Food should always be our number one choice for providing our bodies what they need to heal and keep us healthy. However, we don’t always get enough nutrients from the foods we eat even if we eat balanced meals. That’s when supplements come in handy.

For example, most North Americans are deficient in Vitamin D which plays a crucial role in our gut health, overall health, and energy level. The same goes for Magnesium. Only 20-30% of ingested Magnesium from food sources gets absorbed by the body.

Note that if you eat poorly and solely rely on supplements to improve your health, that’s not going to work. Work on improving your food choices as the #1 priority and add supplements. Supplements are for supplementing!

Vitamin D

  • What is it?

Something important to note about Vitamin D is that it is really not a vitamin at all.  Vitamin D is a steroid hormone responsible for maintaining adequate levels of calcium and phosphorus within the body.  Essential for healthy strong bones, muscles, tissues, and teeth. Vitamin D has also been shown to be very important for the immune system and the prevention of certain diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, heart disease, cancer as well as diabetes.

  • How is it produced?

The human body produces Vitamin D in a very particular manner and has one essential ingredient.  This ingredient is sunlight.  The best way to boost Vitamin levels is by spending time outside and exposing as much skin as possible to light from the sun.  The sun’s UV rays will convert compounds found within the skin into pre-vitamin D3 which is eventually converted by the kidneys and liver into Vitamin D3 that can be used by the body.

  • What are the food sources and why supplementing is recommended?

As a fat-soluble hormone, Vitamin D is found in fatty animal products such as eggs, fish, and liver.  Many processed foods have also been fortified with Vitamin D.  These may include milk, margarine, yogurt, cereal, orange juice, and some plant-based milk.  Make sure to check the nutritional information found on the packaging of these foods to see if they contain Vitamin D.  Mushrooms that have been naturally in the sun will also contain some Vitamin D.

Supplementing with Vitamin D is often recommended because it can be difficult for some of us to receive adequate sun exposure and for some excessive sunlight can be dangerous.  Living in colder climates where there may not be as much sunlight during the day, spending less time outdoors, having higher levels of melanin in the skin, using sunscreen – all can affect the amount of Vitamin D that your body can make.  If any of these apply, it is advisable to supplement with a good quality D vitamin.  A deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to poor health, excessive tiredness, and susceptibility to bone fractures and muscle pains.

  • How does it help with weight loss & gut health?

Individuals who are obese are also often Vitamin D deficient.  Research has shown that the body will store excess fat when levels of Vitamin D are low. When there are adequate levels of Vitamin D in the body, the hypothalamus gland will not signal the body to store excess energy in the form of fat. Scientific university studies have also demonstrated that individuals supplementing with Vitamin D while on a dietary weight loss program experienced a greater amount of weight loss than those who did not take the vitamin. 

Low levels of Vitamin D have also been linked to the diagnosis and treatment of many cancers, including colon cancer.  The British Journal of Cancer stated in a recent 2020 scientific paper that those patients supplementing with Vitamin D had a 30% less rate of mortality than those not taking the vitamin.

  • Is there anything we should look out for when choosing the supplements?

There are some important factors to consider when choosing a Vitamin D supplement.  Supplements for Vitamin D are often derived from fatty animal tissue; therefore it is important that the source of the vitamin is free from such environmental contaminants as heavy metals and toxic pollutants.  The supplement should also not contain too many added preservatives, fillers, colorants, or artificial flavorings. Besides looking for a product that is “clean”, it is best to use supplements that are easily absorbed and used by the body.

Omega 3

  • What is it?

Omega- 3’s are a group of fatty acids that are essential to the human body.  They are deemed essential since the body cannot synthesize this nutrient on its own; omega 3 fatty acids need to be taken in from food sources.

There are different types of these essential fatty acids.  Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) both commonly found from fatty animal sources and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) from plant foods.

EPAs and DHAs are both long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids and prominently found in fatty fish.  ALA on the other hand is a short-chain Omega-3 fatty acid found in plants.   Nuts and seeds usually contain the greatest quantities of ALAs. The human body cannot make ALA, it can only be obtained through diet.

Foods containing these essential fats are highly beneficial to the maintenance of good health.  These healthy fats support good cardiovascular health, lower inflammation throughout the entire body, and support brain and nerve function.

  • How is it produced?

Omega 3 fatty acids cannot be produced by the body and need to be derived from food sources.  EPA and DHA are the forms of this essential fat that are readily usable by the body without any kind of conversion.  The human body can synthesize EPA out of the ALA that we receive from plant foods, but it takes a significant amount of ALA to make EPA.  It is possible for our bodies to convert EPA into DHA, however, this process is limited. ALA on the other hand needs to be converted by the body into either EPA or DHA before it is made bioavailable.

  • What are the food sources and why supplementing is recommended?

The best sources of EPAs are found in fish and fish oils.  Some of the most popular choices for fish containing good amounts of omega 3 fats are salmon, sardines, tuna, cod, herring, and mackerel.  For plant-based options, nuts and seeds contain omega-3 fats with flaxseeds, in particular, being high in ALAs.  Other good sources include walnuts, chia, and hemp seeds, as well as soybeans and brussels sprouts.

There is a delicate balance that is best to maintain when taking in fats.  Omega-6 fatty acids are another group of essential fats that we must also obtain from food, and there is an optimal ratio in which these fats should be consumed.  A 1:4 ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats is considered to be the ideal, however standard diets usually contain far more omega-6 fats with a ratio of 1:15.  This imbalance can cause problems and even lead to the formation of disease.  For this reason, a good-quality omega-3 supplement is recommended to ensure a good balance of fats.  A lower ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats is a great tool that can help in the prevention of many common chronic illnesses.

 Good sources of supplement for these EFAs are good quality fish oils.  Make sure to choose a brand that has been purified of many of the common contaminants found in fish.  For those that prefer a vegetarian or vegan option, cold-pressed flaxseed oil can supply good amounts of EFAs as well.

  • How does it help with weight loss & gut health?

Taking inadequate levels of high-quality omega-3 fats can be helpful when following any weight loss program.  Fats in general are quite filling as they take some time to digest.  Healthy fats therefore can support in reducing appetite and even cravings for unhealthy foods.

 A diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids has also been shown to improve the diversity of flora within the gut microbiome. Diverse colonies of bacteria located within the intestines have been shown to significantly affect overall health and well-being – especially when it comes to gut health.  With a healthy make-up of gut bacteria, the less harmful bacteria will be present within the bowels and the less susceptible a person will have to common intestinal disorders and diseases such as excessive bloating and gas, colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and other forms of inflammatory bowel disorders.

  • Is there anything we should look out for when choosing the supplements?

It is always best to purchase high-quality supplements, especially when choosing a fish oil supplement to get your omega 3 fatty acids.  Omega 3 fats are actually very delicate and will spoil when exposed to too much heat.  If the fish oil is highly processed it may be rancid.  The best form of fish oil is one that is in its more stable triglyceride form and contains antioxidants that will protect it from going bad.  This will be far more beneficial to health and easier for the body to process and use as well.

Oils made from plant sources are best when they are cold-pressed and organic.  The best quality oils will also usually come in dark glass bottles to protect the fatty acids that can be susceptible to damage when exposed to too much light.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

  • What is it?

The human digestive tract is full of all kinds of microorganisms, and probiotics are the word used to describe the beneficial bacteria that reside there.  These colonies of good bacteria play an important role in not only digestive health but overall health in general. 

When there is a good population of beneficial microbes in the gut, they will prevent the overgrowth of many other dangerous pathogens.  Many of the “good” bacteria living in the gut will actually make vitamins as well.  Such as vitamin K and various water-soluble B vitamins.

Prebiotics on the other hand is what probiotics feed off of to survive; essentially food for these beneficial microorganisms.  The prebiotics that feeds the beneficial flora comes from the fiber that we consume and cannot digest.  We actually do not have the digestive capacity to fully break down and digest fiber – it is the microbes in our gut that do this for us through the process of fermentation.

  • How is it produced?

Probiotics are not produced but something that we can get from the foods we eat as well as our environment, and prebiotics come exclusively from diet.

  • What are the food sources and why supplementing is recommended?

Probiotics can be found in the many fermented and cultured foods that we eat.  Some good choices include yogurt, kefir, miso, pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, umeboshi, and tempeh.

Prebiotics are essentially fibers and are therefore found in foods containing fiber.  The types of fiber known as prebiotics include inulin, fructooligosaccharides, and galactooligosaccharides.   Some of the foods that contain high amounts of prebiotics include garlic, onions, bananas, dandelion greens, asparagus, chicory root, and Jerusalem artichoke.

  • How does it help with weight loss & gut health?

Probiotics and prebiotics work harmoniously together.  An ample supply of prebiotics will increase the amount of beneficial bacteria colonies found within the digestive tract.  With a healthy ecosystem of beneficial bacteria in the gut, the digestive system will work better and be more capable of digesting and metabolizing the foods consumed.  All of which will support good digestive health and the management of a healthy weight.

 Studies have also been able to show the benefit that high-quality probiotics can have on various digestive disorders, including diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and other inflammatory bowel disorders.[22] Healthy bacteria will support the reduction of all kinds of disease-causing inflammation within both the stomach and bowels.

 Many clinical studies have shown that the type of bacteria contained in the gut can also have a direct influence on weight and weight loss.  Strains of both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have been demonstrated to support weight reduction.  As bacteria are breaking down prebiotics, many short-chain fatty acids are formed that have a beneficial impact on health.  They actually help to metabolize fats and decrease fat storage in the body.  Healthy bacteria will also reduce insulin resistance and can directly influence appetite and food cravings. Diets high in these prebiotic fibers have been well documented and known to support weight loss.

  • Is there anything we should look out for when choosing the supplements?

When choosing a prebiotic supplement it is best to choose one that is of high quality with little to no fillers.  A brand that uses prebiotics coming from food will also be better tolerated by the body than those that may simply mimic what a natural prebiotic would do.

Finding the right probiotic supplement can be slightly more challenging and requires more in-depth research. 

When looking at the label for a probiotic supplement it is important to note 3 specific things, namely the genus, species, and strain of bacteria.  These are critical pieces of information since even a different strain of the same species of bacteria can have different properties and effects on health.  As an example, for Lactobacillus acidophilus CUL-60, the first word Lactobacillus is the gene, acidophilus the species, and CUL- 60 the strain.

It is also important to note just how many probiotics the supplement contains.  This is known as Colony Forming Units or CFU.  When choosing a probiotic, ensure that the CFU number is large enough to be beneficial.

It is also important to choose probiotic strains that are most likely to survive the travel through the gastrointestinal system and form colonies within the gut.  Some of the best strains for this include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bacillus coagulans, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Saccharomyces boulardii, Bacillus subtilis, Lactobacillus plantarum, and, Bacillus clausii.

A good brand of probiotics may also include specific health claims that have been scientifically proven, studied, and reviewed.   The best probiotic brands will be able to make these scientific assertions.[28]

Magnesium Citrate

  • What is it?

Magnesium is a mineral used abundantly by the human body and which many of us are lacking in.  Magnesium in the body is essential to a multitude of biomechanical processes within the human body including energy metabolism and production, the function of the endocrine system, as well as sleep regulation.

Magnesium citrate is made of magnesium molecules bonded to citric acid.  This form of magnesium is one of the most bioavailable sources of magnesium, meaning it is easy for the body to absorb and utilize. 

  • How is it produced?

Magnesium is not produced within the body and must be obtained through diet. 

  • What are the food sources and why supplementing is recommended?

Magnesium is found in almost all whole foods.  Animal products such as fish, meat, and dairy all contain good levels of magnesium.   Leafy green vegetables, herbs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, sea vegetables, and fruits all have magnesium as well.

Magnesium is used abundantly within the body and is needed for virtually every system.  Many of us tend to be deficient in this essential mineral since there are many factors that can influence how much magnesium is needed and how well the body can actually absorb the magnesium that has been consumed.  For instance, drinking coffee or alcohol will increase the amount of magnesium needed by the body.  Eating a diet consisting of large amounts of things like fats, proteins, and oxalic acids can also impede magnesium absorption. For these reasons, although magnesium is found abundantly in food, supplementation is often recommended.

  • How does it help with weight loss & gut health?

With so many functions it is easy to see how essential magnesium is to a healthy digestive system and how it can help maintain healthy body weight.

Poor digestion has been linked to magnesium deficiency so it is best to make sure that you are getting enough to meet all of your needs.  Taken in higher doses, magnesium citrate will have a laxative effect and is often used to treat constipation.

Magnesium supports the regulation of stress hormones and when we are under stress, the body is more likely to hang on to its fat stores thereby making weight loss difficult.  Adequate magnesium levels will also ensure that you have enough energy to stay active, something that is known to keep the pounds off.

  • Is there anything we should look out for when choosing the supplements?

When looking to purchase a magnesium citrate supplement it is best to know the forms that it comes in so that you can choose the one most suitable to your health needs.

Magnesium citrate can be found in the form of a powder supplement.  This powder is mixed with water or juice, making it an ideal form of magnesium to be absorbed easily into the body from the digestive tract.  A powdered magnesium supplement is an ideal choice to correct a deficiency of the mineral.

Magnesium citrate can also be taken in a capsule and will have the same effect as the powder.

Lastly, magnesium citrate supplements also come as a liquid, and it is this form that is recommended when looking to use magnesium as a laxative and stool softener.

Digestive Bitters

  • What is it?

Digestive bitters are foods or herbs that have a bitter taste and activate bitter receptors on the tongue and even throughout the entire body.  Many foods and herbs that have this bitter quality are known to be highly notorious and health-promoting.  Bitters are used medicinally to support strengthening and balancing the entire digestive process.  Bitter herbs stimulate the flow of gastric acids, bile salts, and digestive enzymes needed to properly break down foods.  Bitters also contain compounds that make them a natural diuretic and help decrease things like bloating and water retention in the body.

  • How is it produced?

For bitters to work effectively they need to be taken internally and come in contact with the various bitter receptors contained within the body.

  • What are the food sources and why supplementing is recommended?

Many foods contain these bitter compounds; dark leafy green vegetables for instance.  These can include kale, dandelion greens, brussels sprouts, endives, mustard greens, collard greens, and arugula.  Some fruits, most notably grapefruit, cranberries, and bitter melon, are also notoriously bitter.  Some spices also contain bitter flavors.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger turmeric, chili, and pepper all have bitter properties.  Nuts, coffee beans, and cacao beans are bitter foods as well.

Some of the herbs that are most commonly used as medicinal bitters include burdock root, wormwood, artichoke leaf, dandelion root, chicory root, licorice root, wild cherry bark, black walnut leaf, and sarsaparilla.[33]  These are often made into either a tea or tincture and taken before meals to aid in digestion.

  • How does it help with weight loss & gut health?

Eating bitter foods and taking bitter herbs before meals can help to strengthen overall digestion.  The digestive tract contains bitter receptors and when bitters come in contact with them and those found in the mouth the bitter herbs work on the system in various ways.  Bitters increase hydrochloric acid levels in the stomach which helps to break down proteins, help secrete bile to emulsify fats, and stimulate the release of digestive enzymes needed to break down foods.  All these factors make the digestive process possible, and when foods are properly digested, nutrients can then be better absorbed and assimilated by the body.  When digestion is sluggish, the body becomes obstructed and we may begin to experience both digestive upset and other more serious gut disorders as well as unnecessary weight gain.

Bitters are very nutritious, filled with vitamins, minerals, and a multitude of phytonutrients which can all support healthy weight loss and gut health.  They have a positive influence on the endocrine system and actually help release those hormones responsible for satiation and feelings of fullness when eating; allowing for improved appetite control.

  • Is there anything we should look out for when choosing the supplements?

Digestive bitter supplements are often taken as a tonic and are usually made using alcohol.  The alcohol is used to preserve the product and also to extract the medicinal properties of the bitter plant being used.  If alcohol is not ideal, there is the option to choose herbs made using glycerin instead.

All bitters have a beneficial and strengthening effect on digestion, and all bitters will have additional benefits that would be best to consider when choosing which bitter supplement to take.

For instance, artichoke leaf is a bitter herb that can help to protect the liver.  While herbs such as burdock root are known to cleanse the blood and sarsaparilla and black walnut leaf can also be used to treat skin disorders.  Some herbs will have more soothing and calming properties like licorice root and chamomile.  It may be best to look at the specific ingredients found in a digestive bitter supplement in order to select the one that will be most advantageous

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