Feeling Confused in the Supplement Aisle? Try These Top 6 Best Supplements to Take for Supporting Overall Health
If you take a stroll down the supplement aisle in your average grocery store or pharmacy in the United States, the vast array of vitamins, minerals, powders, tablets, and pills are bound to bring up some questions — do I need all of these to be healthy? How will these supplements affect my health? Add in the plethora of supplements found online in this day and age, and the confusion can only multiply.
With the global dietary supplement market worth billions of dollars and not expected to slow down any time soon, the options are endless — it’s no longer quite as straightforward as simply popping a morning multivitamin and calling it a day. Suppose you’re one of the three-quarters of Americans reporting that they consume dietary supplements in some form. In that case, it may be time to declutter your supplement cabinet and whittle it down to just the top six types of supplements that can support health, no matter your age.
Top 6 Best Supplements to Take for Supporting Health
While many supplements are targeted for specific conditions or symptoms, a handful of helpful vitamins, minerals, nutrients, or compounds can be more broadly applied to overall health. From probiotics to plant-based polyphenols, here’s our list of the top six supplements linked to supporting general health.
1. There’s Nothing Fishy About Fish Oil
As one of the most well-known and best supplements for heart and cardiovascular health, fish oil is crucial for supporting overall health and vitality. The main beneficial components of fish oil are omega-3 fatty acids. This class of fats is considered ‘essential’ — our bodies cannot produce these beneficial fats on our own, so we need to get them through our diet.
While many other countries and cultures eat fish and seafood regularly, most Americans tend to be relatively low consumers of these omega-3-packed water dwellers. In recent years, this inadequate consumption has led many doctors and researchers to recommend taking fish oil supplements to pick up the slack.
The most studied relationship between fish oil and health involves the cardiovascular system. Many studies have found that the marined-based omega-3 fats EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) can lower the activity and signaling of pro-inflammatory compounds, support healthy artery linings, and help to maintain healthy cholesterol and lipid levels (1).
Other research has reported that marine-based omega-3s help to support healthy cognitive function, body composition, metabolism, muscle mass, skin, and mood (2-4).
2. Vital Vitamin D
Vitamin D has risen to the nutritional spotlight over the past decade or two as researchers have realized how crucial this fat-soluble vitamin is to our overall health. Although vitamin D has been recognized for almost a century for its essential role in supporting bone growth, we now know it is also highly involved in several other aspects of health. Research has found that the so-called ‘sunshine vitamin’ may support a healthy immune response, microbiome, mood, and respiratory function (5-7).
While you can get adequate vitamin D from sunlight exposure, vitamin D deficiency or inadequacy is becoming increasingly prevalent as we spend more time indoors or covered with SPF. Although the statistics can vary, researchers estimate that 40 to 50% of the world is inadequate or deficient in this essential vitamin (8). As only a few foods are high in vitamin D, like fatty fish, fortified milk, and mushrooms, vitamin D supplements are a wise choice to achieve and maintain optimal levels.
3. Mighty Magnesium
From mood to memory to metabolism, magnesium is involved in many of our body and brain’s most essential processes. But the majority of people don’t get nearly enough of this vital mineral from diet alone. As agricultural practices have depleted soil magnesium in recent years, which then reduces the amount found in plant foods, it’s estimated that up to 80% of Americans are lacking or deficient in magnesium.
As our bodies use magnesium as a cofactor in over 300 enzymatic reactions, ranging from DNA and protein synthesis to energy production to immune cell signaling, we must consume adequate amounts of this mineral — either from food or supplements. Magnesium has also been studied for its role in supporting muscle recovery, restful sleep, neuron growth, heart health, and cognitive function (9-10).
To complement your dietary intake of magnesium — which includes nuts, seeds, beans, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, and avocado — supplemental magnesium can be taken in capsule or powder form, applied as a topical cream, or added to the bathtub in the form of magnesium salts.
One caveat to supplemental magnesium is that some forms can act as a laxative — especially magnesium citrate or oxide. If you do not need any extra help in the bathroom, try magnesium threonate or malate.
4. The Power of Probiotics
Probiotics, meaning “for life,” are friendly bacteria that benefit the host (AKA: you!) While there are trillions of bacteria in the gut, the most commonly consumed probiotics come from the genus Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Enterococcus, Streptococcus, Bacillus, or the yeast Saccharomyces.
As the bacteria in our guts are constantly competing with one another for space, adding probiotics to your diet or supplement regimen can help to crowd out an overgrowth of pathogenic and harmful bacteria — a state known as dysbiosis.
Not only does a healthy microbiome benefit our digestion and intestinal function, but research has linked proper gut health to a myriad of other health outcomes, including supporting a healthy immune system, as 70-80% of the body’s immune cells can be found in the gut (11). Plus, a healthy microbiome supports brain health, cognition, a healthy body weight, and metabolic function (12).
While it’s recommended to get probiotics from food — yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods are good sources — many people look to a supplement if they aren’t fans of the ferments. A high-quality probiotic supplement should contain at least 1 billion CFU (colony-forming units) of healthy bacteria per capsule.
5. The Necessity of NAD+ Boosters
NAD+ (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) is a vital coenzyme needed by every cell in the body. However, despite its essentiality, NAD+ levels are known to decline with age or various health conditions. Keeping NAD+ levels elevated is thought to slow down the aging process and support the health of our cells and organs with each passing year.
Two common supplements that boost NAD+ levels are NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide) and NR (nicotinamide riboside), which are precursors to this essential cofactor. Although human studies are still in their infancy, the available cell- and animal-based research on NMN and NR appears promising for supporting healthy aging, longevity, metabolic function, and heart health (13-16).
6. The ABCs of Antioxidants
Lastly, certain antioxidants can play a vital role in maintaining overall health. Antioxidants help fight oxidative stress — a buildup of inflammatory compounds called free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can damage cells, proteins, and DNA. Many researchers believe that increased oxidative stress is a leading cause of aging and age-related dysfunction (17).
However, not all antioxidants are recommended to be taken in supplement form, but rather, are advised to get through food only —these include beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E. Conversely, several other antioxidants, mostly in the form of plant-based compounds called polyphenols, are linked to supporting overall health. While it’s certainly not necessary to consume all of these supplements, this list provides you with some of the top-studied antioxidant compounds.
- Trans-resveratrol — a compound found in several foods, including red grapes and wine, cocoa, peanuts, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries. This polyphenolic compound provides strong antioxidant action and supports a healthy inflammatory response (18).
- Curcumin — the active compound found in the spice turmeric, curcumin is a potent antioxidant studied for its role in supporting cognition, joint health, and a healthy immune and inflammatory response (19).
- Sulforaphane — found in the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, sulforaphane supports health by acting as an antioxidant, participating in detoxification, maintaining healthy blood sugar, and possibly supporting longevity (20).
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) — NAC is a supplemental form of the amino acid cysteine necessary to generate and replenish glutathione stores — our body’s master antioxidant. NAC also works as an antioxidant on its own by scavenging for free radicals (21).
- While there are hundreds, if not thousands, of dietary supplements to consider to support health, not everybody needs to take a cabinet-full of these compounds.
- Nutrients that are linked to general health support include vitamin D, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, or fish oil.
- Groups of compounds that may support overall health include probiotics, NAD+ boosters like NMN or NR, and certain antioxidants, including resveratrol, curcumin, sulforaphane, NAC, and glutathione.
- Before starting any new supplement regimen, be sure to consult your doctor or health care provider.
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- Troesch B, Eggersdorfer M, Laviano A, et al. Expert Opinion on Benefits of Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids (DHA and EPA) in Aging and Clinical Nutrition. Nutrients. 2020;12(9):2555. Published 2020 Aug 24. doi:10.3390/nu12092555
- Larrieu T, Layé S. Food for Mood: Relevance of Nutritional Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Front Physiol. 2018;9:1047. Published 2018 Aug 6. doi:10.3389/fphys.2018.01047
- Balić A, Vlašić D, Žužul K, Marinović B, Bukvić Mokos Z. Omega-3 Versus Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids for Skin Health. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(3):741. Published 2020 Jan 23. doi:10.3390/ijms21030741
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- Vitamin D. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
- Sassi F, Tamone C, D'Amelio P. Vitamin D: Nutrient, Hormone, and Immunomodulator. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1656. Published 2018 Nov 3. doi:10.3390/nu10111656
- Liu X, Baylin A, Levy PD. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency among US adults: prevalence, predictors and clinical implications. Br J Nutr. 2018;119(8):928-936. doi:10.1017/S0007114518000491
- Al Alawi AM, Majoni SW, Falhammar H. Magnesium and Human Health: Perspectives and Research Directions. Int J Endocrinol. 2018;2018:9041694. Published 2018 Apr 16. doi:10.1155/2018/9041694
- Cao Y, Zhen S, Taylor AW, Appleton S, Atlantis E, Shi Z. Magnesium Intake and Sleep: Findings from the Jiangsu Nutrition Study of Chinese Adults at Five-Year Follow-Up. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1354. Published 2018 Sep 21. doi:10.3390/nu10101354
- Zhang CX, Wang HY, Chen TX. Interactions between Intestinal Microflora/Probiotics and the Immune System. Biomed Res Int. 2019;2019:6764919. doi:10.1155/2019/6764919
- Markowiak P, Śliżewska K. Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients. 2017;9(9):1021. doi:10.3390/nu9091021
- Mills KF, Yoshida S, Stein LR, et al. Long-Term Administration of Nicotinamide Mononucleotide Mitigates Age-Associated Physiological Decline in Mice. Cell Metab. 2016;24(6):795–806. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2016.09.013
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