Navigating The Vitamin Aisle
Here’s the vitamin aisle—crowded, confusing, and overwhelming in its promises. Some of these are empty, and some are too powerful to be tested without guidance. After all, what is L-Theanine? Do I need it? And, at what dose? For answers, we decided to turn to frequent goop contributor, Dr. Frank Lipman, who distilled the offerings down to a handful of vitamins and supplements he frequently prescribes. He counts some as no-brainers—and others as little-known trade secrets—but all pack a veritable punch.
We often hear that if you eat well, you shouldn’t need supplements. What’s your take?
“Supplements are essential health-boosters that can help fill in nutritional gaps and protect your body against the occasional diet slip-up. While I recommend everyone eat whole, preferably organic foods, I also believe that high-quality supplements are important as well. While they won’t make up for a bad diet, think of them as your nutritional pit crew, standing at the ready to make those quick adjustments, tweaks and fixes to your internal engines to get you back out on the road.”
Is it possible to take too many vitamins?
“While it is possible to take too many vitamins, it’s extremely rare. One should be careful with fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E and K. Almost all of the vitamins I recommend taking regularly are safe and hard to take too much of. However, because most people are deficient in Vitamin D, and since it’s easily measurable, I do often recommend taking that with the supervision of a doctor.”
The Vitamin & Supplement Key
*Dr. Lipman’s top recommendation for everyday use, covering our most basic health bases.
*Dr. Lipman’s top recommendation for everyday use, covering our most basic health bases.
“Glutathione is one of the most powerful antioxidants our bodies produce. It regulates metabolic processes and is crucial for proper mitochondrial function and energy production. It’s also thought to play an important role in reducing free radicals, clearing heavy metals and supporting immune function, which are all very worthy, health-enhancing pursuits! Chronic illness, over-the-counter medications, long-term toxic exposure, stress and aging can not only deplete stores of glutathione, but also inhibit our ability to produce it. And low glutathione levels have been linked to every major aging process in the human body. So fight back with supplementation – and help keep your energy levels higher, for longer. The good news is that until recently the only way to get glutathione into our bodies efficiently was intravenously — now there is an effective oral form.”
“Alpha-Lipoic Acid is found in every cell of your body. It’s a potent, versatile, antioxidant warrior that helps beat down inflammation, balance those blood-sugar raiders and protect your skin collagen battlements. It boosts the effectiveness of other antioxidants in your body, promotes nerve health, maintains healthy skin, helps remove heavy metals from the body and purifies the liver. Simply put, ALA has your back. Although your body does produce ALA, it doesn’t make large enough quantities, and as with CoQ10, the amount of it produced decreases naturally with age. In order to get enough, consider taking an Alpha-Lipoic Acid supplement and, of course, always eat well. Good sources include grass-fed red meat and organ meats, as well as vegetables like broccoli, collards and spinach”
“Picture B Complex like a beehive, made up of 11 nutrient worker bees, creating and sustaining your body’s energy supply by helping to break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. The busy B’s activities keep heart health and immunity humming and therapeutic doses are also a great treatment for a headache, fatigue, mood, stress and menstrual disorders. With B vitamins involved in so many of the body’s operations, it’s easy to see how coming up short can easily affect how well you feel on a given day, so treating your body to a B Complex supplement is a virtual no-brainer. This is particularly key if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet which might be short on B’s.”
“CoQ10 is an extremely powerful antioxidant that offers amazing benefits for just about everyone. It has virtually endless applications and qualities. It has anti-aging properties, increases energy and can lead to improved cardiovascular and cellular health. In fact, maintaining high CoQ10 levels is so critical, I recommend supplementation to many of my patients, particularly those who are over 40, battling fatigue or dealing with cardiovascular issues. For the over 40 set, I usually suggest starting with 200-400 mg daily for the first four weeks, and then 200 mg a day to maintain healthy levels. If you take statins – the cholesterol lowering drugs – then CoQ10 levels are even more important, as statins can slash them by as much as 40%, leaving you vulnerable to all sorts of problems, especially muscle pains. My advice? If you must take a statin, CoQ10 supplementation is an absolute, health-saving must.”
“Vitamin D is actually a pre-hormone and not a vitamin. But distinctions aside, it functions like the office busy body, involving itself in just about everything. For one, it plays an essential role in the creation of hundreds of disease-preventing proteins and enzymes, and affecting more than 2,000 genes in the body along the way. It enhances muscle strength, builds bone, has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects and bolsters the immune system. If you come up perpetually short, over time, you could be leaving your body vulnerable to scourges like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Here’s the tricky part: it’s virtually impossible to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from food, so you have to get it from supplements and sun exposure.”
“Fish oil supplements are rich in the essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are vital to good health. They support your body’s ability to prevent chronic diseases and help protect it against inflammation. They also promote a stronger immune system; they support cardiovascular, joint and vision health; they strengthen skin, hair, and nails; they enhance nutrient absorption and metabolic function; and they help with attention, mood and memory skills. In short, fish oil is seriously good stuff. As with Vitamin D, you can’t make your own omega-3 fatty acids, so you’ve got to get it from outside sources. Fatty fish and fish oil supplements are your best bets, particularly because many fatty fish are contaminated with mercury and other nasty stuff. Indulge in fish oil supplements instead!”
“Magnesium is a mineral that is responsible for the correct metabolic function of over 350 enzymes in the body. You’ll find it in leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and even dark chocolate. Spinach, pumpkin seeds and black beans are especially high in magnesium too. Still, many of us fall short. So what can magnesium do for you? It will help you unwind, relax aching and tense muscles, keep blood pressure in check and ease constipation.”
“Get to know medium-chain triglycerides oil because it’s an excellent, yet under-the-radar supplement that’s useful for boosting energy and supporting athletic performance, as well as metabolic function and cognitive health. Unlike dietary fats, MCTs are a unique form of fat that need less energy and enzymes to be digested, which makes them a more readily accessed energy source. Better yet, MCTs are burned for energy and don’t get stored as fat in the body. So whether you’re planning to run circles round the competition at the office or on the treadmill, MTC oil is an excellent alternative to sugary “energy” bars, chemical “goos” and performance gels.”
“We have a huge need for protective, health-supporting nutrients to help us combat the daily assault of living in a polluted and stressful world. Think of a multivitamin as a little insurance policy to help protect your body against the vitamin and mineral shortfalls that can occur even in diets that are rich in healthy foods. By gifting your body with a multi, you’ll also be optimizing cellular function, which helps make all your systems work consistently at their peak, instead of sputtering through the day.”
“No doubt you’ve probably seen friends and co-workers with a tall glass of greens in hand – and with good reason. Powdered greens are the easiest way to quickly nourish every system in your body – and help pick up some of the slack if you’re not eating enough greens every day. What’s in them for you? Enhanced immunity; boosted energy levels; better digestion and, depending on the formula, a nice dose of good bacteria for your gut. Beats the pants off a Diet Coke, now doesn’t it? Powdered greens are also full of vitamins and minerals, anti-oxidants, enzymes, phytonutrients and other health-enhancing entities. Better yet, just a scoop a day will deliver the same antioxidant support of three to five servings of fruit and vegetables, so toss a scoop into your morning smoothie and drink up!”
“Probiotics are the naturally occurring ‘good’ bacteria that live in your gut and play a significant role in your total wellness. When you’re healthy, your intestinal tract hosts a battalion of more than 100 trillion friendly bacteria, who spend their days aiding digestion, boosting your immune system and consuming bad bacteria. They manufacture key nutrients and limit the growth of yeast and unhealthy bacteria — and, in their spare time, they also help inhibit bouts of lactose intolerance, poor digestion and diarrhea. But as strong as your belly battalion might be, poor diet, stress, pollution and antibiotic use can wipe out the good guys – so it’s up to you to fortify and repopulate your gut with healthy bacteria. That’s where probiotics come in: a daily dose is a fantastic way to swiftly and significantly improve digestion and strengthen immunity – no prescription required! Side effects are rare, although some people may initially experience some gas and bloating, which usually subsides within a few days.”
“L-theanine supplements are nature’s “chill pills.” Found primarily in tea, L-theanine is an amino acid that helps calm the nervous system. It’s also thought to be the secret to tea’s subtle calming effects despite the caffeination. While it can help improve your quality of sleep, L-theanine is also helpful for reducing anxiety levels. These days, with so many people stressed to the max, it’s an effective, drug-free alternative that enables you to take the edge off anytime the need arises.”
“Turmeric, that wonderful, mild-mannered root that gives curries their yellow color, is the Superman of the spice world. Turmeric root contains curcumin, which helps reduce inflammation. When you stop inflammation in its tracks, a lot of good-things follow, like reductions in pain and fatigue and improvement in mood and cognitive function. Curcumin also interrupts the normal progression of cancer cells and is found in most traditional anti-cancer herbal formulas. If I had to choose one single herb for all possible health needs, I would choose turmeric. It’s a winner.”