Which Supplements Actually Work?

By Mike Howard

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Lately I’ve been trying to feel better so I’ve been eating a lot of vitamins… do you know how many vitamins you have to eat before you feel full?… the colour of my urine is amazing…” – Steven Wright

I have to admit, I’m skeptical – some would say jaded over the hundreds of thousands of “miracles in a bottle” being foisted on us with exaggerated, misleading and flat-out false claims.

There are, however a few exceptions – some diamonds in the rough that are worth looking in to. Bear in mind that supplementation is highly individual and that “supplement” should imply that you are adding to an already healthy and varied diet. With this in mind, here are some supplements to consider:

  1. Fish Oil
    Omega-3 fatty acids are the superfood of this decade. The research has been very promising when it comes to this essential fat found in fatty, cold-water fish such as; salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring. The problem is, most people don’t eat enough fish to get the coveted EPA and DHA (components of omega-3’s) found in these fish and responsible for a healthier brain, heart and joints.
  2. A multivitamin/mineral
    A good bet for just about anyone who wants to ensure that nutritional gaps are covered. I recommend looking for a multi with 100% RDI in most vitamins (calcium is an exception – the pill would be HUGE). Don’t worry too much about bells & whistles here – the most expensive isn’t necessarily the best. Also, make sure there isn’t too much vitamin A (more than 10,000 IU) and folic acid (more than .5g).
  3. Whey protein powder
    Very versatile and easy way to get a useable protein into your body. Protein smoothies are excellent pre/peri/post workout and can easily be turned into a meal-on-the-go. Isolate is a purer form than concentrate when it comes to whey protein.
  4. Vitamin D
    If one supplement can overtake fish oil this decade, it might just be vitamin D. The literature has been a buzz with the vitamin/hormone and it’s positive impact on human health. In addition to fighting breast and pancreatic cancer, it has also been shown to lower diabetes risk and It has even been shown to lengthen life. If you live anywhere north of L.A./Atlanta, you can’t possibly get enough vitamin D. Researchers now consider 1000 IU’s a safe dose for most people.
  5. Calcium
    Especially important for women, this mineral is one that many fall short on. 500mg will help jumpstart you towards reaching your daily target of around 1200mg. If you can find a supplement with vitamin D and Calcium (and maybe magnesium) in one, all the better.

Other Supplements

These supplements I consider to be “on the fence” (more research needed) and/or have more specific uses.

Alpha Lipoic Acid: ALA is an antioxidant with the unique ability to function in both water and fat. It has been used to boost brain function and improve age-related conditions by protecting nerve cells.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid: See discussion here.

Creatine Monohydrate: This is still the short-term performance and muscle building supplement of choice. No bodybuilding supplement has been able to match it.

Probiotics: Healthy bacteria such as Acidophilus have shown some promise in keeping the gut healthy. Preliminary research has shown the possibility of certain strains of the good beasties can prevent peptic ulcers, infections and even reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Proceed with Caution

While the supplement industry is working very hard to convince us that we must have supplement X, Y and Z to attain (fill in the blank) health benefit, we mustn’t ignore the pharmaceutical-like properties of real food. I believe certain supplements can be beneficial, but before considering them, look at your diet first.


  1. Robert

    The massive number of research studies has confirmed that physical activities or exercises are additional beneficial for the health rather than reducing weight. It has normally seen that those overweight individuals who are fit are less number of involving in heart diseases, osteoporosis and diabetes. The big question is that who can drill the fitness? Is fitness is appropriate for you? Well the excellent news is that anybody, it doesn’t matter what the age is can participate in the fitness program and get enormous benefits from it.

  2. Teeth Whitening Kit

    Obviously, all companies are biased and make claims to push their product. When researching any weight loss supplement, we should find out what the experts say and then we can judge the best one..

  3. Weight Loss Pills

    There are also a number of weight loss pills that have the added benefit of being great multi-vitamins. A perfect example is Orovo, a diet pill that contains “superfoods” such as acai, flax seed and wheat grass just to name a few. Although this weight loss pill likely won’t help you lose weight it will definitely help your overall health.

  4. sarahmay

    Fish oil is a good supplement but has never really helped me with weight loss on its own. However I have added it to the phentramin D and have lost 76 lbs in 9 months. I have been able to keep it off now for 11 months. http://www.SlimEffects.com

  5. VitaminNoob

    So, keeping all of these necessary vitamins and fish oils and what not in mind…what are some of the ‘brand’ names generic or not that you would recommend? I am looking to find something that contains fish oils, antioxidants, vitamin K, and calcium.

    Any suggestions on name supplements that actually work like Nature’s Made or shoprite brand :)?

  6. Lyn from Weight Loss Pills

    Great post. just to add:

    Vitamin A, D, K, E, and Thiamin are needed to repair our body tissues, DNA, and muscles to keep on going during the day.

  7. Bill

    What about hoodia P57? Is this stuff worth my taking and does it react with any medications? Any help would be great and thank you.

  8. Hero

    Wow hilarious a vitamin article written by
    Stephen Wright GW Pharmaceuticals GWP:LSE
    age 55 director since 2004
    Research & Development Director, Executive Director
    Nah no way this could be about money.

  9. Amy

    One of the greatest things I’ve found relating to supplements are super foods. I recently found a supplement pill called Lipovox and with it I’ve been able to loose 12 lbs in 2 weeks. There are many places it’s available, but I’ve found DiscountLipovox.com to be the quickest and most customer friendly.

  10. Sue

    Flat out, your body needs all of those nutrients in order to function but there is no such thing as a super food or a miracle in a bottle. You must change your lifestyle to eat better and incorporate exercise.

  11. Mark Tyler

    Nice work!
    I find it very difficult to maintain a strict diet always. May be I lack discipline in life. This post contains very good value for diet supplement seekers like me.

  12. jh

    I can’t stress enough how much the quality of the supplement is important. A good rule of thumb from my naturopath–avoid pressed pills as they have fillers and additives that the body can’t process. Go for supplements that are capsules. But best of all? Stick to organic and local food whose vitamin and mineral content is much much higher than most regular fruits and vegetables. This is documented for sure!


  13. Weight Loss

    Really nice post, hope to have more like that one. Just want to say that every single product has different benefits and works different to people. For ones best cure is fish oil, for other – protein pills.

    Every single human body has its own metabolism and a way of losing weight – people know what product will do the job properly.

  14. Lauren

    Great post! I agree with you about the benefits of the above supplements. There are just so many different nutritional facts and new diets out there that its hard to keep up with what actually works and provides the body nutritional value.

  15. rimonobant

    Ive been using the new rimonabant pill for about 3 weeks, has anyone heard of it or used it?

  16. Kailash

    The cod liver oil I take is one that has been recommended by the Weston A. Price Foundation for purity, safety and vitamin content:


    I take one teaspoon a day, after breakfast, followed by a bit of water to wash the taste off my tongue.

    The reason I take EFAs with a meal is so that they are hopefully not burned for energy, but are used in constructing my body.

  17. Kailash

    Greens powder is a generic description.

    I use “Best of Greens” (brand name), since it doesn’t include any herbals like ginseng or royal jelly. It is just all sorts of greens from both the land (cruciferous vegetables and grasses) and sea (algae and seaweed).

  18. Isasomara

    I have tried the Smart for Life program for 3 months now and I have lost 30 pounds. If you feel you have done everything and not lost weight then the cookie diet is for you. Here I got real results right away. Their web site is Smart for Life.com or call and find out about it their personnel is qualified and will answer everything you want to know.

  19. healthyme

    A few words on food supplements. I have been taking wholefood supplements for 12 years. I am never sick. I eat whole foods but feel the food chain is so full of toxins, we need to insure our cellular system has the best chance to fight these free radicals.
    I am semi-retired, and probably am older than most of you. I dance twice a week (mostly polkas)and am setting up a health site of my own.
    I do all my own yard work (about 2 acres) and help other people less fortunate than me.
    I had my own health food store for a while and have managed a health food dept. in a main chain store for ten years.
    Make sure you get plenty of water when using protein shakes they could be very hard on your kidneys if you don’t.

  20. Spectra

    Since I’m not a huge fish-eater, I take fish oil pills for the omega-3s. I also take a calcium/vitamin D supplement…if you are very athletic, it’s important to get enough calcium: it’s not JUST for your bones, your muscles need it to function as well.

  21. Snap

    I’ve tried a whole host of supplements and pills. I found Kefir is a good supplement. When i started taking it i found it did curb my appetite a little. read my blog for reviews on other diets/ supplements.


  22. Kami Gray

    Are you on the fence about probiotics in general or probiotics as supplements? I personally think all supplements are hype. I don’t take any and never have. I eat a balanced diet and have my blood levels checked regularly…forty one and so far so good. To get a dose of probiotics, which keeps necessary bacteria in balance and assists in metabolic function, I eat real (organic, lowfat) yogurt daily and often drink Kambucha.

  23. SCal


  24. Lex

    When you buy a vitamin D supplement, make sure it’s D-3 (cholecalciferol), not D-2 (ergocalciferol). The former is more potent, shelf stable, and bioavailable than the latter.

  25. Susanna

    I tend to agree with you, Kailash.

    How do you take the Cod Liver Oil? Does it come in a capsule? Do you take it with something you eat? Do you smell on your breath after you take it like some types of Omega3 Fish Oil capsules?

  26. health information

    My have tried Fish Oil supplement and she thinks that it was really helpful and makes her filling better.

  27. Steve Parker, M.D.

    Just a reminder: The heart-protective dose of cold-water fatty fish is two servings a week. If it seems too expensive, consider canned sardines or tuna (albacore/white tuna has more omega-3 than “light” tuna).


  28. emmyalex

    One of the best ways to get nutrients is to eat right, which is pretty easy this time of year because there’s so much great stuff out there. There’s a few great stories in FITNESS mag this month on superfoods for a superbody. they also have good recipes.

  29. lila

    Oh yay, I think that Omega 3 is fabulous. Also I do cod-liver oil. It is full of vitamin D!

  30. Sharon

    Greens Powder? Is that the commercial name or is that a description? I like what you are doing and I am thinking about switching to something more natural.

    I’d love to have more information.

  31. NeoVitin

    Always be careful when selecting a supplement. It’s easy to fall in the trap of thinking that if some is good, more is better. That is not the case when it comes to supplements. Don’t overdo it, and try to use common sense when it comes to what the producer claims.

  32. Chris

    Some people cringe at the idea of protein shakes. I, on the other hand love them. Whether I use them to refuel after a workout or just as a quick lunch, I use be powered whey protein powder. It dissolves the best, leaving whatever you mix it with (milk or juice), clump-free. Check out http://www.thinkfeelbe.com/shop to see what I’m talking about! 😉 The company provides EXCELLENT products and I stand by them 100%, so much as to sign up as a brand ambassador to share my be experiences–so I apologize in advance for my bragging up what they have to offer, but I can’t help it–I really think its good stuff!

  33. SCal

    Fish oil is amazing.
    Cod liver oil has too much vitamin A

    I also take vitamin packs and creatine.

  34. Pater Rolf Hermann Lingen

    For some time now, I have my blood checked regularly for fat, sugar etc. I am 1.90 m and weigh around 80 kg, so I would not put me in a high risk group, but to be sure…
    Anyway: Although I do not recommend supplements (because I cannot guarantee its effects), I do use supplements myself. For over a year, I drank half a liter of milk a day AND ate cheese nearly every day AND took at least 300mg calcium from supplements.
    When checking my blood, the results for calcium were only 2.3 mmol/l (normal: 2.2 – 2.7 mmol/l)

  35. Kailash

    My multi-vitamin:

    Greens powder (Vitamins C & K)
    Liver Tablets (Vitamins B, Copper and Iron)
    Cod Liver Oil (Vitamins A & D)

    It’s better to utilize whole food vitamins. Absorption is superior. Yet, paradoxically, there is less chance of overdosing.

  36. Bradley P White

    This is a good review of what I feel are the essential nutrients that we should supplement with on a daily basis. Given how much we overfarm our land in the USA there really is little argument that everyone can benefit form a multivitamin daily. Even the most basic multivitamin will decrease your chance of contracting a cold by 25%. Most of the fish that we eat in the USA is raised on farms, and therefore the omegea 3 content is very low, so essential oils must be obtained from other sources. Great post!
    Bradley P. White

  37. Yuri | EatingforEnergy.ca

    Eating whole foods is the way to go. Too many people think they can forego healthy foods and make up for it with supplements. More and more studies are now showing that supplements are nowhere near as bioavailable as real foods and that in many cases they actually predispose you to greater risk of disease!

  38. Barry

    You would have to eat a LOT of seaweed to get even close to the Omega-3 you get in one salmon filet.

  39. Barry

    I believe Vitamin E, Zinc, and Magnesium are also important supplements to take.

    Pretty much everyone is magnesium deficient, and your multivitamin won’t cover you.

    Also if you take Alpha Lipoic Acid, you should be taking a Biotin supplement as ALA can cause biotin deficiency.

  40. Lauren

    You can find Omega-3 fatty acid not only in cold water fish, but also in sage leaves and seaweed.