Many of us associate September with new beginnings – a chance to reset. Not only is it back-to-school time, but there are other transitions too. Summer Fridays, outdoor grilling, and well-earned vacation time may start to draw to a close in preparation for the fall. I often feel like the most productive time of the year is in the period between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.
Transition points are a great excuse to break old habits and create new ones. So as we slide into September, I want to talk about vitamins and supplements – why you might need dietary supplements, how to determine which ones, and then maybe most importantly, how to develop a system to to establish a new habit and keep consistent with them.
What You Need to Know About Vitamins and Supplements
The term “dietary supplements” can include everything from vitamins, minerals, botanicals, and bio-identical products. For this article, we’ll be focusing on the benefits of multivitamins and how to organize yourself so that you are getting optimum benefits from these additional health-enhancing nutrients.
Vitamins and supplements have remained very popular in the U.S. since their inception in the 1940s. One study states that today, one-third of Americans adults still take a daily multivitamin, while other research indicates that those numbers are much higher.
Over-the-counter dietary supplements, including vitamins, are big business. More than 90,000 products generate about $30 billion each year in the United States. A survey of almost 3,500 adults ages 60 and older published Oct. 1, 2017, in The Journal of Nutrition found that 70% use a daily supplement (either a multivitamin or individual vitamin or mineral), 54% take one or two supplements, and 29% take four or more.
Jeffrey Howard Millstein, MD, physician at Penn Internal Medicine Woodbury Heights tells us that, “In addition to a healthy diet, there is evidence that some supplements can benefit your overall well-being with little to no risk.”
In my own practice, as a naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist, I have seen that a majority of patients who come to see me have some form of nutrient deficiency. I identify them through specific blood tests (different from the blood work run in most people’s annual physical) as well as specialized urine panels.
Even when we eat healthy, we might not be getting enough of the vitamins we need, especially when we are under stress. Stress exposure causes our bodies to burn through more nutrients to help us keep up with our daily lives and metabolic needs. Stress also causes us to not digest our food as well and damages both the intestinal cells and the gut bacteria, which means we won’t absorb our nutrients as efficiently, causing depletions along with increased need for nutrients.
For instance, if you are not getting enough exposure to sunlight, you can develop a vitamin D deficiency. If you are following a plant-based diet, it is common to become deficient in iron, B12, folate, and protein in general. Certain amino acids and fats, omega-3 fats in particular, need to come from supplemental sources. If we don’t consume them, we become depleted.
TIP: In most cases vitamins and other dietary supplements will not pose health risks for most people, however, it is important to be cautious and to purchase market-safe, high-quality products. Speak to your healthcare provider (optimally a naturopathic doctor who is educated in clinical nutrition) before taking any supplements.
One additional caution: Before purchasing vitamins and supplements, make certain that you are buying products that are free of the following common allergens: Milk/casein, eggs, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat/gluten, corn, and yeast. Also, check to make sure that the product does not contain artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
Vitamins and Supplements: Which Ones Do You Need?
Listed here are some common vitamins and supplements that may enhance and improve your life and longevity:
Choose vitamin D3 over D2 because vitamin D3 raises your levels more and stays longer in your body than D2. Research also shows that vitamin D3, known as “the sunshine vitamin,” is produced by the body when ultraviolet B sun rays come in contact with the skin. The use of sunscreen hinders this process. Forty-one percent of Americans has mild to severe vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D is beneficial in boosting immunity, reducing inflammation, strengthening bones and muscles, and improving mood. Low levels of vitamin D may cause muscle weakness, depression, and fatigue. Vitamin D can be tested in blood, from a standard lab, as 25-OH vitamin D and the optimal level is between 50 and 80.
Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, and Vitamin B6
Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6 are essential micronutrients that are mainly involved in energy metabolism; they may prevent the occurrence of developmental abnormalities and chronic degenerative and neoplastic diseases.
These vitamins also play a role in DNA production and repair, hormone and cholesterol production, and can act as an antioxidant.
B12 and Folate
The most well-known of all the B vitamins, B12 is a vital nutrient for neurological function, DNA production, and red blood cell development. While folate is needed for the formation of red and white blood cell development, cell growth, and proper cell division.
Most practitioners test B12 and folate in blood tests, but it is important to know that those tests don’t provide the information we need to identify a deficiency or for proper dosing of B12 and folate. The tests that should be ordered are Homocysteine and Methylmalonic acid, which show the metabolism of these B vitamins and indicate whether the dose you are taking is adequate.
Calcium, Magnesium, Selenium, and Zinc
Calcium, magnesium, and zinc are perfect partners in nourishing the nervous system. They also improve other aspects of health including blood sugar regulation, sleep quality, mood, and bone strength.
Magnesium is one of the most commonly deficient nutrients. And it is important for relaxing tight muscles, maintaining optimal nerve and muscle function, processing adrenaline (the stress hormone) and estrogen. It can be tested in blood as RBC magnesium.
It is also possible to measure zinc in blood – as zinc or RBC zinc. Calcium, however, is managed by the hormone PTH in our blood, so calcium levels in the blood are more reflective of your parathyroid function.
Vitamin C and Vitamin E
These two vitamins are a powerhouse of antioxidants. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble nutrient that cannot be stored in the body, so humans need to consume adequate amounts of vitamin C each day. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient.
Vitamin C and vitamin E help the body manage its oxidative stress level. This is important because if the level of oxidative stress gets too high cell damage may occur.
Vitamin E has also shown promise as a preventative to cellular liver damage. Oxidative stress in the liver which elevates the level of two liver enzymes, ALT and AST are often found in people who consume high amounts of alcohol or have a high intake of fatty foods and excess calories. A high dose vitamin E supplement has been shown to reduce clinically elevated levels of ALT and AST compared to placebo.
Vitamin A (including beta carotene) and Vitamin K
Like vitamin E, beta-carotene found in vitamin A is fat-soluble nutrient that protects our lipid membranes. It has been shown to slow down age-related vision loss from macular degeneration.
Without vitamin K, the body cannot produce prothrombin, a clotting factor that is necessary for blood clotting and bone metabolism. Additionally, increased blood levels of vitamin K have been linked with improved episodic memory in older adults.
In one study, healthy individuals over the age of 70 years with the highest blood levels of vitamin K1 had the highest verbal episodic memory performance.
Organizing Your Vitamins and Supplements
In the pursuit of simple, healthy living, I want to review how we can become better organized when it comes to making sure that we consistently take our daily vitamins, nutrient supplements, and medical prescriptions.
My recommendation is that if you take more than four total prescription medications and nutrient supplements, two times a day, you should consider buying a pill/capsule organizer.
People who tend to take multiple supplements, especially those who are trying to boost their immunity, tackle chronic illnesses, or cope with stress will want to look at pill/capsule organizers that are stackable or color-coded.
Specifically, many older adults will benefit from pill/capsule organizers that have a large print and that have, at the very least, a morning/afternoon, or evening delivery system.
Here are a few of my favorite organizers, that I think will help you simplify and improve your chances of consistent consumption:
This delivery system allows you to build and organize your vitamins and supplements based on days of the week with purse or back-pack-sized honeycomb capsules. There’s a handy capacity calculator that can help you determine how much each capsule can hold and the organizers come in fun, modern colors to brighten your day or help you with a morning, afternoon, or evening delivery system.
Weekly Case Medication Reminder
One of my patients swears by this weekly organization system. She loves that larger-sized compartments and the fact that each day can be removed and placed on her desk as a visual reminder to take her supplements, medications, and vitamins throughout the day.
Pantastic 7-Day Pill Case
If you’re looking for something new and motivational, the Pantastic 7-Day Pill Case is a great option as a daily or weekly pill/capsule organizer. Each design includes a punchy little inspirational message, is made with vegan leather, and has an inner plastic case with sparkle-adorned containers.
AIXPI Dose Weekly (7-Day) Pill Organizer, Vitamin and Medicine Box
I help my parents stay organized with a very simple morning and evening prescription/vitamin case similar to the AIXPI weekly 7-day box. The pop-out compartments are easy for a grab and go day and the extra-large storage manages all of their products easily.
I highly recommend this pill/capsule container for people who want a no-fuss, simple approach to organizing their daily meds and supplements.
Flents EZY Dose® Pill and Vitamin Packing System
Creating your own custom packets of daily medication and vitamin organization is simple and affordable with the Flents EZY Dose® Pill and Vitamin Packing System. Pill/Vitamin bags and a battery-operated sealer makes weekly and monthly pill organization effortless.
I recommend this system for people who want an easy-to-open packet that is biodegradable and convenient for transporting to the gym, on vacation, or to events. Also, adults with limited hand mobility through chronic illnesses, like rheumatoid arthritis, can benefit from the perforated tear-open packets.
Vitamins and Supplements: My Recommendations
Taking the right supplements can help us with stress, brain health, and immune support so, I’ve outlined here, my five top recommendations:
- Multi-Vitamin: Make certain that the multi-vitamin with methylfolate found naturally in whole foods. Avoid vitamins with folic acid, as it is a synthetic that most of the population cannot convert efficiently.
- Vitamin D: Critical if vitamin D levels are low because of limited sun exposure. Vitamin D also helps support immune function and so much more.
- Magnesium: This nutrient helps relax muscles and metabolize adrenaline/stress, plus most of us don’t get enough magnesium.
- Probiotic: Stress disrupts important gut bacteria need to support the immune system.
- Omega 3: Healthy fats are critical to support skin and nervous system functions.
My own formulated foundation support packets make it easy to get a multivitamin with active B vitamins (versus many which contain inactive forms of B vitamins), high quality fish oil, vitamin D, probiotics, and magnesium – all of which I consider to be the foundation of health that we don’t seem to get enough of in our busy lives. There is an AM and a PM packet, to make it easy to grab and go without having to think about it.
And, then of course for those who love phone applications there are some great reminder apps to help keep everything on track. I prefer MediSafe, a user-friendly app that sends users medication and refill reminders, provides drug interaction warnings, and helps caregivers manage prescriptions for loved ones.
TIP: I’m often asked what the best time of day is to take a multivitamin. Most often, the time of day is not important. I do suggest taking your multivitamin with food to help with absorption and to minimize stomach discomfort. Also, for optimal calcium absorption, avoid taking at the same time as your multivitamin.
When you spend less time thinking about keeping track of medication, supplements, and vitamins you have more time to live, work, and play while knowing that you are giving your body the best that you can.
As always, wellness wishes to you!
23rd August 2022
 Source: National Institutes of Health, Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/MVMS-HealthProfessional/
 Source: Harvard Health Publishing, Do You Need a Daily Supplement? https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/do-you-need-a-daily-supplement
 Source: Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency and Associated Risk Factors in the US Population (2011-2012) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6075634/
 Source: National Library of Congress, Niacin https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4863271/
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