Time to spring clean your body! Diet tech Anni Weeks gives expert recommendations on what vitamins and minerals dietitians should recommend to springtime clients.
Springtime is exciting, but it also brings a brand new set of challenges. From being more active to avoiding allergies, it can be hard to know the right supplement regimen. Many of you are asking, what supplements should I take in the spring?
I always recommend food first, but if that’s not doing the trick, there are some supplements you can take to treat deficiencies. Talk to your dietitian about these seven stellar nutrient supplements. The right balance of nutrients can do wonders for your energy and mood.
Read on for seven of my favorite springtime supplements.
Many people associate seasonal affective disorder with winter. However, this imbalance that influences mood can cause springtime sadness as well.
Vitamin D works to boost hormone functionality, and ultimately can act to boost mood. It’s also linked to regulating skin defenses, disease prevention, and immunity. Additionally, it is essential for energy, muscle structure and function, and plays a vital role in bone health.
This unique vitamin is found in only a few foods. It’s known as the “sunshine vitamin” because sunlight is needed to help the body convert vitamin D into a form that is usable. Even just getting out for 5-10 minutes each day to experience the sun and warmer spring weather can help the body safeguard against deficiency.
Foods to get it from first: fortified dairy products, mushrooms, eggs, cod liver oil, fatty fish
April showers may bring May flowers, but the showers also introduce allergens into the air. Weird transition weather plus extended outdoor hours means increased exposure to the elements. Allergens get kicked up into the air and off the trees as windy, rainy, or snowy weather comes.
Vitamin C helps fortify immune health. Supplements aren't a magic pill. Just like drinking a ton of orange juice with vitamin C won't cure the cold you have right now, supplements need to be taken consistently to provide the kind of protection you are looking for.
It can take upwards of 3-6 months to see signs and symptoms change, but supplements often accomplish in the long-term what medications use a "band-aid fix" for in the short term -- and they typically involve lower risk and less side effects.
In terms of immunity, vitamin C provides support and protection to the immune system. It arms the body to fight against treats like spring stressors or the common cold/flu.
Foods to get it from first: citrus (in season!), strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, dark leafy vegetables
Recommended Product(s): USP verified Kirkland Signature
Vitamin E is often added to skin and scalp products because it is a key factor in skin and scalp health. The body uses vitamin E to protect cell membranes, slow damage to cells, and protect the intestines and other body tissues from threats. Deficiency can cause problems from head to toe - quite literally - with symptoms ranging from neuromuscular in nature to effects on vascular and reproductive systems.
In the winter, eating and ingesting the proper amount of vitamin E can help to keep the skin soft and protected. Like vitamin D, it’s important to ingest vitamin E with healthy fats for the best level of absorption.
The need for vitamin E is partially dependent upon the amount of poly-unsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs consumed. PUFAs are a class of fatty acids that include important essential compounds that the body can’t produce on its own. Omega-3 is one example of a PUFA. In other words, this relationship between vitamin E and dietary PUFAs exists because the requirement for vitamin E increases or decreases as the degree of unsaturated fatty acids in body tissues rises or falls. The good news is that good sources of PUFAs also tend to be adequate sources of vitamin E.
Foods to get it from first: avocados, papayas, peaches, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, nuts, seeds, sunflower and safflower oils, vegetable and plant oils, egg yolk, wheat germ
Fermented Cod Liver Oil
Omega-3 fatty acids, a “good kind” of dietary fat, are crucial for the body to maintain many of its functions.
Why Cod Liver Oil and Not Fish Oil?
The main reason I recommend cod liver oil supplements over fish oil supplements is that cod liver oil has the added benefit of vitamins A and D. It has the higher levels of EPA and DHA just like fish oil does.
The presence of vitamin A and D in cod liver oil are linked to many benefits:
Lower inflammation, triglycerides, and blood pressure
Higher HDL (“good”) cholesterol
Reduced pain, anxiety, and depression
Promotion of fetal brain function
Prevention of plaque build up in the arteries
Maintenance of bone density
Lower risk of chronic disease
Prevention of upper respiratory illness
Why Is Cod Liver Oil Fermented?
The term “fermented” simply refers to the process used to extract the oils. This process is thought to protect the most beneficial components of fish oil -- the fatty acids.
I’ve linked some evidence-based articles written by non-dietitians that I’ve found helpful in weighing the risk and benefits of taking fermented cod liver oil:
Foods to get it from first: Salmon, tuna, cod, sardines, flaxseed, chia seed
Recommended Product(s): Green Pasture Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil (I would recommend getting the Orange Flavor -- helps to mask the taste of fish oil)
Folate & Other B vitamins
All B-vitamins are important, but folate is a special one. Folate plays a vital role in mood regulation. Taking a bioavailable form of folate can help you to support your cellular health, prevent disease, and bolster your mood.
In addition to folate, it’s important to get other B-vitamins as well. Vitamins in the B-family are widely found in foods but the more they are processed, the less nutrients they often contain. It may seem a marginal loss until you consider this conclusion from a recent study showing a strong link between low levels of B vitamins and depression:
“Low folate and B12 serum levels seem to be associated with depression. Folate has been linked to depression and there is a strong body of evidence suggesting the introduction of folate supplement in the prevention and treatment of depression…”
Foods to get it from first: dark leafy greens, beans, lentils, peas, avocados, nuts, seeds, broccoli
“Adaptogens are a class of herbs used to support the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis—our central stress response system—and increase the body’s resilience to a broad spectrum of stressors. When used, these herbs may help regulate and balance the stress response."
Magic herbs, amirite? That’s about as magical and spring-timey as it can get. I personally recommend Rhodiola Rosea (pills pictured above).
A Brief Bit of Info About Rhodiola
Rhodiola has been used traditionally as a medicine in many countries across the world. It is also known by the following names:
Rhodiola rosea (latin name)
Grown in high altitudes and cold regions of Europe and Asia, it was historically used in an effort to increase work performance, altitude sickness, or fatigue. In the modern day, supplement companies boast a number of claims -- so I’m here to give you the bottom line on what you can believe.
The existing evidence tells us this about Rhodiola:
There’s not enough evidence to draw health-related conclusions
It has been used safely in studies lasting 6-12 weeks
We don’t know how safe it is to use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding
The herb Rhodiola isn’t indicated (yet) for any particular use, however it has been promoted for the following reasons:
Mental and physical stamina
Depression and anxiety management
My professional advice? Consult your healthcare team before adding this supplement to your regimen. At the correct dosage, it is typically regarded by dietitians as low risk. A recent study drew attention to the high variability of the adaptogen content between products, so having a registered and credentialed professional by your side can ease the decision-making process.
In addition to the supplements and foods listed above, I would highly recommend finding a good probiotic and learning which probiotic foods you love! Probiotics help the gut stay healthy by improving intestinal balance and helping “good” gut bacteria to thrive.
Intestinal health is linked to many things, from mood to appetite to immunity. A healthy gut often means a healthy body and mind as well. Spring is an important time to keep balanced, especially since routines can change regularly from spring break, back to school, and then on to summertime.
When looking for a good probiotic supplement, find a product that is third-party verified (such as with the USP verified seal) and one that has little to no additives. I would also recommend looking for a probiotic that contains at least 10-13 strains (10-13 billion live cells). Essentially, this encourages maintenance of diversity in gut bacteria, a major marker for digestive and overall health.
Foods to get it from first: yogurt, kefir, aged cheeses, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, cultured non-dairy yogurts (often fortified with live cultures)
The Bottom Line
Taking supplements in the spring can be a great way to enhance your health and elevate your mood. Vitamin and mineral supplements are most effective when taken as directed by health professionals AND in combination with a healthful diet.
If you feel overwhelmed, start out by taking a good multivitamin. Also, don’t forget I have an entire page on my website dedicated to Free Vitamin Guides, where you can learn more about each vitamin. Everyone is different, and so it’s important to understand what your body needs and how you can provide it with the nutrients it needs.
Norris T. What’s the Difference Between Cod Liver Oil and Fish Oil? Healthline.com. Published August 13, 2018.
Metrus L. Physicians Say These Are the Best Supplements to Take This Spring. Byrdie.com. Published December 11, 2019.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Rhodiola. Nccih.nih.gov. Published October 2020.