If you find the vitamin and supplement selection at your brick-and-mortar or online pharmacy dizzying, you’re not alone. There are so many different options, from many different manufacturers, and often multiple compounds are combined in different ways for specific benefits from brain health to joint health. How do you know what supplements are right for you — and which ones are worth the money?
While many specialty supplements can cost as much as $50 per bottle, there are many that offer potential benefits at much lower prices. The five best supplements under $10 that I recommend are:
- A multivitamin
- Vitamin D
- Fish oil
- A probiotic
Here’s what each of these can do for you, and how to know if you might want to supplement your diet with them. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Your body needs a range of vitamins and minerals to accomplish all kinds of functions, from keeping your bones strong, to making muscles fire, to producing enzymes and hormones, to making sure your heart and brain are operating at their optimal capacity.
These essential substances are things that our bodies cannot make on their own, so we need to get them from the foods we eat. There are 13 essential vitamins: A, C, D, E, K, and eight different B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, B6, B12 and folate (aka folic acid). There are a number of minerals that are also essential for health. Some vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, we need a lot of to stay healthy. Some we only need small amounts of — like iodine and fluoride — and others we probably get too much of, like sodium.
The best way to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs is by eating a wide variety of foods. But not everyone is getting as much of everything as they need from their diets. This might be because of dietary restrictions; for instance, vegetarians might have trouble getting enough iron. Age can also be a factor, with some older adults needing more B12 and calcium.
Although there’s no evidence that multivitamins can have major impacts on important health outcomes like preventing heart disease or cancer, they include many of the important nutrients we need in one pill. That makes them an easy and convenient way to get an extra boost of vitamins and minerals lacking in our diet. Be sure to talk to your doctor about which multivitamin would be best for you, as they contain different amounts and combinations of nutrients.
Vitamin D is one of the trickiest vitamins to get enough of because it’s not easy to find in food. In fact, our bodies can make vitamin D, but they can only do so using the power of the sun. When sunlight hits your skin, it sets off a chain reaction that creates an active form of vitamin D that your body uses to help absorb calcium. That makes vitamin D an important part of keeping bones healthy and strong.
But because many of us spend so much time inside — in our offices, our homes, our cars — we don’t get as much sun as we did. But that doesn’t mean you should ditch the sunscreen or lay out in the sun. In fact, a recent study found that even when people regularly use sunscreen, it doesn’t prevent their bodies from making vitamin D. But since it can be hard to get enough vitamin D from food alone — your choices are mainly salmon, tuna, cod liver oil, beef liver, egg yolks and fortified juices and cereals — you might want to take a vitamin D supplement. Your doctor can determine whether you’re low in vitamin D and recommend the right dosage for you. Most will suggest you choose pills that offer vitamin D3, a form that is easy for your body to put to work.
If you do a search for magnesium pills, you’re likely to get a load of results having to do with indigestion. Yes, magnesium is common in antacids and laxative treatments, but that’s not the kind we’re talking about here. Magnesium is one of those all-important minerals your body needs. It works with more than 300 enzymes in the body to carry out a wide range of functions including regulating heartbeat and blood sugar, and building proteins and DNA.
Although magnesium is present in many foods, especially nuts and seeds and leafy greens, many Americans are not getting enough of it. Research suggests that people who get adequate amounts of magnesium may be at lower risk for heart trouble and type 2 diabetes. Magnesium supplements may also help people with migraines, and they could support bone health in elderly and post-menopausal women. There are several types of magnesium supplements, which vary in the quantity of magnesium they contain, what other compounds it’s combined with, and what form they take (such as pill versus liquid), which can impact how well your body absorbs the mineral. To learn about all the options available and which one might make sense for you, check out this guide to magnesium supplements.
Fish are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and that’s what you get when you take fish oil supplements. Omega-3s are often food in fatty fish — salmon, tuna, mackerel — and they’re good for heart health. Getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is connected to a lower risk of heart disease and death from heart disease. Omega-3s can keep arteries clear, improve cholesterol levels and help prevent blood clots that lead to stroke. It’s best to get omega-3s from the food you eat (especially oily fish), but fish oil supplements are a low-risk way to boost your intake. There is also some evidence that taking fish oil supplements can help reduce pain and inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis. The main downside is that the fish oil pills can sometimes cause burping and bad breath.
If someone tells you to ingest 1 billion to 100 billion bacteria a day, it might sound odd, but it actually can be really good for you. In fact, there are many more bacteria than that living in your body right now. Most are good bacteria, which help your body digest the food you eat, while some might be invaders from outside that could make you sick. Maintaining that balance is important, and probiotics are one way to help keep good bacteria levels up while helping keep populations of bad bacteria from getting out of control.
Probiotics are microorganisms (bacteria and also yeast) that help your body maintain that important balance. Often you find probiotics in foods that have been fermented, such as yogurt, which is why there are some yogurts marketed as being good for gut health. But you can also take probiotic supplements, which usually contain Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. These supplements can be helpful in treating or preventing diarrhea, which can sometimes be caused by an imbalance of microbes in your intestines. Probiotics might also be helpful for people with complex gastrointestinal issues, such as ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
And since science is revealing more and more ways that gut health impacts other parts of our health, including our immune system and our mental health, it’s possible that gulping down a billion bugs could have wide-ranging benefits. And don’t worry, as strange as it sounds, it’s safe to take probiotics, because they’re made of organisms that live inside us already. Just be sure to talk to your doctor if you have a compromised immune system. And check the bottle for storage instructions — some bacteria will die if not refrigerated. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Shaili Gandhi, PharmD and vice president of pharmacy at SingleCare.