Essential vitamin and nutritional supplements that may help you live healthier and longer
Like many people, perhaps you're a bit overwhelmed by the barrage of conflicting information on vitamins and nutritional supplements. Nevertheless, let's say you're wondering if maybe, just maybe, you might need to be supplementing your normal diet with some of these nutrients, but you're uncertain about what to start with.
Health professionals that advocate nutritional supplementation tell us that while the food in our diets should optimally provide all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients we need, this ideal situation is disrupted by a variety of real-world problems. Examples include: inadequate eating habits (skipping breakfast, for instance); improper dietary choices; processed foods that deplete natural nutrients; environmental dangers (like air pollution); and stressful lifestyles.
Back in 2002 the need for vitamin supplements was endorsed by a groundbreaking article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 287, no. 23, 19 July 2002) recommending that, to remain in peak health condition, all adults should take such supplements in addition to maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. Vitamins and other supplements aren't guaranteed to keep you safe from disease or extend your life ... but they certainly can improve your chances. Also see: Vitamins and Nutritional Supplements - Why Do We Really Need Them?
So, if you'd like to begin with, say, just the absolutely most important supplements, which ones should you consider? I'm not a medical or nutritional professional, so I'm just going to describe some nutritional supplement approaches that seem to have worked for me extremely well.
For your own needs, be sure to consult your nutritionist or other health professional (especially to make sure that your personal nutritional supplementation doesn't conflict with any special physiological, metabolic, or medical conditions you may have, or medications you're taking). But I'd strongly suspect that these supplements would probably be at the top of most lists:
• Multi-vitamin-mineral-nutrient supplement — A good way for any individual to ensure getting an array of the most essential vitamins and minerals, plus other nutrients like certain amino acids, is to take a multi-nutrient supplement. One example, which I use, is Bronson's Fortified Vitamin & Mineral Insurance Formula, which includes the whole array of important B vitamins, plus other critical vitamins such as A, C, D and K. In addition, it provides the most crucial minerals, including the less-well-known ones such as chromium and manganese.
As just one example of a verified health benefit from the use of daily multivitamins, according to research, such supplements taken routinely over a period of 10 years may cut your risk of colon cancer in half in comparison with other individuals not taking multivitamins. See: The Benefits Of Nutritional Supplements. Also see: Top Nine Essential Vitamins & Minerals and Vitamins and Minerals.
• Vitamin C — Plenty of people, and well-documented studies, attest to vitamin C's power as an antioxidant to boost immune function and provide other benefits (such as helping produce collagen, a naturally occurring protein used by your body to form almost all tissue). It's usually best when vitamin C is taken in capsule form in amounts of about 500 milligrams (mg) at a time, from about 2000 to several thousand mg a day.
Personally, I take a 1000-mg dose a couple of times a day, because it's available as a capsule (which I prefer) and contains bioflavonoids (natural plant-derived antioxidants that protect vitamin C from oxidation in the body). So far, I haven't found these same qualities in a 500-mg dose, so I take Now brand C-1000 capsules with 100 mg of bioflavonoids. For additional information, see: What are bioflavonoids and why are they helpful
Just as an example of benefits, studies have suggested that vitamin C can reduce the severity and occurrence of common colds — for some individuals,by as much as 50%. (See: Vitamin C Benefits.) However, some people, especially those with certain specific conditions (such as hemochromatosis), have problems with some forms of vitamin C, so be sure to consult your health professional on this.
• Vitamin E — This is another crucial antioxidant that promotes cardiovascular health, brain function, and other critical body processes. A good typical dose is a single daily capsule of 400 to 500 International Units (IU), and it should contain mixed tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta forms of the vitamin).
Research suggests that vitamin E (400 IU taken for more than two years) is associated with a nearly 50% reduction in the risk of heart disease in women, and a 37% reduction in men. (See: The Benefits Of Nutritional Supplements.)
• Vitamin A (or Beta Carotene) — Here's another extremely important vitamin that's both an antioxidant, bolstering the immune system, and a critical agent to enhance your eyesight. Over half of modern adults fail to meet the established daily requirement of this crucial nutrient.
Taking this in the form of a direct beta carotene capsule supplement is useful, because your body itself then creates vitamin A from the beta carotene. Be careful not to overdose on this — a daily intake of 20,000 to 25,000 IU is typically adequate.
Another advantage of beta carotene is that overconsuming it won't cause hypervitaminosis A (a dangerous condition from overdosing on vitamin A). However, taking too high a dose of beta carotene may cause carotenodermia, producing a yellowish skin tint. So, if you take this nutrient, be sensible about it, and follow the guidelines. (See: Beta-carotene.)
• Phosphatidyl Choline — A precursor of lecithin, phosphatidyl is an absolutely essential nutrient that your body itself manufactures. So why is this weird-sounding nutrient so important, and why do most of us need to supplement it? Well, ever heard of cholesterol? You know — the stuff with the HDLs and LDLs that can lead to clogged arteries and other problems?
Cholesterol is itself a useful nutrient, but sufficient lecithin is critical in effectively processing it, so it retains its healthy functioning and doesn't end up as debris on the walls of our arteries. Lecithin helps our physiological systems break up fats into smaller particles that can be effectively processed by our bodies and help control the build-up of cholesterol.
Because so much of our modern dietary intake barrages us with cholesterol, we can use help in creating lecithin to keep up. Phosphatidyl choline does that job — capsules of maybe 400-500 mg, taken one to three times a day, represent a typical helpful dose. (See: Lecithin/Phosphatidyl Choline/Choline.)
Those five supplements would be included in my own "starter package" of basic nutrients. However, many nutrition professionals recommend additional supplements. Of these, here are some that I have found especially beneficial:
• Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) — This is a particularly powerful vitamin-like nutrient found in practically all human body cells, especially in heart cells. CoQ10 has antioxidant properties, but that's only the beginning of a very long list of essential benefits.
Your body uses CoQ10 to produce ATP (adenosine-5-triphosphate), a storage form of energy that functions as a cell's major energy source. CoQ10 also contributes to a number of essential biological processes, including protein production and muscle contraction.
Via research, CoQ10 has been determined to have anti-aging, life-extension, immune system-stimulating, and anti-cancer benefits, and additional benefits in a wide spectrum of disorders and diseases, including: heart disease and hypertension (high blood pressure); Alzheimer's disease and dementia; diabetes; high cholesterol; tinnitus and hearing loss; muscular disorders; Parkinson's disease; kidney diseases; migraine headaches; male infertility and other fertility problems.
Currently, my own regimen of CoQ10 is a daily 30 mg capsule of Jarrow Formulas brand Q-absorb. I prefer this product because it's natural, and it combines CoQ10 with lecithin and other nutrients, which improves absorption. For more information on CoQ10, see: Coenzyme Q10 Benefits and What are the results of deficiency in CoQ10?
• Omega-3 Fatty Acids — This nutrient, found in fish oil, is essential for a number of reasons. For one thing, it helps in the absorption of CoQ10. It has many additional health benefits, such as helping your heart, your immune system, your brain function, and even the health of your skin. Omega-3 reportedly has been shown to protect against arthritis or reduce its severity.
I take a complex that combines omega-3, 6, and 9 in a single capsule. This is Nordic Naturals brand Complete Omega-3-6-9.
• High-Potency B Vitamins — A good multi-vitamin complex typically has the B vitamins you need, but I believe most of us need more than the usual minimums. So I supplement with an additional high-potency B-vitamin complex.
The one I use is Now brand B-50, available in capsules. See also: Essential Vitamins and Supplements
• Choline and Inositol — These essential nutrients should be taken together, in equal amounts. Choline and inositol both help in the formation of lecithin, as well as in the maintenance of cell membranes. They're also extremely important in nourishing brain cells. Choline is involved in producing acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is critical in transmitting "messages" between our nerves and muscles. It's also believed to improve memory, emotional mood, and physical performance. In addition to producing acetylcholine, choline and inositol are also critical in maintaining serotonin, another neurotransmitter involved in the body's management of pain and control of mood levels.
Inositol, recognized as a member of the B-Complex vitamins, works closely in conjunction with choline as one of the primary components of our cell membranes. There's more inositol in our bodies than any other vitamin except the B-vitamin niacin.
Inositol is essential for the growth and survival of cells in bone marrow, spinal cord nerves, our brain, our cerebrospinal fluid, our eye membranes, and our intestines. This nutrient also encourages hair growth and may help to prevent baldness.
Choline also assists the process of cleansing our systems by enabling our liver to eliminate toxins more effectively. Both choline and inositol help to move fat out of our liver. They also help prevent serious liver problems, as well as disorders resulting from high cholesterol.
I've been taking Now brand Choline & Inositol, 500 mg (250 mg of each nutrient) in capsule form, for many years. For more useful information, see: Choline, Inositol, and Related Nutrients; Choline Inositol Vitamin & Supplement; Inositol: A Necessary Nutrient; Inositol information page.
• Potassium — This mineral is absolutely essential for all cells, tissues, and organs. It's especially important for heart function and the maintenance of normal blood pressure. It's also critical to proper contraction of our skeletal and smooth muscles.
The biggest need for potassium stems particularly from our overconsumption of sodium, which is found in the majority of canned and processed foods, as well as restaurant foods — plus the salt (sodium chloride) most of us add to flavor natural food cooked at home. This excessive intake of sodium can increase your potassium requirements in order to maintain proper electrolytic balance, critical (as noted above) to proper heart function. I take a 99 mg tablet twice a day, available from a variety of suppliers (including many store house brands).
• Vitamin D — This vitamin is important for keeping our bones and teeth healthy, apparently by helping maintain proper blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D may also function to protect us against common cancers, such as breast, prostate, and colon cancer. Plus it may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, particularly in combination with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
While your skin tends to fabricate vitamin D naturally as a response to ultraviolet light, nowadays most of us don't get sufficient sunlight exposure to produce adequate amounts (and we're also continually warned about the dangers of skin cancer from over-exposure). Furthermore, the amounts in common multi-vitamins are typically insufficient for our daily needs.
Currently, I supplement vitamin D with Doctor's Best brand Vitamin D3, 5000 IU per capsule (one capsule a day). I selected this because of good value for the price.
The need and function of both potassium and vitamin D are also discussed further in some of the comprehensive vitamin-mineral discussions I've already linked above. Also see: Vitamins, minerals and supplements and Vitamins and minerals 101
In taking all these supplements, it's widely recommended to ingest them on a full stomach, even with food. Also, I think it's probably a good idea to spread them out through the day; I take them in clusters, often grouped together appropriately, with meals or snacks.
Have I benefited from all this stuff (and more)? Well, I'm knocking on wood vigorously as I report this ... but so far, I have never had any serious diseases, and I seem to be immune from most routine minor maladies like colds and the flu. If I do catch any of these, the duration is typically very short (usually a day at most). On average, this seems to happen about once every couple of years, but when I sense an assault commencing on my immune system, I do resort to other measures (like Airborne dissolvable tablets, zinc supplements, and lots of extra vitamin C).
Aside from minor, routine allergies, I fortunately don't seem to have any serious health problems. Other than an occasional antihistamine, I don't take any ongoing medication. I haven't taken antibiotics since dental surgery a number of years ago. In another article (Migraine Headaches? Alternative Remedies That Have Worked for Me..., published on HubPages) I describe how I've managed to bring my problem with migraine headaches under control. So, overall, either my nutritional supplements are helping keep me fairly healthy, or they're darn good placebos.
One final point (and this underscores an earlier point): Before you race off to buy up any of these supplements for your personal use, be sure to consult with a health professional — preferably, one that is well-grounded in a holistic approach that includes an understanding of the value of nutritional supplementation. You can also make sure you select the forms of supplements you may need, especially if you have any problems digesting or absorbing food or extra dietary nutrients.
Lyndon Henry is a writer, editor, freelance investigative journalist and analyst, and consultant. His blog is: