If you live like a traditional hunter-gatherer, eat only what you forage or catch in an unspoiled wilderness devoid of pollution, are out in the sun and physically active most of the day, sleep 9-10 hours, and don’t experience any of the stresses of modern life, you may be one of the lucky few who won’t need to take supplements because your body and mind would likely be functioning optimally in this natural environment.

Chances are, though, that you are one of the 9 out of 10 Americans who are not getting sufficient amounts of vital nutrients from their diet. You may not be suffering from any overt vitamin or mineral deficiencies, but you’re coasting by, and the effects of these more subtle insufficiencies may not show up until years or decades later in your life.

The quality of the foods we’re eating has been diminished as a result of industrial agriculture and animal husbandry, soil depletion, and processing to “enhance” foods or create entirely new food-like substances. As a result, what we end up eating is often not providing the macro- and micronutrients we need to thrive.

We can probably all agree that nutritional supplements of the various kinds won’t replace healthy whole foods nutrition. So, buckle up and put your main efforts towards optimizing the quality of what you ingest. Eat real food, not too much, mostly vegetables—as author Michael Pollan advises.

I also want to caution you to not get too exasperated by what you read in the press about the waste of money and uselessness of taking nutritional supplements or, conversely, the exaggerated health claims made in advertisements by some of the supplement manufacturers. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to conduct solid research on something as complex and individual as nutritional needs and dietary habits. The so-called gold standard of clinical research, prospective randomized controlled (and blinded) trials, is nearly impossible to create in the realm of human nutrition without introducing some kind of bias that wouldn’t render the results of rather limited use in real life.

Considering the circumstances in which most of my patients here in New York City live, I usually recommend the following vitamins, minerals, nutritional supplements, and botanicals as a baseline supplementation for most relatively healthy people. (Keep in mind that depending on your personal circumstances, including any pharmaceuticals you are taking, your needs may be quite different. It’s worth the effort and expense consulting with a practitioner versed in functional nutrition and medicine.)

1. High-quality multi-vitamin/multi-mineral which should be selected with your age and gender in mind and whether you could be conceiving, are pregnant or nursing.

2. Omega-3 (EPA/DHA), preferably as a fish or krill oil supplement. Most of us are getting too much of the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids from our diet but not enough of anti-inflammatory omega-3 FA’s.

3. Vitamin D3 depending on your actual blood levels (25-hydroxy vitamin D), the appropriate dosage can vary widely.

4. Magnesium glycinate, esp. if you are achy, crampy or don’t sleep well, because most of us are deficient in this mineral involved in over 300 enzymatic processes in the body.

5. B complex containing the different types of B vitamins can help your nervous system and many other important functions in your body. This is particularly useful for you if you’re stressed.

6. Coenzyme Q10 is important for our mitochondria and can help you when your energy is low. It is particularly appropriate for people with heart disease.

7. Alpha-lipoic acid is a fatty acid needed by our cells for energy production. It is also a powerful antioxidant.

8. Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in plants that’s known for its antioxidant and antitumor effects. Drinking a glass of red wine, unfortunately, provides only very little of this natural compound.

9. Curcumin is an extract of the spice turmeric and another potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Like resveratrol, it is not easily absorbed by the body, so consider a form that your body can actually use.

10. Many other botanicals can relieve symptoms, improve digestion, calm the mind, promote better sleep, and support resilience. There are tens of thousands of medicinal herbs. Selecting the right ones for your needs is easier if you work with an experienced clinical herbalist.

11. For some people, certain enzymes and probiotics can be helpful at times, but the best choice depends on your specific health needs and life circumstances.

Most vitamins, minerals, nutraceuticals and botanicals are quite safe when compared with pharmaceutical drugs, but it is important to choose the appropriate supplements from high-quality manufacturers and consume the correct dosage at the right time of day. Any supplements should also be cross-referenced for interactions with pharmaceuticals or contraindications in certain diseases. Not an easy task! So, don’t feel like you should have to figure it all out by yourself. Even your primary care physician may have very limited knowledge of nutrition and supplementation (if any), so work with someone with extensive experience and expertise in this field. It can protect your health and save you a penny.

© 2020 Christiane Siebert