Ease me into the world of supplements
March 2, 2019 11:39 AM   Subscribe

What supplements do you take and why?

I'm a generally healthy female in my early 40s and would like to improve a few specific areas of my life. I'm wondering if vitamins/nutritional supplements can help me -- but there's so much out there! Help me decide, please.

First of all, my doctor told me most vitamins cannot be absorbed by the body so are basically pointless to take. He advised me to take only Vitamin D because it's the only one that's been shown to have any measurable effect on long-term health. But it seems many people have success with supplements (and I do believe in the placebo effect) so...I'm willing to ignore that advice for now. Thoughts on this are welcome though.

Here are the things I'd love to improve:
- sleep (magnesium? sleepytime tea? )
- nail health (biotin?)
- body odour (the standard armpit kind)

Am also open to learning about supplements that might contribute to my overall health (fish oil? antioxidants?). I have a pretty healthy diet, don't smoke or drink, and have regular physicals/no known vitamin deficiencies. Exercise is on the list of things I'm working on.

Can/should I take supplements? If so which ones, how much, and how often?
posted by yawper to Health & Fitness (47 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
A doctor recommended Jigsaw magnesium supplements to my wife and I. They are in a form that can be absorbed by the body and release over a period of hours, avoiding the laxative effect. I take Vitamin D (the Sports Research version with coconut oil) since I live in Seattle and am indoors a lot. My wife's D was actually low and this supplement fixed that right up.

I also take 5-HTP for mild winter blahs (also helps with sugar cravings), DHEA because I'm fifty, and glucosamine and collagen because I'm fifty. Multivitamin (generic Centrum clone from whatever store is having a BOGO when I run out). I sometimes take or try other things but those the main ones I've found to have benefit.
posted by kindall at 11:56 AM on March 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't take any supplements because I have a well-rounded diet and no medical conditions that would indicate them. I also don't like supporting what I think is a fairly deceptive industry: one that is not properly regulated, that has a history of fighting regulation with fear-mongering tactics, and one that pushes its pseudoscientific exhortations to buy its products as far as possible without getting slapped by regulations. The idea that most healthy people need to take regular supplements is is down to persistent, effective marketing.

There is no guarantee that your supplements will even contain the ingredients they claim to. That's back to the lack of proper regulation...

But it seems many people have success with supplements

Sure, many people feel that they have success with supplements. But cognitive biases are real; there's a reason that anecdotal evidence is not generally accepted as scientific medical evidence. People naturally look for patterns, even when events may not be linked (like feeling better after taking a supplement), or they might be experiencing the placebo effect, or they might just want to believe that they are being duped.

I suggest that you only take supplements if your doctor suggests it, or if you find sound medical research that suggests it might address a problem you have. Not because of someone's personal anecdote about how it helped them.

Supplements can be helpful in some cases, but you should follow-up on suggestions with research into their actual effectiveness.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:02 PM on March 2, 2019 [44 favorites]

I am one of those "only take Vitamin D because that's what my doctor said" people. But! I was on antibiotics recently to deal with some sinus crud and they suggested "probiotics, not just yogurt" (I eat yogurt pretty regularly anyhow). I said "Bah!" and just ate my yogurt and my stomach was a MESS for two days until I started taking some probiotics, just regular drug store brand, and my stomach was fixed immediately. And not just fixed but better than it was before. I've always had a sort of iffy stomach but I just assumed that was... how stomachs worked. And now I'm just like "Probiotics where have you been all my life?" so I am going to try taking them after the antibiotics are done with, see if I see any benefit.
posted by jessamyn at 12:10 PM on March 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

Fish oil (heard it's good for mood and general health), vitamin D (for SAD prevention/maintenance), tumeric (advised by sports surgeon for knee pain- osteoarthritis), vitamin B (stress and because worried diet isn't meaty enough) and some random other ones. Bought magnesium for sleeping and leg pain/cramps but the pills were too big to swallow....
posted by bquarters at 12:24 PM on March 2, 2019

I pop a B complex tablet or two every evening to help me sleep. Supposed to encourage melatonin production. Seems to work for me!
posted by notyou at 12:38 PM on March 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

A vet tech told my friend to take turmeric with black pepper because it'll be more bioavailable or something.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:41 PM on March 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have successfully used magnesium as alternative to prescription muscle relaxant
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:41 PM on March 2, 2019

I don't have a good answer to your overall questions but because you specifically mention biotin for nails, make sure you have an affirmative recommendation that you need this. And if you do, be careful. The mega doses of biotin being recommended for hair and nails lately can cause spurious results on *many* lab tests. And doctors who order those tests are often underwhelmingly knowledgeable about it. https://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices/safety/alertsandnotices/ucm586505.htm
posted by Tandem Affinity at 12:43 PM on March 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I just started taking this collagen every day and I feel INCREDIBLE. Also: bonus goodness for hair and nails. Dissolve it in hot water and then let it cool and add lemonade or something for taste, or make hot/ice tea out of it and then drink.

For underarms: I use coconut oil to keep my underarm skin hydrated and then use this natural deodorant (it's the only one that has ever worked for me).

And for sleepy time, I recommend low-yellow-light and reading a book (only a book! no magazines or surfing the web) before bed. Calms the mind.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 12:44 PM on March 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I take fish oil, vitamin B, vitamin D, and an iron supplement (I like Floradix). My doctor approves, and we've found that me taking these particular supplements has made it possible to reduce my antidepressant dosage by half.
posted by Lexica at 12:46 PM on March 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Last month I bought something called "smartypits" that's supposed to be a prebiotic to encourage nonstank bacteria to colonize your armpits. It seems to maaaybe work?
posted by Don Pepino at 12:48 PM on March 2, 2019

I take Vitamin D because it has solid science behind it. I take B-complex and folic acid because I have a B12 deficiency, and I supplement with injectables.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:00 PM on March 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I used to work on the retail side of the natural foods/supplements industry. I went in pretty supplement agnostic and came out a hard supplement skeptic. The industry is not regulated at all, and they lobby hard to keep it that way (Orrin Hatch is their bff in Congress). You really just have to take the company's word for what's in the pills, and I met very few supplement sales reps that I would take the word of about the color of the sky let alone the ingredients in their product.

I avoid them unless I have a specific health concern and have discussed using supplements with a medical doctor and/or scrutinized pubmed for actual evidence of efficacy.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:02 PM on March 2, 2019 [20 favorites]

Ooh! Let me tell you about this amazing shit.

Forget biotin for nail health. What you want is JarroSil or its competitor, Biosil. This is liquid silica, or horsetail. Jarrosil is cheaper, but requires twice the number of drops as Biosil, so in terms of cost per dose, they’re pretty equal.

You put 10 drops in a glass of water or juice (not in coffee or dairy, it solidifies) and drink it. The taste isn’t very good in water, but I personally can’t taste it in juice. It will make your skin, hair and nails look fantastic. It’s cheap, a bottle lasts months, and it’s very effective.

Otherwise, I take calcium (as required by doctor), a super B complex, zinc, vitamin A, a probiotic, vitamin D and iron. My personal experience is that with the probiotic, I can eat a lot more fruits and vegetables within a short time period, without becoming bloated and uncomfortable like I used to. Calcium, D and iron all have proven benefits. And coincidence or not, I added vitamin A and zinc to the list two years ago, and I haven’t caught a cold or flu since—and that includes being around a lot of actively contagious people in close quarters.

I also took magnesium citrate for stress relief and muscle relaxing properties, and I felt that it did make me feel a lot better.

For sleep, I get best results with a 5mg melatonin tablet a couple hours before bed (Natrol brand) and especially when I practice good screen discipline, e.g. no screens after 8pm. I have a tendency to wake up easily and then not be able to get back to sleep, so this allows me to sleep deeply and without waking for a full 7-8 hours.

I get melatonin and calcium at Costco, and the others at Vitamin Shoppe; their prices are good, their store brand is good quality, and they frequently have sales. I typically buy Jarrosil on Amazon.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:10 PM on March 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

I take B12 because I’m vegan, but it’s actually recommended for everyone over 50. I also take D. And I take a number of things I’ve researched because I have cancer.

But it’s absolutely true that caution is warranted. One study of lung cancer patients had to be stopped because those taking beta-carotine ended up having a higher mortality rate. Even years after stopping the supplement, the higher mortality rate continues for those people. A vitamin or mineral in a food is accompanied by hundreds if not thousands of other elements. We don’t really know how those elements interact with each other. So taking any supplement is a risk.
posted by FencingGal at 1:11 PM on March 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Berkeley Wellness Letter does regular updates and rundowns of supplements as studies emerge or certain things get increased media attention. Their advice typically boils down to a variant on "Yes, your body needs this to do X, and a healthy diet should include it, but here's some food you can eat to get some in your diet. More isn't better in most cases. In some cases, supplement Y has resulted in increased cancer rates in a study group. More study is needed."

See, for example, "Some Fish Oil Claims are Fishy":

Studies on fish and fish oil (omega-3) supplements have made news. Most of these were large well-designed clinical trials, which are few and far between in the world of dietary supplements. The results were mostly disappointing.

Here are their General pointers:
  • Large, long-term, well-designed clinical trials are lacking for most dietary supple­ments (with some exceptions, such as vita­mins and minerals). The great majority of studies on supplements have been small, short, or poorly designed, and results are generally inconsistent.
  • Just because supplements are sold without a prescription, are often touted as "natural," and come with no warnings on their labels, that doesn’t mean they are safe. Adverse effects are seldom reported, so safety remains a ques­tion. Supplements can have a powerful and unpredictable impact on the body, possibly affecting blood sugar, blood clotting, blood pressure, hormone activity, liver function, and more. What’s more, many supple­ments (particularly herbs) can interact with prescription or OTC medications.If you experience side effects from a sup­plement, report it to the FDA as well as to your health care provider. You can file a report at MedWatch.
  • The bottles may not even contain what the labels say. Over the years there have been numerous reports of products with much less, or more, than what's listed on the labels. Worse yet, supplements have been found to contain undisclosed pre­scription drugs as well as contaminants. Herbs are especially problematic because they are very complicated chemically. They can vary greatly in their composition, and it’s often not clear which compounds pro­duce the proposed effects, making herbal preparations hard to standardize. Manu­facturers are supposed to follow "good manufacturing practices" to ensure iden­tity, purity, and composition of their prod­ucts, but are largely self-policing since the FDA lacks the resources to fully monitor compliance. There are private watchdogs, notably ConsumerLab.com and USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia), which analyze and certify supplements, but these are limited in scope and don't address the bigger questions: Are the products safe and do they work as claimed?
  • If you have a medical condition or are about to have surgery, tell your health care provider if you are taking any supplements. Better yet, discuss them before you start taking them. Don't rely on supplements to self-treat a serious health problem. In par­ticular, don't substitute a supplement for medication you have been prescribed.
  • Pregnant or nursing women should avoid most supplements, except as advised by their health care providers. The same goes for children.
  • Supplements can't substitute for a good diet or cancel out the effects of bad habits like smoking or not exercising.
  • Don't be swayed by anecdotal evi­dence about supplements and celebrity endorsements, often found on the Internet. Testimonials are meaningless.
  • Be wary of anti-aging claims. So far there is no supplement, medication, or other substance that will stop or slow the aging process.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:16 PM on March 2, 2019 [10 favorites]

I also take Vitamin D, because two of my doctors told me to take it. However, I'm now less convinced that it's useful.
Vitamin D supplementation has failed spectacularly in clinical trials. Five years ago, researchers were already warning that it showed zero benefit, and the evidence has only grown stronger. In November, one of the largest and most rigorous trials of the vitamin ever conducted—in which 25,871 participants received high doses for five years—found no impact on cancer, heart disease, or stroke.
For more info, see Is Sunscreen the New Margarine? Current guidelines for sun exposure are unhealthy and unscientific, controversial new research suggests—and quite possibly even racist. How did we get it so wrong?
posted by Winnie the Proust at 1:21 PM on March 2, 2019 [8 favorites]

Yeah, most people who don't work outdoors should probably take vitamin D. Seconding horsetail for nails and hair. I also take a probiotic religiously because it's the difference between actual mostly-working digestion and every little bit of nuts and onion setting off my IBS. Beyond that, my doctors actually recommended milk thistle pills for my liver's tendency towards wonky results. Some of the herbal calming pills actually work, too - the one that's my go-to for panic attacks is a combination of valerian root, purple passionflower and hops.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:51 PM on March 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Vitamin D3, because I’ve been deficient (and although I’ve seen Winnie the Proust’s links, access to sunshine where I live is minimal most of the year so I’m not sure what alternatives might be :/ but supplements did bring levels up and help with fatigue). Magnesium for sleep (nights), iron in the morning (tested on the low side of normal, apparently you want ferritin at 80 for women and I can never crack 40). Psyllium husk to help with IBS symptoms, and in case my super quick digestion isn’t helping with nutritional issues. B complex with C sometimes, for energy.

Examine.com is the resource I’ve been pointed to most often.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:54 PM on March 2, 2019

I take folic acid because I am planning to try to get pregnant in the next six months and my doctor recommends it for people who may become pregnant (as does most of what I've read about it).
posted by abeja bicicleta at 2:01 PM on March 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Natural Calm is a magnesium powder that I will occasionally take an hour before bed, and the relaxed sensation I get from that is REAL. My muscles actually twitch into relaxation. Screw fish oil, get Udo's 369 in gel tab form (you can also purchase it as an oil to drizzle onto foods/blend but i take it less frequently this way, its a balanced omega formulation of omega 3,6, & 9. Fish oil gets rancid. My dr also suggested co q10 b/c there's research behind the myriad of benefits. Jarrow for probiotics.

Supplements can be a scam, but your local health food store should have a vetted selection. I used to be in the camp of "i eat a healthy diet, I don't need them" but my dr actually told me to take them b/c of the way foods are now factory farmed, the soil is depleted of nutrients so our food is depleted of nutrients. I can afford to purchase these items, so I do. They would be the first to go though should I needed to trim my budget.
posted by vividvoltage at 2:35 PM on March 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Although I found that black cohosh can really help with hot flashes, it's hit-or-miss whether any particular batch/brand of black cohosh actually contains black cohosh. Otherwise, I take a multi-vitamin (a generic version of Centrum, to be precise) most every day. Every time I decide I don't really need it, I find that I start feeling a bit rundown after two weeks or so. For me, that's enough proof that a multivitamin is worthwhile even with a pretty well-balanced and healthy diet.
posted by DrGail at 2:37 PM on March 2, 2019

If you do try melatonin, I've read that small doses (e.g. 0.3 mg) are more effective than larger. I have also read that there isn't evidence that melatonin is safe to take long-term. I do like magnesium for relaxation.
posted by pinochiette at 2:37 PM on March 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm a doctor

1) Don't believe, much less pay good money for, any product or process associated with any of these words


Supplement manufacturers don't practice truth in advertising

2) Out of the hundreds if not thousands of unique supplements sold at your average GNC, only four have science solidly behind them:

Vitamin D
Fish Liver Oil
Whey Protein
posted by BadgerDoctor at 2:50 PM on March 2, 2019 [22 favorites]

Here's a decent visualization with links to supporting studies. Supplements are sorted by strength of evidence, and there's a bunch of filtering options.
posted by Tzarius at 2:56 PM on March 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

To add to BadgerDoctor's list: B12

Many people, including myself, are low in B12, and having healthy levels of B12 is essential for feeling good and maintaining optimal health. It is easy to do a blood test for it.

I use the Japanese guideline of aiming for 550 pg/ml (400pM) as a minimum rather than the North American 200 pg/ml (145 pM) minimum. It does help with both sleep, nail health, skin, energy, cognition, mood and a zillion other things. B12. Super important to have this checked.
posted by nanook at 3:07 PM on March 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

The supplement industry is ridiculously unregulated in the US. Most doctors and legit health news sources say supplements are not needed. If you take any, be sure they have the USP Verified certification from US Pharmacopeia. Some crappy supplements have been found to have very bad ingredients that cause harm, or inert crap like sawdust.

My doctor recommends: Vit. D, 1 baby aspirin/ day.

I get muscle cramps if my magnesium is low, so I make muffins with walnuts and dried apricots. I use whole wheat, add bran, flaxseed, 1/2 can pumpkin, probably a bit more sugar and oil than Bittman says, and I sub OJ or apple cider for the milk.

I saw a doctor talking about Vit. B12 and it seemed to hit a lot of my issues, esp. fatigue, so I eat red meat 2xweek.
posted by theora55 at 3:18 PM on March 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Just to counter a comment above, when I took my B supplements at night I had terrible insomnia. Now I take them upon waking; sleeping issues backed down to what they were before taking the B at night.

If you choose to take B, it is said that the methyl- form is more bioavailable than the cyano- form. This is why women who are trying to get pregnant are recommended to take folate as opposed to folic acid.

If you choose to take vitamin C, I'm told that there has been some research that Camu Camu is more bioavailable than standard OTC vitamin C, but I've only heard that recently and haven't had a chance to do my own research so I dont have cites. You might consider it worth looking into.

I'm not a fan of the dismissive statement "manufacturers can say whatever they want " because that's true of any manufacturer and it's a scare tactic frequently and heavily employed with regard to supplements by big pharma. This argument has also been widely used in the movement against medical MJ and CBD oil, but people who have used those supplements report positive effects. Yes, you can ask on a site like this in order to narrow down what questions to ask and what criteria to use to make your decision; use your best judgment and do what is best for you, don't let a self-appointed authority figure with a financial incentive to get you on prescriptions talk you out of taking care of yourself.
posted by vignettist at 3:25 PM on March 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

I hate supporting the supplements industry, but there are some things for which I need to.

I thought about taking biotin for my nails, but was dissuaded by the possible risk of increasing acne on my face. I decided I'd rather have bad nails.

I take magnesium malate at bedtime, because I have a condition that makes it more difficult to relax my muscles and maybe magnesium helps me with it, and maybe it reduces my migraines a bit. NOT the time-release form, because magnesium makes me sleepy and the time-release form kicks in at some random time the next day when I really don't need to be sleepy. I avoid magnesium oxide because it obviously doesn't work, presumably because it's absorbed so poorly. Magnesium citrate's okay. Don't ever take more than 100% of the RDA for magnesium in pill form, every day, long-term; there are no risks with eating any amount of high-magnesium foods, but exceeding the recommended daily intake in pill form does have some possible risks.

I take large doses of fish oil, three grams a day of EPA and DHA, which is ten capsules, for a painful autoimmune condition in my eyes. It really does help with that. I wouldn't take that much if I didn't need to. It's not risk-free, though my dosage is within the GRAS limit. But I do give one capsule a day to a family member who has trouble with depression, because a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids is thought to make depression worse, and their diet is not nearly as good as it should be. I also try to make sure they take a multivitamin every day. Most people with GOOD DIETS don't need to take a multivitamin, but their diet is so bad I swear they'd be at high risk for scurvy without it, and it's easier to convince someone else to take a pill than to eat all the healthy foods they don't want to eat.

I take 500 micrograms of vitamin B12 every day because my endocrinologist wants me to. I used to take 2000 micrograms per day, as an alternative to the shots or nasal spray she recommended, and the blood tests showed that this worked just fine for me, and at such a lower expense and amount of bother! But now I think my B12 deficiency was probably caused by the fact that I had been taking a proton pump inhibitor, Prevacid, since I've been able to reduce my dosage without having my blood tests get bad again, now that I rarely have to take Prevacid.

I take calcium carbonate in the form of TUMS when I need to for reflux, but I worry about the evidence that calcium supplements may increase the risk of hardening of the arteries.

I take 5000 IU of vitamin D per day because that's the amount that makes my blood tests look good to my endocrinologist. It's more than anyone should take without regular blood tests showing that it's okay. I didn't notice feeling any different after I started taking it.

I take six 750-milligram capsules of potassium, extended release, every day. These are by prescription only, and for good reason, because that amount could potentially be fatal after a while for someone who didn't need to do so. No idea why I can't get by on a normal level of potassium, but even with that, plus a high-potassium diet, my levels tend to be on the low side. Don't ever bother to buy over-the-counter potassium pills, because they contain far less potassium than you can easily get in a few mouthfuls of many different common foods. The pills are strictly a matter for medical supervision.
posted by chromium at 3:42 PM on March 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

There have been hints that supplemental antioxidants (vitamins C and E, specifically) may negate the diabetes-fighting benefits of exercise (secondhand cite, which includes a link to the original paper). I don't know of anything more recent than 2009, and it was a small study, so it may or may not be true, but it might be good to make a point of looking for more recent information before taking them.

I have been taking doctor-recommended vitamin D supplements since this AskMe and have noticed improvements in my mood and anxiety levels. I'm agnostic about whether there was a cause / effect relationship, in part because February/March is normally a good time of year for me anyway, and in part because lots of unusual good and bad things have been happening to me, so I don't know how much effect the vitamin D is having or in which direction. All I can say is that it has not made me feel drastically worse.

I took St. John's Wort for depression for a few years. Pretty sure it was just an expensive placebo in my case, which I am bitter about.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 3:56 PM on March 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I take a big ol' spoonful (YUM!) of cod liver oil on the regular, because up here it's just What You Do. (Also even by extreme northern standards I get shockingly little sun exposure.)

Several months ago I started taking iron and potassium gluconate supplements, as when I joined up a keto diet with my near-daily workouts I started to notice muscular and cardiovascular fatigue levels spiking. I had a look at my daily nutrient intake and found that my diet was supplying very low levels of these two and so chucked some supplements at it, which seems to have done the trick.

I tried magnesium, as it's supposed to help with sleep (a chronic problem) and muscle recovery (occasionally helpful) but after 2-3 days I started getting SERIOUSLY itchy and any scratching would leave hot red welts in my skin that would take upwards of an hour to fade. I've been off it over a month and while I'm no longer murderously itchy my skin still reacts this way, so it's possible that wasn't the source but I'm flummoxed as to what else could have triggered the reaction. FYI, YMMV, &c.
posted by myotahapea at 4:30 PM on March 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fish oil, cod liver oil and the like are an environmental disaster so please only take if you need to.

It's absolutely not true that all supplements are nonsense. It depends where you live, how many children you've borne, how often and what your diet it. Pre-natal vitamins are very important for example. Vegans can't survive without B12 supplementation etc etc

I take vitamin E and selenium because I've spent 25 years living in a highly deficient area where even all the livestock are supplemented and most of my food comes from this area. The soils here aren't great in general and heavy ag has made them worse. A lot of people are deficient in various minerals here but those are the big ones. I also put silica/ mineral drops in my water once a day as our water is so pure/ filtered it has zero measurable anything in it and trace elements are important and again, our soils aren't great. I take a B vitamin because I don't absorb them properly (genetic, runs in family). I take D in the winter but mostly I just don't wear sunscreen and tan in the summer.
posted by fshgrl at 4:52 PM on March 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

First of all, my doctor told me most vitamins cannot be absorbed by the body so are basically pointless to take. He advised me to take only Vitamin D because it's the only one that's been shown to have any measurable effect on long-term health.

This is basically correct pertaining to most people with a reasonably balanced diet and it's what the vast majority of doctors will tell you (with the qualifier that some vitamins are fat soluble so they aren't flushed out, but most people don't need them in supplement form). Doctors tend to know these things whereas the general population tend to be misinformed.

it seems many people have success with supplements (and I do believe in the placebo effect)

Anecdotal evidence is rarely reliable. This is because it usually exists either due to a placebo effect or because an individual has experienced a genuine health benefit that has not been proven to exist in the general population (but it's usually the former).

so...I'm willing to ignore that advice for now. Thoughts on this are welcome though.

Honestly, my thoughts are that you shouldn't ignore that advice.

Here are the things I'd love to improve:
- sleep (magnesium? sleepytime tea? )

There used to be some (weak IIRC) evidence for magnesium improving sleep health but I believe it's fallen out of favour recently (check recent peer-reviewed studies to confirm).

- nail health (biotin?)

Biotin hasn't been shown to improve nail or hair health unless you're already deficient and that is very rare.

- body odour (the standard armpit kind)

I don't know anything about this in relation to diet but I doubt any supplement would have an effect.

Am also open to learning about supplements that might contribute to my overall health (fish oil? antioxidants?).

The benefits of fish oil/omega 3 supplements have been questioned recently but the evidence has always been iffy anyway. There is evidence that eating actual oily fish (at least 120g per week) reduces heart disease risk. "Antioxidant" is just a pseudoscientific media buzzword. You don't need antioxidant supplements.

Exercise is on the list of things I'm working on.

Exercise is extremely beneficial to overall health! Do exercise.

Can/should I take supplements?

If you live in an area with a low UV index or spend a lot of time indoors then you might benefit from a D3 supplement but other than that probably not.
posted by MysteriousSympathy at 6:30 PM on March 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

I went vegetarian (not vegan) and after a few years my D levels dropped. My doctor recommended D supplements. I took them. The levels went up. I stopped taking them. The levels dropped again. So, I now try to remember to take one every day. If nothing else taking the supplements results in an obviously measurable effect, presumably (based on the science mentioned above) to my benefit.

Someone on this site recommended L-theanine for sleeping and I now take it together with magnesium and 3 mg melatonin, as needed. I used to take 5 mg melatonin but read somewhere that a high dose of melatonin is not actually good for you.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 6:51 PM on March 2, 2019

I also have a well rounded diet (in terms of what the West thinks) but I take MSM because no amount of good eating will give me the results that MSM provides. You can eat well but that doesn't mean your body is digesting or absorbing everything properly. I would have to severely overdose on broccoli to get the same effect.

I take MSM with orange juice and use it for:

- Softening of my hair (I am mixed race and have very thick hair that cannot be managed without this). This honestly changed my life.

- The softening of my skin.

- Evening out of skin tone. I would rather not be any more lighter skinned than I am but it clears up a lot of issues. Brown people tend to have multiple shades of brown on the face and body. I know that people with Melasma take it too.

- It also somehow helps shed fat. I didn't even know this was a thing until I started taking it. It's definitely not the reason why I took it but some googling has shown that this has been experienced by others too. Likewise with breast growth or swelling for some but sadly I didn't get that side effect (fuck the world!).The fat shedding thing is not important to me but I wanted to point it out.

I have also had very good experience separately (as in I didn't take it with MSM) with a combination of evening primrose oil and vitamin E. It made my skin look and feel better.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 9:25 PM on March 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a pretty strong supplement skeptic, but I started acupuncture a few months ago and my acupuncturist strongly recommended iron supplements (especially as I'm a vegetarian). I was pretty hesitant about taking it as a supplement but she eventually persuaded me to try a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses every day. Within a week I had way more energy and my depression eased significantly. Now that I'm out of the fog I see had some other obvious symptoms of iron deficiency that I hadn't noticed earlier (my nails especially), so there was a clear need in my case. But it was like a night & day difference once I started getting more iron.

Have you gotten a blood panel to see if there's anything in particular you might be deficient in? I'd listen to your doctor or some other specialist before you just start diving in willy-nilly. A good acupuncturist would give you much better guidance than trying to navigate such an unregulated industry on your own.
posted by lilac girl at 9:35 PM on March 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

For nails: I found that putting hand cream on my nail beds regularly has helped a great deal with nails that were splitting and breaking. Since I don't like the feel of hand cream on my palms, I just put it the back of my hands and rub the backs together to spread it up over the nail beds.
posted by metahawk at 12:00 AM on March 3, 2019

I started taking magnesium and found that it made muscular tics and cramps I've had my whole life go away. I take many times the RDA but it's something I've discussed with my doctor. It doesn't have the sleep-aiding effects other people are talking about for me, unfortunately.
posted by XMLicious at 6:34 AM on March 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Probiotics are the only thing where I can absolutely say I've felt an improvement. Initially I started them to help with IBS problems--which they did--but the occasional heartburn/reflux issues I'd had totally stopped as well.
posted by TwoStride at 6:42 AM on March 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Signing up with team “supplements are BS.” You don’t need them. Most are unproven bunk. And the industry that makes them is evil and unregulated. A healthy diet is a much better idea. If your doctor says you have a specific deficiency that’s different. Otherwise you’re makin your urine more expensive.
posted by spitbull at 6:54 AM on March 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

I take iron because I am anemic - I have my ferritin levels checked regularly, and I’m making some progress.
I take magnesium for constipation. For me, it’s gentler and has fewer side effects than a laxative.
I give my kids a multivitamin because they tend toward the “beige diet” and I figure it can’t hurt and might help. One of them doesn’t like dairy, so I encourage a daily calcium chew for bone growth.
I drink chamomile tea in the evenings sometimes. I don’t know for sure if it works, but I think so. I used to drink a tea with valerian and that does work, too well. I would feel drugged the next morning.

It is frustrating that supplements are poorly regulated and that wild claims are made. I’m pretty skeptical, but I’ll try something if I need just a small tweak for my health before trying a medication.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:36 AM on March 3, 2019

I take a variety of supplements and I do research into them before I start a new one. Yes, they are unregulated, but that doesn't mean that the companies are putting sugar into the capsules. I think most vitamin/supplement companies are putting in the capsules what they say they are. I don't impute evil intent to them.

Anyway, I won't describe all of the ones I take (some of which are specifically to supplement for my being vegan), but one I haven't seen mentioned here yet is Lysine. I take 1200 mg 2x/day and this has dramatically cut down on my tendency to get cold sores on my face. I was getting one (or a series) every few months and -- knock on wood -- I now haven't had one for maybe over a year! And that is about when I started being more serious about taking Lysine on a daily (now twice daily) basis. If you look at the 'uses' tab here, you'll see there is some evidence for this.

Plus, I will note that supplements don't make pharmaceutical companies money, so that's why there isn't a great deal of research evidence -- once way or the other -- about many of them. And as long as there isn't money to be made from the research, then there will always be scope for someone to say "There is little evidence to support their use". But that doesn't mean they don't actually DO something.

Final Advice: one thing to pay attention to is the potential for negative side effects. So if I'm going to consider a new vitamin/supplement, I look at WebMD and 1-2 other websites that give you an overview of the evidence for/against a given supplement before I decide to take it. It may be that the potential risks associated with one outweigh (for me) the potential benefit of taking it.
posted by Halo in reverse at 12:29 PM on March 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Plus, I will note that supplements don't make pharmaceutical companies money, so that's why there isn't a great deal of research evidence -- once way or the other -- about many of them. And as long as there isn't money to be made from the research, then there will always be scope for someone to say "There is little evidence to support their use". But that doesn't mean they don't actually DO something.

This is fair, but I would add that a lot of the supplements regularly endorsed by the media and Dr. Google have in fact been studied many times and mostly don't live up to their claims. Pharmaceutical companies are not the only organizations to conduct health research. Also, as you mention, it's important for the OP to consider the (proven) risks many of them have and weigh this up against the (often unproven) benefits.
posted by MysteriousSympathy at 3:17 PM on March 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

There are plenty of white papers on the anti-viral effects of lysine.

MSM works for people who don't get enough sulfur in their diets mostly.

Most people's diets are CRAP in America in terms of micro-nutrients. Food tends to be produced on mineral poor and worn out soils supplemented with high nitrogen fertilizers, especially in the west. We eat a lot of meat but not enough organ meat. We eat seafood that is too high up the food chain. Too much of our water is ground water and most people don't get enough sun or exercise. People survive but they're not healthy unless they're eating a lot of food grown in good soils too.

And there is no way doctors are up on all this and their actual work. Any nutritionist / dietitian will tell you that, as well as any honest doctor.
posted by fshgrl at 6:18 PM on March 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

What's this about:
Too much of our water is ground water
posted by Don Pepino at 6:40 PM on March 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am also skeptical of "supplements" in general, and my ADD brain keeps me non-compliant on taking anything with any real consistency. That said, I *do* feel better (mood) when I take a full spectrum B vitamin regularly so I try to do that. I have terrible food habits so I have no doubt I'm not getting the macronutrients I need. I figure Kaiser wouldn't sell a brand of vitamins if they hadn't vetted them, so I trust that. I'm also trying a methylfolate supplement, also for my mood, on a recommendation here on Ask a few days ago.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:13 PM on March 4, 2019

Through blood tests, I found out I had a serious vitamin D deficiency so I take a prescription supplement. I feel it improved my energy.

I also take collagen for added protein and skin/nail/hair/bones/joints, magnesium glycinate for sleep (supposed to be less stomach-upsetting than other magnesium formulations), a high-quality probiotic and Co Q10. When I took a job that made less money, I let this stuff lapse, but now that I have budget for it, I do it. My doctors know what I'm taking and I feel better taking it so maybe it's the placebo effect or the self-care effect, but I do feel a difference.
posted by *s at 8:21 AM on March 5, 2019

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