Everyone knows about calcium and fish oil, but there are a whole lot more healthful supplements out there—ones that you may never have heard of but that might do your body some good. To uncover some of these lesser-known supplements, I called five health-care providers who are experts in natural and complementary health—and each one told me about one of his/her favorites. Before you take any of these supplements, always talk to your doctor, because some might negatively interact with drugs or other supplements that you’re taking or cause unwelcome side effects. And first check your multivitamin to see if you’re already getting at least some of these nutrients.
SELENIUM TO BOOST OUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Andrew Rubman, ND, founder and medical director of Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines in Southbury, Connecticut, said that consuming more of the mineral selenium is a must for many people. It boosts immunity, but we often don’t get enough in our diets—sometimes because common stomach problems interfere with the digestion of the mineral. Selenium is found naturally in soil, so it’s in foods like grains and vegetables (and in some meats, since animals feed on those foods), but unless you eat a lot of those foods and have robust digestion, you’re likely deficient. Plus, due to regional variations in selenium concentrations in soil, even some foods that contain the mineral may not have much. For his patients, Dr. Rubman may prescribe four drops daily of Aqua Sel, a selenium supplement—this provides 380 mcg of selenium. Dr. Rubman prefers this brand because it’s inexpensive and well-absorbed and has a clean taste.
NAC TO DETOX THE LIVER AND LUNGS
Richard Firshein, DO, director of the Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City, prescribes N-acetylcysteine (NAC) for people with certain health problems (mentioned below). NAC is a building block of the antioxidant glutathione that helps detoxify foreign substances in our liver and lungs and also fights damaging free radicals. In his practice, Dr. Firshein prescribes a daily dose of 500 mg to 1,000 mg of NAC for patients with chronic asthma or certain liver problems (usually due to excessive alcohol consumption or elevated liver enzymes), and it shows promise as a supportive treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If you meet any of these criteria, ask your doctor if NAC can help. NAC is found in small amounts in a variety of protein-rich foods (such as meat, poultry, seafood and others), but Dr. Firshein says that to achieve “therapeutic levels,” it’s best to consume it in supplement form.
CoQ10 FOR EXTRA ENERGY
I spoke with Thomas Kruzel, ND, of the Rockwood Natural Medicine Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, about coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Dr. Kruzel said that it may be wise to start taking it as you get older if you find that it boosts your energy (some people don’t feel a difference, he said). CoQ10, found naturally in foods such as meat and fish, helps cells produce energy, and as we age, our bodies’ ability to manufacture CoQ10 decreases—unfortunately just as our bodies require more of it to function properly. On top of that, Dr. Kruzel said, commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering statin drugs deplete natural stores of CoQ10. So he prescribes it for patients on statins, those who suffer from fatigue and anyone who requires an extra boost (such as athletes in training). Long-term use is not necessary, he said, except for those on statins, because once you start taking CoQ10 for a little while, the body eventually replenishes its supply. For those of his patients in need, he typically prescribes between 100 mg and 200 mg per day in capsule or gel-cap form.
IODINE TO GET RID OF ACHES AND PAINS
Jamison Starbuck, ND, in family practice in Missoula, Montana, told me why she often prescribes supplemental iodine. Iodine is a mineral found mostly in seafood that helps the body synthesize hormones, including thyroid hormone. But many of us aren’t getting enough, she said, because iodine has been slowly but steadily leaving our food stream. The chemicals in fertilizers used in modern farming and chlorine added to water bind to iodine and prevent it from being utilized by our bodies. And many people avoid foods with ordinary table salt due to cardiac risk factors, so they don’t get the healthful iodine that has been added to it. Not having enough iodine can lead to symptoms of an underactive thyroid, such as sluggishness, dry hair, a goiter (a swelling in the thyroid gland) and fibromyalgia (aches and pains all over the body). So Dr. Starbuck prescribes up to 50 mg a day in liquid form for people whom she has diagnosed by a urine test as significantly iodine deficient. Caution: Too much iodine can be harmful, So Dr. Starbuck watches her patients for adverse reactions such as headache, rash and racing heartbeat.
ALPHA-LIPOIC ACID FOR DIABETICS
Richard Horowitz, MD, of the Hudson Valley Healing Arts Center in Hyde Park, New York, said that alpha-lipoic acid, which is found in foods such as red meat and liver, works as an antioxidant, so it fights disease all over the body. It also regenerates other antioxidants, such as vitamins A and E, and improves insulin sensitivity, so it reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and it may help reduce blood sugar levels. Dr. Horowitz typically prescribes 300 mg to 600 mg per day in pill form…while those patients with diabetes and/or cardiovascular risk factors will often be prescribed up to 1200 mg per day.