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There's a Pill for That

Written by Kara Thompson

Photo by Silas Fallstich

A lot of people look for a quick fix when it comes to health, and these days it seems like there’s a supplement for almost everything. Having sleep trouble? Here, take this concoction of herbs. Want to improve your hair and skin? Toss back some collagen.

Many supplements on the market make big promises when it comes to results—better sleep, glowing skin, improved focus—but there’s no magic solution when it comes to health. Sometimes we need a little help from the right expert, like a functional medicine provider or nutritionist. So before you self-prescribe, here’s what you should know.

Vitamins vs Minerals

Let’s start with the basics. If you don’t know the difference between vitamins and minerals, then you certainly shouldn’t take supplements without consulting with a professional.

Dr. Will Cole, a functional medicine expert, explains that vitamins are things like vitamin A, B, C, and D. Minerals are things like selenium, magnesium, iodine, and zinc. Supplements that you buy at the market or a vitamin shop can include both vitamins and minerals. “Essentially supplements are nutrients that are found in foods, but in a condensed formula. Some supplements may specifically focus on vitamins while others may be more geared towards minerals. You can find others that are a blend of both,” he says.

Spot a Deficiency

When it comes to knowing whether you might have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, some common signs include weight loss or gain, poor vision, poor oral health, poor gut health, and hair loss. According to Dr. Cole, there are two main reasons you can be vitamin or mineral deficient: 1) You’re not eating enough of a variety of foods or supplementing properly or 2) You have digestive problems, which can lead to absorption issues of the foods or supplements you’re taking.

In Dr. Cole's functional medicine telehealth center, they’ve found that one of the most common deficiencies is vitamin D. One reason for this might be because vitamin D is hard to get through food alone. The other top deficiencies he sees in patients include vitamin B, selenium, iodine, and magnesium.

Talk to Your Doctor

While beneficial and oftentimes necessary for optimal health, many of us start on a supplement regimen without doing the proper leg work. News flash: taking supplements without guidance from a doctor can cause more harm than good. Some supplements can exacerbate existing symptoms, bring on new issues, or interact with medications you might already be taking.

During your yearly physical, your doctor should order basic blood work that checks for deficiencies in things like magnesium, calcium, and vitamin B. The results from these labs will give you insight into what food or supplements are appropriate for you. If you’re having any symptoms or if your provider is worried you might have absorption issues, there are labs that specifically look at the gut microbiome and its ability to absorb and properly utilize nutrients.

Photo by Silas Fallstich

Know What You’re Taking

Unfortunately, not all supplements are made equal. There are many on the market that have a lengthy list of filler ingredients like rice powder, gelatin, and corn syrup. These fillers can easily be avoided if you do some research or ask your doctor for some trusted brand recommendations.

Dr. Cole notes that it’s important to read the instructions on supplement bottles and adhere to them, unless otherwise instructed by your doctor. “There are some nutrients that are more shelf stable (meaning they don't need to be refrigerated) and there are other supplements that require temperature control to maintain their viability,” he explains. While a lot of companies invest a lot of time and money into researching their products, they’ll only work to the best of their ability if they’re stored properly.

Be Patient With Results

Noticeable benefits from supplements don’t happen overnight. A minimum of three months is necessary for supplements to truly begin to work, but it could take as long as 6 to 12 months. “Have patience with your body as it begins to absorb and utilize these nutrients,” Dr. Cole says.

It’s also important to remember that every person is different. What helped someone in your family might not be the best for you, even if you’re experiencing similar symptoms. Dr. Cole reminds his patients that eating a real, whole food diet with lots of vegetables and fruits goes a long way. “Also, consulting a functional medicine doctor to work specifically on what your body needs can take the pressure off of you having to figure out what you should be focusing on,” he explains. “Be kind and gracious to yourself when exploring the world of supplements and wanting to get more vitamins and nutrients in your diet.”

Supplement Stars

Three innovative, cleaner finds in the supplement space.

$150 for three month supply,


Create your own 3D printed gummy vitamins by simply taking a quiz online. After you answer some basic questions, like your age, history with certain health conditions, and sleep habits, Nourished will recommend a personalized seven layer supplement for you.

$50 for three month supply,

Viteyes Blue Light Defender

With an uptick in screen time this past year our eyes could use a major detox from blue light. This vegan Viteyes supplement is formulated with lutein and zeaxanthin, the only natural defenses our eyes have against the harmful effects of blue light.


Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides

Just one to two scoops of this practically tasteless powder makes an easy addition to smoothies, coffee, or water. Collagen supports healthy nails, hair, and skin while strengthening and improving the elasticity of our joints.


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