If you’re new to the natural health scene, you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of nutrition advice and wide assortment of supplements on the market. While there are certainly plenty of supplements that can make a huge difference in your health and well-being, the truth is that functional medicine works best when it’s individualized—and implementing multiple supplements can make it difficult to determine which are most effective.
It can also be expensive.
So, rather than dropping hundreds of dollars on dozens of supplements, I recommend starting with no more than two or three. The three I’ve listed are readily available and multi-purpose—meaning you should be able to find them at a good price, and you can trust you’ll get plenty of “bang for your buck” in symptom relief and overall health improvement.
Probiotics are some of the most popular and scientifically-supported supplements out there. They treat and prevent everything from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to reoccurring yeast or fungal infections. You may have heard that “good bacteria” are needed in order to support essential functions like digestive health, nutrient absorption and proper immune system function. However, due to prescription antibiotic use, excessive intake of processed foods and sugar, drinking tap water, high amounts of pesticide exposure, and even emotional stress, most of us have an unhealthy gut.
Taking a daily probiotic supplement can help reverse the damage caused by these modern-day habits, but it’s important to choose the right one.
Probiotics made with soil-based organisms (SBOs) are especially effective. While low-quality probiotic supplements tend to be destroyed by stomach acid before they even reach the digestive tract, shelf-stable SBOs are much more capable of survival and, thus, better able to repopulate the gut and foster healing.
In addition to purchasing a SBO probiotic, look for a formula with a higher count of probiotics (from 25 billion to 50 billion) and select one with five or more different probiotic strains, including Bacillus coagulans, Saccharomyces boulardii, Bacillus subtilis and Bifidobacteria. Finally, a formula that also includes prebiotics—which feed the good bacteria—will further support the growth of probiotics once they get into your system.
Omega-3 Fish Oils
Now more than ever, people are consuming a modern, Western diet, which is typically low in vitamins and nutrients and high in anti-nutrients, including omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6s are found in commercially-raised eggs and refined vegetable oils (like canola, corn and safflower oil), and, coupled with a low intake of healthy omega-3s, they can cause numerous chronic health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.
While it’s important to reduce overall intake of omega-6s, one of the best ways to counteract their potential damage is to increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s reduce inflammation and may be effective in treating conditions including depression, ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, seasonal mood disorder, metabolic syndrome and more.
A diet that’s deficient in omega-3 fats results in altered cell membranes and reduced release of prostaglandin compounds that control swelling, pain and inflammatory processes. While it’s true that you can get some omega-3s naturally from foods like salmon, mackerel, herring, as well as flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts (to a lesser degree), most people don’t eat these foods in large enough quantities.
As a result, I recommend taking a high quality fish oil supplement—emphasis on “high quality.” Buying a premium brand ensures you’ll avoid rancid/oxidized fats, inferior fatty acids, and heavy metals or other contaminants. Read labels carefully, looking specifically at the milligrams of EPA and DHA (not just “fish oil”) and aim to take a daily dosage that provides about 1,000 milligrams of EPA/DHA, keeping in mind that fish oil supplements are best digested when taken with meals. This will also help reduce “fish burps” or any unpleasant taste.
Collagen Protein (Bone Broth Powder)
Collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body, is found in muscle tissues, bones, skin, blood vessels, tissues of the digestive system and the tendons. When collagen levels decrease—which can be accelerated by aging, obesity, inflammation or a poor diet—symptoms including reduced flexibility, aging skin, digestive dysfunction and pain can occur.
Today, collagen supplements—including newer protein powders made from concentrated bone broth—are growing in popularity among those with joint pain, arthritis or osteoarthritis and chronic injuries. This is largely because the percentage of people suffering from these ailments increases dramatically with age, as degeneration of cartilage in the joints occurs due to changes in the collagen matrix.
To replenish your collagen supply and help heal damaged tissue throughout the body, consider taking a collagen or bone broth (a natural source of collagen) supplement. Benefits can include greater mobility and flexibility, firmer skin, better digestion and even a metabolic boost. Your money will be best-spent if you source a product that provides a range of collagen types (types include I, II, III, V and X). Check the label to ensure it’s a pure product with limited or no fillers, is non-GMO, gluten-free, antibiotic-free and soy-free.
If you’re willing to spend a bit more—or if you’ve already incorporated the above—consider adding a dried super greens powder and an organic multivitamin to your routine. Taking these will ensure that you’re well on your way to covering your needs for various vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Green mixes make a great addition to morning smoothies, or can simply be stirred into water for a fast between-meal, energy-boosting treat. Both supplements may help you overcome mild symptoms such as low energy, brain fog, susceptibility to colds and even moodiness (especially if the multivitamin provides vitamin D3).
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He recently authored ‘Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and Five Surprising Steps to Cure It’ and he operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites at http://www.DrAxe.com. Follow him on Twitter @DRJoshAxe.