Do Supplements Matter?

January 25, 2010

Th answer is yes. Here’s a quick story about why.

Once upon a time, humans ate plants from rich soil that provided a full range of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. And the people who lived on the land knew what kinds of food to eat to keep their bodies healthy for their environment and climate.

But today’s food supply isn’t what it used to be. The nutrients in our soil have been depleted from years of pesticides and pollution. Plus, we are presented with an incredible amount of processed, packaged food that is void of essential nutrients and even robs our bodies of nutrients.  

The outcome of the story: We just can’t get everything we need from our diet. And in order to stay healthy right now and to keep our bodies in fighting shape for when illness or disease does come visiting, we need to sustain optimal levels of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in our bodies.

So: yes, supplements do matter.

How do we know what supplements to take? To find our way through the tidal wave of supplements out there, we turned to Seattle nutritionist Julie Starkel of Green Lake Nutrition for a short list of must-haves.  

Here’s the run-down on each one, the good brands, and where to get them.

A multivitamin and mineral supplement

A vitamin and mineral supplement is a great first step to even out the peaks and valleys in modern diets. Search for high-quality brands that offer well over 100 percent of the recommended daily value. Look for values in the ingredients list.  Starkel recommends buying all your supplements from a specialty store like Pharmaca, PCC Natural Markets, or Whole Foods. Better yet, consult with supplement professionals—like a nutritionist, a naturopath, or, in some cases, dietitians and chiropractors.

Top vitamin and supplement brands include: Thorne Research, Pharmax, Metagenics, Innate Response, and Douglas Laboratories.  You can also find vitamins targeted to gender and stage of life.

Vitamin D3

If you live in the sun-challenged region of the Northwest, you can count on being low on D. Vitamin D3 (the form that converts to D without sunlight) helps prevent everything from autoimmune and heart disease to cancer, inflammation, and winter flu.

Starkel recommends going to your health-care provider and getting tested. From there, a nutritionist or naturopath can help you get on a vitamin D3 regime that will elevate your D levels right away and then sustain them throughout the seasons. (Optimal D levels should be in the range of 50 – 80 ng/mL.)

If you don’t go the testing route, try these general guidelines: 1,000 to 2,000 IU/day for children and around 5,000 IU/day for adults.

As with looking for a multivitamin, go to a high-end pharmacy, supplements store, nutritionist, or naturopath for top-quality products. Try brands like Metagenics and Thorne.


Probiotics are good for the gut. They help our small intestines digest insoluble food fibers and support colon health by maintaining healthy flora in our system. In short, probiotics keep our system from running amok with bad bacteria.

If your digestive system feels good, Starkel recommends taking a maintenance level of two billion organisms per serving per day, in a pill form or a powder. If you have issues with diarrhea or constipation, start with 12 billion organisms. Also, keep your probiotics refrigerated. Try brands like Pharmax and Thorne.

Omega 3 and fish oils

The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil screamed onto the scene as the super supplement of the twenty-first century. Research shows it can prevent everything from heart disease to cancer and strengthen the immune system and joint health.

Quality really matters with omega-3 products, since oil-soluble nutrients can contain toxins and high levels of mercury. So shop from professionals and high-end stores like PCC, Pharmaca, and Whole Foods. Starkel likes brands from: Nordic Naturals, Douglas Laboratories, and Pharmax.

Age-old favorites: vitamin B, vitamin C and zinc

A robust vitamin and mineral supplement should cover vitamin B, vitamin C, and zinc needs. However, Starkel says there are times when it’s worth upping the ante:

  •  If you’re an athlete or under extra stress, add a good-quality vitamin B-complex to your daily regimen.
  •  If you feel a cold coming on or it’s flu season, pop an extra 15-25 mg per day of zinc.
  • Vitamin C lovers can take this vitamin to tolerance. If you get diarrhea, that’s your sign to back off.

Adding these basic supplements to your diet will make a difference to your health. Of course, including supplements in your diet involves money, time, and effort. But, as Starkel puts it: “Look at it like a really good insurance policy.” If, down the road, you need your body to go to work for you, it’s better equipped to fight off disease and illness. And isn’t that worth the investment?

More links:  

The FDA on supplements
A supplements overview from WebMd

Some high-quality supplement brands:
Innate Response
Nordic Naturals
Douglas Laboratories
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More on Julie Starkel and Green Lake Nutrition.


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