Which supplements are essential for your customers to take daily? The answer may be as easy as adding up an individual’s years. To help shoppers find the best vitamins, minerals, herbs and other nutrients to meet their specific needs, we asked five natural health experts for age-specific supplement recommendations. The consensus: Every person—regardless of age—should pop a multivitamin. Despite a 2011 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine showing that the use of multivitamins doesn’t reduce the risk of death in older women, experts insist that females in this age group should still take a multi. “The major issue [found by the study] was with iron supplementation in postmenopausal women,” says Michael Murray, ND, author of What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know (Atria, 2009). “Too much iron is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and possibly infections. Postmenopausal women should look for multiple vitamin and mineral formulas that are iron free.” Beyond this recommendation, here are our experts’ top supplement choices for kids, teens, men, women of childbearing age, and perimenopausal and menopausal women.
Supports immune function by activating T cells to attack and destroy pathogens. T cells can also become helper cells that allow the body to recognize invaders.
Dose: Babies take 35 IU of vitamin D3 per pound of body weight per day. Older children take 2,000 IU of D3 per day.
Note: Vitamin D3 is the natural, more effective form of D. Kids who spend time in the sun during summer may forgo supplementation during that season, experts say.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Fish oil, krill oil and algal oil contain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which ensure proper brain development. These essential fatty acids also help establish healthy cell membranes that prevent inflammation and resist toxins and pathogen attacks, which cause allergies and nasal congestion.
Dose: 200 mg each of DHA and EPA per 50 pounds of body weight per day
Note: Most newborns and children will effectively convert alpha linolenic acid (ALA) from vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids (such as flaxseed oil) to DHA. Be sure fish oil and krill oil supplements are sourced from Arctic or Antarctic waters to avoid potential radiation contamination.
Eighty percent of immune system function resides in the small intestine. Probiotic supplements help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut to ward off inflammation, which can cause food sensitivities and low immunity. Research shows that kids who take probiotics have fewer cases of infections, allergies, eczema and asthma.
Dose: 30 billion CFU per day of a combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species
Note: Kids and teens should take probiotics with meals for optimal absorption.
Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus)
For teenage girls, this herb can help prevent or reduce menstrual cramping, decrease excessive bleeding, and regulate menstrual cycles.
Dose: Follow product instructions. A typical dose is 40 drops per day of tincture and ½ to 4 milliliters per day of fluid extract.
Note: This herb can be taken daily, but not during pregnancy. For up to 2 percent of those who take chaste tree berry, menstrual flow increases.
Women of childbearing age
Supports bone health by promoting calcium absorption. Some animal and epidemiological trials show that vitamin D plays a role in preventing breast cancers.
Dose: 1,000 IU to 3,000 IU per day
Note: Getting enough vitamin D from food sources is difficult. Plus, many people have limited sun exposure, which exacerbates vitamin D deficiency, so most need supplements to meet their daily D requirements. Suggest a supplement with vitamin D3.
This B vitamin is necessary for embryo cell growth and development and for prevention of neural tube defects.
Dose: 400 to 1,000 mcg per day
Note: A prenatal multivitamin usually includes folic acid. Folic acid can be taken as part of a B complex supplement that also includes B6 (30 mg) and B12 (500 mcg).
Bone building peaks during childbearing years. A calcium supplement helps ensure that there’s enough bone mass available for a pregnant woman and her developing fetus. Otherwise, women are at risk for the downhill slide toward osteoporosis at menopause.
Dose: 800 mg (as citrate)
Note: Choose a calcium supplement that includes 300 mg (as amino acid chelate) of magnesium, which also helps build bones and support the nervous, cardiovascular and endocrine systems. Magnesium also assists in preventing gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, a serious complication in which high blood pressure arises during pregnancy.
Oily, cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring and sardines have omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA that reduce heart attack and coronary heart disease risk and combat depression, bipolar disorder and inflammation. DHA in particular ensures proper brain development of fetuses.
Dose: 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA per day
Note: Pregnant women should take at least 300 mg of DHA each day.
Numerous studies show that probiotics such as Lactobacillus GG help “program” the newborn’s immune system to stave off allergies, eczema and infections. When a pregnant woman or breast-feeding mom takes probiotics, she passes their benefits onto the infant.
Dose: 30 billion CFU per day
Note: What’s good for baby is also good for mom. In general, probiotics enhance women’s overall immune health, especially for infection prevention.
This Peruvian herb contains plant substances called sterols that can tone and strengthen a woman’s hormonal system, increasing libido while decreasing hot flashes.
Dose: 1,000 mg twice a day
Note: Women who have had an estrogen-related cancer should not take maca because the herb could stimulate hormone production.
Derived from soy, this nutrient promotes sleep by decreasing cortisol, the stress hormone. It works by preventing the pituitary gland’s release of a hormone (ACTH) that communicates with the adrenal glands to release cortisol.
Dose: 90 to 180 mg daily, taken at night about an hour before bed with a high-protein snack (for best absorption).
Note: For lasting results, women should use over a long period of time. Some people report feeling drowsy the morning after taking phosphatidylserine, but this effect wears off after a week of supplementation.
Among herbs, black cohosh has the best evidence showing it reduces a range of menopause symptoms, including night sweats, emotional issues and hot flashes.
Dose: Follow product instructions. A typical range is 40 to 80 mg of dried extract per day or 40 drops of tincture twice a day.
Note: Stock products from manufacturers that use the proper species of black cohosh. A series of case reports in the United States and Australia revealed that some women have adverse liver damage associated with products marketed as black cohosh. However, tests determined that the products were improperly labeled and didn’t actually contain black cohosh.
When estrogen levels plummet at this time in a woman’s life, her vulvar and vaginal tissues can become thin, dry and less elastic. Topical vitamin E helps keep tissues moist and supple.
Dose: Use a pen tip to pierce a vitamin E capsule and apply the contents to the labia and inside the vagina three times a week or more, if needed.
Note: Women should wear a panty liner after application because the oil could stain underwear.
Fish oil provides long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which play a central role in cell membrane structure and function throughout the body. Deficiency of these fats is associated with an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, skin diseases and diabetes.
Dose: 1,000 mg EPA and DHA daily, for prevention
Note: Although the body can convert short-chain omega-3 ALA from flaxseed to longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids, obtaining EPA and DHA directly from fish oil is more efficient. When recommending a fish oil supplement, choose a trusted brand tested to be free from damaged fats (lipid peroxides), heavy metals such as lead and mercury, pesticides and other contaminants.
Harvard University researchers recently discovered that men who consumed the highest levels of lycopene (a carotene that provides red color to tomato products) had an 86 percent decreased risk of prostate cancer. Also, in a study of patients with prostate cancer, lycopene supplementation (30 mg per day) was shown to slow tumor growth, shrink the tumor, and lower the level of prostate-specific antigen—an indicator of prostate cancer activity.
Dose: 15 to 30 mg per day
Note: Men diagnosed with prostate cancer should consult their health care provider before supplementing with lycopene.
Numerous clinical trials show that saw palmetto helps relieve lower urinary tract symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), the natural, noncancerous growth of the prostate gland that causes frequent urination and urine retention.
Dose: 160 mg tablet or softgel capsule twice a day (for men age 40 and up)
Note: Taking with food allows for better absorption. A clinical trial published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in September found that saw palmetto was no more effective than placebo at alleviating BPH symptoms. Although the study appears well designed, it has been viewed as anomalous by supplements experts.
“Green drinks” contain dehydrated barley grass, wheat grass or algae sources, such as chlorella or spirulina. These superfoods are full of cancer-fighting phytochemicals, especially carotenes and chlorophyll, known for their powerful antioxidant properties.
Dose: One to two servings daily, mixed with water or juice
Note: Dehydrated green drinks are convenient for guys who don’t have time to sprout and grow their own greens.
Randall Neustaedter, OMD, LAc, author of The Holistic Baby Guide (New Harbinger, 2010) and Child Health Guide (North Atlantic, 2005).
Women of childbearing age
Holly Lucille, ND, RN, author of Creating and Maintaining Balance: A Woman’s Guide to Safe, Natural Hormone Health (Impakt Health, 2004).
Bob Rountree, MD, an integrative physician and co-author of A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health (Avery, 2002).
Laurie Steelsmith, ND, LAc, author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health (Three Rivers, 2005).
Michael Murray, ND, author of What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know (Atria, 2009).
Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council and editor and publisher of HerbalGram.