In an ideal world, we’d get all the vitamins and minerals we need through the food we eat. But thanks to our hectic lifestyles, a national penchant for processed foods and mineraldepleted soil (even organic produce has fewer nutrients these days), that’s probably not possible for most of us. So we asked integrative doctors, nutritionists and herbalists for their take on how to best supplement the average American diet. Here are the six supplements they say every woman should consider taking:
If you’ve taken antibiotics in recent years, you may have been told to take these “healthy bacteria” to help prevent a yeast infection. But probiotics are crucial in sickness and in health because of their positive impact on the digestive and immune systems, says Bevin Clare, M.S., clinical division chairwoman of the herbal medicine department at the Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, Md. Probiotics enhance the protective barrier of the digestive tract, helping your body digest and absorb food. They also crowd out “bad” bacteria— which can cause disease—and stimulate immunity. “The immune system is bolstered by constant, small challenges,” Clare explains, and probiotics create that helpful challenge.
Take a probiotic capsule once a day. Look for one that has between eight and 20 varieties of live active cultures and contains FOS (fructooligosaccharide), a prebiotic that helps the probiotics thrive in your gut.
Quick tip: To tell if your yogurt has enough live active cultures, put a spoonful into a cup of milk and leave it by a sunny window all day. If there are enough live cultures, it will turn into yogurt.
Often touted for their antiinflammatory benefits, omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for every function in the body because they make up the architecture of almost every cell membrane, says Michael A. Schmidt, Ph.D., who teaches metabolomics at the University of Colorado and wrote Brain-Building Nutrition: How Dietary Fats and Oils Affect Mental, Physical and Emotional Intelligence. “Our skin, eyes, joints, hearts and brains are fed by fatty acids.” Wild salmon and walnuts pack hefty doses, but even if you eat a lot of these foods, it’s still important to take a supplement to help offset the massive amount of omega-6s (the fatty acids found in corn- and oil-based foods) found in the American diet. Ideally, your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 should be 4 to 1; for most of us, it’s as high as 30 to 1.
Take 1,000 to 3,000 milligrams daily, and look for one that contains both EPA and DHA.
Quick tip: To get more omega-3 in your diet, opt for bison over beef; the omega-3 content is greater due to its grass-based diet, and it has less total fat than most meat products.
Stress. It’s something all of us can relate to. But while you might think the effects of feeling frazzled influence just your stiff shoulders and achy neck, stress is taking its toll on your insides as well. “The body has two modes: rest and repair, and fight or flight,” says Clare. “An adaptogen helps your body switch to the rest and repair mode, which is when your body functions ideally.” If you’re dealing with cumulative stress, opt for panax ginseng, which helps restore energy and vitality reserves. If you’re dealing with constant low-grade stress, tulsi (aka holy basil) can help stabilize the release of cortisol, the “stress hormone.”
Take 1,000 milligrams twice a day following meals. Many adaptogens come in tea form, making it easy to work into your diet.
Quick tip: Tulsi can be stimulating and makes a great swap for coffee. If it revs you up too much, opt for ashwaganda, a more calming adaptogen. Take 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams before going to bed.