Recognizing the long-term health benefits of a properly managed supplement regimen can be challenging, but the rewards are clear when you know what to look for. Dr. Andrew Brandeis, an expert in effective nutritional supplement use, highlights the benefits of a foundational supplement regimen and outlines how to spot the signposts that indicate it's working.
Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, which are formulated to treat specific, existing conditions, the key function of high-quality supplements is preventive and supportive. Because of this, it is important to adopt a different set of metrics when assessing their effectiveness. Time is the key consideration here. Any judgment must be predicated on the question: "What is the impact of my supplement program having on my health and wellness over the long term?"
Next, you need to look at the current state of your health. Do you have any pre-existing medical conditions? Are you genetically predisposed for any? How's your diet? Do you exercise regularly? Once you've defined these initial factors and adopted a long view mindset, it's now critical to determine what kind of supplement program is right for you. Ideally, it would be best if you did this in consultation with a healthcare professional or your doctor, but a good place to start is to ask yourself what areas of your health you'd like to focus on improving. For some, it may be increased energy or focus; for others, it may be digestive health, stamina, or muscle and bone health (there is now a robust and growing amount of evidence-based scientific literature indicating the effectiveness of nutraceuticals on a range of functions).
Having taken these first steps and begun your program, what are some signs it's having a positive effect? Below, I've listed some telltale markers — along with some foundational nutrients found in most well-managed regimens — that will tell you you're on the right path. (It should be noted these recommendations assume high-quality, soluble supplements, proper storage, and the basic minimum requirements to ensure overall effectiveness.)
- Energy & Balance
- Essential vitamins and minerals ("essential," meaning they can only be obtained through diet or supplementation) play vital roles in energy production and hormone balance — Vitamin B aids in ATP production, the organic compound that powers cells. Research indicates the timeline for when you should expect to feel Vitamin B's energy and alertness effects are about two weeks. Along with B vitamins, the mineral magnesium helps produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, affecting mood (and is involved in over 300 functions throughout the body). And, along with another essential mineral, zinc, magnesium affects serotonin levels, which, in turn, can support healthier sleep patterns in around eight weeks. It should be further noted that some research suggests magnesium may also help with anxiety and stress response systems within approximately 28 days.
- Digestive health
- Probiotics are considered "friendly" live bacteria that can colonize the gut, providing additional beneficial microorganisms. Specifically, when used correctly and taken in appropriate doses, high-quality probiotics improve the gut microbiome's makeup, which, in turn, affects vital functions of the body, including immunity, metabolism, and mood. Additionally, some digestive disease specialists recommend probiotic supplements for disorders that conventional medicine has yet to find effective treatments for, the notable example being IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). You can expect to begin feeling the effects of a course of probiotics anywhere from one week to eight weeks (for IBS). These effects can include improved digestion, increased energy levels, and clearer skin.
- Skin health
- A good indicator that your supplement routine is working is skin health. Some antioxidants, such as Vitamin C and zinc, have been shown to help fight free radical damage and, thus, help maintain healthier skin.
Optimizing your long-term health is, by definition, a life-long commitment. As a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in the effective use of nutraceuticals, I'm convinced a well-designed, properly managed supplement regimen is an essential step to being the healthiest you possible. However, the signs are sometimes subtle and hard to spot.