I try to make a lot of positive adjustments in my life related to my health. I exercise a lot, eat right, take a positive attitude, express my feelings, etc. Even though I believe it is silly to rely entirely on pills and powders, I nonetheless recognize there is value in supplements. Not all supplements are effective, although most are generally safe. Some are expensive, and probably not worth the benefit when cost is factored in. However, these five are worth taking.
Keep in mind that some of this research has not been proven by large, human studies, which means you are taking a financial and possible side-effect risk, even if the supplements listed aren’t known for their side effects. Also, always consult a doctor before beginning any health program. The links in the article below all go to Amazon.com product pages, for your convenience.
Magnesium is the unsung hero of supplements. While Calcium gets a lot of attention, I think Magnesium is more important. Studies have shown that Magnesium prevents heart disease and cancer, in a pretty significant way. This is likely because our diets are horribly deficient in this mineral. Even with my balanced diet high in nuts and seeds (sources of Magnesium) I still have to supplement just to reach the RDA of 400 mg. My wife also uses Magnesium as a first protector against migraines, and it works very well.
When choosing a Magnesium supplement, avoid Magnesium Oxide. It is cheap, but not absorbed very well. Opt instead for Magnesium Citrate, or Aspartate or Gluconate, which are much better absorbed. The RDA is 400 mg, but a range of 400-500 mg is optimal. Supplements come in a variety of strengths. Using Fitday, I gauge my intake, and take enough to get up to about 450 mg a day.
2. Vitamin D
This supplement is getting a lot of attention, and in the last ten years I have seen attitude shift about it, and getting sunlight in general. Research shows that lacking vitamin D contributes to diseases like cancer, heart disease, pregnancy complications, multiple sclerosis, autism, and more. How can one little chemical have this effect? It is because Vitamin D is more of a hormone than Vitamin, and it is involved in a variety of bodily processes. The skin can make it from sunlight, but in the northern US, only from around April 1st to September 30th, otherwise, the sun is not strong enough.
There is debate on how much to supplement with. When exposed to sunlight, the skin can produce about 10,000 IU after 10-20 minutes. This is the amount in 50 cups of milk! Many experts believe the RDA of 400 IU per day is ridiculously low, and a study of pregnant and lactating women found that they needed 4000 IU per day just to meet the basic needs of mother and child. I tend to take about 2000 IU per day from November until March. Make sure you take it with some fat, since it requires fat to be absorbed. Also make sure to take Vitamin D3, the form that is most identical to what we make from the sun. Vitamin D is dirt cheap too.
3. Fish Oil
Evolutionary theory suggests that the reason human brains evolved to be so large and smart is that we consumed lots of fish at key points in our evolution. Modern studies show that the ideal ratio of Omega 6 (in corn oil, soybean oil, etc) to Omega 3 fats (in fish) in the body is 6:1. In the average modern diet, the ratio is closer to 20:1. This causes inflammation and problems throughout the body, like heart disease, cognition problems, and cancer.
Eating fatty fish like Salmon provides Omega 3 fats, but if you can’t eat enough of that, fish oil is a great way to supplement. There are a variety of fish oil products out there, but typically ones higher in DHA are considered the most beneficial. I started taking fish oil in 2004, as well as eating more seafood, in preparation for the GRE, and I haven’t looked back since. Fish oil is fairly inexpensive, if you get the right brand during a good sale. To prevent the oil turning rancid, make sure the formula contains a little Vitamin E, which may be listed as “mixed tocopherols” on the label.
This one could get me in trouble, but here goes. Animal research shows that these two chemicals, which are very similar, are powerful anti-aging factors. Resveratrol is found in grapes, peanuts, and pterostilbene is found in blueberries, strawberries, and other fruits that are known for being powerful antioxidants. Animals that consume resveratrol overeat, and not show the signs of aging, like heart disease and inflammation, normally associated with being fat.
Human research is limited, but the theory is that the resveratrol and pterostilbene activate sirtuin in the body, which is a mechanism that reduces cell aging. Even though human research is in its earliest phases, I take both of these chemicals. Resveratrol has gone down in price recently. I play it safe and take about 50 mg a day of Resveratrol, and about 50 mg of Pterostilbene a week (the latter seems to be much better absorbed and is more expensive).
Lecithin is fairly cheap and has been available as a supplement for a long time. However, I take it every day, sometimes more than once. It has a variety of interesting benefits, some that involve its relationship to other supplements.
First, Lecithin is a great source of Choline, which studies are showing is important for brain health. Choline was once considered a B Vitamin, an idea later abandoned. However, modern research suggests Choline is indeed essential to growth and development, which is why it is added to infant formula.
Second, Lecithin has an interesting effect of being an emulsifier. This means that if you want to mix oil and water, you add some Lecithin, and the oil and water become suspended in a creamy, mayonnaise like solution. In fact, Mayonnaise is a made with egg yolks, a source of lecithin. This means that Lecithin may be good for digestion, but it also seems to increase the absorption of other herbs and chemicals it is taken with. So, it can help you get the most “punch” from supplements like resveratrol that are naturally harder to absorb.
If you disagree or want to add to the list, please share in the comments section above.