Excerpts from “20 Essential Supplements” by Woodland Publishing Co.
Not so long ago, vitamins, minerals and herbs weren’t mainstream supplements. Health food stores weren’t as prevalent, and people who used dietary supplements were often regarded as “health nuts.”
My, my how things have changed.
According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, more than 150 million Americans take some sort of dietary supplement annually, whether that supplement be a multivitamin/mineral formula, a homeopathic remedy, or an herbal preparation. This means that over half of the United States’ population uses supplements—to support the body in the fight against disease, to bring relief to a condition, or simply to promote overall health.
With the current influx of new products, the barrage of conflicting “expert” advice, and the promises of miraculous results, many people visit their local health food store, see the shelves teeming with new products and wonder, “Which supplement should I take?” With this in mind, the editors at Woodland Publishing compiled a small list of widely available supplements that have been found to provide health benefits.
The 20 Essential Supplements
1. Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is a naturally occurring substance found throughout the human body and in a variety of foods. ALA is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells against damage caused by free radicals, which can bind to and destroy cellular material in the body, including DNA. ALA also helps to recycle other antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E and glutathione, a substance that is essential for intercellular health.
Because of its impressive antioxidant properties, ALA may bring relief conditions believed to be related to free radicals. Additionally, studies have also shown that ALA may help to protect the brain from damage after a stroke.
Sources: Organ meats, red meat, and some vegetables (including beets, yams, carrots, potatoes, broccoli and spinach)
Antioxidants are substances that help support the human body when faced with damage caused by highly reactive molecules known as free radicals, which accelerate aging and contribute to the development of numerous diseases.
A good diet and a healthy lifestyle can help support our bodies when faced with free radicals. Unfortunately, as we age we accumulate a free radical burden that can’t always be offset by the antioxidants in our food. Poor nutrition, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption and other harmful behaviors accelerate free radical damage and the aging process. One of the best ways to support the body as you get older is to supplement a healthy diet with antioxidants.
Sources: Dark-green leafy vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, sweet peppers, carrots, unprocessed vegetable oils, green beans, green peas, meat, whole grains, egg yolks, nuts, legumes, apricots, melons, berries, tomatoes, watermelon, apricots, papaya, grapefruit, guava, tomatoes, watermelon, kiwi, and red wine
Carnitine is a protein-like substance that the body synthesizes from two amino acids: methionine and lysine. Carnitine plays a central role in transporting fatty acids to muscle cells, including heart cells, which convert fatty acids to energy. Carnitine also helps maintain healthy levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the bloodstream and may help prevent unhealthy accumulations of fatty acids in the heart, liver and muscles.
The bottom line is that carnitine supports lipid metabolism and helps maintain healthy triglyceride levels.
Sources: Beef, pork, chicken, organ meats, and dairy products. Carnitine supplements are also available in health food stores.
For thousands of years, people throughout the world have used cinnamon for culinary and medicinal purposes. Today, cinnamon is a key ingredient in sweet treats and is the source of the delicious, familiar scent in kitchens throughout the United States. Truly though, cinnamon is much more than a spice and it has a lot to offer. Not only is it a potent antibacterial agent, but it also helps support regular blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It may also help relieve intestinal discomfort, prevent colds and the flu, prevent blood clots, and boost brain function.
5. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is found in every cell in the body. CoQ10 is a fat-soluble, vitamin-like substance that plays an important role in energy production. When we are young, our bodies produce all the CoQ10 we need; however, our ability to produce CoQ10 diminishes as we grow older.
The bottom line is that CoQ10 can support the heart, helps support regular blood pressure, helps strengthen muscles, stimulates the immune system and supports the body in the fight against age-related illness, so it’s essential that we have enough of it in our bodies to stay healthy.
Sources: CoQ10 supplements are available as capsules, liquids, tablets and sprays. Gel capsules are readily absorbed and easy to swallow.
Cranberries are delicious, whether dried and sweetened or served in a sauce, juice cocktail, or muffins, but there are other reasons to love cranberries. Current scientific research reveals that the tart red berries are among the most healthful of berries, and that they have more antioxidant activity than almost any other fruit.
Overall, Cranberry supports the body against bacterial adhesion and may help support a healthy urinary tract. Cranberries also contain powerful antioxidants, which may support a healthy immune system and promote cardiovascular health.
7. Grape Seed Extract and Resveratrol
You have probably heard about the health benefits of red wine and the studies that link red wine consumption to a long life. What you may not know is that grape seed extract provides many of the same benefits. Grape seed extract has amazing antioxidant properties: it supports cells when faced with damage caused by pesticides, food additives and pollution and may be your best defense against the effects of aging. Grape seed extract supports the body when faced with free radicals and the damage they may cause.
The short of it is that grape seed extract is an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory, an antihistamine and an antiallergenic that may improve circulation, promote healing, restore collagen and promote blood vessel health.
8. Green Tea
For thousands of years, green tea has been popular throughout Asia for its pleasant, soothing taste and time-honored health benefits. Now, modern studies confirm the efficacy of green tea for helping the body find relief from various ailments and other health conditions. Green tea gets its health-promoting properties from phytochemicals known as polyphenols. Polyphenols help to combat free radicals, support healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure, help the body in its fight against bacteria and viruses, and protect cognitive function.
Because of the wide-ranging health benefits of green tea on so many different systems in the body, it makes sense to drink green tea and take green tea supplements to promote and preserve good health.
Sources: The most common source of green tea is an infusion made from tea bags or loose tea leaves.
9. Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements
If you were to take only one dietary supplement available today, which would it be? Many nutrition experts recommend a high-quality multivitamin/mineral supplement. A good multivitamin will provide you with a wide variety of nutrients that are necessary for the basic functioning of your body, and current scientific research reveals that many of the nutrients in multivitamins can also help prevent disease and promote well-being.
You may be thinking that there’s nothing revolutionary about multivitamins; after all, they’ve been around for years, but for those who want to find support when faced with nutritional deficiencies and boost overall health, there’s no better way to start than with a high-quality multivitamin.
No supplement—not even the best multivitamin—can replace a healthful diet of whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish and healthy fats. However, many experts agree that the Standard American Diet (SAD) does not typically provide all of the nutrients our bodies need.
Many of us aren’t getting optimal levels of all the essential nutrients, but a multivitamin can ensure that our nutritional needs are met.
Source: Many multivitamins are available in health food stores, so when you’re searching, look for a USP Approved logo and don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations.
Nattokinase is a natural enzyme that recent studies have shown to have anticoagulant properties. To the uninitiated, natto—a sticky, smelly dish of fermented soybeans—is intimidating. But in Japan, natto has been a staple in traditional diets for thousands of years. Researchers have found that nattokinase acts as a natural enzyme that may help dissolve blood clots, which are associated with heart attacks and strokes. Furthermore, nattokinase’s ability to support circulatory health through its blood-thinning and anti-clotting properties makes it an ideal supplement for those who struggle with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, excess body weight, smoking, and physical inactivity.
Sources: Natto (soybean) or supplements available in many health food stores.
11. Natural Sweeteners
These days, sugar is public enemy number one, blamed for the obesity epidemic, type 2 diabetes and more. But does sugar deserve its unfavorable reputation? And even if it does, who wants to go through life without indulging their sweet tooth?
Sugars can be divided into two groups: intrinsic sugars (lactose in dairy products and fructose in whole fruits); and added sugars (table sugar or sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and concentrated sugar sources).
Fortunately, there are alternatives for those who wish to reduce their sugar consumption without sacrificing sweetness or resorting to artificial additives. Health food stores sell many caloric and non-caloric natural sweeteners. While not technically supplements, these sweeteners have a place in every health-conscious kitchen.
The bottom line is that natural sweeteners can satisfy any sweet tooth without causing a blood-sugar spike or relying on potentially dangerous chemicals. Additionally, xylitol may support oral health, and luo han guo may offer some additional protective benefits.
Sources: Stevia, Xylitol, Agave Syrup, Luo Han Guo
12. Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Fat has a bad reputation—many people associate dietary fat with obesity, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. But not all fat is bad fat. Some fats, known as omega-3 fatty acids, can help support heart, joint, brain, and immune health.
Not All Fats Are Created Equal. The human body can produce most of the fat it needs from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, but the body can’t produce omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, although it needs both. There are three types of omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA): eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The other essential fatty acids—omega-6 fatty acids—are vital to our health, but most of us get too much of them in our diet. However, we can probably improve our overall health even without achieving the ideal ratio. EFAs may help support health blood platelets, relieve the body of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and provide the body with heart health support. EFAs can also support healthy levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. EFAs have even been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects that can help support you joints, gut, and respiratory system, and more.
Sources: Dietary sources of EFAs include fatty fish (albacore, bluefish, herring, mackerel, rainbow trout, salmon), walnuts, flaxseed, soybeans and canola oil. EFA supplements include fish oil, flaxseed oil and krill oil.
The word bacteria may invoke images of something harmful or unsanitary. However, many bacteria are beneficial to our health. Our bodies are teeming with trillions of bacteria from numerous species that promote healthy digestion, produce vitamins, support the body in the fight against infection, and support immune function, among other things. To put this into perspective, each person’s digestive tract contains between two and six pounds of beneficial bacteria, or probiotics. Two particular types of bacteria—Lactobacillus acidophilus (or acidophilus) and Bifidobacterium bifidum—are among the most helpful of these probiotics.
Decades of research indicate that friendly bacteria offer wide-ranging benefits for you and your health. They defend against dangerous pathogens, including harmful bacteria, fungi and yeast such as Candida albicans. Probiotics also help produce vital nutrients and digestive enzymes. They may support vaginal and urinary tract health, digestive comfort, and healthy cholesterol levels.
Many high-quality probiotic supplements are available today, but there’s one overarching consideration when selecting a supplement: probiotics are living organisms, and if they are to have any therapeutic value, they must be alive when you ingest them. That being said, it’s important to ask for recommendations when considering which probiotics to buy.
Sources: Dietary sources of probiotics include fermented milk products (yogurt and kefir), kimchi, kombucha tea, sauerkraut, soy sauce, tempeh, miso and pickled vegetables. Probiotics supplements are available as powders, capsules, tablets, wafers and liquids.
Soy is one of the world’s largest and most important food crops. Because of their complete amino acid profile, soybeans can provide as much protein, calcium, and lecithin as meat, milk and other animal foods. Because 35 to 38 percent of the calories in soybeans are derived from protein, the World Health Organization has assigned soy foods the highest possible score for protein content.
Soybeans are rich in chemical compounds called phytochemicals, which may help provide the body with support when fighting disease and promoting overall health and wellness. Two particular phytochemicals in soybeans—daidzein and genistein—are powerful antioxidants. Other phytochemicals in soy can help support healthy cholesterol levels, promote heart health, and support healthy immune function. Soy foods are also excellent sources of potassium, zinc and most B vitamins.
Soy is a nutritious, affordable and widely available source of complete protein. The fact that soy may provide so many more health benefits is all the more reason to add soy to your daily diet.
Sources: Soy milk, tofu, natto, tempeh, miso, soy sauce, and soy protein powder.
Everyone should eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Ultimately, fruits and vegetables, which are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytonutrients, can help boost overall health. Recently, several novel fruits have gained popularity throughout America for their incredible nutritional value. These “superfruits” include açaí berry, mangosteen, goji berry and the more familiar pomegranate.
Açaí Berry: contains powerful antioxidants and is rich in the same anthocyanins found in red wine, which supports heart health.
Mangosteen: is rich in content of polyphenolic antioxidants such as catechins and tannins. In addition to their antioxidant ability, catechins are known for their potential to reduce body fat, and the National Cancer Institute reports that catechins may even help support the body against cancer.
Goji Berry: “may regulate the flow of vital energy and strengthen the physique, which can lead to longevity.” - Ben Cao Gang Mu. Studies provide evidence that the goji berry fights free radicals, supports a healthy immune system, improves vision and maintains healthy blood sugar levels.
Pomegranate: are an excellent source of potassium, vitamin C and polyphenols, especially anthocyanins, ellagic acid, tannins and punicalagin. Studies suggest that regularly drinking pomegranate juice helps to support the body against free radicals, atherosclerosis, blood pressure and narrowing of the carotid arteries in the neck.
What do Worcestershire sauce, mustard and Middle Eastern cuisine have in common? All feature turmeric, the yellow, peppery spice commonly associated with Indian curries. And new research suggests that turmeric may be good for more than just spicing up your diet.
Turmeric is an important herb in Ayurveda, an ancient Indian healing tradition that is one of the oldest medical systems in the world. According to Ayurvedic tradition, turmeric has many uses:
relieving pain, supporting healthy menstruation, comfortable digestion, supporting liver health and more. Turmeric also plays a role in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), where it is used to regulate the qi, or life force. Chinese healers use turmeric to provide topical pain relief and to support blood flow, bile production and digestive health. TCM practitioners also consider turmeric a powerful source of temporary inflammation relief.
Today, with the help of modern science, turmeric can be found in conveniently packaged supplements that may relieve temporary inflammation and support healthy cholesterol; relieve stomach discomfort, and support liver and cardiovascular function.
Sources: Turmeric is a common spice and is featured prominently in curries and many Middle Eastern cuisines. Turmeric supplements are available as capsules, liquids, tinctures and teas.
17. Vitamin B
The B vitamin family comprises eight water-soluble nutrients that are essential for functions and processes throughout the body. Most of us probably take the B vitamins for granted, but if we understood how important they are to our well-being, we would be sure to get adequate daily amounts, both from our diet and from nutritional supplements.
Among their many benefits, B vitamins can help support comfortable menstruation and PMS symptoms, support mental health and regular heart function, and promote healthy blood levels of homocysteine, and support nervous system function.
*Side note* Because most B vitamins work synergistically, it’s best to take either a B-complex supplement or a multivitamin/mineral supplement with the full complement of B vitamins.
Sources: B-complex supplements or daily multivitamin/mineral supplements. Specific B vitamins are also sold individually.
18. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is perhaps the most widely known and most popular of all nutrients. While most animals synthesize vitamin C from glucose and other sugars, humans do not have this ability. All human vitamin C requirements must be met through diet or supplementation. Because of this, everyone should ensure an adequate daily intake of foods rich in vitamin C.
Vitamin C plays an important role in the formation of collagen and other structural components of the body. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that supports healthy metabolism, strong teeth and bones, and immune system function.
Sources: Citrus fruits and juices, melons, strawberries, kiwi, mango, papaya, pineapples, bell peppers, tomatoes and tomato juice, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli. Vitamin C is also available in multivitamins and as a single nutrient in tablet, capsule, powder, liquid, effervescent and even chewing gum forms.
19. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that the human body uses to maintain normal calcium metabolism and promote bone health. The body can synthesize vitamin D when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Vitamin D can also be obtained from both natural food sources and fortified foods. Vitamin D deficiency can create many health problems, and severe vitamin D deficiency results in a condition known as rickets, a debilitating decalcification of the bones.
Today, important new studies have renewed interest in the role vitamin D plays in maintaining health and helping the body combat disease. Scientific evidence associates vitamin D deficiency with an increased incidence of many diseases and suggests that supplemental vitamin D can help prevent these serious health conditions.
Vitamin D plays a critical role in many physiological processes, including calcium balance, blood pressure regulation, insulin production, cell differentiation and immune system function. Vitamin D’s most important functions involve maintaining normal blood levels of calcium, assisting calcium absorption and building bone mass.
Sources: The primary source of vitamin D is the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which stimulate vitamin D–production in the skin. Food sources of vitamin D are limited and include eggs and fatty fish. Milk is often fortified with vitamin D, as is some orange juice and some cereals. Vitamin D supplements are available at your local health food store.
20. Vitamin K
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that the body uses for blood clotting and bone formation. There are three different forms of vitamin K: vitamin K1 (phylloquinone), which is found in plant foods containing chlorophyll; vitamin K2 (menaquinone), which is found in animal foods and is also synthesized by bacteria in the human gut; and vitamin K3 (menadione), a synthetic form that is not found in nature.
Vitamins K1 and K2 both have roles as dietary supplements in recommended amounts, but vitamin K3 is not used as a dietary supplement. Vitamin K is essential for healthy blood clotting and may also support healthy bone mineralization and play a minor role in preventing atherosclerosis.
Sources: Dark leafy greens, spinach, broccoli, kale, and vegetable oils such as canola oil, olive
oil, cottonseed oil and soybean oil. Some other fruits, nuts and vegetables contain small amounts of vitamin K. Vitamin K supplements can also be found in many health food stores.