By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine
Times are tough. Even the government acknowledges that we’re in a recession. So we scrimp where we can and keep a sharp eye out for new ways to save. But there’s one area where spending a little now can actually save a lot later on. I’m talking about your health.
According to the Milken Institute, an independent economic think tank in California, more than half of all Americans suffer from one or more chronic diseases – and, as a result, it’s costing all of us more than $1 trillion each year. That’s the big picture.
On a more personal level, fighting cancer, heart disease, diabetes, COPD, or mental illness can cost you thousands of dollars yearly in medication, doctor visits, and treatment. Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to prevent these health problems in the first place? Adding supplements to a healthy lifestyle can help you do just that.
When money is tight, it’s important to prioritize. Which supplements are most essential? While everyone is different, there are a few nutrients that can benefit everyone. In my opinion, there are four supplements that are absolutely essential for good health – a multivitamin, an omega-3 fish oil supplement, alpha lipoic acid and vitamin D.
Your multivitamin may be the most expensive product you buy, but it is definitely the most important since, tablet for tablet, no other supplement covers as many nutritional bases. There are many multivitamins on the market – basic one-per-day multis and more comprehensive formulas that require 3 or more tablets per day. There is a trade-off between the nutritional potency of a multi and the number of tablets in a suggested dose. Lower potency one- or two-per-day formulas cover the basic vitamin and mineral needs, but only the basics. Because you can’t put beneficial amounts into one or two pills, most multivitamins leave gaps. Higher-potency formulas require that you take 3 or more tablets per day, but they provide higher amounts of key nutrients and fewer nutritional gaps. This is definitely a case where you get what you pay for.
Omega-3’s have gotten a lot of press over the past decade – and with good reason. Studies show that omega-3’s from fish oil promote heart health, discourage runaway inflammation, keep our brain in top form, protect against Alzheimer’s disease, guard against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, help ensure healthy bones, and boost immunity. To get the most out of your fish-oil supplement, it’s important that you take 3,000 to 4,000 mg. every day.
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is another must-have. This vitamin-like antioxidant is soluble in both fat and water. One of ALA’s most valuable qualities is that it can re-activate other heart-healthy antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E, and coenzyme-Q10. Research out of Canada shows that ALA can modulate blood lipids, protect against LDL oxidation, and help lower blood pressure. For general antioxidant protection, I recommend supplementing your diet with 50 mg. of ALA twice a day.
Vitamin D is another superstar. These are very inexpensive softgels and very easy to take. There is abundant research underscoring the importance of vitamin D – from boosting bone and heart health to protecting against a variety of cancers. Most experts are recommending 1,000 IU per day of vitamin D, an amount far above what most multis provide.
Consider Adding On
Co-Q10 plays an important role in providing energy to the cells, especially those in the heart, and low levels are implicated in virtually all cardiovascular diseases, including angina, hypertension, cardiomyopathy, and congestive heart failure. Unfortunately, Co-Q10 levels decrease as we get older. And statin drugs deplete stores of this critical nutrient, making it an indispensable supplement for anyone taking these medications. Take at least 60 mg. daily.
Green tea extract offers protection against everything from heart disease to cancer. The key to green tea’s therapeutic benefits comes from water-soluble antioxidants called polyphenols and catechins. These natural disease-fighters neutralize a broad range of free radicals that can damage cells and lead to premature aging and disease. You can get the goodness in green tea by either drinking several cups a day or by taking a green tea supplement. Opt for the equivalent of 1,000 to 1,500 mg. daily.
Vitamin C is important for cardiovascular and immune health. But it also guards against gingivitis, cataracts and glaucoma, seasonal allergies and premature skin aging. If that weren’t enough, this free-radical fighter accelerates muscle recovery in athletes. For optimal antioxidant protection, take 2,000 mg. of vitamin C daily.
Pinpoint Your Health Needs
As I pointed out recently, adopting a healthy diet, exercising at least 30 minutes a day, taking a multivitamin, and keeping a lid on stress can go a long way toward preventing chronic disease. But, if you are at an increased risk for certain health problems, you can target these conditions with specific supplements.
If you suffer from arthritis, you probably already know that taking glucosamine and chondroitin can help slow down the deterioration of your joints. Despite attempts by conventional medicine to discount the efficacy of these two nutrients, hundreds of studies confirm that glucosamine and chondroitin can ease pain and may even help boost the integrity of your joints.
If heart disease runs in your family, consider taking resveratrol to protect against atherosclerosis. According to a new review, Chinese researchers have confirmed that resveratrol regulates how well your arteries expand and contract, fights against free radical damage, quells inflammation, prevents the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol and keeps blood platelets from sticking together.
It’s also smart to minimize your cardiovascular risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure. If your cholesterol levels are slightly to moderately high, consider taking red yeast rice. In one recent trial, 74 patients with high cholesterol were given either red yeast rice and fish oil or a statin drug. At the end of the study, the researchers noted that both therapies worked equally well to lower cholesterol levels. The one difference they did note? Those taking the red yeast rice and fish oil combo also lowered their triglyceride levels. The participants in the statin group didn’t see any difference in their triglycerides.
Borderline high blood pressure responds well to supplemental garlic. According to one review, garlic reduced systolic blood pressure by 16.3 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 9.3 mm Hg compared to a placebo. Clinical trials have successfully used 600 to 900 mg. per day in two or three divided doses.
Cancer is another potentially catastrophic disease where prevention can be key. If you or a close relative has a history of cancer, consider taking a supplement designed to protect against the specific type of cancer risk you may have. For instance, if the men in your family tend to develop prostate cancer, taking selenium can lower your risk. A double-blind trial of 1,312 men given 200 mcg. of selenium per day or placebo found that those taking the nutrient had 63 percent less risk of developing prostate cancer. Men over 50 should also take beta-sitosterol to protect against benign prosthetic hyperplasia (BPH).
Women at risk of breast cancer should take supplemental broccoli extract along with their other supplements. Broccoli is rich in indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane – both proven cancer fighters that target breast tissue. And don’t forget your bones! Older women (and some men too) are at risk of osteoporosis. Taking 600 to 750 mg. of calcium twice a day with meals can help keep bones strong – especially if you take it along with the vitamin D you should already be taking.
One Last Thing …
No matter what supplements you take, you may be able to save some money with shrewd shopping. First and foremost, keep an eye out for sales and specials. Sign up for newsletters and promotional emails from your online supplement supplier. If your online retailer lets you sign up to receive re-ordering reminders or announcements about special offers, definitely do that.
Signing up for an auto-ship program can also save money – and it prevents you from running out of important nutrients. If you don’t want your supplements shipped to you automatically at set intervals (for example, once a month or once every two months), make sure that you order well-enough in advance so that you can use the least expensive shipping method without running out of your supplements.
Once you get your supplements, it’s important to store them properly so they stay as potent as possible. That means taking them out of your medicine cabinet and keeping them in a cool, dark place like your linen closet.
Research Brief …
t’s no secret that obesity is quickly becoming an epidemic in America. But here is a startling prediction: According to researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 86 percent of Americans could be overweight or obese by the year 2030! But, if you are among the millions who want to lose weight, forget crash diets.
Taking calorie restriction too far actually works against you, not only by slowing your metabolism, but also by weakening your bones. A study conducted at the University of Missouri found that after putting middle-aged women on a very low-calorie diet for three months, followed by a weight-maintenance diet for nine months, the dieters’ bone-turnover rate was significantly higher when they were losing weight too quickly.
If you are planning to lose more than five percent of your total body weight, keep your calorie count to at least 1,200 calories a day and incorporate some high-impact, weight-bearing activities into your exercise routine to keep bones strong.
Becker DJ, Gordon RY, Morris PB, et al. “Simvastatin vs therapeutic lifestyle changes and supplements: randomized primary prevention trial.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2008;83:758-764.
Clark LC, Combs GF Jr, Turnbull BW, et al. Effects of selenium supplementation for cancer prevention in patients with carcinoma of the skin. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1996;276:1957-63.
Fan E, Zhang L, Jiang S, et al. “Beneficial effects of resveratrol on atherosclerosis.” Journal of Medicinal Food. 2008;11:610-614.
Jackson K. “Accelerated Bone Turnover Remains after Weight Loss.” MU News. July 28, 2008.
Jackson SJ, Singletary KW, Venema RC. “Sulforaphane suppresses angiogenesis and disrupts endothelial mitotic progression and microtubule polymerization.” Vascular Pharmacology. 2007; 46:77-84.
Wollin SD, Jones PJ. “Alpha-lipoic acid and cardiovascular disease.” Journal of Nutrition. 2003; 133:3327-3330.