Everything You Need to Know About Supplements

Everything you need to know about supplements

I am constantly getting asked about what supplements to take for wellness or fertility. I’m no expert, so I usually just share what works for me. But I have a friend who actually is something of a supplement expert, so I asked her to answer the most commonly asked questions I get on this topic.

Sarah is an acupuncturist but has also studied functional and integrative medicine and has a Masters of Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine.  I know to some of you that might sound like a bunch of BS, but I’m telling you first hand that this woman has healed me of and helped me with many ailments in the two years, especially anxiety and insomnia. She really knows her stuff, and has been helping me with my supplement routine as well.

Here is what I’m currently taking in terms of supplements:

Morning- Phyto Multivitamin with iron, Klaire Labs Therbiotic, 2x Curcumin, 1x Jarrow Labs NAC, 2x Nordic Naturals Omega-3 fish oil

Evening- 2x Thorne Magnesium Citrite, 1x Thorne Magnesium Glycenate, 1 mg Melatonin, 1 dropper Herb Pharm Lemon Balm

So without further ado, I’ll let Sarah take it away! If you have any specific questions for her, you can ask them below in the comments.

Herbs and supplements can be a really important piece of the health and wellness puzzle, both in treating and managing health symptoms but also in prevention of illness. It’s a confusing world out there, and there is a lot of misinformation circling around the internet! It can get really overwhelming, so my goal is always to help people figure out a plan that optimizes their health without having to take a hundred pills every day.

1. What are the best supplements for women in their 20s and why?

I strongly believe that almost everyone needs to be on a great multi-vitamin. Studies show that the majority of American adults fail to meet the requirements of many vitamins and minerals through their diets, even if they are eating a nutritious, plant-based diet! This is due in part to the quality of our food and the nutrient-deficient soil that our plants are grown in. So while I always advocate getting nutrition through food, adding a multi can only help. I love Metagenics PhytoMulti with Iron because the nutrients are derived from plants, not synthetic like many other brands. Thorne Basic Nutrients 2x day is another great one. 75% of America women are deficient in magnesium, and supplementing it can help with everything from stress to sleep to headaches to constipation.

Magnesium Glycinate is better absorbed by the body, so up to 600mg is the general recommendation, unless constipation is an issues, and then Magnesium Citrate or a combo of the two is your best bet.

Vitamin D is really important for so many functions of the body, so most people should be supplementing 2000iu daily, but with this its very important to know your levels via a blood test- your want to end up in the 50-80ng/ml range, without going too high. There is so much hype about probiotics, and there is still SO much to learn, but getting a high quality probiotic with multiple strains seems to help digestion, immunity, metabolism and even mood.

2. What are the best supplements for women in their 30s and why?

Everything I mentioned above, plus something to combat inflammation like curcumin-based products Thorne Meriva or Pure Encapsulations Curcumasorb. Aging is all about inflammation, so we want to do everything we can to reduce that. Plus these supplements can help reduce chronic pain which can often start to show up in our 30s after a few decades of wear and tear.

Fish Oil is also shown to have anti-inflammatory and heart protective effects, so adding in a great Omega/Fish Oil Supplement can be helpful. Since these years tend to be the child-bearing, child-raising, multi-hat wearing ones, adding in adaptogens for stress support can be really helpful. Ashwagandha is a favorite one for stress and anxiety. For sleep issues, I have found lavela (capsulated lavender) and CBD oil to be incredibly helpful.

3. What do you recommend for supplements for women trying to get pregnant and why?

I recommend that women who are even STARTING to think about getting pregnant get on a great prenatal 3-6 months before they plan on trying. I always say that fertility is a product of overall health and balance, so the months before conception are a really important time to focus on overall health.

Most women have heard that folic acid is an important nutrient for the development of baby’s brain and nervous system, but up to a third of the population may have a genetic mutation that does not allow for absorption of folic acid, so I recommend that ALL women go on a prenatal with the more easy absorbed methyl folate. COQ10 is another supplement that has been shown to increase egg quality, which declines as we age, so that can be helpful for women who are trying to get pregnant. Thorne Basic Prenatal is one of my favorites because it is super clean and contains everything you need in highly absorbable forms.

4. What do you recommend for supplements for pregnant women?

In addition to the prenatal, a daily probiotic is a good idea. A lot of interesting research is coming out showing that probiotics during pregnancy may reduce baby’s risk of developing eczema and allergies, so thats always on the list! DHA and EPA (found in fish oil) are also important for brain development, so taking fish oil can help. I love Metagenics Wellness Essentials for Pregnancy, because it comes with daily vitamin packs that include the prenatal, magnesium, calcium, EPA/DHA and choline.

This one goes a little above and beyond what the basic prenatal offers, and the convenience of having it all in one packet is really nice. Nutrient needs are really high during pregnancy, and common issues like leg cramps, fatigue and constipation can be signs of additional nutrient gaps, so sometimes an additional iron or magnesium supplement is needed as well.

5. What should we look for on a bottle to distinguish between a good and bad brand of vitamins?

This is where things get tricky! Avoid any supplements that use synthetic ingredients, fillers, flavors or food dyes. Vitamins and Minerals coming form plant-based sources (rather than synthetic) will be much more easily absorbed. I stick to brands that have third party testing so that I know that I am actually getting what the bottle says.

Some of the brands I trust are Thorne, Metagenics, Designs for Health, and Pure Encapsulations. These brands all sell direct to practitioners, and are very high quality. You can purchase them through my fullscript dispensary on my website. You can also find some great brands at Whole Foods and supplement stores, but do your research and make sure the brand is reputable. You really do tend to get what you pay for with supplements, and unfortunately some of the cheaper brands are just a waste of your money!

6. Cold and flu season is upon us. What are your favorite supplements to take when you start feeling under the weather?

Prevention is key during cold & flu season, so keeping your immune system strong by getting ample amounts of vitamin C and D can help. I also add in Propolis spray (love Beekeeper’s Naturals) and Reishi mushroom in the fall because its known for its immune-modulating function. These (plus lots of hand-washing!) can really help keep you from getting sick at all, but at the first sign of a cold, I go ginger all the way. Fresh ginger steeped into hot water, and added into cooking, can help fight off a cold because of its anti-viral properties. For flu-like symptoms (achy, fever, etc) I go for elderberry liquid, which is shown to lessen the intensity and duration of the flu.

Note: Sarah and I both give flu shots to our kiddos. I realize there is quite the debate out there about flu shots but just wanted to share my stance. Before having a kid, I had never gotten one myself!

7. Anything else we need to know about supplements?

Do you know the saying “you cant exercise your way out of a crappy diet?” Well, you cant supplement your way out of a crappy diet either. Eating a diet rich in organic vegetables of every color is the best and safest source of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Try to “eat the rainbow” every day by getting in a fruit or vegetable of every color (each color is a different phytonutrient group! Mother Nature is P cool.)

Think of the supplements as just filling the gap that our food sources leave, and an insurance policy for days where you might not eat enough nutrients. Also, If you have digestion issues, its always important to work on those first. For some people, adding in a probiotic can actually make a situation worse if there is an imbalance in gut flora. And if there is inflammation in the gut lining, absorption of vitamins and minerals can be an issue, so that might need to be resolved first.

Another important tip is that if you are starting a whole new supplement regime, start slow and introduce them one at a time, so that you can pinpoint any potential side effects. As ALWAYS, work with a qualified licensed professional to create a plan that works for you, especially if you have specific health concerns.

To setup a supplement consult with Sarah (I highly recommend it!), or to shop her online supplement dispensary, click here.

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  1. Lynette said:

    This is such a great post!! Would a breastfeeding mom follow the pregnant mom reccomendations?

    11.7.18 · Reply
    • Sarah Swanberg said:

      Hi Lynette! Yes, continuing a prenatal and getting a good probiotic are helpful in the postpartum period- I like to keep it simple and only add additional supplements as needed. As always monitor your babe for any changes when you start anything new.

      11.7.18 · Reply
  2. Maddie said:

    Love this post!

    11.7.18 · Reply
    • Sarah Swanberg said:

      Thanks Maddie!

      11.7.18 · Reply
  3. Jen said:

    I would love to hear what her suggestions are for women in their 40’s. Going through perimenopause and menopause.

    Also i would love to hear suggestions for teen girls, teen girl athletes.

    Or her suggestions where to find good resources.

    Great info!!

    11.7.18 · Reply
    • Sarah Swanberg said:

      Hi Jen,

      Id stick with the same recos as the 30s, and then add in things to target any specific perimenopausal symptoms- for some women thats sleep, for others hot flashes, and for the lucky ones: nothing at all! If you want to discuss specific concerns, feel free to set up a consult where we can discuss them.

      I don’t have any specific recommendations for teenagers, but athletes especially at the higher competitive levels need to be very careful about supplement sourcing- they should always have the NSF Certified for Sport – The program certifies that what is on the label is in the bottle and that the product does not contain unsafe levels of contaminants, prohibited substances and masking agents.


      11.7.18 · Reply
  4. Jennifer Ford said:

    What is the best way to go about determining what specific nutrients your body is lacking? Can/Will a regular practicing physician do this? Is it simply determined through bloodwork? Love the ideas behind the post, but I’m looking for a regimen that is a little more targeted toward my personal daily needs! What is the best way to find a functional and integrative practitioner in my area?

    11.7.18 · Reply
    • Sarah Swanberg said:

      Hi Jennifer,
      Yes a regular primary care or integrative doc will be able to test for the basics in their lab work– b12, d, iron are all commonly checked. There are several companies that offer more specific testing (Genova NutraEval for example) but those are typically done by a integrative or functional med doc or practitioner (you can find a list of local ones via ifm.org). Beware of the at-home test kits that you can send out for, as a lot of them aren’t independently verified to be accurate. But keep in mind that testing isn’t always necessary, a lot of nutrient deficiencies can be figured out just by a good symptom and overall wellness analysis, which is what I do in my personalized supplement consults.
      Hope that helps!

      11.7.18 · Reply
  5. Merritt Beck said:

    Thanks for all the tips!

    xx, Merritt
    The Style Scribe

    11.7.18 · Reply
  6. Savannah said:

    Great article! I was wondering if you could give me advice. I had severe restless leg syndrome, leg cramps and Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction during my pregnancy (1st). I ate very healthy, worked out the entire time (had to cut out certain exercises in last trimester that hurt bc of my SPD) & had no other complications, normal natural birth in 4hrs to a 10lb baby. I am incredibly grateful, but am terrified to go through another pregnancy bc my restless leg was THAT bad. It was horrific. My OB is also a functional med dr & I did everything she could think of: supplementing Mag Citrate, C, D, Iron, Potassium. All high quality brands that ran my wallet dry LOL. Also did rolling, stretching, Mag oil, epsom salt baths & compression socks. I could deal with pain but the RLS was the worst. Can you think of anything else that we missed that could help me with that?

    11.7.18 · Reply
    • Sarah Swanberg said:

      Oh wow Savannah, that sounds so rough! The only thing I can think of is trying a different form of magnesium, because citrate isn’t really that well absorbed by the body (I use it only for constipation). I prefer Magnesium Glycinate, and a combo of that plus some calcium is often helpful.. Good luck!

      11.8.18 · Reply
  7. Olivia said:

    Very helpful! Do any of these give an extra boost of calcium? I don’t do much dairy in my diet and have heard straight calcium supplements aren’t that effective. My doctor recently asked about my calcium intake and I know ‘shrinking bones’ runs in the family, so I want to get ahead of it in my mid-30’s!

    11.8.18 · Reply
    • Sarah Swanberg said:

      Hi Olivia,
      There are plenty of food sources of calcium that aren’t dairy- kale, collard greens, almonds and sardines are some of the highest sources. Make sure you are getting plenty of those things!

      11.8.18 · Reply
  8. Lauren said:

    Great post! Can you take all of the above while breastfeeding?

    11.8.18 · Reply
  9. Nicole said:

    This was such a helpful post, thank you for sharing! Xx

    11.13.18 · Reply
  10. Leanne said:

    thank you so much for this post Julia and Hi Sarah, what would you suggest for someone who has had their gallbladder removed?
    i am close to 40 and had the surgery 3 years ago. I really struggle with the weight gain and discomfort the lack of this organ has caused me and welcome all and any advice. Many Thanks

    11.14.18 · Reply