Supplements used to be something I only thought about when I was sick—total vitamin c loading to combat any cold that came my way. But in New York everyone seems to be taking something to help with digestion or their skin or their energy. Even Elle Macpherson has a Super-Elixir supplement hybrid that’s supposed to completely change your life. And actually some of the reviews I’ve ready say while it tastes terrible, it really has given people more energy…but I totally shrugged it all off and figured as long as I feel good, who needs it?

Then last year when I was diagnosed with gastroparesis (basically, my stomach muscles stopped contracting, making me feel nauseous and sick after eating pretty much anything) I had to drastically change my diet. Now that I can’t eat a lot of vegetables and whole grains, I’ve had to supplement my diet with well….supplements. My doctor suggested I start taking a prenatal vitamin because they’re the most complete (without iron though!) and I’ve managed to feel pretty good, even though I desperately am craving salad, or anything green for that matter.

I wanted to know a little more about how supplements really work, so we decided to ask Shirley, who is an incredible doctor and holistic plastic surgeon, to explain further. Shirley, like most doctors and osteopaths, really believes that a healthy diet is the key to feeling good and no supplement can be a great stand in for balanced diet. She also emphasized gut health in general—85% of our immunity is regulated by the cells in the gut..that’s crazy! But we’ll let Shirley explain…

There are supplements for everything—which ones can actually help and with what?
It is essential that each person be treated as a unique individual. One woman’s beauty elixir may be another woman’s poison. Therefore, which supplements to take should be discussed with a physician who is familiar with your condition(s) and constitution.

In general, probiotics help to restore the balance of the micro-organisms of the digestive system; B complex vitamins help stimulate the immune system and increase energy; magnesium helps to relieve stress; alpha lipoic acid may assist with weight loss; and co-Q10 is an antioxidant that may be beneficial in age management.

How much do we actually need when it comes to supplements?
If you eat a clean and balanced whole foods based diet, and derive all of your nutrients adequately from it, you may not need supplements at all. Additionally, healthy individuals who have efficient metabolism may process what they need from supplements, if not taken in excess for a prolonged period of time; then, they may excrete or remove what their body does not need through the different organs of elimination (kidneys, liver, lungs, intestines, and skin). Ultimately, your lifestyle and nutrition should help to determine whether you need supplements.

How do you know which ones to take and buy? Generic v. Brand Name?
Since what you put into your body has major implications in how we look and feel, I believe that you must honor your temple and love yourself by using the best products available to you. While the brand name may not be important,consider the source of supplements, how they are made, and whether they are organic or include a number of additives or preservatives. Your physician may assist with recommending supplements that are clean and effective.

Do you really need to take them every day?
Some yes, some no. Also, our bodies are dynamic and change often. So, supplements that are beneficial for you in your twenties may not be helpful to you in your thirties.

How good are those multi-vitamins? Do they really provide enough of each vitamin?
The best source of vitamins is a whole foods, non-processed diet that is rich in vegetables and other plant-based foods.

Is it possible to ingest too many vitamins by taking supplements?
It is possible to have complications from ingesting too many vitamins or supplements inappropriate for an individual. For example, too much vitamin A may lead to birth defects; excess vitamin E may lead to bleeding disorders; and an overdose of vitamin B6 can lead to nerve problems.

Does your body become used to supplements after a while and can they become ineffective?
This is possible. It is also true that the body changes over time. Therefore, supplements that were effective or helpful at one time may not continue to be helpful a year later. It is also recommended to be off of supplements for a short period of time before resuming, in order to allow the body an opportunity to be clean and free of additional chemicals.

What supplements are good to take for:

Heart Health: omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, niacin
Increased Energy: vitamin B12, acetyl glutathione, ginseng
Improve Skin: probiotics, idebenone, black currant oil
Strengthen hair and nails: biotin, iron, vitamin C
Toning and helping muscles: calcium, magnesium, B vitamins
Weight loss: alpha lipoic acid, chromium picolinate, green tea extract
Sleeping better: cQ10, magnesium, melatonin, L-tryptophan
Bone strength: manganese, vitamin D3, curcurmin
Anti-aging: selenium, Imedeen Prime Renewal, glucosamine, DHEA

So there you have it. Seems that supplements can really be great, but super super important to work with your doctor on that, instead of just following trends! And I think I’ll hold off on the Elle Macpherson Super-Elixir for the moment, thank you very much…