Top 4 supplements to take and 3 to skip


By Dr. Haley Vo, Mercy physician and mama of 3

Supplements, supplements, supplements. How do you know which one to take? There are so many out there, in various forms, at various prices. Supplementation can be expensive. Some can even be dangerous. So what’s a girl to do? Here are some basic recommendations that I usually pass along to those who ask (and sometimes those who don’t)! Please note: These recommendations apply to healthy women of childbearing age. They do not apply to children or people with chronic medical problems.

A good multivitamin is probably a good idea for most people. It will help cover any small deficiencies you have. Here’s an interesting fact: vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble vitamins. They stick around in your body. You can take too much of them and get vitamin toxicity.

Calcium: This is one of my top recommendations. Nearly all women should be supplementing with calcium. It’s really important for bone health. It is recommended that most moms take in about 1000mg of calcium daily. Lots of calcium supplements comes in 600mg tablets, so 2 of these daily should suffice. The extra 200mg daily isn’t going to hurt you. There are some versions of calcium that are more readily absorbed than others, but mostly, I just want women to take it. The candy-like version is just fine, assuming you’ll actually eat it.

Vitamin D: This one goes hand in hand with calcium. The research regarding Vitamin D the last several years has come leaps and bounds. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to everything from depression to prostate cancer to heart disease. Please notice, I said “linked.” I did not say that it is an established cause of these problems. However, I think it is notable that Vitamin D is an important nutrient.  It is also important for bone health.  Many people are safe to supplement with 1000 units of Vitamin D3 daily. Many Calcium supplements contain Vitamin D as well, so read your labels.

While Vitamin D supplementation is a good thing, too much of a good thing can lead to big problems. If you take large amounts of Vitamin D, it can cause harm, including kidney disease. Please discuss this with your doctor. (A hint, here:  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends supplementing exclusively breastfed babies from birth…if this applies to your child, please talk to his doctor!)

Fiber: This is a big one. We recommend 25-30 grams of fiber daily. Very, very, very few people eat this much. Fiber supplementation can help with many problems, including irritable bowel syndrome. The important thing to remember is to start low and go slow! If you start with the actual recommended daily dose, you may experience abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and gas.  So start with just a small portion of the dose listed on the back of the bottle, and slowly work your way up. However you want to take it is fine – powder, tablet, bars, any of the above.

Fish oil: Fish oil capsules can be helpful for certain cholesterol problems. It is important to know what the mercury content of the fish oil is, so go with a reputable brand.

Here are a few I DON’T routinely recommend:

Iron:  Most people don’t need any extra iron.  If you are feeling weak and tired, please see your doctor. There are many different kinds of anemia, and iron doesn’t fix many of them.  In addition, anemia can be a sign of a serious problem. Last but not least, iron can be poisonous.  For a long time, iron was the leading cause of deaths caused by poisoning in small children.

B complex vitamins: Again, not needed in most people. It probably won’t hurt you if you take it, but you will just excrete any extra.

Aspirin: Unless you’ve been told by a physician that it is a good idea because of other risk factors, women in this age group are not likely to benefit from an aspirin daily. The side effects from aspirin probably outweigh the benefits in this group.

Here’s a final thought: Just because something says it’s “all-natural” doesn’t mean it’s “all good for you.” Sure, there are many remedies that come from nature that work, and have worked for thousands of years. Many of our medicines today are derived from plants.  However, arsenic is also all-natural. Make sure you know what you’re taking.

Good luck, Mamas! Trying to keep your family healthy is a rough job, but somebodies gotta do it!

To visit with Dr. Vo in person, you can schedule an appointment with her by calling the Mercy Clinic Primary Care Sugar Creek in Bella Vista.  It’s located at 24 Sugar Creek Center and the phone number is 479-876-1414. Same day appointments are available at the clinic.