In an ever-growing market of supplement options, choosing what to take can feel like a daunting task. But while there are dozens of different types of supplements out there recommended for various reasons, there are a few supplements that pretty much everyone can benefit from.
Why focus on these three? For one, the nutrients provided by this trio of supplements have broad-reaching effects—including supporting gut health, immune system function, energy levels, cognitive and cardiovascular health, and more.
Additionally, these supplements provide essential vitamins, minerals, microbes, and fatty acids that tend to be missing in the average person’s Western diet, which is likely to be lacking in fresh veggies, wild-caught seafood, and fermented foods. In fact, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of fruit and vegetable intake, fewer than one in 10 Americans eats enough fruits and vegetables.
If you eat a less-than-perfect diet, chat with a doctor or nutritionist and start incorporating these three supplements into your daily routine.
1. A Multivitamin
There’s a reason that multis are the world’s most popular dietary supplements. They essentially act as an insurance policy, helping you meet your nutritional needs by filling potential nutrient gaps in your diet.
There are several vitamins and minerals that many adults fall short on to specifically look for when picking a multi. I always recommend a multi that includes vitamin D, iron, magnesium and vitamin B12.
It’s been estimated that about 50 percent of the population had a vitamin D deficiency, which is mostly obtained from sun exposure. A similar amount, around 50 percent, are thought to be missing magnesium in their diet, which is found mostly in veggies and dairy. Older adults and infants seem to be especially at risk for deficiencies. Additionally, iron and vitamin B12 tend to be low among plant-based eaters and women of reproductive age.
In general, I suggest opting for a multi that provides 100 percent or more of the daily value of 13 or 14 essential vitamins and minerals to cover your general needs.
When you supplement with a quality multivitamin that provides you with absorbable forms of essential vitamins and minerals, you’ll benefit from a lower likeliness of deficiencies and greater energy, potentially boosting immune defenses and supporting the health of your bones, brain, heart, eyes, skin, and more.
Additionally, many brands now offer not only multis for everyone, but have created unique formulas tailored to the specific needs of women and men, including those in older age brackets. Some even go a step further and include extra botanicals and herbs, such as ashwagandha and other adaptogens, which can support a positive mood, sleep, and immune function.
Once you’ve chosen the right multi for you, be sure to read the label recommendations to determine how many capsules or pills to take per day. It’s typically best to take multivitamins with a meal (particularly one that includes some fat) since this helps support absorption. I love Ancient Nutrition’s Ancient Multi Men’s Once Daily and Ancient Multi Women’s Once Daily.
Probiotics are healthy microbes (including bacteria and yeasts) that live inside of the gastrointestinal tract (a.k.a. the gut). These microbes have numerous roles, including contributing to immune function, protecting against infections, facilitating nutrient absorption, managing our appetites, and aiding in healthy digestion and elimination.
Perhaps the most popular reason to add probiotics to your routine is to boost digestive health and balance out constipation, gas, and bloating. Probiotics can help keep you regular and facilitate the breakdown of carbs, fiber, and other nutrients.
Plus, since the majority of your immune system is actually located inside of your gut, certain probiotic strains can help prevent gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of microbes that contributes to certain symptoms) and fight off harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses, while also supporting a healthy inflammation response.
Beyond your gut, probiotics also contribute to a healthy microbial environment in other parts of your body, including the mouth, vagina, urinary tract, and skin.
Keep in mind, though, that in order to benefit from a probiotic supplement, the microbes need to survive their journey through your stomach and into your intestines after ingestion. This means you’ll want to consume a supplement that contains survivable microbial strains, like soil-based organism (SBO) probiotics, which are not easily killed off by stomach acid and heat. SBO probiotics also don’t require refrigeration, unlike many other probiotics, and can survive at room temperature.
Read More: Should You Rotate Probiotic Supplements?
I also recommend looking for a probiotic that offers a diversity of microbes (such as those in the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families) and a CFU count (which indicates potency) between 25 and 100 billion per serving. Ideally, you’ll opt for one that features prebiotics and postbiotics, too. Prebiotics provide the fuel for probiotics to thrive off it, while postbiotics help to maintain a balance of gut flora in other ways.
Probiotics are best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach about 30 minutes before a meal. If this approach doesn’t work well for you, take them with a meal or before going to bed. Consistency is key, so pick a time and stick to it.
We already know the importance of including fatty fish in our diets each week, yet many of us fail to meet the weekly recommendation of at least three servings.
One of the main reasons to enjoy wild-caught fish such as salmon and sardines as a protein source is because of their omega-3 fatty acids, which play a key role in cardiovascular health, brain function, healthy growth and development, a healthy inflammatory response, and more.
Additionally, omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids because our bodies can’t make them on their own, which means we require them from foods or supplements. It’s important to obtain enough omega-3s to balance the effects of other fats in our diet, such as omega-6s, which many Americans consume far too much of from processed foods and vegetable/seed oils.
Unfortunately, it’s estimated that up to 90 percent of Americans are falling short of their seafood intake which provides the vast majority of our omega-3 needs.
Most adults can benefit from taking at least 500 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids daily. Omega-3s can be taken any time of day but are usually best absorbed when consumed with a meal.
Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S., is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, author, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. Dr. Axe operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites, sharing healthy recipes, herbal remedies, nutrition and fitness advice, and information on essential oils and natural supplements. Dr. Axe founded one of the largest functional medicine clinics in the world, in Nashville, TN, and has served as a physician for many professional athletes.