Some of the most common questions people ask me include, “Which nutritional supplements do I really need?”, “How much should I take?”, and “What should I look for when choosing a supplement?”. The answers to the first two questions vary depending on the individual, but there are some general guidelines that provide a strong foundation for most people.
Here is a selection of FAQs on hot topics that I have answered recently.
Q: WHAT SUPPLEMENTS DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE “MUST HAVES” FOR MOST PEOPLE?
A: Omega-3 essential fatty acids are a foundation of good health and challenging to come by in our daily diet. These are critical for proper functioning of the cardiovascular system, the brain, and skin, hair, and nails – basically everything! A good-quality fish oil supplement is a very convenient way to get all-important omega-3s on a daily basis.
There is a big difference in the quality of fish oil supplements on the market. High-quality fish oil supplements are purified so they are free of the environmental contaminants found in fish. For people who are allergic to fish or who are following a plant-based diet, algae sourced omega-3 supplements are an option.
An optimal daily dose for most people is approximately 1000–1500 mg total of omega-3s. You may benefit from a little more in the winter time. There is a lot of debate about the ideal ratio of EPA to DHA. Unless there are specific health concerns, I generally recommend a roughly equal ratio of EPA to DHA, leaning a little more toward EPA.
Magnesium is a simple, effective supplement with a myriad of health benefits. I recommend magnesium to almost everyone since it can be challenging to get optimal amounts from diet alone. I tend to favour plain old magnesium citrate. An optimal dose can vary quite a bit per person, ranging from 150 mg per day to 500 mg. People with kidney disease and those taking blood pressure lowering medications need to use caution and consult their doctor before taking a magnesium supplement.
Probiotics are another foundational supplement and a wonderful way to support healthy digestion, immunity, and even mood. They provide strains of beneficial bacteria that aren’t easily found in food.
Q: THE PROBIOTICS CATEGORY IS VERY CROWDED. HOW DO YOU GUIDE SUPPLEMENT SHOPPERS?
A: One thing to be aware of with probiotics is that more isn’t necessarily better. There is a trend toward higher potency formulas, such as 50 or 100 billion, or more, cells per capsule. Those products do have their place. When it comes to daily probiotic support for most people, however, a formula with a wider range of strains (10–12) at lower potency (10–25 billion cfu) is preferable. Individual probiotic strains have unique benefits. Taking very high amounts of one strain won’t provide the benefits of any other strains.
Another popular misconception around probiotics is that they need to be enteric coated. Some strains of beneficial bacteria naturally survive digestion, which is how we obtain probiotics by eating fermented food. The most advanced probiotic supplements use strains that are naturally acid and bile resistant, so an enteric coating is simply unnecessary.
Q: IS SUPPLEMENTING WITH PROBIOTICS BENEFICIAL AND SUPPORTED BY RESEARCH?
A: Definitely. The health-promoting use of probiotic-rich foods and scientifically formulated, well-researched probiotic supplements is supported by a vast body of research. For example, Bifidobacterium longum BB536® stands out as a highly researched and effective probiotic strain. Over 50 published human clinical studies confirm its benefits for gut and immune health, and more. And while the majority of probiotic research is on their gut- and immune-supporting properties, other research is extending beyond this realm and exploring probiotics’ supportive role in cognitive, emotional, and heart health, and more.
When new probiotic research is published and sensationalized headlines make the news, it’s important to not take the findings at face value but rather do a little digging and questioning. I was dismayed recently to come across an article in a prominent popular science journal with a headline that said probiotics don’t help the average healthy person. This is categorically untrue. A 2019 review published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal concluded that probiotic supplements do help the average person in terms of the immune system, digestion, and the vaginal microbiome .
It is also important to note that not all probiotic supplements are created equal. When choosing a probiotic, look for the following:
- Research-supported strains and strengths
- Gastric acid resistance to ensure strains can survive stomach acidity and reach the intestines at full strength; look for strains that are either naturally acid resistant or are protected by an enteric coating
- Potency guaranteed through expiration
- Third-party certified for guaranteed purity and potency, such as though a testing facility like ISURA (visit www.isura.ca)
One final note: Conflicting information about nutritional supplements abounds. That’s why I encourage people to shop at their local health food store where the staff is knowledgeable and can answer questions. This is a one reason why Natural Factors products are sold only in natural health food stores.
 Khalesi S, et. al. A review of probiotic supplementation in healthy adults: helpful or hype? Eur J Clin Nutr. 2019 Jan;73(1):24-37. doi:10.1038/s41430-018-0135-9. Epub 2018 Mar 26.