cleveland-clinic

5 vitamins and supplements your body really needs

June 29, 2010 at 4:13 PM ET

If you're like most people, you're curious and even confused about which vitamins and supplements to take for optimal health. We don't blame you. There’s a lot of contradictory information out there. And even when you do find information you trust, it's often difficult to understand. That's why we went straight to one of our best sources—Michael F. Roizen, M.D., chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic—to get the scoop. If you want to know what your body really needs, here's the simple, straightforward answer.

1. Calcium/Magnesium
You probably know that calcium is good for your bones. It' part of the answer in preventing osteoporosis—and, contrary to popular belief, it's not just for older folks. "I recommend calcium three times a day starting at age 20," says Dr. Roizen. "The average person can absorb only about 600 mg of calcium at a time. So to get the correct dose, you need to split it into 600 mg doses." The magnesium is there to protect your tummy. It prevents constipation, bloating and other gastrointestinal discomforts caused by the calcium. In addition, the majority of Americans don't get enough magnesium (which is abundant in fruits and vegetables) in their diet, so consider this an insurance policy to cover all the bases.

2. Vitamin D3
If calcium is what your body needs (and it does), then vitamin D3 better be on the menu too. Vitamin D3 increases absorption of calcium, allowing it to get to your bones to stay strong. Unfortunately, studies show that up to 87 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D3. Adequate levels of vitamin D have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis and some cancers. To get the most out of your vitamin D, take it with your largest meal of the day. Because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, taking it with a meal will help it get absorbed more effectively.

3. DHA
DHA omega-3 fatty acids are the good fats found in fish such as salmon and tuna. This healthy fat is good for just about every part of your body—from head to toe—since, among other things, intake of DHA has been associated with a lower risk of developing devastating age-related disorders such as dementia and macular degeneration (the most common cause of blindness). DHA omega-3 fatty acids are also the handymen of your arterial system, because they can do a whole lot of fixing up. They reduce triglyceride levels in your blood (high triglycerides are a big cause of plaque buildup), help increase healthy (HDL) cholesterol numbers and may even help reduce the risk of arrhythmia after a heart attack. In fact, DHA may even help prevent the heart attack to begin with! If you take 400 mg of DHA every day, Dr. Roizen still recommends eating fish rich in omega-3s at least once a week.

4. Multivitamin
Taking half a multivitamin morning and night is an insurance policy for a less-than-perfect diet, says Dr. Roizen. And in case you're wondering, only about 1 percent of people are actually getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals from food alone, according to Dr. Roizen. Why take half twice a day? You typically pee out the water-soluble vitamins within eight to 16 hours, so to get all the good stuff in your system, you need to take some twice a day.

5. Probiotics
Probiotics are actually bacteria, but they're a good type of microbe that helps keep your digestive system running smoothly, beefs up your immune system and reduces damaging inflammation. A growing body of scientific evidence supports the fact that you can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing probiotics. Think of it this way: You have 10 trillion bacteria in and on you, so making sure you have the good bacteria that help keep the bad stuff in check should be a no-brainer. Get the vitamins and supplements your body needs at 360-5.com.

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.

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