Be Well: A Naturopathic Guide to Vitamins and Supplements

From Mpls.St.Paul Magazine’s Be Well

It’s not your imagination. The stresses and lifestyle changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic are disrupting sleep, exercise habits, healthy eating—and are making many people feel unwell. Add to that, well, winter. So, it’s a good time to review how you can help your immune system do its work.

For many, the disruption of COVID, combined with everyday winter angst, have manifested as anxiety, body aches, depression and sleeplessness, says Dr. Amrit Devgun, a naturopathic doctor and applied ayurvedic practitioner at Northwestern Health Sciences University’s Bloomingon Clinic.

She says there are some simple things you can do—beginning today—to reduce your anxiety and improve your mood and health.

Like MDs, naturopathic doctors are trained in medications, labs, and imaging, but they also study how herbs, nutrition, homeopathy, and acupuncture strengthen weakened systems. They diagnose, prevent, and treat acute and chronic illness to restore and establish optimal health by supporting the person’s inherent self-healing process, according to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

“We try to work with the body’s own innate wisdom,” she says, “to see how we can boost a person’s innate healing response, versus suppressing it with medications.” That journey begins at the grocery store.

A rainbow in your grocery cart
Before you take a vitamin or supplement, Dr. Devgun suggests that you fill your grocery cart with the colors of the rainbow, because the Rainbow Diet has nutrients to support vital functions:

  • Pile your cart with red, orange, yellow, green, blue/purple, tan/brown, and white fresh produce.
  • Focus on vegetables first and then fruits, to reduce your sugar intake.
  • Add whole grains and nuts to your cart. Walnuts, flaxseed, and hemp seeds are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids that are good for heart and brain health.
  • Fatty fish such as wild-caught salmon is also a great source of protein and fish oil.

Three supplements for everyone
Even with a nutritious, plant-based diet, Dr. Devgun says, there are three supplements crucial for every diet that are safe to take in small amounts daily:

  • Vitamin D is necessary for building and maintaining strong bones, as it helps the body absorb calcium. It’s also the only nutrient in the body released when exposed to sunlight. Getting your blood levels checked will determine just how much you need to take on the daily.
  • B-complex vitamins are needed when we are stressed, so a 100 mg capsule per day will help relieve fatigue and enhance sleep.
  • Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps build immune health, healthy skin and, yes, may help fend off a cold, in doses as small as 500 mg per day.
  • Fish oil can help lower cholesterol, lubricate dry eyes and support heart health, and it can decrease symptoms of depression.

Healthy gut, healthy brain
It might seem counterintuitive, Dr. Devgun says, but when treating anxiety, she often looks to a patient’s gut health, because “any imbalance in one area is going to impact the other area.” She recommends:

  • Focus on having three good meals a day, without snacking in between.
  • Think about what you’re eating, because that focus can shut off anxious thoughts, and the nutrients in the food communicate a healthy response to the brain.
  • Supplement your diet with the herb Ashwagandha to regulate stress responses, calm the brain and help with sleep. It comes in capsule form or as tea and is safe to use in low doses.

Inflammation and muscle soreness
From the COVID-19 virus to muscle soreness or eczema and psoriasis, inflammation can manifest in the body in many ways, including responses that cause glucose levels or blood pressure to increase. But there are several tasty and accessible ways to help control it:

  • Turmeric supplements are available, but Dr. Devgun says she would rather see her patients take in turmeric through their diet in cooking, in golden milk, or turmeric tea.
  • Ginger is also available as a supplement, but Dr. Devgun recommends ginger tea or ginger juice as delicious ways to access the spice’s anti-inflammatory benefits.
  • Pineapple contains an enzyme (bromelain) that acts like Pac Man and gobbles up debris in the body that causes inflammation. A bite of pineapple will do the trick, but bromelain can be taken as a supplement, but check with your provider if you’re on blood thinners.

Better sleep for better health
“There’s a reason why the body should sleep for a third of the day,” Dr. Devgun says, “because during the night is when all the organ clocks are activated to detoxify, repair and rejuvenate.” She recommends two supplements that relieve fatigue and support better sleep:

  • Siberian ginseng is an adaptogen, which helps the body handle stress and reduce inflammation.
  • B complex vitamin not only helps with improving energy during your waking hours but it can regulate the amino acid tryptophan in the body to help induce sleep. Dr. Devgun suggests B5 at a daily dose of 500 mg.

Virus fighters on your side

  • Zinc is an immune-modulating mineral that is effective in addressing skin conditions and sense of taste. It also improves mental focus and can fend off colds.
  • L-Lysine is an antiviral that can fend off cold sores, canker sores, and other herpes viruses.

Are you getting enough to drink?
There is an old truism that if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Dr. Devgun says dehydration often feels like headache or fatigue. Frequent yawning is also a symptom. She suggests:

  • Drinking four ounces of water every half-hour to stay hydrated. Drinking water in small amounts all day allows the body to absorb it without triggering frequent restroom stops.
  • Sip hot water if you don’t like it cold. Ingesting hot water has been a remedy since ancient times because heating it makes it lighter and more digestible.
  • “Chew your water, and drink your food,” she says. That means sipping your water throughout the day (versus gulping it all down at once), and chewing your food so well that you’re almost drinking it.

Clearly, there is a lot you can do to support your health by shopping the rainbow and taking water-soluble supplements such as Vitamin C, B complex and fish oil, but Dr. Devgun says you should consult your health provider to discuss your diet and supplements. Together you can identify underlying issues and ensure you are taking the correct supplements in the right doses.