This is part five of a series on the supplements I think every adult should take. Previous issues focused on whole-food based multivitamins, ubiquinol, fiber and omega 3.
The final supplement on the list is vitamin D, which is made in our bodies through sun exposure. But today, we simply don’t get enough direct exposure to sunshine, without sunscreen, to make the vitamin D we need.
Vitamin D helps with bone health by facilitating calcium absorption. It also plays an important role in many other healthy body functions. Vitamin D has been shown to improve immune health and heart health, protect against cancer, autoimmune diseases, depression and a host of other conditions.
Vitamin D deficiency is a major cause for concern as it affects multiple systems in our bodies. Vitamin D deficiency is far more pervasive than previously believed, with research now indicating virtually all adults and children have lower than optimal vitamin D levels.
The only way to know how much vitamin D you need on a daily basis is to get your levels tested a couple of months after you begin to supplement. You want to see levels of 125-200 nmol/L, or nanomoles per liter. (Sometimes test results are reported in nanograms per milliliter or ng/ml. It’s the same test, just a different measurement: Like miles per hour versus feet per second. If your test results are in ng/ml, you will want to see at least 50 ng/ml for optimal vitamin D function.)
Estimates now suggest that 5,000 International Units, or IU, of vitamin D a day or 35 IU per pound for kids or heavier people is appropriate. But some of us need more: I was recently listening to a renowned brain expert say that as a physician, he was shocked (since he lives in southern California and is exposed to sunshine all year) when he found out after vitamin D testing that his body required 10,000 IU a day to function at its optimal level
My whole food multivitamin contains 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 and I get plenty of daily summer sunshine, so I don’t take a supplement in summer. But most multivitamins have shockingly low levels of vitamin D3. So even if you are taking a good whole-food multivitamin, you’ll most likely need to add some D3, unless you get time outside without sunscreen every day. And even though my multivitamin provides a good baseline, I still find that I need to supplement with an additional 1,000-2,000 IUs of vitamin D3 during the long New England winters. Unless you are in a warm weather climate, you probably will too.
If you haven’t read the full article on vitamin D, you should. Before we leave the topic of supplements, I want briefly mention three other supplements that did not make my top five list that you may want to consider: collagen, probiotics and DIM.
If you read the chapter on bone health, you know how important collagen is to avoiding bone fractures. You can and should get your collagen from eating good collagen-rich foods like dark green leafy vegetables. But if you find—like many—that you may not be eating enough collagen and you are not taking a good whole-food multivitamin, you may want to consider collagen supplementation.
As I shared in another chapter, in order to maintain my weight and to prevent blood sugar issues, I try to eat small amounts of protein, healthy fats (omegas 3s) and fiber at every meal or snack. If I am ever in a situation where I am not consuming protein, I will take a collagen supplement (and a fiber or omega 3 supplement if needed) for balance. While not nearly as good as eating the right foods, in a pinch, it’s better than taking in carbohydrates (sugar) without any having protein to balance it out since carbs ingested without a protein counterbalance are stored as fat in the body.
We’ve all heard of antibiotics: They kill off or inhibit the growth of bacteria. But antibiotics also kill off the healthy bacteria in our digestive tract and inhibit our ability to digest food and to absorb nutrients. Probiotics contain the beneficial flora that your digestive system needs and digestive enzymes that work in your stomach to help break down foods. Both can be damaged by illness, poor diet and antibiotics, so if you have experienced any of those and have not taken a course of probiotics and enzymes afterward, your digestive system is likely not operating at top capacity.
Probiotics and digestive enzymes are also a must if you have digestive concerns such as cramps, constipation, diarrhea, gas or bloating or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. If you struggle with allergies or asthma, food sensitivities such as sugar or gluten, yeast infections or urinary tract infections, rosacea, acne or skin conditions, headaches or migraines, chronic bad breath (halitosis), PMS or hormonal imbalance, or achy joints, you should consider probiotic supplementation.
Depending on how long and how strong your course of antibiotics was, or how severe your digestive concerns are and what your diet is like (if it is very acidic), you may want to stay on probiotics for a while to ensure balance is restored and maintained. At a minimum, you’ll want to take probiotics and digestive enzymes while taking antibiotics and for several weeks afterward. A two to three month supplementation cycle is great for restoring balance and digestive health after any significant stress to your digestive system. Eating yogurt can help, but your body most likely needs more help than yogurt alone can provide.
Even if you haven’t had antibiotics lately or faced a digestive health concern, your system could still be imbalanced from a concern long ago. Probiotics can help restore balance if you have a heavily acidic diet that promotes yeast and causes other imbalances in your digestive pathway. I recommend a month (or two) of probiotic and digestive enzyme supplementation every year to help ensure your digestive system has everything it needs to maximize the nutrient absorption of the food you are eating.
There are many different probiotic strains and each works differently in the body, so you may need to experiment with more than one brand to find the right one. If you are facing a specific issue, research your condition to find the best strains. The right probiotic should make a difference within the first week or two. If you don’t see improvement after two weeks, try another brand with different strains of bacteria. If you are just looking to restore balance annually with no specific concerns, choose a highly rated probiotic that has bifidobacteria and lactobacillus acidophilus in the billions.
DIM or Diindolylmethane
Diindolylmethane, or DIM, promotes healthy hormonal balance through beneficial estrogen metabolism. DIM is a naturally occurring phytonutrient found in cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cabbage or collards), which we know are good for us, but do not eat nearly enough of. DIM can balance estrogen by blocking “bad” estrogen and promoting good or beneficial estrogen in our bodies.
For women, healthy estrogen metabolism prevents breast, cervical and uterine cancers; for men, it is required for prostate health. (Men, you have estrogen in your bodies and are exposed to it in foods and the environment as well, so it’s just as important for you!) I speak more about the connection of DIM to prostrate health in the chapter on Prostate Health.
Not everyone needs DIM, so it didn’t make my top five list. But if you’re concerned about hormonal balance, fibers, tumors or reproductive cancers or prostate health, DIM is a supplement you should consider taking daily. (I found it quiets my hot flashes.) Generally speaking, unless cancer runs in your family, you are perimenopausal or suffer from pre-menstrual syndrome and/or you are already struggling with reproductive issues like fibroids or hysterectomy, it’s something you can wait to take until you’re in your 50s.
Research has shown that most DIM supplements cannot be absorbed; they require microencapsulation. Only one company, BioResponse, has a patented microencapsulation with extended release nanoparticles, ensuring predictable absorption. This company is the only brand being used in all the published clinical trials, including those sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, so it’s the one I take and recommend.
To your wellness and health: your true wealth!
Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com
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