4 Supplements that Might Be Worth Swallowing

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When it comes to supplements, people either love ‘em or hate ‘em. The camp of believers pop multivitamins, probiotics, fish-oil pills, and more, thinking more vitamins and minerals are better than less. The camp of skeptics refuse to swallow, relying on a healthy diet to deliver all the necessary nutrients. Who’s right?

Both sides present good arguments, says Timothy Miller, MD, an orthopedic sports medicine doctor at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. But it turns out some supplements are worth considering, especially if you’re constantly on the move.

“The more active you are, the more you can deplete your nutrient stores,” explains Miller. Still, it’s possible to overdo it, even with the seemingly safest of supplements. “It’s always important to check in with your doc before taking any extra vitamins, minerals, or other nutritional supplements,” he says. “You may even want to get a blood test to see if supplementation is a good idea for you, so you don’t experience toxicity from too-high levels.”

If you are a healthy, active adult, there are a handful of supplements that might be helpful for you, says Miller—just be sure to get your general practitioner’s approval before amping up your intake.

Calcium

There are plenty of dietary sources for calcium—from dairy and fortified cereals, to kale and soybeans. However, there is a possibility that you still aren’t getting enough. “Calcium is stored in your bones, and our ability to store this mineral slows down with age,” Miller says. “We reach peak bone density around age 30, so supplementing with calcium can help protect your bones.”

Adding a calcium supplement into the mix (usually around 1,200 to 1,500 mg) can be especially helpful for men and women at higher risk of stress fractures, like elite runners or those who do impact sports, says Miller. But ask your doc before starting a calcium regimen—too much calcium can negatively impact the heart over time.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in helping the GI tract absorb calcium, and a growing body of evidence links higher levels of vitamin D to a lower risk of certain cancers, so supplementing with vitamin D might be a good idea—especially if you live in the north.

“It’s one of the most overlooked supplements, and, almost across the board, we’re deficient—even in healthy populations that consume a normal diet,” says Miller. “Vitamin D production is typically stimulated by sun exposure, but in northern latitudes, where winters are very long, our bodies aren’t getting enough exposure to make vitamin D.”

Iron (or Ferritin)

Feeling low on energy lately? It could a sign you’re low on iron. An iron supplement (or, more likely, ferritin, the protein that binds iron in the body) can lend a boost. “I typically see depleted iron stores among women,” says Miller. “It often presents as a sensation of feeling low, or not being able to perform at a high level athletically.”

For women with heavy periods or those participating in high-endurance sports, such as marathon running or cycling, an iron or ferritin supplement can be helpful. In addition, anyone who has suffered from a long-term illness or bowel disease may also benefit from supplemental iron, to counter the associated anemia. If you’re feeling down or lethargic, ask your doc about a blood test to see if iron levels need a lift.

Chondroitin Glucosamine (or Chondroitin Sulfate)

News stories have been singing praises for chondroitin and glucosamine lately, because the pair reportedly helps to build cartilage. Chondroitin glucosamine (sometimes called “chondroitin sulfate”) is one of the supplements Miller is most often asked about in his office and many of his patients swear by it.

“The evidence I have is mostly anecdotal,” says Miller, “But the theory is that chondroitin glucosamine helps build cartilage in the joints and can help to alleviate joint pain.” And less pain means continuing to stay active with age, he says.

When it comes to supplements, you don’t need to write all of them off as bunk. Still, it’s important to check with your doctor before adding anything to your daily regimen. Also important: Eating a well-balanced diet—it lays the groundwork for supplying your nutrient needs.

What’s your take on supplements? Join the conversation below!

14 Comments   Join the Conversation

14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hello, I just turned 50 this year and very confused about supplements that I need specifically. I’ve been on 2 heart medications for “palpitations” for 14 years now and 1 medication for a “benign” prolactinoma for my pituitary gland. I was told by my FNP to start an Iron supplement because it’s low but I know I need extra Calcium at my age too. It’s almost all too much to take in. Help!

    • I would think that you should consult an endocrinologist about the vitamin/mineral supplements you should or shouldn’t take. You have a pituitary issue to begin with, so there should be a reason to that specialist anyhow, and I think an endocrinologist would be best suited to review the issues you are questioning.

    • Hey Trish,

      I’m Dr Sara Van Anrooy, MD from the Center for Stress Medicine, check out our website for all kinds of input on your question, http://www.centerforstressmed.com. We have a new physician board specialty, Integrative Medicine that focuses on evidence based input on prevention, early intervention and effective, holistic approaches to treatment.

      While we clearly have individualized needs for supplements based upon genetics, lifestyle and geography, there are a couple of supplements valuable for most/all of us.

      Number one, “Vitamin” D, an essential pro hormone building block needed by every organ in our body. The primary source of Vit D is UV B rays or the summer sun and not food.

      Number two is omega 3 Fatty Acids, especially for those with cardiac arrythymias/palpitations. The organ systems which need omega 3 FAs the most are our liver, our brain and our cardiovascular system.

      At the Center for Stress Medicine we check blood levels on essential nutrients as well as genetic testing on all of our clients to assess which and how much of various supplements are needed.

      And, of course, the best way to supplement is often not found in a pill, it is through our food & lifestyle as medicine whenever possible.

      One last pitch about your symptom of palpitations, one of the most effective interventions does not come in a pill…. it is breath based mindfulness training. Use your Fitbit Charge 2 to practice deep, calming breaths throughout the day, shoot for a total of 20 minutes a day and you will see a remarkable change in your health. A great way to use silent alarms are to remind you to take a breath break 🙂

      To your Health & Wellness,
      Dr Sara

  • When taking the above supplements I have more energy, but within a few days constipation sets in. I stop the vitamins and I begin to feel lathargic. It’s a dilemma. What’s a person suppose to do.

  • I’d love to be able to use a glucosamine-chondroitin supplement, but I’m allergic to sulfa. I can’t find any that aren’t “sulfates”. Any ideas?

  • Not many quality or reliable studies on Forskolin, a traditional medicine herb with many purported benefits and uses. Positive evidence for risk in embryo-toxicity, possibly exposing risk to a baby during the mother’s pregnancy. I am an obstetrician and gynecologist with a larger interest in the whole woman.

    Jenna, I like your writing style. I did want to point out that Vitamin D has potentially significant risks in both excess and lack. HIGH levels can lead to increased cardiac risks and death perhaps as much as LOW levels. Treat the potential risks as you did in the Calcium discussion.

    I look forward to more of your work. Have a great year.

  • Good morning what is your opinion about the gummy vitamins now in the market. They have calcium, multi vitamin. Are these OK to take rather than the regular vitamin tablets?

  • I’m also waiting for a response to the supplements causing constipation. I believe calcium is definitely one of the contributors to the problem but not sure about the others. How can I supplement myself to feel better when what is suppose to make me feel better makes me feel horrible? I’d rather be deficient than full of crap.

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