“If a person were to limit their supplements to just five carefully chosen ones daily, which five would you recommend?”
A Facebook reader recently posed this question, and it’s a good one. Many supplements come to mind, but I figure that in all fairness, I should rule out multi-ingredient products and just stick to five supplements that address key aspects of health.
Here they are, in no particular order—the supplements I most often recommend for my patients and take myself.
1. Probiotics for Gut & Immune Health
“All disease begins in the gut,” Hippocrates wrote more than 2,000 years ago. This isn’t altogether true, but it underscores the importance of gut health and why probiotics are high on my list of essential supplements.
The gut microbiome, the vast collection of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that reside in your digestive tract, has a profound effect on your health. The functions of a robust, diversified gut microbiome include:
- Improving digestion and elimination by assisting in the breakdown and absorption of food.
- Synthesizing essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, folate, and vitamin K as well as short chain fatty acids that provide energy and enhance intestinal health.
- Supporting your immune system by crowding out disease-causing microbes, modulating the immune response, and preventing leaky gut syndrome.
- Communicating with your brain via the gut-brain axis, which affects mood and mental health.
The typical American diet, rich in sugars and processed foods and low in fiber, plus overuse of antibiotics and our obsession with cleanliness disrupt these essential microorganisms. Taking a good daily probiotic supplement helps replenish and restore balance to your gut microbiome.
Recommendation: The best probiotics for gut health and disease prevention contain proven bacterial strains of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli as well as soil-based organisms and yeasts such as S. boulardii and S. cerevisiae, which are also part of a balanced microbiome.
2. CoQ10 for Cardiovascular Health & Mitochondrial Support
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an indispensable supplement for cardiovascular health, with clinically proven benefits for cardiomyopathy, heart failure, hypertension, and other heart problems. It is also an excellent supportive treatment for chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, migraines, fertility problems, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Yet, CoQ10 isn’t just for the treatment of disease. It supports basic cellular functions that are required for all physiological processes such as:
- Serving as an essential cofactor in the production of energy in the mitochondria of your cells. All cells depend on energy, and without adequate CoQ10, energy lags.
- Protecting the mitochondrial and cellular membranes against oxidative damage. Energy production generates a lot of free radicals in the mitochondria, and as an important fat-soluble antioxidant, CoQ10 helps neutralize them.
CoQ10 is a great supplement for health maintenance and prevention, and it is essential for anyone who has a chronic disease or is taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, which significantly deplete CoQ10 stores. Since levels naturally decline with age, CoQ10 supports healthy aging as well.
Recommendation: For general health, 50–100 mg of CoQ10 is a reasonable daily dose. For those with heart disease and other chronic conditions, on a statin medication, or over age 60, I recommend a minimum of 100–200 mg. CoQ10 is fat soluble, so look for a product that contains oil, preferably one that is optimized for enhanced absorption, and take with meals.
3. Ashwagandha for Stress Relief & Energy
Because stress is such a common complaint these days, ashwagandha is another of my go-to supplements. This botanical (Withania somnifera) is classified as an adaptogen, meaning it increases your ability to adapt to stress.
When you encounter a stressor, whether it’s a near-miss while driving, pressure at work, or a relationship problem, it triggers your body’s automatic stress respons
This includes activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis—the neuroendocrine system that is a key regulator of the stress response. Cortisol and other stress hormones are released, making you hyperalert, tense, and ready for action.
After a time, hormone levels return to baseline. Chronic stress, however, over-stimulates the HPA axis, and stress hormone levels remain high. This can sap your energy and cause anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and difficulty coping.
Here’s where ashwagandha comes in. By restoring balance to the HPA axis, supplemental ashwagandha boosts your resistance to stress and improves stress-related symptoms.
Recommendation: The suggested daily dose of ashwagandha is 125–250 mg—although for some people, it can take up to 1,000 mg before a positive change is felt. Taking it at bedtime helps improve sleep, but this supplement can also be taken during the day. It may take a few weeks to notice results, but most people report better mood, sleep, focus, and energy with ashwagandha.
4. NAC for Detox, Antioxidant & Liver Support
N-acetyl l-cysteine (NAC) is one of my favorite supplements because it increases the body’s production of glutathione. Glutathione’s vital functions include:
- Detoxifying environmental pollutants, drugs, and other toxins so they can be safely eliminated by the kidneys.
- Neutralizing free radicals and protecting cell membranes, DNA, and other cellular components against oxidative stress. Glutathione is the most abundant antioxidant produced in your body.
- Protecting the liver, the primary organ of detox, against the onslaught of free radical damage generated during the detoxification process.
Although glutathione supplements are available, depending on the delivery method some are poorly absorbed and have little effect. Supplemental NAC, however, reliably boosts glutathione by increasing levels of the amino acid L-cysteine, which is required for glutathione synthesis.
NAC’s antioxidant benefits are extraordinary. It is so effective for detox and liver health that it is used in emergency rooms to counter the toxic effects of acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose, which can cause acute liver failure. Supplemental NAC also supports immune function and lung health.
Recommendation: NAC is particularly helpful when you are sick, under a lot of stress, or exposed to drugs and other toxins, as all these rapidly exhaust your body’s glutathione stores. The suggested dose of NAC is 600 mg a day.
5. Electrolytes Help with Energy
Sodium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, magnesium, and calcium serve as electrolytes, meaning that when dissolved in blood, urine, sweat, and other fluids, they carry a positive or negative charge.
Electrolytes are involved in many critical metabolic processes. Present inside and outside cells, they create gradients for water and biochemical compounds to move in and out of cells. As such, electrolytes maintain your body’s fluid balance. They also regulate your blood’s pH (acid-base) balance and play a key role in nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction.
Losses of these essential minerals are most common with dehydration—when you sweat a lot during exercise or hot weather or with prolonged bouts of diarrhea or vomiting. Overhydration (drinking too much water) can also cause problems by diluting the concentrations of electrolytes in the blood and increasing urination.
Replenishing electrolytes is essential, as imbalances can cause fatigue, lethargy, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps, heart rate irregularities, and more. For all these reasons, electrolytes are among my favorite supplements.
Recommendation: Electrolyte supplements I recommend include Seeking Health’s Optimal Electrolyte, Designs for Health Electrolyte Synergy, NUUN Tablets, and Quinton’s Hypertonic Minerals. Many of my patients report improvements in energy, concentration, and other symptoms after adding electrolytes to their supplement regimens.
So, there you have it, my top five supplements.
Limiting this list to just five was challenging. Other top contenders were enzymes for digestion, elderberry and beta-glucan for immune support, GABA and melatonin for sleep, ginseng and B-vitamins for focus and concentration, and vitamin D3 for all-around benefits.
However, these five supplements—probiotics, CoQ10, NAC, ashwagandha, and electrolytes—are an excellent foundation for health and healing.