap for being expensive because many people are prescribed a myriad of supplements which are never covered by health plans. I am also a firm believer that health does not need to be complicated, and some of the greatest benefit comes from the simplest of interventions. However, there are certain situations and conditions that do require more extensive supplementation, and that is okay too. Below is a list and brief description of some of my favourite supplements that nearly all my patients are on, and ones that I even take myself. Depending on your individual needs, you may require more than the “supplements for everyday.” Before beginning any supplement, consult your Naturopathic Doctor to discuss brand and dosage information, as well as potential side effects.
Fish oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids which have been studied to be important for a multitude of conditions. I love fish oil because there are several benefits and you can reap them all in one supplement. Although there are dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, anchovies, mackerel, walnuts, flaxseeds, eggs, hemp, chia), it is very difficult and nearly impossible to consume the amount that a supplement would contain. Fish oil has demonstrated benefit for heart health, brain function, memory, acne, eczema, psoriasis, depression, anxiety, hormonal imbalances – the list goes on. It is difficult to find a reason not to take it! Fish oil can be purchased in capsule or liquid form. I encourage you to buy a high-quality fish oil due to potential contamination and oxidation that is often found in generic brands. If purchasing the capsule form, be sure that the bottle is opaque or dark brown rather than clear, and store it in a dark place unrefrigerated. Exposure to light and heat can spoil the fish oil, and refrigeration causes a breakdown of the gel capsule lining which then exposes the oil to air. If purchasing the liquid form, the oil should again be in a dark container, but in this case it should be stored in the fridge. Fish oil is a mild blood thinner, therefore those that are taking an anticoagulant should have their clotting factors checked to ensure safe and effective treatment.
Like fish oil, vitamin D has an incredible number of benefits ranging from cancer prevention and treatment, mood balancing, hormone balancing, and immune modulating. Those who live in northern climates are at risk for vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency due to the lack of sunlight. Vitamin D is synthesized through the skin via sunlight (approximated 15 minutes in the sun). However, many people in northern climates experience a lack of sun exposure, especially in the winter months. This lack of vitamin D is often related to many people’s low moods during those months. In addition, it is becoming more common in research to recommend protecting ourselves from the damaging effects of sun exposure, which has led people to use more sunscreen than in the past. This blocks UV absorption and inhibits vitamin D production. Therefore, it may not only be important to supplement with vitamin D in the winter, but also in the summer. Vitamin D comes in many forms – tablets, gel caps, and drops are the most common. I tend to tell patients to stay away from the tablet form as it is not properly absorbed. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, and is therefore best absorbed when consumed in a fatty medium. This is why gel caps and drops are better options. Store in a dark place unrefrigerated.
Probiotics are the new kid on the block. They have been around forever, but research is beginning to unveil more and more benefits of probiotics. Probiotics are filled with beneficial gut bacteria, which is difficult to obtain in the diet. Fermented foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi are sources of probiotic bacteria. I often prescribe probiotics to patients who experience a lot of gas and bloating throughout the day, and overall digestive dysfunction. Probiotics are incredibly effective at reducing these symptoms which are common in many people. I also use them frequently for patients who have just taken antibiotics or who have a history of frequent antibiotic use. Antibiotics are effective at killing “bad” bacteria, but unfortunately also wipe out our “good bacteria.” This can lead to many side effects, which is why probiotic supplementation is essential. Probiotics are also effective for mood stabilization, immune regulation, skin conditions, and yeast infections. Promoting healthy gut bacteria is becoming one of the most essential ways to achieve long-term health. Our gut bacteria is linked to a number of systemic functions and is not restricted to digestion. As with fish oil, it is important to buy a high-quality brand. Probiotics are live bacteria, and therefore proper transport and treatment of these bacteria is essential in order for you to end up with a product that contains what the bottle says. Many generic brands do not transport or store them properly, which kills many of the bacteria. In addition, lower quality brands do not perform quality testing to ensure that the product you are purchasing is in fact up to par. Sometimes it is important to spend a little more in order to achieve a therapeutic effect. Be sure to purchase a multi-strain probiotic to reap the most benefit unless otherwise directed by your Naturopathic Doctor, and store them in the fridge.
Dr. Bianca Drennan ND, provides nutritional consulting and naturopathic medicine services at Pacific Wellness and is available for appointments four days a week. If you would like to detoxify and trim your body, improve your lifestyle or address certain health concerns please call us at 416-929-6958 or submit your online appointment request to arrange your initial appointment. The naturopathic appointments are covered by most employee benefits.