In June 2002 the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article that concluded nutritional deficiencies are an important cause of chronic disease. Although this was old news to the nutritional world, it did serve to increase awareness of the health benefits of daily supplements.
Studies have long proven the benefits of supplementation. Here is the research on the 10 best supplements shown to offer the greatest health benefits when used regularly, at the proper dosage.
1. Super green foods
Most Canadians struggle to consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, the minimum found to prevent heart disease and a variety of cancers. Why worry when you can get the nutritional value of disease-fighting fruits and vegetables with super green foods? Green foods are available as single ingredients, such as spirulina, chlorella, wheat grass, and barley grass, or in formulations of several ingredients.
Let’s first look at spirulina. Blue-green algae that grow wild in warm-water alkaline volcanic lakes, spirulina has a high biological value that makes it a highly bioavailable protein source without toxicity. It also contains all the essential amino acids and has an amino acid content that ranges from 62 to 71 percent.
Spirulina contains beta-carotene, as well as chlorophyll and the essential fatty acid GLA. Phycocyanin, its phytonutrient, has been shown in animal studies to stimulate the production of red blood cells. Among the more than 100 published scientific references relating to spirulina are studies that show spirulina possesses anticancer effects and antiviral properties.
Chlorella offers health benefits similar to spirulina and is also a rich source of vitamin K. Chlorella is used to detoxify heavy metals such as mercury and has been shown to improve constipation. Preliminary research has shown that it is helpful for those with fibromyalgia.
A typical adult dose of chlorella is 5,000 to 10,000 mg daily. The average adult dose of spirulina is 2,000 mg daily.
2. Multivitamins and minerals
Multivitamins and minerals are like an insurance policy against the array of nutritional deficiencies brought on by depleted mineral content in soil, pollution, food processing, pharmaceuticals, and chronic stress.
The health benefits of supplementation with multivitamins and minerals are well studied. One double-blind study looked at the effect of a multivitamin on immune function in the elderly and found that those who received the multivitamin supplement had significantly fewer infections
compared to those who received a placebo. Another study found that a multivitamin and trace element supplement resulted in stronger immune cell markers, as compared to those who took a placebo and found a reduction in immune cell parameters.
Does multivitamin supplementation increase intelligence in children? In a double-blind placebo study, 60 children ages 12 and 13 were given either a multivitamin or placebo for eight months. Only the group receiving a multivitamin showed improved non-verbal intelligence (their ability to perform tasks).
Astoundingly, another study of almost 4,000 women found that infants born to women taking multivitamins were overall 24 percent less likely to have heart defects. I highly recommend women of childbearing age and those who are pregnant take a multivitamin and mineral formula with 600 to 800 mcg of folic acid and 50 to 100 mcg of vitamin B12 to prevent birth defects. Similarly, pregnant women should not take multivitamins with dosages of vitamin A above 5,000 IU.
A range of multivitamins and minerals is available. They are best taken with meals. Generally, I recommend that you take a multivitamin with iron only if your doctor has determined that you are pregnant or have iron-deficiency anemia. Iron supplements may cause oxidative damage when an iron deficiency is not present.
3. Fish oil and omega-3s
The scientific evidence on fish oil continues to mount. Fish oils are a direct source of two long-chain fatty acids known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These fatty acids give fish oil anti-inflammatory properties that allow it to decrease inflammation, thin the blood, and balance the immune system.
EPA appears to be particularly effective in reducing inflammation in conditions like arthritis and autoimmune conditions.
DHA is critical for the proper development and function of the brain, where it helps brain cells transmit electrical impulses efficiently. It is therefore no surprise that a DHA deficiency can lead to memory, behaviour, and learning problems. Supplemen-tation with DHA appears to calm hyperactive children and, in infants, improve IQ and aid in proper retinal development. In people of all ages, DHA helps regulate mood and a deficiency can lead to a condition like depression.
Fish and fish oil are powerful allies in the war against cardiovascular disease. Low blood levels of EPA and DHA are independently associated with increased risk of death from coronary heart disease. As well, studies demonstrate that the levels of EPA and DHA in red blood cells are a risk factor for sudden cardiac arrest. Research has found that not only is fish oil one of the most effective ways to stabilize heart arrhythmias, it also prevents blood clots, reduces inflammation, and lowers triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
I recommend a fish oil product that has a combined total of 1,000 mg of DHA and EPA as your daily dosage. Make sure to choose a product that is independently tested to be free of toxic metals and PCBs. Vegetarians can source their omega-3s in ground flaxseed. Take 1 to 2 Tbsp (30 to 60 mL) daily.
Friendly flora are an integral part of the body’s immune, digestive, and detoxification system. In fact, the 100 trillion bacteria that live in our digestive system comprise four pounds of our body weight. Friendly flora such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and L. bifidobacterium, among many others, help in the breakdown of food.
These good bacteria are also part of the immune system, preventing the overgrowth of infectious microbes. Probiotic supplementation has been shown to decrease food allergies in infants. It has also been shown to help prevent and treat childhood constipation, traveller’s diarrhea, and eczema. Those with chronic digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, and Crohn’s disease also often benefit from probiotic supplementation.
Many people need a friendly flora tune-up because chlorinated water and the effects of stress deplete their population.
I recommend that a probiotic supplement should be used during and for up to two months after a course of antibiotics or pain medication. Ongoing supplementation containing 5 to 10 billion active organisms should then be taken daily between meals. Children’s probiotics are also available.
Garlic supplements are a popular way to prevent colds and flu and to lower levels of cholesterol and homocysteine (linked to increased risk of premature coronary artery disease, stroke, and venous blood clots).
Researchers, in a 1997 study published in Circulation, found that garlic protects the elasticity of the aorta, which diminishes with aging as well as with high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Even more impressive, researchers at UCLA Medical Center completed a one-year, double-blind, randomized clinical study with people taking aged garlic extract. Researchers found that people taking aged garlic extract had significantly less coronary plaque formation than those in the placebo group. Also, the group supplementing with garlic tended to have lower blood homocysteine and cholesterol levels.
These results were confirmed by German researchers who reported 2004 findings that garlic is effective at inhibiting the development of arterial plaque as well as reducing the size of existing plaque. Researchers recommended that people start supplementing garlic beginning in their 20s and 30s to prevent plaque buildup.
I recommend 500 to 1,000 mg of garlic extract daily. Garlic has a mild blood-thinning effect so check with your doctor first before using if you are on blood-thinning medications.
6. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a nutrient naturally occurring in foods and in the human body. Cells of the heart (and the rest of the body) use CoQ10 to create energy within the cell mitochondria. Consequently CoQ10 has been shown to help in the treatment of angina, arrhythmias, mitral valve prolapse (heart murmur), cardiomyopathy (inflammation of the heart muscle), congestive heart failure, and high blood pressure.
Studies show that CoQ10 is depleted by commonly used cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. This may explain why some people using statin drugs report experiencing fatigue, muscle weakness, and pain. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology as long ago as 1993 found that the use of statin drugs reduced CoQ10 levels by an average of 40 percent after three months of use.
In other areas of health, CoQ10 has been shown to improve the fertility potential of sperm and may also help in the treatment of gum disease.
I recommend that those taking CoQ10 for health protection take 25 to 50 mg daily. People with existing heart disease and diabetes should supplement with 100 to 300 mg daily. Those using statin drugs should supplement with 100 to 200 mg daily. CoQ10 supplementation at the rate of 100 to 200 mg daily is also recommended for those using beta blockers for high blood pressure and heart arrhythmias.
Like garlic, CoQ10 does have a mild blood-thinning effect so check with your doctor before using it if you are on blood-thinning medication.
The effects of chronic stress impact every tissue of the body. One of my favourite supplements to help people decrease the effects of stress is the herb ashwagandha (root of Withania somnifera). Also referred to as Indian ginseng, winter cherry, or withania, this herb has many similarities to Chinese ginseng in that it supports energy levels. Yet it is gentler and better tolerated, in my experience.
Traditionally, ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for fatigue, chronic disease, impotence, waning memory, asthma, bronchitis, psoriasis, arthritis, and infertility. Recent studies, including one published in 2005 in the British Journal of Pharmacology, have shown that ashwagandha causes antioxidant activity that protects brain cells, making it one of the best supplements to slow aging.
Ashwagandha also has been shown to stimulate red blood cell production in children to improve anemia, with similar results also shown with adults. Significantly increased hemoglobin and red blood cell count was found in normal healthy male volunteers, age 50 to 59, who received 3,000 mg of purified ashwagandha powder for one year rather than placebo. Study subjects receiving ashwagandha also noted improvements in nail calcium and cholesterol. Further, 71.4 percent of the men reported the benefit of ashwagandha’s traditional use–improved sexual performance.
I recommend 250 mg daily of an 8 percent withanolide ashwagandha extract or 2,000 to 3,000 mg of regular ashwagandha extract. Pregnant women are advised to avoid ashwagandha.
8. Green tea
People who consume green tea on a regular basis appear to have less incidence of cancer. Researchers in one study, who looked at 472 women with stage I, II, or III breast cancer, found that green tea consumption was associated with a decreased risk of lymph node metastasis in premenopausal women with stage I and II cancer. Also, the consumption of five cups a day of green tea on a long-term basis was significantly associated with a decreased cancer recurrence for women with stage I and II breast cancer who were in remission at the follow-up study six years later. Green tea also appears to protect against other cancers, including prostate, esophagus, stomach, colon, lung, skin, liver, bladder, ovary, leukemia, and oral leukoplakia.
Green tea lowers cholesterol, too. A study of 1,371 Japanese men showed that a high consumption of green tea was associated with lower total cholesterol levels, increased HDL “good cholesterol,” and lower LDL “bad cholesterol.”
The typical capsule dosage is one 500-mg capsule taken one to three times daily. Look for products standardized between 80 to 90 percent polyphenols and 35 to 55 percent EGCG. Supplemental forms of green tea usually have the caffeine removed or decreased.
9. Enzyme complex
Enzymes–found abundantly in uncooked plant foods–support every metabolic reaction in the body. People supplement with enzymes for a variety of therapeutic reasons. Proteolytic or protein-digesting enzymes, the most commonly used of which is bromelain, have anti-inflammatory effects when taken between meals. Their use is effective for those with sinusitis as well as arthritis or other conditions involving the joints and tissues.
Enzymes are also increasingly used to support the nutrition of those with cancer. Preliminary evidence is showing enzymes are helpful for some cases of cancer as part of a comprehensive program. Their most well-studied use has been with pancreatic cancer.
Enzymes are also helpful to improve digestion. This makes them very important for people with chronic digestive problems such as colitis or irritable bowel syndrome. Enzymes come in handy when indulging in fast foods to help ensure digestion and absorption.
To support digestive health I mainly recommend the use of microbial-derived enzymes derived from Aspergillus oryzae. Take one or two capsules or as recommended on the label with, or at the end of, each meal.
10. Calcium and magnesium
According to the Osteoporosis Society of Canada (osteoporosis.ca), one in four women over the age of 50 has osteoporosis. One in eight men over 50 also has the disease. Low calcium intake is one of the risk factors in this degenerative disease. Consequently, the best osteoporosis prevention is lifelong supplementation with calcium along with magnesium, with which calcium is intricately linked in many of the body’s metabolic reactions. The minerals work together effectively when taken in a ratio of two parts calcium to one part magnesium.
Calcium is also important in the prevention of colon cancer, PMS, high blood pressure, and muscle spasms. Meanwhile magnesium is important and even more critical for heart function and energy production. In some users magnesium also helps prevent migraine headaches.
I recommend adults supplement 1,000 to 1,200 mg of a well-absorbed calcium product such as calcium citrate or chelated calcium. Magnesium should also be supplemented at a dose of 500 to 600 mg daily. Many formulas that combine the two minerals are available. Better yet is a formula that also contains vitamin D at 400 IU daily, as vitamin D favourably influences calcium absorption.
These top 10 nutritional supplements are worth using to optimize your health and reduce the risk of disease. Quality products are available at your local health food store.