What Supplements Should You Be Taking?

In this article I will try to recommend supplements that we should all be taking and explain the science behind it.  If you’re new to my website, roll your mouse over the links to see more supplemental information that are often cross-linked to my science-articles for further explanation.

First of all, I know these products cost money.  They don’t cost too much (<$1/day) but it’s still something.  Fortunately for us, there is almost no connection between price and quality. Many inexpensive multivitamins (from 3 to 14 cents per day) passed every test in a recent ConsumerLab report.  At the same time, several relatively expensive products (from 50 cents to over $1 a day) failed to pass!

The product recommendations I make are products that I’ve researched to be the most inexpensive and most effective to save you money.  I don’t want you to spend more money than you need to.  There is no point in buying something that costs 50 cents a tablet if the one that costs 14 cents works just as good, if not better!

In a perfect world, we’d eat these things every day, but we don’t. And even if we did, we’d still be missing some things.

And last but not least, you shouldn’t rely on a capsule to get your nutrition but with mineral depletion in commercial farmlands and the fact that most people can’t eat a perfectly well rounded diet everyday, this stuff is great insurance.  This is one of the great benefits of living in the 21st century and I intend to make full use of it.

1. Collagen

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Collagen is a fibrous protein that makes up about 25%-35% of the protein content of your body. This is what gives everything form, strength, structure and elasticity.  As we age our collagen production goes down.  This is why a teenager has very tight skin but a senior citizen has sagging skin and has developed wrinkles.

Type 1 Collagen under 3 magnifications. (Long fibrils form bands of fibers. Pretty neat.)

About 75% of all your connective tissue (CT) is made up of collagen.

Connective tissue includes…

Antranik’s Recommendation

This is one of those products I’ve actually felt the effects of. I believe it was one of the main reasons why I got rid of my “tennis elbow” completely! (I’ll be writing an article on ways to help get rid of tennis elbow real soon, actually.)  This collagen powder is the good stuff.  It’s cold processed (unprocessed collagen can’t be absorbed) and comes from grass-fed beef.  The reviewers across the board all mention their skin looking more youthful in a matter of days or weeks.

Tip: The directions are to take it on an empty stomach.  Some people think that means it’s best to take it before breakfast.  However, it’s much more ideal to take it in the evening before you sleep so your body can use the protein to recover throughout the night as you sleep to rest.

 

Misconception Alert: There are many expensive cosmetic anti-wrinkle creams on the market containing collagen.  Unfortunately, those do nothing to boost collagen in the skin because it is too large a molecule to be absorbed topically.  To stimulate collagen production it must happen from the inside out, starting with our diet and supplementation!

[/spoiler] [spoiler title="Wait, if collagen is a protein, why can't we just eat meat to get it?" open="0" style="1"] Good question!  Our body breaks down the protein we eat into the individual amino acids that make it up and reassem­bles them into human pro­teins.  There are 20 kinds of amino acids.  Not all amino acids are found in every type of protein.  Our diet consists of a preference for muscle-tissue rather than collagen-containing tissue.  The difference of these tissues are the amino acid profile.  Anytime you have some chicken, beef or fish, you’re eating the muscle of the animal.  Collagen-containing tissues are the non-muscle parts of the animal that you probably don’t eat much of such as organ meat, chicken feet or “head cheese”!  So other than your rare snack of Jello or beef-tendon in your Pho soup, you’re probably not getting much collagen in your system.

The amino acid that is not high in muscle tissue but very high in collagen is called glycine.  Research shows that glycine (the amino acid that makes the most of collagen) is immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory and cytoprotective.  It also seems effective at protecting the stomach mucosa against stress and chemically-induced ulcers.  (Sources: here and here)  There is also some evidence that glycine intake before bed may improve both the quality and efficacy of sleep. (Sources: here and here).  If you would like to read more about this, physiologist Ray Peat explains how our excess consumption of muscle-tissue, laden with tryptophan (the precursor to serotonin) signals the formation of cortisol, a stress-induced hormone.  However, when we balance our amino acid profile with glycine-rich foods (like collagen made from gelatin), it acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter and has many antistress actions.

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2. Vitamin C

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Vitamin C is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues.   You’ve probably also heard that it’s a very powerful antioxidant.  It is also a major component of aiding the immune system during stress.  Stress is something that’s very common in our society and vitamin C is the first nutrient to be depleted in not just stressed people but also alcoholics, smokers, and obese individuals.

Vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid) helps support the creation of collagen we just talked about.  All that “connective tissue” listed above (such as cartilage, skin, etc) needs Vitamin C to stay healthy!

The costal cartilage (red) connects the ribs to the sternum.

Something fun to think about in regards to your lung capacity:

Your ribs don’t attach directly to your sternum (breastbone).  They are connected by bars of cartilage called costal cartilage. You could feel this on your body.  If your cartilage is degrading due to a lack of collagen production (due to lack of dietary supplementation or age), then your rib cage will get smaller. If your rib cage is collapsing, your lungs will have less space to expand in.  Conversely, if the rib cage is properly supported and it’s large, your lungs will have more room to expand.  So, depending on your age, another benefit of all this Vitamin C can possibly be increased lung volume and capacity.

 

Antranik’s Recommendation

We often see vitamin C in tablet form but taking it in the powdered form is the best choice because that has the best bioavailability.  In other words, your body actually absorbs more of it and can use it without it going to waste!  It’s also a good idea to get all the Vitamin C you can from as many different sources as possible.  This means fruits and vegetables.  But it’s just not practical to consume the required servings needed on a consistent basis.  Besides, only 10% to 20% of adults get the recommended 9 servings of fruits and veggies daily!

I recommend this product because this is Vitamin C in the powdered form and it’s pretty inexpensive.  Half a teaspoon of this stuff is 2,500mg (2.5 grams) of Vitamin C.

 

 

 

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3. Multivitamins

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A multivitamin is a MUST to take.  I don’t care how healthy and well-rounded you think you eat.  A study of 3 million people (that’s a huge sample size) revealed that less than 1% of the participants got enough essential vitamins from diet alone. That’s why you must take a multivitamin.

I have sorted through and chosen the following supplements only if they were highly rated in Lyle MacWilliam’s “Nutrisearch Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements” and the MultiVitamin Guide.

All of these recommendations have the methylcobalamin-form of B12 which is the one that can actually be absorbed in your body (as opposed to the cyano-version).

Antranik’s Multivitamin Recommendation for Men and Postmenopausal Women

   
 Life Force Multiple Capsules by Source Naturals ($0.13/cap)  ADAM Superior Mens Multivitamin by NOW Foods  ($0.15/softgel).
This product is extremely comprehensive.  On the bottle it recommends taking two or more per day, but even taking just one seems to do the trick!  Just check out the reviews. This is a very highly rated product as well.  The difference is, this is a gel cap and may be easier to swallow than the Source Naturals capsule.

Antranik’s Multivitamin Recommendation for Pre-Menopausal Women

The main thing that makes a multivitamin different for women of reproductive age is their need for iron because that is their most common nutritional deficiency.  The items above have 6mg of Iron but the one below has 18mg.

Nature Made Multi For Her has 18mg of Iron (100% daily recommended value) and folic acid with excellent reviews.

 

 

 

[/spoiler] [spoiler title="Why do premenopausal women need more Iron than men?" open="0" style="1"]

Iron is a mineral that helps the body make red blood cells. Without enough iron, the body can’t produce the number of red blood cells it needs. This condition, called iron deficiency anemia, is a concern because red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. Without enough red blood cells, body tissues may not be able to get enough oxygen to stay healthy.

  • The most com­mon cause of iron defi­ciency ane­mia is due to blood loss from a woman’s menses, especially if they have heavy flow.
  • Another rea­son for iron defi­ciency is not enough iron in a per­sons diet or a lack of absorption.  This, coupled with the menstrual cycle makes having a supplement with iron a very good idea.

The need for iron goes away once you hit menopause because there is no natural way for the body to get rid of iron without the blood loss from the menstrual cycle.  However, after menopause it’s imperative to take a Calcium supplement and that’s discussed further below.

Tip: Always strive for a well-balanced diet that includes iron-rich foods such as beef and other meats, beans, lentils, iron-fortified cereals, dark green leafy vegetables and dried fruit.  This is the best way to get the iron your body needs.

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4. Fish Oil (Omega 3 Fats)

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Are you taking your fish oil with a meal? You should be. Not only is fish oil supposed to be good for your joints, just like the collagen, but several studies have reported its anti-cancer effects particularly for breast, colon and prostate cancer!  There are even reports that show a positive link between fish oil and mental health (schizophrenia, depression, and so forth).

Antranik’s Recommendations

All of these are purported to be excellent.  They just vary in price (go figure!)

     
 Least expensive version (I take this)  More expensive version  Most expensive version
Nature Made Fish Oil Omega-3 ($0.05/gel)  Carlson Super Omega-3 Fish Oils ($0.14/gel)  Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega ($0.26/gel)

 

ProTip: I don’t experience “fish burps” because I eat it with my meals but if you do, the simple solution is to simply keep the bottle of fish oil in the freezer.

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5. Calcium (especially for menopausal women)

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Cal­cium is a min­eral found in our bones and teeth and is also a coen­zyme needed for mus­cle con­trac­tion. It’s a very necessary supplement for strong, healthy muscles, bones and teeth. You need to take it in combination with magnesium (to prevent the negative side effects of calcium) and vitamin D (to help the body absorb calcium) in order to get the maximum benefit.

To get the maximum benefit, the calcium should also be taken with Vitamin D3 and Magnesium.  Why?

  • Vitamin D: The body needs Vitamin D to absorb calcium.  And magnesium helps prevent the calcium from causing constipation. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D from sunlight, especially in northern climates (or if you are dark-skinned, too).  Vitamin D may also play a role in preventing certain cancers, including colon, uterine, breast and endometrial cancers.
  • Magnesium: Calcium if taken alone can cause constipation, but taking it with magnesium helps prevent that from occurring.
  • Zinc: Many important interactions occur between calcium and zinc but the most interesting part about their connection is that we need calcium to absorb zinc. (Similar to how we need vitamin D to absorb calcium.)  Another way of thinking about this is: If you don’t have enough calcium, you can’t absorb zinc.  But other than its link with calcium, zinc is one of the very few things we have scientific proof for actually reducing the duration of a common cold. (Source here and here)

Antranik’s Recommendation

Kirkland Signature Calcium Citrate has Calcium with Vitamin D3, Magnesium and Zinc all together!!!

 

 

[/spoiler] [spoiler title="Why is calcium especially important for menopausal women?" open="0" style="1"]

Osteoporosis sucks.

Women of menopausal age should get 1,200mg of calcium every day. If you aren’t getting that through the diet, then it’s a good idea to take a supplement that will take care of that. And it’s most likely you aren’t unless you eat lots of dairy. The reason osteoporosis is very common in women is because as women go through menopause, their estrogen decreases. Estrogen is what prevents the calcium from leaving the bone. What causes menopause, is a decline in estrogen, so once they hit menopause, LOTS of bone mass could be (and does become) lost. Unfortunately, as estrogen declines, not only does calcium deplete but absorption from foods decreases as well. A calcium supplement can help slow down this calcium loss.

 

Side Note: While I have your attention, please read about why it’s imperative for women to exercise in their 20′s and 30′s.

Click to see in greater detail (opens in new window)

What makes your bones strong is exercise. Your muscles are connected to your bones with tendons. When the muscles contract, the tendons tug on the bone. When the bone gets tugged on, that sends signals for your bone to strengthen itself. Your bone is living tissue and there is a constant remodeling process going on. If you are a woman in your 20′s and 30′s, it is highly recommended you exercise if you aren’t doing so already! Since your estrogen levels are normal, it prevents a negative calcium balance and you can strengthen bones much better than in old age. This exercise at the young age is what makes the difference between someone developing osteoporosis at the age of 50 versus 100. By the way, osteoporosis affects 55% of Americans aged 50 and above. (80% of these are women!)  So the moral of the story is: EXERCISE!

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And finally, understand why more is NOT better.

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The health benefit of vitamins follows the shape of a bell curve.

Please do NOT take more than the recommended dosages just because you think “more is better.”  This is one of the lessons that Amer­i­cans don’t under­stand.  The body works opti­mally when we have the right amount, noth­ing less or more than nor­mal.

For example:

  • We all need cholesterol because it’s the backbone to all our hormones but too much of it and it may cause heart attacks.
  • We all need salt but too much of it may cause bloating and hypertension.
  • We all need sugar but too much of it and we can ruin our insulin sensitivity and overtime develop diabetes.
  • We all need fat (lipids) because the outer membrane of every cell in your body is made up of a phospholipid bilayer but an excess consumption of it can lead to more adipose tissue.

Similarly, with supplements, you only need a certain amount of it.  A lot of people say, “Who cares, you’ll just piss out the excess.”  But that’s not true.  You could get toxic on vitamins and minerals!

There are water-soluble vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins.  Water soluble vitamins can be excreted by your kidneys.  Vitamins A, D, E and K, however, are fat-soluble vitamins.  They don’t get excreted by your kidneys.  That means they can accumulate in your cells. (Remember that phospholipid bilayer that surrounds your cells?  Fat-soluble vitamins can go through that and into your cells.)  So yes, it’s pos­si­ble to over­dose on VITAMINS by taking too much of them.  They aren’t a joke.

Same thing goes for minerals such as iron.  The body has no way of getting rid of iron.  Women of reproductive age need this because they lose iron when they lose blood during the menstrual cycle.  But again, if someone starts taking too much of it, they can get toxic on it![/spoiler]

Hope you found that insightful and helpful!  Please leave your thoughts and comments below.   And share this with the people you care about.