Here are 16 supplements you can’t afford to be stranded without
If you’re a longtime reader of mine, then you likely already know what my Desert Island supplement list is. Quite simply, it’s a list of supplements that I would never want to be without. In other words, if I were shipwrecked on a desert island, they’re the only ones I’d need!
Indeed, these are the supplements I believe everyone should be taking—regardless of age, sex, or health status—as I feel they are absolutely critical to good health (along with a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise, of course).
Now, you may have noticed it’s been years since I put out a new list. And needless to say, a lot has happened since my last update in 2016. Not least of all, the arrival of an earth-shaking global pandemic in the form of COVID-19.
So really, I couldn’t think of a better time to revisit my list. Because while some of the supplements have stayed the same, there have been a handful of new additions that everyone should know about.
So, without further ado, I present to you…
My 2020 Desert Island Supplement List
1. Vitamin D3. Even though the desert island in my mind would be tropical—which means I probably wouldn’t need vitamin D, as ample sunshine is a great way of getting this critical nutrient—I’m including it on this list first for reasons that should be obvious by now.
I simply can’t say enough about this vitamin (which is actually a hormone, by the way). As I’ve shared over the years, research shows it can protect your bones, help fight cancer, lower your risk of heart disease, and improve mood and memory—not to mention its effects on inflammatory bowel diseases and respiratory viruses like the flu, common colds, and even coronavirus.
In fact, vitamin D is key to a strong immune system. I attribute this nutrient to helping me get through the coronavirus pandemic unscathed, despite living in the epicenter of the American outbreak and traveling on mass transit. And the recent studies pointing to its role in reducing the virus’s most lethal risks has made me appreciate this vitamin even more.1-2
As I mentioned above, you can get vitamin D naturally, through direct exposure to sunshine. But you’d have to be outside, with most of your skin exposed, without sunscreen, for 20 minutes each and every day… which isn’t especially practical anywhere but a desert island, particularly in the winter.
That’s why I always recommend taking D3 in supplement form.
As to how much to take, ask your doctor to test your vitamin D 25 OH blood levels. Your number should be between 80 and 100 ng/mL. But if you’re like the vast majority of people, it’s probably much lower than that—and you’ll need at least 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day to hit your target.
If your levels are deficient (below 30 ng/mL), or if repeat testing shows your levels aren’t budging, I suggest increasing your dose. I personally take 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day, and so do many of my patients. Doing so is perfectly safe with regular monitoring.
2. Multivitamins. Multivitamins don’t seem to get a lot of credit these days, despite being one of the best investments you can make in your health. And it’s not hard to imagine why—a lot of conventional options are relics of another era, relying on formulations that are decades old.
But the challenges to our health have evolved dramatically over the years. And you need a vitamin that can keep up: One that can help to fight 21st century epidemics—like metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
That’s why you’ll want to find one that contains optimal doses of all the essential nutrients your body needs. (With the Standard American Diet being so nutrient poor, we all may as well be living on a desert island.)
And if you can find a multivitamin that includes extra support for healthy blood sugar and lipid levels as well—two modern-day necessities that you won’t find in most multivitamins—even better!
That’s why I recommend looking for a product that, at the very least, contains:
- 25 mg of vitamin B6
- 500 mcg of vitamin B12
- 620 mg of vitamin C
- 2,000 IU of vitamin D3
- 100 IU of vitamin E
- 100 mcg of vitamin K2
- 100 mg of berberine
3. Probiotics. I’ve said it before, but true health starts in the gut. Your gut is your second brain—and it’s another essential key to a healthy immune system. You simply can’t live a vibrant, healthy life without these tiny bugs. And the simplest way to make sure your microbial population is thriving is by taking a high-quality probiotic daily.
Look for one with multiple live strains of good bacteria. Just remember, when it comes to probiotics, more isn’t necessarily better. The key is diversity of strains rather than quantity. A good probiotic should also have its own food supply (known as prebiotics) and postbiotics (such as bacteriocins) to help to kill off the bad bugs in your gut.
The best probiotic products will check all of these boxes—which is why I’ve always recommended Dr. Ohirra’s. It features a dozen different strains of friendly flora in just one capsule daily—along with prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. And it’s the only live strain on the market that doesn’t need refrigeration, to boot.
4. Cannabidiol (CBD). I’ve been working with medical marijuana (including CBD and its cousin, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC) for over a decade, thanks to my license in California. But I’m now proud to be able to prescribe it for all of my patients.
I’ve talked about its benefits a lot lately—but let’s review some key points: CBD is an extract from the industrial hemp plant, which is naturally very low in THC. (Unlike CBD, THC is the cannabidiol that gets you “high.”)
There are many CBD products on the market these days, so it’s important to shop smart. You want to get a product that’s made from the full-spectrum hemp plant, to ensure you get all of the beneficial phytocannabanoids you’re paying for. (I often prefer a liquid product so you can conveniently dose yourself up or down, depending on the concern.)
The right CBD product can be life-changing. CBD works on so many different parts of your body, as your natural endocannabinoid system mediates the functioning of virtually every cell in your body. That’s why CBD can work so powerfully on pain, stress, high blood pressure, and so much more.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that CBD has transformed my practice. It’s now one of my first prescriptions in place of antidepressants anti-anxiety medications—and my pain and blood pressure prescriptions have also dropped dramatically since I started recommending CBD to my patients.
Dosing is often individualized. Different patients will experience different results—because each endocannabinoid system is different. To find the dose that’s best for you, I recommend starting out with a small amount and working your way up until you reach the desired result for each specific health concern. (Luckily, CBD is safe and non-addictive—meaning you can’t overdose on it.)
Plus, as I explained in last month’s issue—you may choose to use different forms of CBD. I often recommend CBD capsules, balm, and oil, as each form is better for different applications.
For example, I would recommend one capsule, twice daily for everyday relief and comfort. Then, I would recommend the balm for any specific, painful spots that require immediate treatment. Meanwhile, the oil offers the best absorption and makes it easier to titrate to the specific dose you need for each individual concern.
5. French maritime pine tree bark extract (Pycnogenol®). This remains one of my favorite supplements of all time. There’s almost nothing pine bark extract can’t do because it works primarily on collagen and elastin—essentially, what makes up the cells in our body, and holds them all together.
There are close to 400 human trials dealing with pine bark’s effects on just about every ailment imaginable—whether it’s improving fine lines and wrinkles or combating metabolic syndrome, easing menopause symptoms, or shortening the duration of the flu. (So yes—this, too, is a good immune health product.)
I recommend 50 to 100 mg of pine bark extract per day for general health.
6. BRM-4/BioBran. This is a new product—and I’m very excited about it.
In fact, I’m ranking this as the number one immune support product on this list—replacing AHCC, which has held this spot for years. (Not that AHCC isn’t still an amazing product—but I’m just that thrilled about the new research on BRM-4.)
This product is also known as Rice Bran Arabinoxylan Concentrate (RBAC). And while the name might be a mouthful, the supplement itself is simple. It’s derived from the plant cell walls of rice bran, which are then blended with shiitake mushroom enzymes.
Again, it’s still new—but as I explained back in the October 2019 issue, there’s some very exciting research on its ability to safely modulate the immune system and to raise natural killer (NK) cell activity.3 (These are your body’s first natural line of defense against both viral infections and cancer.)
So, especially now while immune health is critically important, it’s certainly worth adding a high-quality source of BRM-4 to your daily regimen. A quick internet search for “BRM-4 supplement” will lend you an option, offering 500 mg daily. I recommend taking two capsules three times daily for one month, followed by one capsule twice daily for maintenance.
7. Plasmanex. This product is another new addition to the list. Simply put, it supports healthy circulation.
One capsule contains 125 mg of Bacillopeptidase F, which is a natural soy enzyme extracted through a patented fermentation process. This proprietary blend helps to optimize blood flow, which in turn boosts heart health.
Lab studies show that Plasmanex can reduce PAI-1,
a compound in the blood that contributes to clot formation—which means it can help slash risk of heart attacks, stroke, and pulmonary embolism (blood clots that block the lung).
And needless to say, we need this kind of support now more than ever. The typical American lifestyle—marked by sky-high rates of obesity, heart disease, and cancer—fuels blood clot formation. (But there are a lot of other potential risk factors, too—like aging, dehydration, long distance travel, and pregnancy, to name a few.)
That’s why I recommend taking two capsules of Plasmanex per day.
8. Curcumin. This is another old favorite—and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, as more and more research continues to reveal its incredible healing powers.
As you may know, curcumin is the active compound in the common kitchen spice turmeric. But there’s nothing common about its clinically proven benefits.
According to one recent study, curcumin may help prevent diabetes in people at high risk.4 Another study showed curcumin extract worked as well as Prozac® for treating depression.5 And research has also shown benefits for gastric ulcers, Parkinson’s disease, and pain relief.
That’s a pretty versatile roster of benefits. That’s because curcumin is an incredible anti-inflammatory that helps fight oxidative stress—the real root cause of illness.
But simply eating more curry isn’t enough to get these therapeutic benefits. You need to take it in supplement form. I like the product Meriva® because the curcumin is paired with fat, making it more bioavailable. I recommend 500 mg per day.
9. ETAS—Enzyme Treated Asparagus Extract. This is another newcomer to the list, but it’s an important addition because it helps you get the quality sleep you need for optimal health.
ETAS is an extract from asparagus stems that have been treated with enzymes. It works by tapping into molecules called heat shock proteins (HSPs).
These molecules are what make you feel relaxed and soothed after spending time in the heat of a bath or sauna. Your body releases them in response to heat (and other potentially harmful environmental factors) in order to protect and repair damaged proteins.
Unfortunately, the body’s supply of HSPs isn’t limitless, and your natural stockpile declines as you age. This is where ETAS comes in. It contains compounds that trigger the body to release a powerful form of HSP.
In other words, ETAS boosts the body’s supply of HSPs, unleashing the relaxing, sleep-promoting, anti-aging benefits they provide.
I recommend 200 mg daily, at bedtime.
10. ME-3. ME-3 is a specific strain of probiotic called lactobacillus fermentum ME-3. It’s designed to be taken with your regular probiotic because ME-3 has very specific properties that you won’t find in any other product.
First, it’s an excellent antimicrobial that can effectively kill off pathogens and other harmful bacteria that enter the gut. And second, it helps boost your body’s production of glutathione—a critical antioxidant that declines dramatically with age.
Every cell in your body relies on glutathione to function and thrive—particularly the cells in your liver, cardiovascular system, and immune system. And now, researchers discovered that ME-3 actually generates glutathione naturally in your gut. Which means there’s finally an easy way to boost your glutathione stores—simply by taking ME-3.
You can find it in a supplement known as RegActiv, formulated by my favorite probiotics company, Dr. Ohhira’s. I recommend 100 mg daily.
11. Astaxanthin. I’ve been a fan of astaxanthin for years—mainly because it’s such an amazing antioxidant.
Research shows that astaxanthin supports the immune system, combats stress, fights inflammation, lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, decreases oxidative stress, enhances skin health, improves semen quality, reduces hypertension, enhances sports performance—the list just goes on and on. So, I recommend 4 mg of astaxanthin per day for overall health.
12. Plasmalogens. Don’t confuse this with my earlier entry, Plasmanex.
This supplement derives from scallops from Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan. And it delivers a type of phospholipid that plays a key structural role in cell membranes, especially in your brain.
It works like this: Once beneficial fats are broken down, your liver generates plasmalogens from them. Then lipoproteins—the same carriers that carry cholesterol through your blood—transport them to the brain, where they reinforce the structure and communication of your brain cells.
Needless to say, any boost in this department is a good thing. Research even points to benefits against Alzheimer’s and heart disease with plasmalogen therapy—and that’s just what we’ve discovered so far. I’ll be sure to report more on the beneficial effects of plasmalogens, because I can guarantee we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. In the meantime, I recommend 430 mg daily.
13. Berberine. This plant-based alkaloid helps balance blood sugar. In fact, in the last couple of years, there has been great new research comparing berberine to pharmaceutical diabetes medications. And guess which one came out on top? You got it—berberine.
Other recent studies show berberine can help to rein in cholesterol and other blood lipids, combat fatty liver disease, and fight viral and fungal infections. I recommend 500 mg of berberine per day.
14. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). While “sexier” products may steal all the headlines, CoQ10 is always going to have a place on my Desert Island supplement list. Why?
Because it’s the powerhouse fuel for cells, and it helps keep your heart working at peak efficiency. I recommend 300 mg of CoQ10 per day.
15. Fish oil. This is certainly one of the more basic entries on the entire list, but you really can’t do without it. Fish oil is hands down the most powerful anti-inflammatory you can take.
It’s also time-tested and research-proven, with exceptionally well-documented benefits against inflammatory conditions like heart disease and arthritis. (Not to mention a myriad of other benefits for everything from hearing to blood circulation to allergies.) So be sure to take at least 3,000 mg (EPA and DHA), every single day.
16. Vitamin C. Speaking of basics, this tried-and-true vitamin remains a rock star—especially for your immune system. And while there’s never a time when a stalwart immune system won’t serve you, I can hardly think of a more critical time to arm your body.
This powerful, essential, old-fashioned antioxidant’s still got it—and research continues to prove its worth, over and over again. I recommend 1,000 mg of vitamin C, three times per day.
Well… there you have it! By now, you know I would be totally content on a desert island in the middle of nowhere, as long as it was tropical—and perhaps had someone to mix martinis! (An escape from reality doesn’t sound half bad right about now.) But the supplements on this list would be an absolute must to have right along with me. Which is why I never leave home without them—and you shouldn’t either.
- Daneshkhah A, et al. The Possible Role of Vitamin D in Suppressing Cytokine Storm and Associated Mortality in COVID-19 Patients. medRxiv, Posted April 30, 2020;
- Laird E, et al. Vitamin D and Inflammation: Potential Implications for Severity of Covid-19. Irish Medical Journal, 2020; 113 (5): P81
- Elsaid AF, et al. “Biobran/MGN-3, an arabinoxylan rice bran, enhances NK cell activity in geriatric subjects: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Exp Ther Med. 2018 Mar;15(3):2313-2320.
- Chuengsamarn S, et al. “Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes Care 2012; 35(11):2121-2,127.
- Sanmukhani J, et al. “Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial.” Phytother Res 201; 28(4): 579-585.