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LESSONS:

A COMPLETE
GUIDE TO
SUPPLEMENTS

We tapped wellness expert and VIOLET GREY Committee Member, Vanessa Fitzgerald, to break down everything you need to know about supplements (plus, our exhaustive Supplement Glossary).
 

Written By JACLYN LITTLE


Guy Aroch / Trunk Archive

The world of supplements is extremely hard to navigate––it is a massive global industry that, in the United States, is totally unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration which,“does not have the authority to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.” This means that virtually anyone could formulate and market a tablet, tea, or tincture supplement, making them not just potentially ineffective, but dangerous. So, when choosing your supplements, we very much encourage a “buyer beware” philosophy. But that’s where we come in.

As with all categories, VIOLET GREY and our Committee of Industry Experts has scoured the behemoth supplement market (it was estimated to be worth over $140 billion in 2020) and from our findings have curated a selection of only the most effective products with the best ingredients.

Knowing first-hand just how saturated the market is and how confusing supplements and their ingredients can be, we tapped wellness expert, Vanessa Fitzgerald, to give us a complete breakdown of supplements and how to introduce them into your diet. Read on for the article and our exhaustive Supplement Glossary.

WHAT ARE SUPPLEMENTS?

Much like the name suggests, a supplement is a vitamin, mineral, herb, amino acid, enzyme, etc. that you ingest to “supplement” the nutrition you are getting from your diet. Supplements can be formulated as powders, tablets, capsules, gummies, and even energy bars and beverages. 

WHO SHOULD TAKE THEM?

According to Fitzgerald, “supplements can truly be for anyone with chronic issues, from bloating and digestion, to depression and anxiety, and so many more.” Many sources suggest that most nutrients we need for healthy body function can come from a well-balanced diet, but Fitzgerald believes that this isn’t true for many reasons. One, that we are all human and don’t always ingest what is good for us (junk food, cigarettes, alcohol, etc.), but the larger reason is that, “soil quality has declined greatly, producing fruits and vegetables that aren’t as nutrient-dense as we think.” When we are nutrient-deficient, our bodies regenerate defective cells that can cause chronic issues, and supplements can be an incredibly effective way to get the nutrients you need to regenerate healthy cells, helping to treat certain conditions. 

HOW DO I START?

Because supplements may affect individuals differently, there is no universal one-size-fits-all regimen. According to Fitzgerald, “One person’s medicine could be another person’s poison.” 

Before choosing a supplement, she recommends keeping a journal to monitor your body, mood, and diet. Once you have an understanding of what you aim to treat (stress, focus, skin, etc.), start with just one supplement and pay attention to its effects over a two-month period, continuing to track everything in your journal. After that period, you can choose to proceed with that supplement, switch, or introduce another.

WHAT SHOULD I BEWARE OF?

According to Fitzgerald, it is important to consider the retailer that you are buying your supplement (choose health food stores over drugstores) and to look at the other ingredients on the label,“If you see cornstarch or bad oils like canola oil, cotton seed oil, or soybean oil, don’t take it.” Other red flags on the ingredient list: “rice hulls” or other fillers that dilute the potency of the supplement, especially when repeated more than once in the list; sucralose or any artificial flavorings; and an overly-pungent fishy smell (which likely means the product is rancid). Fitzgerald also recommends that those with food allergies are extra-conscious of ingredients (and derivatives of ingredients) that may cause inflammation and other sensitivities.

WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?

Fitzgerald believes treating chronic issues is never about treating the symptom (which according to her is, “a cry for help that something else is going on in the body”), it is about treating the root cause from a cellular level, “Think about the body as an onion. As we age and are exposed to aggressors, we can build unhealthy layers. It is my job to peel back those and understand what is happening in the body to actually heal, not just treat uncomfortable symptoms.” 

DISCLAIMER: In the U.S. the Food and Drug Administration does not review supplements for safety or effectiveness before they are sold to consumers.



5-HYDROXYTRYPTOPHAN (5-HTP)

Commercially produced from the seeds of Griffonia Simplicifolia, 5-HTP is a chemical byproduct of L-tryptophan and works to increase serotonin production. Supplements formulated with 5-HTP may be used to treat conditions linked to serotonin levels such as mood, anxiety, and sleep.


Recommended products: DR. BARBARA STURM’S INSIDE GOODNIGHT & THE NUE CO.’S SLEEP+

ADAPTOGENS

This is the term for edible plant extracts (often herbs) that have been found to help manage stress by strengthening our internal functions. They can stabilize mood, improve focus, and promote vitality. 

Recommended product: THE NUE CO.’S DEFENSE DROPS

ALOE VERA [ROOT]

Ingesting supplements with aloe vera may have a laxative effect to help ease constipation and potentially gut inflammation.

ASCORBIC ACID

See vitamin C, below.

ASHWAGANDHA

An herb traditionally used in Ayurvedic healing to help reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue. It has also been linked to reducing inflammation and swelling. 


Recommended product: AUGUSTINUS BADER’S SKIN REJUVENATING COMPLEX

BIOTIN

See vitamin B7, below.

CERAMIDES

Ceramides are lipids that aid the skin in retaining moisture and protect if from external damage. They are naturally present in the skin but as we age, they deplete over time. Also see phytoceramides, below.


Recommended product: KAYO BODY CARE’S SKIN PERFECT COLLAGEN POWDER

CHAMOMILE

One of the oldest medicinal herbs, chamomile can be taken orally to help with insomnia, anxiety, and digestion issues. It may also be used topically to aid with wound healing. 


Recommended product: THE NUE CO.’S SLEEP DROPS

CHROMIUM

Chromium is needed to help break down proteins, fats, and sugars, slows the loss of calcium, and may play a role in carbohydrate, lipid, and protein metabolism by potentiating insulin action.

CINNAMON

Cinnamon has a long history of use in traditional medicine in various parts of the world and is promoted as a dietary supplement for diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, or other gastrointestinal problems. It is also loaded with antioxidants (like polyphenols) and has anti-inflammatory properties. 


Recommended product: THE NUE CO.’S DEBLOAT+

CITICOLINE

Citicoline may increase a brain chemical called phosphatidylcholine which is important for brain function and may aid in memory decline.


Recommended product: THE NUE CO.’S NOOTRO FOCUS

COENZYME Q10

Cells use this naturally-occurring antioxidant for growth and maintenance. As you age, your levels of CoQ10 decrease which may cause bodily fatigue, so a supplement with CoQ10 may help to restore energy. 


Recommended product: 111SKIN’S REPARATIVE DOSE

COLLAGEN

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and is used to make connective tissue. As we age, our bodies naturally produce less collagen but excess sun exposure, smoking, excess alcohol, and lack of sleep and exercise also decreases collagen production. Think of collagen as a tight organized network of fibers that loosen and become disorganized with age and environmental exposure, causing wrinkles on the skin’s surface. When ingested, as in a powder, collagen supplements may be made available as collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen, which are broken down forms that absorb more easily.


Recommended products: KAYO BODY CARE’S SKIN PERFECT COLLAGEN POWDER, SHORE MAGIC’S HYDROLYZED MARINE COLLAGEN PROTEIN, & AGENT NATEUR’S HOLI (MANE) HAIR SKIN NAILS 2 DAILY SUPPLEMENTS COMBINED

DANG GUI

An anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich herb traditionally used in Chinese medicine to enrich blood, promote blood circulation, and modulate the immune system. It may also be used to treat chronic constipation and menstrual cramps. 

Recommended product: DR. JANINE MAHONE’S SKIN GLOW

FENNEL SEED

While there is little concrete scientific research, fennel seed is used as a medicinal plant to treat myriad conditions, particularly stomachache, indigestion, and cramping. It seems to have  anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties, and may work to relax the colon. Additionally, fennel seed may contain key vitamins like A, C, and E as well as iron and magnesium. 

Recommended products: KAYO’S BLOAT BE GONE STICK PACKS

FREE RADICALS

Molecules produced when your body breaks down food or is exposed to  tobacco smoke and radiation from the sun, X-rays or other sources (which may play a role in some diseases and cancers).

ECHINACEA

Enzymes are biological molecules and proteins naturally produced in the body that are responsible for nearly all cellular chemical reactions. They aid in the building up of some crucial substances and the breakdown of others. Our bodies create enzymes, but they can also be found in food and supplements. For example, one might take a digestive enzyme before a meal to aid in the absorption of nutrients.

FISH OIL

Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, essential fats that your body cannot produce on its own (see full definition below), fish oil is used for memory, heart health, and easing menstrual cramps and is available as an over-the-counter supplement or as a prescription medication (which may be up to 12x as powerful as the OTC forms). Eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids twice a week or taking a fish oil supplement may help your body reach optimal levels of these fats.

FOLATE/FOLIC ACID

Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 (see full definition, below) and is available as a supplement in the form of folic acid. Folate needs to be present in the body to help form DNA and RNA and to produce healthy red blood cells, which is especially important during pregnancy. Folate deficiency is rare because it is found in many foods such as dark leafy veggies, beans, eggs, whole grains, seafood, and certain nuts, however, folic acid (the supplement form) is better absorbed by the body than from food sources. 

GINGER & GINGER ROOT

An herb that can be taken as a supplement to help with upset stomach and nausea, and may also reduce period pain, muscle pain, and headaches. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. 

Recommended products: THE NUE CO.’S DEBLOAT+

GINKGO BILOBA

An herbal supplement made from the ginkgo tree that may be taken for brain health and memory support. Ginkgo Biloba is considered a “nootropic” (see full definition below).

Recommended products: THE NUE CO.’S NOOTRO FOCUS

GINSENG, AMERICAN

American ginseng is considered an adaptogen (see full definition, above). Adaptogens which are believed to stimulate the body’s resistance to physical, environmental, and emotional stressors. It can be used to reduce stress and to boost the immune system. 

GINSENG, ASIAN

Asian ginseng is taken to boost the immune system to prevent infection and disease, and early research shows it may also improve concentration and memory. It seems to function as an antioxidant, which helps to dispel free radicals that can cause premature aging and contribute to many health conditions. 

GLUTAMINE (OR L-GLUTAMINE)

Glutamine is a chemical naturally produced in the body to build protein and is needed for healthy immune, brain, and digestive function. As a supplement, it can work to prevent damage to red blood cells, protect the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, and support gut and immune function, particularly in times of heightened stress.


Recommended product: KAYO’S BLOAT BE GONE STICK PACKS

HAWTHORNE

A thorny shrub whose leaves, flowers, and less frequently, berries can be used for medical purposes due to the abundance of antioxidant flavonoids which may help dilate blood vessels, improve circulation and blood flow, and protect blood vessels against damage. As a supplement, hawthorne can be used to protect against heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

INULIN

Inulin is a type of prebiotic, often derived from chicory roots, that stays in the bowel to support the growth of beneficial bacteria. 


Recommended product: THE NUE CO.’S PREBIOTIC + PROBIOTIC

IRON

Iron is a key mineral for growth and development. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells that deliver oxygen from the lungs throughout the body), and myoglobin (a protein that delivers oxygen to muscles), and is needed to make certain hormones. Iron supplements may be especially important for vegetarians who need twice as much iron as meat-eaters, and pregnant women.

JUNIPER

An evergreen tree whose berries may be used in supplements to help treat bloating, heartburn, and joint and muscle pain, and urinary tract infections. Juniper berries are rich in vitamin C and have antioxidant benefits.

KERATIN

Keratin is a naturally-occurring protein that makes up and protects your hair, nails, and skin. In supplement form, keratin is often extracted from animal hooves, feathers, or wool and may improve hair and nail health and growth. The vitamin biotin helps your body break down the protein keratin.

LICORICE [ROOT]

An herb whose root can be used as a dietary supplement to treat digestive issues, coughs, bacterial and viral infections, and menopausal symptoms. 


Recommended product: THE NUE CO.’S DEBLOAT+

MAGNESIUM

Magnesium is a nutrient that the body needs for regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and making protein, bone, and DNA. Magnesium is present in foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, and some dairy products like yogurt. When choosing a magnesium supplement, look for forms that are more easily absorbed: magnesium aspartate, magnesium citrate, magnesium lactate, and magnesium chloride.

MANGANESE

Manganese helps the body form connective tissue, bones, blood clotting factors, and sex hormones, and is essential for normal brain and nerve function. It also plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation.

MARSHMALLOW [ROOT]

Marshmallow root can be used to reduce skin, throat, and stomach irritation, including cough, and indigestion.

NIACIN

See vitamin B3, below.

NOOTROPICS

AKA “smart drug,” “brain booster,” or “memory-enhancing drug,” nootropics is a term for a compound that enhances mental performance including memory, motivation, concentration, and attention. There are two different kinds of nootropics: 1. Synthetic: a lab-created compound such as Piracetam, and 2. Natural and herbal: such as Ginkgo biloba (see full definition above) and Ginseng.

OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

These are essential fats—the body can’t make them from scratch but must get them from food. Foods high in omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.

omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions. The body doesn’t produce many of its own omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce pain and swelling, and also prevent the blood from clotting easily.

PEARL POWDER

Pearl powder contains amino acids (which stimulates collagen production and cellular repair), calcium (which promotes skin regeneration and bone health), and antioxidants. It is also said to make skin more luminous by reducing melanin production.


Recommended product: AGENT NATEUR’S HOLI (MANE) HAIR SKIN NAILS 2 DAILY SUPPLEMENTS COMBINED

PHYTOCERAMIDES

These have a similar lipid structure to the ceramides found in our skin and may help replenish ceramide stores.

Recommended product: KAYO BODY CARE’S SKIN PERFECT COLLAGEN POWDER 

PREBIOTIC

Specialized plant fibers, prebiotics are naturally found in many fruits and vegetables, and act as fertilizers to stimulate growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.


Recommended product: THE NUE CO.’S PREBIOTIC + PROBIOTIC

PROBIOTIC

Found both naturally in food and often in supplements, these contain living microorganisms that act as food for human microflora, or “good bacteria” in the gut, promoting balance. A supplement may contain a single strain of probiotic or a blend.


Recommended product: THE NUE CO.’S PREBIOTIC + PROBIOTIC

PURSLANE

Purslane contains very high levels of antioxidants including vitamins A and C, alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, and glutathione which help defend the body against free radical damage. Also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, it is often used for topical treatment of inflammation.

Recommended product: DR. BARBARA STURM’S INSIDE SKIN PROTECTION

PYRIDOXINE

(see vitamin B6, below.)

RHODIOLA

An herb known to reduce fatigue brought on by stress, rhodiola is used to increase energy, stamina, and focus. It may aid in managing anxiety and depression. 

Recommended product: THE NUE CO.’S NOOTRO FOCUS

SCHISANDRA [CHINENSIS]

Considered an adaptogen (see full definition, above) which may promote the body’s resistance to external stressors. 


Recommended product: THE NUE CO.’S DEFENSE DROPS

VITAMIN C

Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a nutrient your body needs (but is unable to produce) to form blood vessels, cartilage, muscle and collagen in bones. Also a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C helps to protect your cells against the harmful effects of free radicals (definition above). 


Recommended products: DR. NIGMA TALIB’S VITAMIN C COCKTAIL & THE NUE CO.’S IMMUNITY

VITAMIN D

A nutrient needed for healthy bones as your body can only absorb calcium, when vitamin D is present. Vitamin D is also anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and supports immune health, muscle function, and brain cell activity. Vitamin D isn’t found in many foods (and so many people do not have enough in their bodies) but your skin can generate it when exposed to sunlight.

VITAMIN E

Like vitamins C and D, vitamin E contains antioxidant properties that protect cells against the impacts of free radicals which may play a role in heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. 

VITAMIN B3

Also known as niacin, vitamin B3 (like all B vitamins) aids with the conversion of food into fuel and in higher amounts, may improve cholesterol. A vitamin B3 deficiency may cause skin problems, memory loss, and digestive issues. 

VITAMIN B6

Also known as pyridoxine, vitamin B6 is important for normal brain development and for keeping the nervous and immune systems healthy. It can be used to ease morning sickness and nausea and may be effective at easing menstrual cramps. 

VITAMIN B7

Also known as biotin, it plays an important role in helping enzymes to break down fats, carbs, and proteins in food. It is also taken for hair and nail health, but studies regarding increased biotin intake are inconclusive.

VITAMIN B9

Also called folate or folic acid (synthetic vitamin B9), vitamin B9 is one of 8 B vitamins, all of which assist the body in converting food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose) to produce energy for the body. B vitamins are needed for healthy skin, hair, and eyes, as well as a healthy liver. Because B vitamins are water-soluble, the body does not store them and they must be replenished.

VITAMIN B12

This vitamin plays an essential role in cell metabolism, nerve function, and the formation of red blood cells. A vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to anemia, fatigue, intestinal problems, mood disruptions, and other issues. Oftentimes, people who practice vegan or vegetarian diets may be more likely to suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency. 

PROPRIETARY BLEND

A collection of ingredients or a formula usually unique to a particular brand or product.

Recommended product: AUGUSTINUS BADER’S SKIN REJUVENATING COMPLEX

TURMERIC

Turmeric may be used as a dietary supplement for a variety of conditions, including digestive disorders, respiratory infections, allergies, liver disease, depression, and many others.


Recommended product: THE NUE CO.’S DEBLOAT+

VALERIAN ROOT

An herb that has long been used as a sedative and sleeping aid.

Recommended products: THE NUE CO.’S SLEEP DROPS & THE NUE CO.’S SLEEP+

ZINC

A mineral your cells need to fight off bacteria and viruses and make the genetic material. The presence of zinc heals wounds and aids your senses of smell and taste, and is important for infants and children as they grow. Adults with low zinc levels can have hair loss, diarrhea, sores on their eyes and skin, and loss of appetite.

Recommended products: THE NUE CO.’S SKIN FILTER & DR. NIGMA TALIB’S VITAMIN C COCKTAIL

OTHER RESOURCES