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.
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 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!
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.