Even if you're making all your meals from scratch using organic ingredients it's pretty much impossible to get all the nutrients you need from food alone. Over-farming, poor soil conditions, and other agricultural changes have diminished our food quality, plus modern lifestyles tend to demand more nutrients (due to increased levels of stress and exposure to environmental toxins). That's why it's helpful to get a vitamin and mineral boost every day to ensure you're receiving at least trace levels of each nutrient the body needs.
Based on your unique biochemistry you may be more or less deficient in a particular nutrient, but from our research (and the experience of working with clients) we've identified five supplements that almost every woman could benefit from adding to her daily routine. Just a reminder that supplements are meant to be an addition, not a substitution, to a good diet. Finally, our suggestions are based on recommendations made by medical doctors, naturopaths, and other healthcare practitioners, and have been found to be effective and safe. That said, you should always consult with your own practitioner before implementing changes to your healthcare regime.
- A high-quality women's multi-vitamin: Most supplements should be taken on a symptom-based basis, with evaluation of your needs and a personalized recommendation made by a trained holistic practitioner. If you have heavy periods for example, you'll likely need to take a daily iron supplement, or if you suffer from acne you may want a daily zinc supplement. However, taking a good quality multi-vitamin can go a long way to ensuring you are getting at least a basic level of all nutrients. A basic multi with the most absorbable forms of folic acid is especially important for women on hormonal birth control as the pill depletes nutrient stores in the body (see Coming off the Pill). Our three favourite brands of multi are the New Chapter Every Woman Multivitamin, Nutrient 950 and Multi-Encap II (with iron and copper for those who need it). You can purchase both at a 10% discount by setting up an account on our online dispensary.
- Cod Liver Oil: This was once a staple home supplement for children to prevent disease and improve immunity. It's a shame it's no longer considered standard protocol to take this supplement on a daily basis, as we need it more than ever before. Cod liver oil provides a dietary source of vitamin D and A, two fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamin D is usually made in the skin after exposure to sunlight (see below) but tends to be very low in people living in cooler climates, especially since so many of us spend all our waking hours inside at a desk. Vitamin A is also an important nutrient that we tend to not get enough of in our modern diets, and it is also found in cod liver oil. While perhaps best known for its role in eye health, Vitamin A also plays key roles in reproduction and immunity, and may reduce the risk for cervical dysplasia. Cod liver oil is also an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, which are the building blocks of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins (hormone-like compounds in the body) and contribute to proper brain and nervous system function. For more information on Cod Liver Oil and the best brands and where to procure them, check out the Weston A. Price foundation. If you're vegetarian or vegan we'd recommend NutraVege which has a lot of the same benefits as cod liver oil (just be aware that it doesn't have Vitamin A or D).
- Vitamin D: Unless you are getting 25 minutes of full-body sun exposure every day (45 minutes if you have darker skin) then chances are you are deficient (and maybe even extremely deficient) in vitamin D. Vitamin D is an unusual vitamin in that it is also a proto-hormone. It is used as a building block to build other hormones - including your sex hormones. It also plays a key role in immune function and bone health. Because vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin (meaning your body can't just pee it out if you have too much) recommended daily intake suggestions are usually on the low side for safety reasons. However, research now indicates that up to 4000 IU/day is safe and likely that number can go much higher. We recommend asking your doctor to check your levels, or get them checked yourself. You may have to take a very high dose for a number of weeks or months to get your levels up to normal. Most Canadians will find they need to supplement with 3000-5000 IU/day in the winter months. Our favourite brand of vitamin D is D-Mulsion by Genestra (also available at a discount through Healthwave) as it is a liquid formula and makes it easy to increase the dosage without having to pop a bunch of pills.
- Probiotics: While probiotics are an essential part of recovering from taking anti-biotics or coming off the pill, they are also a useful supplement to have around and take on a daily basis. With our food being grown in ever-more controlled situations, and often being irradiated before hitting the grocery stores, it's becoming ever-harder to get enough of the "good" bacteria in our gut. And as mounting research is showing, the gut (or the microbiome as you may hear it called these days) is where everything begins. Disturbed gut flora leads to changes in mood and hormonal expression, among other things. Take daily on an empty stomach, and take extra if you overindulge in foods high in sugar (because those "bad" bacteria love to gorge themselves and reproduce after feeding off those sugars) such as alcohol, pasta, bread, or sugary baked goods. We recommend HMF Forte for those in North America and Opti-Bac for those in the UK or Europe. Foods that will help do the same thing (but usually at a much lower strength) are yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods. Probiotic research is still in the early stages, but there's encouraging evidence that it can help with a range of health concerns (Grain Brain explores the relationships between probiotics and brain health).
- Vitamin C: Known mostly for it's role in immune function, vitamin C is also involved in wound repair and supports the adrenal glands - the glands responsible for responding to stress (to learn more about adrenal fatigue we highly recommend the book, Woman Code, or checking out Alisa Vitti's website). Since we don't know anyone who is not exposed to stress on a daily basis (be it from work, parenting, blood sugar fluctuations, infections, etc.) supplementing with vitamin C on a daily basis is a nice way to support your body's daily task of responding to the pressures around us. There's also some evidence that it can help minimize the effects of air pollution and other environmental toxins, as well as reduce the cardiovascular risks associated with hormonal contraceptives. Vitamin C supplementation is generally very safe, and very high levels are often used in the treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses. Dosages should ideally be spread throughout the day to maximize absorption. Finding vitamin C should be very easy, but if you'd like a whole foods source try acerola berry supplements or Camu Camu berry powder.
If you're keen to add any of the supplements we've suggested into your daily regime, you can pop on over to our online dispensary and set up an account to receive 10% off.
"Effects of N-3 Fatty Acids, EPA v. DHA, on Depressive Symptoms, Quality of Life, Memory and Executive Function in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment: A 6-month Randomised Controlled Trial, British Journal of Nutrition, June 2012." British Journal of Nutrition 107.11 (2012): 1682-693. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.
Murray, Michael T. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. 1st ed. Harmony, 1996. Print.
Pizzorno, Joseph E., Michael T. Murray, and Herb Joiner-Bey. The Clinician's Handbook of Natural Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2008. Print.
Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters and ecosex.ca, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for women seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.