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From sleep to energy, here's your guide to vitamins and supplements

HOUSTON – If you've been to a vitamin store, you know the options are endless and sometimes confusing.

Doctors prefer people to get their vitamins from food and nutrients before turning to pills. However, if you exercise, eat right and are looking for a boost, there's help available for sleep, digestion, energy and even gray hairs.

Here's what you need to know about vitamins and supplements.

Sleep support

It is important to get to the root cause of poor sleep. It can be related to high stress during the day, poor diet, or playing too many games on your phone before bedtime.

Some general sleep support supplements, according to dietitian Erin Gussler, phosphatidylserine and a product called lunaSOMM both target reducing cortisol -- your stress hormone -- to help your body get into rest mode instead of stress mode.

Magnesium before bedtime may also help relax the body. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to depression, high blood pressure and heart disease. Gussler recommends 400 mg before bedtime. Avoid magnesium oxide or citrate, she said, as these can act as more of a laxative than a replenishing supplement.

Immune support: Vitamin C, Elderberry, Vitamin D, Echinacea

There is a lot of variable data on Vitamin C for treating the common cold.  Most research shows higher doses of vitamin C can decrease the duration of cold symptoms and decrease the number of colds in people exposed to viruses. Gussler recommends aiming for at least 2 grams of vitamin C when supporting the immune system and splitting it into a few doses as higher doses of vitamin C can cause GI upset in some people.  

Elderberry is another immune support.  

Vitamin D is an important part of supporting a healthy immune system.  Many people work in offices all day and do not get enough vitamin D, which you get from sunlight.  Gussler said to make sure to take in the morning, as vitamin D can interfere with melatonin production and make sleep more difficult.

Gussler warns not to take Echinacea if you have hay allergies, Echinacea is pretty similar so it can make you have allergy-like symptoms, but for others, she says, it’s a good way to prep your body for cold and flu season.

“If you do feel like you're coming down with symptoms, you can go ahead and get started. If you have a co-worker that’s sick and they're coughing all over you or sneezing all over you, go ahead and take it. That's a good time to take it as well,” he said. “Of course, if you have a family member that's in the house that's sick, it's a good time for the rest of the family to be taking these as well.”

Digestion support: Digestive Enzymes, Digestive bitters, Magnesium, probiotics

Many people have issues with healthy digestion.  Like sleep, it is important to get to the root cause of your digestion woes.  One key component of digestion is making sure you are producing enough enzymes to digest your food efficiently.  The most basic support, according to Gussler, will be digestive bitters.  

“These are bitter tasting, but that taste triggers your body to produce its own digestive enzymes.  This is where I usually like to start.  However, If you are wanting a step up, the next option would be to do supplemental digestive enzymes.  Both would be taken before every meal.  Magnesium can also play a part in regulating bowel movements.  This helps your body to eliminate toxins that are dumped into the GI tract for removal,” Gussler said.

You can also try getting probiotics from fermented foods, but if you don’t like the flavor of fermented foods, supplementation is a next best option.  Gussler recommends a maintenance dose of probiotics is 20-50 billion CFU.  

“Ideally, you want to make sure that it says 20 to 50 billion guaranteed until a certain date. So, if it says 20 to 50 billion, at the date of packaging, who knows what you're getting when you actually take that product so it may or may not actually be a good product. Once you finish a bottle of probiotics, take something else. Get a different bottle so that you don't have the same 12 or 15 strains that you are really high in but you're getting a good variety of those bacteria,” Gussler said.

Energy Support: B-complex

When it comes to energy, don’t think you can fix a poor lifestyle with supplements.  Make sure you are focusing on a healthy diet, exercise, adequate sleep, and stress reduction.  However, there are some supplements that can help support your work in these other areas.

Gussler said she recommends a B-complex or multi-vitamin to make sure you have the vitamins that you need to convert your food to energy and keep the energy producing systems running.  When looking for a B-complex, she suggests folate, not folic acid.  Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, she said.

General Wellness: Fish oil, greens powder, turmeric, and collagen peptides

There are several supplements that might help support a healthy lifestyle.  Most people do not get the recommended dose of fish (2 servings per week).   Fish is very high in anti-inflammatory fats called omega-3.  To help combat this, a good quality fish oil can be taken daily to help support heart disease, blood pressure, and healthy blood lipid levels.  Make sure you are getting a good quality fish oil that is not high in mercury or other heavy metals.  If you get “fishy burps” from taking fish oil, it is ok to take a night before bedtime.

A greens powder is a good way to increase the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in your diet.  While it doesn’t make up for not eating veggies- it is a good way to add more to your diet.  Look for something that is organic, as you can’t control washing them and you can get a good dose of pesticides if you’re not careful.

Turmeric is a great supplement for decreasing inflammation in the body.  There are several studies showing the benefit of turmeric for depression, osteoarthritis, abnormal blood lipids.  Some studies are also showing benefit on Alzheimer’s disease, certain cancers, Crohn’s disease, and joint pain.  Ideally look for a curcumin for a more absorbable form of turmeric.  Also, combining turmeric with black pepper increase the absorption.

“It's not going to have the same amount of fiber as eating actual produce, so you are getting some of the health benefits but you are missing out on some of those other side effects, or some of those benefits,” Gussler said.

While protein powders are not recommended by most health professionals, Gussler said you can use collagen peptides.  She said they’re easier for your body to digest.  Collagen has also been shown to help decrease pain from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.  If you have kidney disease, make sure you are cautious with this as it does count towards your daily protein intake.

Pregnancy: prenatal vitamins, fish oil, choline

Prenatal vitamins are critical to the health and growth of a new baby.

Gussler recommends a pre-pregnancy combo.

“I like to do a good prenatal, I like to do a fish oil and then I also like to add some choline to that,” Gussler said. “It’s good for baby’s brain. So, ideally, I recommend about three months before you're trying to get pregnant to start that (combo) to make sure you have good stores.”