Supplements have often been shunned in the wellness world, with most of us preferring to believe that simply eating right and exercising is enough to keep our bodies in optimal working order. But physician, personalized medicine pioneer and Chōsen expert Dr. Molly Maloof believes supplements are a necessary complement to healthy diet and lifestyle. We sat down with her to talk nutritional needs and find out how a custom-designed supplement plan can boost your health and well-being.

Why do we need supplements? Don’t we get all the nutrients we require from food if we commit to eating a healthy diet?

There is a long-standing belief that food is all we need, but I can certainly think of several reasons why we don’t get everything we need from diet alone.

Firstly, to be getting perfect nutrition you need to be eating a perfect diet, but the vast majority of people do not eat a perfect diet. In fact, according to the CDC, the number of Americans who even eat enough fruits and vegetables is only one in ten.

Secondly, even if we did eat a perfect diet, this wouldn’t be enough to ensure perfect nutrition because unfortunately, due to modern agricultural practices, we are experiencing widespread soil nutritional depletion. This means the food we grow has less nutritional value.

Most individuals are also lacking in beneficial probiotics as a result of mass exposure to antibiotics, both those prescribed to us by doctors and those given to the animals we eat (unless we only eat organic meat). Almost all of our food is so sanitized that we are consuming far less of the diverse natural probiotic nutrients we need.

And then there are the nutrients that we cannot get from food like , which most of us are also deficient in because we spend too much time indoors.

What’s the biggest mistake people make with taking supplements?

Not taking them consistently. Previously, I would buy a supplement thinking it was what my body needed at the time. I would take it sporadically and then wonder later why it didn’t work! Since then I’ve learnt just how much supplements can be medicine – but the dose and duration of time you take any supplement for really matters. Just like a new exercise regime, most supplements need to be taken consistently for at least a month to have a noticeable effect.

How can individuals find the right supplements for their needs?

Ideally, you should find an experienced reputable supplement provider who can order laboratory tests to look at your genetics, metabolomics, micronutrients, hormones, microbiome, and clinical chemistry markers. There are some websites that offer direct-to-consumer laboratory tests, but I think it’s best to have an expert who can work with you to optimize your health.

Are there some supplements that should be a staple in anyone’s nutrition plan?

I’m not a proponent of universal one-size-fits-all recommendations because everyone is unique. I think a person will get the best results from custom nutrient and multivitamin formulations based on their own deficiencies (which can be assessed via lab testing). But, having said that, there are some general supplements I would recommend to most people. For example, vitamin D, which many people don’t get enough of. Vitamin D is what I term a ‘master switch’ because it plays a role in everything from bone health and heart function to cultivating a strong immune system and neurological health. But, it’s important to know that you also need magnesium, vitamin K1 and K2 to balance out the D and keep your calcium homeostasis functioning optimally.

Probiotics are also worth mentioning. If you had high exposure to antibiotics early in life or eat foods with lots of chemical preservatives, your gut is probably not optimally healthy. This can be rectified with probiotic supplements or incorporating more fermented foods (like preserved lemons, kombucha and miso) into your diet.

What are some good supplements to increase focus and brain function?

The best (and most natural) way to boost adrenaline – which helps us focus – is with regular vigorous exercise. Beyond that, you could also take CDP-choline and huperzine A, which can help modulate attention and improve memory.

What can you recommend for relaxation and to improve sleep quality?

Magnesium is the best supplement you can take for relaxation; I like the magnesium threonate form since it has been shown to cross the blood brain barrier. I have also used melatonin to treat jetlag, but I would postpone regular use of it until the later years of life (when your body naturally lowers production). Another good tool is kavinace, which is a good alternative to sleep aid medications.

Stress during the day can also affect sleep quality; there are lots of supplements that can help lower stress levels but a good supplement provider would need to dig into the ‘why’ behind a person’s sleep problems and inability to relax before picking what’s right for them.

Dr. Molly Maloof is a physician and pioneer of scientific wellness. Her boutique consultancy in San Francisco specializes in providing natural health optimization and personalized medicine services to high achieving professionals. Her ongoing expert opinion also helps shape the nutrition plans of each of Chōsen’s travel experience weeks.

This article was previously published on the Chōsen Experience travel blog.