Purchasing every latest and greatest supplement can be more harmful than helpful to your health (not to mention your wallet and shelf space) when it spirals out of control and is rooted in anxiety. A pragmatic and personal conversation with a medical professional can help you simplify, spend wisely, and feel confident about your wellness journey.
Yet again, I find myself in the drugstore supplement aisle. I recently read an article about the benefits of moringa and maca, which led to five more articles touting benefits like hormonal balance, reduced inflammation, and improved fertility. After going down this Internet rabbit hole, I head to Walgreens—my second home where the cashiers know me by name—to purchase a bottle of each, all in the name of better health.
But here’s the thing: My susceptibility to supplements has gotten out of control. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on the most recent superfood that top wellness websites claim is a “must-have” and “smoothie staple.” As I walk home with a heavy purse and an empty wallet, I experience more guilt than empowerment. Though my intention is to take care of myself, my supplement addiction is leaving me feeling helpless, not healthy.
I decide to talk with my doctor to help me simplify my supplement shelves (yes, that’s plural) and put an end to the vicious cycle. What exactly do I need and why?
Pop a probiotic
The first thing my doctor recommended was a daily probiotic supplement. Probiotics are naturally occuring, healthy microorganisms living in the body. In the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, this bacteria aids digestion, produces vitamins, absorbs nutrients, boosts the immune system, reduces inflammation, and more. Plus, probiotics fight and kill any bad bacteria, which can lead to symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or diarrhea.
While a supplement will act as a form of insurance (in case I’m not getting enough probiotics through my diet), consuming probiotic-rich foods like kefir, yogurt, kombucha, or sauerkraut is best for optimal absorption. But it’s tough and unlikely to take in enough through diet alone. While I’m going to actively chow down on these foods, a supplement covers my bases.
This “food first, supplement second” approach is true for all supplements, according to my doctor. Supplements should fill in the gaps in your diet—not be your diet. Instead of loading half of my morning shake with potions and powders, I need to start focusing on real, whole foods.
Don’t forget folic acid
I learned from my doctor that every reproductive-aged woman needs to be getting 400 micrograms of folic acid daily until she reaches menopause. While I’m not planning on becoming pregnant anytime soon, folic acid is important in case of an unplanned pregnancy. Because a baby’s fetal brain and spinal cord are formed within the the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, folic acid is critical to begin taking earlier than conception. If it’s lacking, an infant is more at risk for neural tube defects and conditions like spina bifida. But these are less likely when folic acid is already abundant in the mother’s system.
Though I’m on active birth control, I know I’ll feel more assured by eating folic acid-rich foods like spinach, beans, and citrus fruits, and taking a supplement, just in case of an unexpected pregnancy.
Build strong bones with calcium
I was surprised to find out that most people reach their peak bone mass between the ages of 25 and 30. I’m turning 30 this year, so it’s vital that I give this last year all I’ve got in terms of getting enough calcium. This key mineral supports bone health and prevents diseases like osteoporosis. My doctor recommended that I take between 1,000 and 2,500 milligrams per day through food and supplement support. I’ve now got an excuse to eat even more kale, collard greens, and broccoli—foods I know keep me feeling strong and energized.
Decreasing my daily intake
After surveying my supplement collection, I discovered my daily multivitamin is already providing me with the recommended doses of folic acid (400 micrograms) and calcium (1,000 to 2,500 milligrams). I’m already taking a separate probiotic each day, too.
My doctor added that my other hoarded supplements, including my brand new maca and moringa, wouldn’t hurt my health. But they aren’t necessary either. I decided to keep a few of the supplements that noticeably make me feel better like magnesium, pea protein powder, and zinc. The others, which were purchased out of fear rather than necessity or self-care, got tossed.
Though I discarded over 30 supplements, this doesn’t mean I’m discarding my interest in taking care of my health. In fact, my newfound confidence and sense of control, along with my two daily supplements, indicate the exact opposite.
Note from Nav.it: The last thing we want is to promote the fear-purchase-guilt cycle discussed in this article. Good bacteria, folic acid, and calcium, are what a doctor recommended for the author’s lifestyle. Everyone’s different. And we’re definitely not medical experts! Give your doctor a call or make an appointment to figure out what’s most helpful to your health.