What Supplements Do I Take?

Updated September 2013

Every month or so, someone reads my recommendations for vegans, checks out some vegan multivitamins, and then writes me asking about the high levels (many times the RDA) of some individual vitamins in many of the vegan multivitamins.

B vitamins (including folic acid) and vitamin C can be very high in multivitamins. There are concerns that taking folic acid could be linked to cancer, but this connection is far from proven. In the meantime, limiting folic acid is prudent. [A meta-analysis from 2013 found no link between folic acid and cancer in the many clinical trials that have been performed using large amounts of folic acid. (1)] I’m not aware of any risks in taking B vitamins and vitamin C in the amounts found in typical vegan multivitamins.

There is also evidence that taking vitamin A (as retinol, retinyl palmitate, or retinyl acetate) can cause osteoporosis at typical amounts of 1,500 mcg (5,000 IU) found in vitamins. Vitamin A as carotenoids does not cause osteoporosis and is what is typically found in vegan vitamins. See Vitamin A at the Linus Pauling Institute for more info.

I thought it might interest readers to hear what supplements I take:

Calcium & Zinc: In the morning, I drink calcium-fortified soy milk and take a 25 mg zinc supplement (I break a 50 mg supplement in half). In the evening, I take one-half of a Trader Joe’s Ca/Mg/Zn supplement which provides 250 mg of calcium, 125 mg of magnesium, and 3.25 mg of zinc. I take it for the calcium and zinc.

Vitamin B12: I take half of a Trader Joe’s High Potency B “50″ tablet every morning and evening. This provides 50 µg of vitamin B12. I also suspect I can use a bit extra riboflavin which this provides.

Iodine: I take a 225 µg kelp tablet about once every 3 days. I hardly ever eat seaweed.

Vitamin D: During the warmer months (when sunburn is possible) I get out in the sun a lot, probably too much. During the colder months, I take a vitamin D supplement of 1,000 IU each day. Vitamin D2 supplements should be fine. I had my vitamin D levels tested in September of 2011 and they were at 34 ng/ml (84 nmol/l).

Vitamin A: I am pretty good about eating yellow vegetables or drinking carrot juice every day.

Omega-3s: I am a bit of an anomaly and do not adhere to my own recommendations. Around 2002, I had my blood clotting time tested. Being a vegan, I wanted to make sure I was getting enough omega-3s and that my blood wasn’t clotting too fast. Well, it turned out that it was actually clotting a bit too slowly. I had been taking one teaspoon of flaxseed oil per day for a couple years and decided to stop supplementing. I have had my clotting time tested a number of times since then and it is always a bit slower than normal. So for omega-3s, I will take a DHA tablet once in awhile, but by no means as often as I recommend for other vegans.

Creatine: I am a recreational weightlifter, lifting three times per week with short but intense workouts. For a long time, I supplemented with creatine off and on, but I think I’m finally done with that. It might benefit elite vegetarian athletes, but I did not find any consistent enough results to justify the cost or bother.

Reference

1. Martí-Carvajal AJ, Solà I, Lathyris D, Karakitsiou DE, Simancas-Racines D. Homocysteine-lowering interventions for preventing cardiovascular events. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 31;1:CD006612. | link

61 Responses to “What Supplements Do I Take?”

  1. Jack Norris’ Personal Supplement Regimen | Vegan.com Says:

    [...] vary significantly between people, and what’s ideal for Jack may not be perfect for others. Link. Spread the [...]

  2. Erik Marcus Says:

    Very helpful! I’m glad you posted this Jack. It’s really cool to get a sense of what a vegan dietitian personally does to avoid nutrient deficiencies.

  3. beforewisdom Says:

    Are sunlamps safe? Do they have UV or cancer causing rays?

  4. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Yes, they do have UV rays. You have to limit the time you spend in front of them, and wear special goggles so they don’t damage your eyes. But, that said, if you follow the instructions (and, admittedly, I sit in front of them a bit longer than recommended and haven’t noticed any sort of burn), you should be fine. At least, I’m unaware of information to the contrary.

  5. beforewisdom Says:

    Are the recommended exposure times verified as safe via clinical studies of some kind?

  6. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Not that I’m aware of. I couldn’t find any studies on it at PubMed.com. I don’t see why they would be any different from the safety of the sun — small amounts are safe for most people but you want to avoid long exposure or burning.

  7. Dawn Ratcliffe Says:

    Hey, Jack. This is great info so thanks for sharing. I’m now wondering if I’m taking too much omega-3…I take one 300mg DHA tablet virtually every day and eat a handful of walnuts virtually every day as well. What do you think?

  8. Jack Norris RD Says:

    That sounds just about right. – Jack

  9. Denise Says:

    Is there such a thing as getting too much B12? Are there any studies on a regular intake of B12 supplements? Also, how much B12 would you recommend for a 4 year old and an 8 year old vegan boys? Thanks for your insight.

  10. Jack Norris RD Says:

    The amounts recommended here are safe and people often ingest much higher amounts with no known adverse effects. The recommendations on that page are the same for 4 and 8 year olds, with the exception that I might not give a 4-year old 1,000 mcg at one time. Maybe 250 mcg tops. There is no evidence that more than that is harmful, but why chance it?

  11. Kim Porter Says:

    Can you recommend a brand of DHA supplement? I’m having a difficult time finding a vegan supplement where I live. I thought I found one but on closer inspection it used porcine gelatin. Any help would be appreciated.

  12. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Kim,

    There are a number that you can get via mail. I have a table of some on this page.

  13. Jack Norris RD Says:

    You can get vitamin D lamps at Sperti.com.

  14. Paul Rogers Says:

    The only thing I’ve seen about B12 is a possible risk of aggressive prostate cancer with excess amounts. Certainly not definitive though.

    http://preview.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18268110

  15. Betty Says:

    Jack, seeing as you are a scientist, maybe you can help me with this. If we need only a little bit of certain vitamins, why do they make such huge dosages of the supplemental form? B-50 is a commonly used vitamin; who the heck needs so much B-1, B-2, B-3, B-6 etc?

  16. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Betty,

    I’m not sure why they put so much B vitamins in supplements.

  17. Rod Says:

    Hi Jack,

    How do you view creatine supplementation in terms of safety and overall health? I know it already exists in the body but some health purists would argue it is unnatural to have abnormally high levels in the body.

    I also take creatine (3~5g intake/day, cycled) and have always wondered about this and changes I should perhaps make to my diet to account for creatine intake.

    Thanks!

    Rod

  18. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Hi Rod,

    This article is everything I know about creatine and athletic performance. I hope it will answer your questions:

    http://veganhealth.org/articles/weightlifting#creat

  19. Rod Says:

    Very interesting, ineed! What do you imagine accounts for vegetarians/vegans showing greater gains from creatine consumption than non-vegetarians?

  20. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Rod,

    The fact that we don’t get any in our diets normally and, therefore, generally have lower levels.

  21. Leah Says:

    How much B12 would you give to a two year old for supplementation? She does not drink soymilk, she drinks hemp milk. I just bought liquid drops in a dropper. She’s been vegan since birth but I have just started being vegan six months ago so she may have gotten b12 through me. I have not supplemented b12 yet but am worried that she may be low.

  22. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Leah,

    Here is a list of my recommendations for all ages:

    http://veganhealth.org/articles/dailyrecs

  23. Leah Says:

    Thanks Jack! What would you consider reliable b12 sources? I know you mentioned fortified soymilk. What about liquid supplements?

  24. Jack Norris RD Says:

    > What about liquid supplements?

    I haven’t seen research on liquid supplements, but as long as it contains the cyanocobalamin form of B12 it should be fine. Other forms are not as stable and I would be concerned about their deterioration in liquid form.

  25. Vegan nutrition 101. « Vegan That Says:

    [...] even essential for one to take vitamins while they are still learning how to balance a good diet. Here, Jack Norris, R.D. writes about how he balances a good diet while making sure that he gets all [...]

  26. M C Says:

    Why did you want more zinc?

  27. Jack Norris RD Says:

    M C,

    > Why did you want more zinc?

    Good question. My answer may not be worth the cyperspace that it’s written in but here it is…

    For a couple months, whenever I got slightly less sleep than what I thought I needed, I started to feel like I was getting a sore throat. I accidentally bought some non-calcium-fortified soymilk, so I decided to take a full Trader Joe’s Ca-Mg-Zn supplement each day (to make up for the calcium I normally get from the soy milk). A few days later, I noticed that the sore throat feeling I had been getting off and on had disappeared. As I’ve kept up the full supplement, it has not come back in a few months, despite some bouts of less sleep than ideal, and I suspect it has not returned because of the extra zinc. Not including supplements, my zinc intake tends to hover right around the RDA, but perhaps I do better with more or maybe it’s because zinc is probably better absorbed from a supplement than from legumes which are high in phytates that can bind zinc. Or it might have just been a coincidence, or even the extra magnesium. In any case, there’s few things I hate worse than getting a sore throat so I’m sticking with the extra zinc for now.

  28. M C Says:

    I think your answer is interesting. It makes sense that it would be the extra zinc, especially if your dietary intake is borderline.

  29. Colleen Says:

    Oh goodness, now I’m confused! I know I’m late to this discussion–I somehow recently ended up looking at Joel Fuhrman’s “gentle” vegan vitamins and now after seeing this I’m worried that I’m getting too much of certain things, like A, in my vegan multivitamin. I also have been following your Omega recommendations for about a year. Two years ago I was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura; my platelets are just below normal, but nothing serious. After reading your comment about your own blood clotting I’m wondering if I shouldn’t be supplementing Omegas? Part off my confusion is that any doctors I’ve seen don’t seem to know anything about vegan diets. I guess your post does raise more questions for me, such as: do you not recommend daily multivitamins but instead something more like your own method?

  30. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Hi Colleen,

    I would encourage you to talk to your doctor about whether your thrombocytopenia purpura would contraindicate supplementing with omega-3s. If you have any signs of easy bruising, then I wouldn’t do so.

    > I guess your post does raise more questions for me, such as: do you not recommend daily multivitamins but instead something more like your own method?

    I don’t mean to be unhelpful, but I do not recommend whether individuals should take multivitamins or not. Rather, I give recommendations for what might be deficient in a typical vegan diet and leave it up to people to decide on their own how is best to get those nutrients. I tend to think it’s best not to supplement when you don’t need to, but I do not follow that advice 100% and do not necessarily think it’s correct in all cases.

  31. Colleen Says:

    Thanks for your prompt response. I don’t think you’re being unhelpful, quite the contrary. I spent a good hour or two looking through your other posts and see that the multivitamin debate is ongoing (sorry, I probably should have done that before posting, especially since you seem to get this question a lot!). It seems like that’s at least partly due to research/studies that are inconclusive. I panicked a bit when reading this post yesterday, but you’ve given me some good perspective. Thanks for the advice about ITP, too.

  32. Betty Says:

    Here is an acupuncture doctor’s take on supplementation with nutriceuticals/vitamins etc. Some of you may find this of interest; I know I do. I personally do take a few vitamins from time to time (B-12) but always wonder if we need to ingest a whole load of them.

    Dr. Keller, in his articles section, has a recipe for vegan thanksgiving turkey. I was somewhat taken aback by his “microwave option for gravy”. I consider microwaved food worse than the worst junk food. This guy is a real example of yin ‘n’ yang, isn’t he! Especially considering that he calls himself a practitioner of classical Chinese medicine – that’s the real item – as opposed to the watered-down “traditional” Chinese medicine which was actually invented during the cultural revolution. Now you know…

    http://www.robertkellerca.com/nutraceuticals.htm

  33. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Betty,

    I have not seen any credible evidence that microwaves are harmful. And they use a lot less electricity than conventional ovens, so there might be an environmental argument for using them.

    As for Dr. Keller’s theory, I think there is an argument to be made that, generally, getting nutrients through foods is better than trying to isolate them and compile them in a supplement. But for some nutrients that we know we require and do get enough of, to prevent acute deficiency, through the foods we choose, supplements can improve our health. Usually these arguments against supplements are made with an underlying idea that supplements will not prevent cancer but that is a lot different than supplements not curing acute nutrient deficiencies.

  34. Teresa Says:

    Does a vegan need both epa and dha in a omega 3 supplement?

  35. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Teresa,

    Probably not – DHA is probably sufficient, especially if you are making sure you add a bit of extra ALA to your diet as I recommend here:

    http://veganhealth.org/articles/dailyrecs

    You can read more of an explanation here:

    http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=3023

  36. Teresa Says:

    Thanks Jack!

    Here’s another one for you. My husband, who is a long time vegan, is now facing surgery for an enlarged prostate that is causing urine to back up into his kidneys and is damaging his bladder. He thought his vegan diet was a cure-all. He is now cathertized for the second time this year because of this issue. He is 64 and otherwise very healthy. Is there anything you know of that he can do with diet or supplements to avoid surgery? I can’t find any reference on your site about vegan prostate issues.

  37. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Teresa,

    That’s not my expertise, I’m afraid. Dean Ornish, MO works with prostate patients, though I don’t know how accessible he is. I’m sorry I can’t help and good luck.

  38. Brandon Becker Says:

    Since very few supplements are USP certified, I worry about the quality. I’ve contacted a few companies of supplements I currently take or have taken in the past to ask about their standards.

    DEVA (which makes exclusively vegan vitamins) has not responded to any of my emails (sent over the last two weeks, using both their contact form and direct email address) asking how I can trust their supplements given that they are not USP certified. This certainly leads me to question the quality of their supplements and I’m not going to be buying any more in the future until I get a satisfactory reply. Nothing on DEVA’s website gives any indication of the quality of their supplements either.

    Another company, Nutraceutical (the maker of VegLife vegan supplements among others) specifically stated in an email to me that they would not answer my question over email and said I would have to call. It’s not too much to ask for a written response and I will no longer buy any VegLife (or other Nutraceutical) supplements until I get a written reply.

    The other companies I asked – Solgar, Country Life, and Garden of Life – each responded promptly and with explanations of how their supplements are produced to quality standards.

  39. Ellen Kraffmiller Says:

    Thank you for the excellent information on this website. I bought a vegan DHA made from Algea (the brand is Minami Nutrition), and in the directions it said that it shouldn’t be taken by anyone with an allergy to iodine, even though iodine isn’t listed in the nutritional information.

    Is it common for DHA made from algae to contain iodine? Would it have enough iodine to cover the daily recommended value for iodine?

    Thanks,
    Ellen

  40. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Ellen,

    DHA pills are probably not a reliable source of iodine but rather iodine is a possible “contaminant”. It also seems very unlikely that someone with an iodine “allergy” would react to the iodine in a DHA pill. Here is more info on iodine reactions:

    http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400772/Allergic-to-Iodine.html

  41. Betty Says:

    How do they test your prothrombin time? Is this an expensive test?

  42. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Betty,

    Blood clotting time is a very common test. You’d have to ask your doctor the details.

  43. Brandon Becker Says:

    Update: I sent an email to DEVA today and finally got a response.

    Here’s their response to my question about product quality:
    “All of our products are manufactured in GMP certified and, FDA inspected facilities in the USA. Assay, ID and micro testing is employed before during and after manufacturing based on GMP guidelines. We hope this helps.”

    I don’t know what the issue was with their communication before but I was glad to receive a reply this time (in less than an hour even!) and also hear that they have standards in place to ensure product quality.

  44. dimqua Says:

    Have you stopped using a vitamin D lamp? Why?

  45. Jack Norris RD Says:

    dimpqua,

    > Have you stopped using a vitamin D lamp? Why?

    Because I moved from the foggy, cold Oakland hills to sunny, warm (much of the time) Davis. I now get plenty of sun during the warmer months which around here are from April through October. And I supplement during the winter to hold me over. When I lived in Oakland, it was even a challenge to get enough sun in the summer.

  46. Kim Says:

    This was really helpful. Thanks Jack! Do you take an iron supplement? Do you know if TJ’s sell a vegan iron supplement?

  47. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Kim,

    I don’t take an iron supplement and I don’t think anyone should unless they have iron deficiency. I have never looked into TJ’s iron supplements. Here is more info on iron: http://veganhealth.org/articles/iron

  48. Ryan Says:

    Thank you for this information, Jack. What brand of iodine supplement do you take? I don’t think Trader Joes has one. I think Whole Foods has its own kelp supplement, but I’m not entirely sure it’s vegan. Thanks, Ryan

  49. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Ryan,

    I take a kelp tablet supplement from Berkeley Bowl, a natural food store in Berkeley. Finding vegan kelp tablets should not be hard, but I don’t think Trader Joe’s has one (as you suggested).

  50. Sherri Says:

    Dear Jack, you are a superhero for animals and I admire you & VO deeply for your work – but I heed the health advice of Dr. Fuhrman, who, for many years, has warned people about the danger of folic acid supplements. Thank you for updating your recommendation.

  51. Frances Says:

    Hi, thanks for your interesting information. I was under the impression that calcium inhibited the absorption of zinc, but the fact that they are contained together (plus magnesium) in the Trader Joe supplement you take, suggests this may not be the case.

    Related to this question, it would seem logically that we might get the most nutrients out of our diet by giving attention to not eating conflicting foods together. So, for instance, I might have a snack of almonds etc at a different time from eating some chocolate, or if calcium is in fact inhibiting zinc absorption, having a calcium-rich snack at a separate time from eating foods that I want to get my zinc from. Could get a little complicated to manage, but might say divide my food intake into 6 “bites”, and think of one or two of these as my “calcium” bites etc etc.

    Any idea how much time between snacks/meals is needed to avoid these nutrient “conflicts” (and suspect like most things nutritional, that won’t be clear cut but will depend on food type, individual metabolism etc)?

    Also, I’m confused whether if I eat an “inhibiting” food eg grains that may inhibit zinc absorption with say a pumpkins seed sauce or garnish which I want to get zinc from, does the grain prevent all the zinc absorption, or just a proportion based on the proportions of the food eaten?

    Phew, that’s it for now, this does get endlessly complex and I’ve found I can end up doubting every mouthful, also not good for the health!!

  52. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Frances,

    The only nutrients I would worry about not mixing are calcium supplements at meals where you want iron absorption. If you want more details on zinc and calcium see this article:

    http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/zinc/

    However, as I said, I wouldn’t worry about it. Just because one mineral might inhibit absorption of another one doesn’t mean you won’t absorb any of the inhibited mineral.

  53. Ryan Says:

    Hi Jack,

    I came across this study about calcium supplementation from a health vegan page, and wondered if you saw it. I am curious what you think. The main point is that calcium supplementation is correlated with heart disease. I realize there are other studies that say there is no link. Which finding/interpretation is more convincing to you?

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3722731/

    Thanks

  54. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Ryan,

    I don’t think there’s anything to worry about in the amounts I recommend (300 mg per day or less) or even as much as 500 mg per day, but my sense from the research is that what matters most is the total amount of calcium you get each day and very few vegans are going to go as high as the 1,400 mg/day that is associated with heart disease. Here are more details on my take on it:

    http://veganhealth.org/articles/bones#casupp

  55. Mimi Says:

    I was wondering, I have been reading your site and have a question. My husband has been using serrapeptase as a supplement for the last 3 months because he read about it on a natural medicine blog. http://www.energizewellness.com He tells me that it is an enzyme that dissolves dead cells in our body. So it can keep your veins and arteries clean from blockage and improve blood flow. Keeps clots from forming also I guess.
    He is also a vegan and recreational rugby player and I was wondering if you had any experience with this supplement? Or know anything about it? Thank you

  56. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Mimi,

    Enzymes are not generally able to be absorbed from the digestive tract into the blood stream, so one problem would be getting it into the blood. I checked PubMed and there appears to be very little research using it. I’d be very surprised if it can clean veins and arteries. If it were able to do this, it would be considered a miracle drug/supplement and everyone would be taking it. Wikipedia sums it up fairly well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serrapeptase

  57. Betty Says:

    It’s not for me to say whether or not the claims made for serrapeptase are accurate, totally dishonest, or at best kind of exaggerated. However, your statement that if these claims were indeed correct “it would be considered a miracle drug and everyone would be taking it”. Well, not necessarily. Look at all the claims made for healthy versions of vegan diets (just for one example), yet millions of people won’t even give them a try but prefer to hoot and sneer at the mere thought of being denied their daily dose of greasy ribs.

    I do believe that Dr. Abram Hoffer successfully treated serious mental illness with certain vitamins, there is plenty of evidence. Yet, how many are lining up to try his approach? Vitamins just don’t have the right patina. More fun to sit on a psychiatrist’s sofa and then gratefully receive his poisons.

    As they say, all diseases can be cured, but not all people.

  58. Mimi Says:

    Thank you for your reply. After reading your response I went to PubMD then WebMD to research. The information was general in WebMD, but the 46 reviews were mostly very positive for a multitude of uses(kind of surprised me) with very few if any side effects. Some of the PubMD studies were also quite positive.
    Here was a conclusion from the Alzheimer’s Disease study. “The present results support our hypothesis that the oral administration of proteolytitc enzymes, SP and/or NK, would have an effective role in modulating certain factors characterizing AD. Thus, these enzymes may have a therapeutic application in the treatment of AD.”
    Also Betty, thank you for your feedback. I am beginning to realize that that not all treatments for our bodies need to come from western medical science. I read that serrapeptase has been used in Europe and Japan effectively for over 30 years and in many cases is prescribed by doctors.

  59. Paul Rogers Says:

    I remain unconvinced. Here is a review:

    Int J Surg. 2013;11(3):209-17. Serratiopeptidase: a systematic review of the existing evidence. Bhagat S, Agarwal M, Roy V.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23380245

    “CONCLUSION: Serratiopeptidase is being used in many clinical specialities for its anti-inflammatory, anti-edemic and analgesic effects. It is even being promoted as a health supplement to prevent cardiovascular morbidity. The existing scientific evidence for Serratiopeptidase is insufficient to support its use as an analgesic and health supplement. The data on long-term safety of this enzyme is lacking. Evidence based recommendations on the analgesic, anti-atherosclerotic efficacy, safety and tolerability of Serratiopeptidase are needed.”

  60. Mimi Says:

    Paul, thank you for your replies to my posts. I am going to go forward with my research and appreciate you’re giving me some inspiration and direction. I was not trying to convince you of anything I just was looking for direction myself which you gave to me. Have a very Happy Holiday Season.

  61. Jack Norris RD Says:

    If anyone comes across some good information explaining how an enzyme can be absorbed into the bloodstream from the digestive tract intact, I’d be interested to know about it.

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