The Top 3 Supplements Anyone and Everyone - Part 1
This article was supposed to be about supplements, but it’s inherent shortcomings necessitated it morphing it into something more comprehensive, meaningful, and hopefully, more useful.
Ask any naturopathic doctor what his or her favourite supplements to get anyone started on the road to wellness and I reckon probiotics, vitamin D, and some source of EPA/DHA (i.e. fish, krill oil) will be among the most common answers.
And, they could be right in many cases.
So are these, the ‘Holy Trinity du jour’, the best supplements to get anyone and everyone started on the path to wellness, health, and dare I say, happiness?
The truest answer, like many of the best answers in health and medicine, is not as clear and linear as we would all (including me) like it to be.
- What if you have diarrhea? Constipation? Indigestion and heartburn? Leaky gut?
- What if you’re obese and eat a horrific (by any standard) diet?
- What if you are vegetarian or vegan?
- What if you have a very limited budget?
- What if you OVER-exercise? What if you don’t exercise or move at all?
- What if you are overwhelmed with stress at work and home?
- What if you have an empty feeling of purposelessness in a life with no meaning?
Oh that’s easy — some fish oil should take of that … right?
The goal was to write about the ‘top 3 supplements for everybody and anybody’, but the truth is, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. In fact, even limiting the scope to supplements feels far to simplistic, and as Einstein said, "Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler".
Sure, these supplements might be very helpful; however, if a doctor of any kind is solely considering dietetic or pharmacologic interventions as a corrective path to overall wellness, he/she may be biased towards material, physical interventions and not consider the complex and interrelatedness of various aspects of a truly holistic understanding of health.
The various, coexisting realities that influence health (body, mind, spirit in the grander sense, or the neurological, immune, and digestive systems if we limit to the physical sense) are components of a ‘complex adaptive system’. That is to say, the human condition is such that every part affects everything else in the system and “a perfect understanding of the individual parts does not automatically convey a perfect understanding of the whole system's behavior”. It’s virtually impossible to change one thing in the system without changing everything else.
Given these complex systems and coexisting realities (e.g. our subjective mental state coexists with our body’s biochemistry, and each one influences the other), is it not a little overly simplistic to think that any one type of therapy (i.e. supplements) is the cure for all maladies, even if it can still be a more or less important part of a more comprehensive approach.
For example, can we expect to prescribe someone high doses of fish oil and expect them to immediately
- start liking their job that they find no meaning or joy in?
- start exercising regularly?
- become engaged in a growth-positive relationship with their partner that are only staying with ‘for the kids’?
- start and maintain an effective, enjoyable spiritual practice?
It’s a lot more complicated than that.
Sorry, folks. There’s no easy, perfect combination of supplements that will make everyone healthier, happier, and more productive.
But let us not despair and sit down on the couch with a tube of Pringles and watch cat videos; searching for a more right solution is better than not trying at all!
So let’s do the best we can; let me share with you a little bit of expertise (this naturopathic medicine thing is my jam) context, and guidance using the NMRx framework that Dr. Kara Dionisio and I designed) and colour it with a dash of Integral-Influenced philosophy) that may help you make more effective, informed, and empowered moves towards achieving (or at least pursuing) your health and wellness goals.
What is NMRx?
Other than ‘x’, the acronym is fairly self-explanatory, and most of us are doing well in some categories and less so in others.
- N — nourishment (food, diet, digestion, absorption, elimination)
- M — movement (exercise)
- R — relaxation (sleep, stress management, mindset, mindfulness/relaxation techniques)
- x — ‘x-factor’/Existentialism (Spirituality?) Meaning + Purpose + Growth + Connection
Strong and resilient buildings and bridges need to have a bit of ‘give’ or flexibility and they need structure. The same goes for bones, which would be too brittle if not for the strength afforded by the inclusion of collagen within the otherwise brittle structure.
NMRx is a basic framework that gives holistic, naturopathic health (more individualized and less standardized compared to conventional medicine) a little more structure. This basic structure requires no degree in naturopathic medicine and can help guide us along our own personal health journey. It allows for more individualization and agility than the predominant, conventional ‘western’ medical approach, permits. This is not to say one system of medicine is better than the other; both are integral parts of a larger truth, a more intelligent and comprehensive approach than either one on its own allows.
As your health goals change and evolve over time (which they should), we can refer to the NMRx framework like a map or a compass to make sure that we’re on track, structure intact, and addressing the basic fundamentals of health while fostering growth and making space for meaning, purpose, and connection.
Let’s apply the NMRx framework to a couple of examples.
- hasn’t any idea what ‘healthy’ foods are, eats the standard American diet (appropriately assigned the acronym S.A.D.), has had one bowel movement per week for the last 10 years, and primarily eats bread, pasta, and processed foods (N). She is stressed (R) and finds little or no joy in her work, family, community (x), and she doesn’t sleep (R) or have the slightest inclination to exercise or move her (obese) body (M)
- has great financial stability (R), eats a modified paleo diet (N), works out 5 days a week and is physically fit by all standards (M), has a growth-supportive wife who he loves to spend time with (x), actively engages in community events (x), and has an active meditation practice (R + X).
Using the NMRx framework you can see that Jane and John are vastly different positions to start with. Accordingly, they will require different 'supplements' to reach their respective goals/vision of health.
THUS, YOUR PRESENT STATE — WHERE you are INFLUENCES HOW we get you THERE.
Let’s use a geographic analogy: say, for example, 2 people want to get to Copenhagen, Denmark. One of them lives in Oslo, Norway and has 2 million Krone in the bank, and the other lives in Wawa, Ontario, has $2000 to her name, and has some form of physical disability. Whether it’s ‘fair’ or not, the reality is that they are going to have to take different routes using different resources and methods, while encountering different obstacles on their way to Copenhagen. The personal meaning of the journey will likely be different for each individual, and will have fostered growth in different aspects of each person.