Six nutritional supplements to improve your health

Confused about which vitamins and supplements you should be taking? Naturopath Dr. Natasha Turner advises six essentials to add to your diet.

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Contemplating your New Year’s resolutions? Like most people, you likely have incorporated a few health related goals. It may be to lose weight, increase your physical activity, choose better foods or perhaps lower certain risk factors such as your cholesterol or blood pressure. Luckily, my top six list of supplements for 2011 will help you do all that, and more!

1. Omega-3 fish oils
If you only take one extra supplement this year, it should be fish oils (OK, two supplements, since I insist on Vitamin D3 too). Healthy oils are necessary in the formation of every cell membrane in the body. Eicosapentaenoic acid EPA and docosahexaenoic acid DHA (the components of essential fatty acids) are natural anti-inflammatory agents. Their anti- inflammatory properties makes them useful in treating and preventing heart disease and they also have beneficial effects on cholesterol, triglycerides and blood clotting. Essential fatty acids help to moisten the skin and improve bowel function. Since fish oils increase serotonin levels (the happy neurotransmitter), it can decrease symptoms of depression, anxiety and panic attacks, and may even reduce carbohydrate cravings. In one study, researchers gave omega-3 fatty acids to 70 depressed patients who had not been helped by drugs such as Prozac. After 12 weeks, 69 percent of the patients showed marked improvement compared with 25 percent who were given placebos. For optimal benefits, I recommend 2000 to 3000mg (2 to 3 capsules) twice daily with meals.

2. Coenzyme Q10
High levels of the antioxidant coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) are naturally found in the heart muscle, however, levels tend to decline as we age. CoQ10 supplements are found to be beneficial in the treatment of cardiomyopathies (a group of diseases that affect the heart muscle), heart arrhythmias, high cholesterol and angina. In one study, patients with angina were given 150mg of CoQ10 daily for four weeks. This treatment reduced the average frequency of angina attacks by 53 percent. CoQ10 appears to increase the heart’s tolerance to a lack of oxygen. Cells require CoQ10 to produce energy in the mitochondria (our cells’ energy-producing units). Without it, cells cannot produce the energy necessary for normal functioning. One of the most potent antioxidants, CoQ10 also helps other antioxidants such as vitamin C and E to function optimally. It has also been found useful in the treatment and prevention of periodontal disease and receding gums. I recommend 60 to 100 mg every day for anyone over 40 years of age and for those who are taking cholesterol-lowering medications, which are known to deplete CoQ10.

3. Turmeric
Turmeric (also called curcumin) is one of my personal favourites because it naturally reduces inflammation, pain and swelling. In one clinical trial, participants who consumed 1200mg of cucuminoids (the antioxidant pigment found in turmeric) for two weeks found reduced morning stiffness and joint swelling caused by rheumatoid arthritis. According to trials conducted at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2006, a combination of turmeric and quercetin, a powerful antioxidant found in onions, apples and cabbage, can help shrink painful colon polyps. Those who participated in this study experienced a 60 percent drop in the number of polyps and a 50 percent shrinkage of polyps that remained. Interesting to note is that rates of breast cancer are extremely low in cultures that consume a lot of curry, which is a rich source of curcumin. Dosages range from 500mg to 2000mg daily. Be sure to take it with food to avoid heartburn or related discomfort.

4. CLA
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) has been found to help glucose tolerance by improving the body’s response to insulin. Studies have also found that CLA is one of only a few products that help reduce body fat, particularly around the abdomen. Scientists believe that it has a variety of anti-cancer, anti-cholesterol and anti-diabetic properties. A paper entitled “Dietary Fat Intake, Supplements and Weight Loss,” published in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology (December 2000), reported that CLA is one of only a few supplements proven to reduce body fat and assist in increasing lean muscle mass without a change in caloric intake. These powerful effects are due to its insulin-sensitizing properties. However, not all CLA is the same. Seek out high quality supplements that use a specific isomer of CLA, trans-11, cis-9 linolenic acid, which may be helpful in reducing body fat, shrinking fat cells and making them stay that way. These insomers have anti-inflammatory benefits and seem to reduce  storage of fat cells while also increasing fat-burning activity in the skeletal muscle. The minimum dosage is 1,500 mg twice daily with food for at least 3 months.

5. Acidophilis
Probiotics such as acidophilus and bifidus are friendly bacteria that live in our digestive tract. Healthy bacterial balance in our digestive tract is easily affected by poor dietary habits and by the use of medications such as birth control pills, corticosteroids and antibiotics. Researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) have found that probiotics can inhibit the spread and growth of harmful bacteria that cause infections that lead to many disorders. In one study from the University of Maryland Medical Center, a probiotic mix of acidophilus and bifidus helped individuals suffering from traveler’s diarrhea, a common illness affecting travelers. Acidophilus has also been found useful in the treatment and prevention of skin conditions and allergies. Take 1 to 2 pills upon waking, on an empty stomach for best results.

6. Resveratrol    

Resveratrol, a natural antifungal and antibacterial compound within red wine, has been shown to prolong life in yeast and animals because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The antioxidant polyphenols found in the skins and seeds of grapes aid heart health, inhibit inflammation and help prevent the development of certain cancers. According to a joint study by the National Institute on Aging and Harvard Medical School, this compound may improve the body’s anti-aging response, and in turn quality of life. In the study, mice fed on a high calorie, high fat diet while taking resveratrol were able to avert the high levels of glucose and insulin in the bloodstream, which are warning signs of diabetes. Even more striking, the substance sharply extended the mice’s lifetime. Before you reach for a few too many glasses of red wine, however, keep in mind that it only has about 1.5 to 3 milligrams of resveratrol per litre. So the average person would need to drink over several hundred glasses to get the dose they need to reap the benefits. Instead, choose to take 1 to 2 capsules per day of a high quality resveratrol supplement first thing in the morning before breakfast.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor and founder of the Clear Medicine wellness boutique. She is also the author of the bestselling book The Hormone Diet.  

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