When it comes to your fitness routine and your diet, there’s something to be said for playing the field—like, doing a different workout every day to challenge different muscle groups, or hitting up new farmers’ market stands each week to ensure you’re getting a wide range of nutrients. But does the same go for your supplement regime?
The short answer: It depends. If you’re taking vitamins or minerals based on medical advice and are feeling healthy and happy, there’s no reason not to stay committed. Vitamins don’t become less effective over time. That said, there are certain scenarios in which it could be beneficial to replace, drop, or add a nutrient into your rotation. (Just make sure to check with your doctor first, since supplements can interact with one another—in nutrition, as in dating, it pays to be strategic.)
Is your supplement shelf due for a makeover? Here’s how to tell:
The seasons are shifting—or you’re moving to a whole new climate
According to Craig Elbert, co-founder and CEO of supplement brand Care/of, there’s no specific rule for when you should reassess your supplement arsenal. “Everyone is unique; there is no universal frequency,” he proclaims. “That said, we like to talk internally about making adjustments for the micro-adaptations and macro-adaptations of our lives.”
Micro-adaptations, he explains, are seasonal adjustments that tend to be cyclical or temporary in nature. Macro-adaptations are made in connection with lasting lifestyle and life-stage changes, such as moving from the rainy Northwest to the blazing-hot desert.
For instance, if it’s winter or you’re not getting as much sun as you’re used to, you may need some additional vitamin D or more energy support from supplements like B12 or functional mushrooms—all of which you may be able to phase out in the warmer months, when you’re exposed to more daylight.
Spring and fall, on the other hand, are prime times for supporting the immune system. “Elderberry is one great example [of a supplement for cold-prevention]—it’s an herbal product that has been used in traditional medicine, and has really powerful benefits for immunity,” says Elbert.
You changed your diet
First thing’s first: “Supplements don’t replace a healthy diet and lifestyle. They add to it,” says Ryan Perry, Director of Sales Training at supplement brand Metagenics. In other words, aim to maintain a balanced diet loaded with nutrient-rich foods, and then build your supplement regime from there based on any deficiencies—a simple blood test will show you if you’re missing out on anything.
Eliminating an entire food group is one surefire sign you may need to add a dietary supplement. Grain-free (AKA paleo and ketogenic) diets may be lower in B vitamins, while dairy-free diets may require you to rethink where to get your calcium, potassium, and magnesium. If you decide to try a vegetarian diet or simply find you’ve been consuming less meat than usual, keep an eye on your B12 and iron levels. The reverse is true, too—adding a food group may mean you can stop supplementing the nutrients that were once missing from your diet.
Still unsure? Here’s an in-depth cheat sheet that breaks down which supplements you likely need based on your diet.
You’re under a lot of stress
If work deadlines, S.O. drama, and news headlines have you perpetually on edge, supplements just might provide the relief you need, says Perry.
Along with healthy practices such as meditation, exercise and good sleep habits, extensive research shows that an added dose of high quality fish or flaxseed oils, rich in omega-3s, can effectively lower cortisol levels. This may also be a good time to seek out a magnesium supplement, as studies have shown that increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol are correlated with low magnesium.
Elbert also recommends adding adaptogenic herbs, such as ashwagandha or rhodiola, to your regime during stressful periods.
Your digestion is off
Digestion is another gauge of how well your supplements are working with your body—if you’re having gut issues, it may be time to lay off a little. Says Frank Lipman, MD: “I often stop [supplementing] or scale back on what someone is taking when they present digestive issues.”
After that, he creates a new regimen aimed at resolving the digestive problem. This never looks the same for any two people, he stresses, so it’s important to seek out your doctor’s advice. “I am a big believer in targeted supplementation addressing the needs of that particular person at that particular time in their life. And this changes constantly and needs to be individualized to each person.” (The inside scoop on what he’s taking: Krill oil, vitamin D, probiotics, a multivitamin, magnesium, glutathione, and more.)
It’s also crucial to note that digestion affects how we absorb our supplements. So if your doctor adds a digestive enzyme or a probiotic to your routine, it may help increase nutrient absorption from the food you’re eating. And that could mean you no longer have to take vitamins at all—an ideal scenario, indeed.