Inspiration and support to live your healthiest life.
But not all of them can be useless, right? Of course not. Supplements, when used appropriately, definitely have healthful benefits.
Let’s cover some that have evidence they work…
Inside your cells, you have a balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Most people’s diets are heavy in omega-6 fatty acids (especially from cheap vegetable oil), which throws the balance off. A great source of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish, and eating these fish or supplementing directly with the fish oil itself can improve overall health.
The most noticeable results from fish oil supplementation include benefits for severe depression, joint pain reduction, and a powerful triglyceride reducing the effect. Fish oil’s effect on triglycerides is so potent that it’s also sold as pharmaceutical grade fish oil, under the brand name Lovaza.
Bottom line: Unless you eat a decent amount of fatty fish (e.g. salmon), fish oil is a solid option for providing a variety of health benefits.
There are two numbers to think about with vitamin D - the minimum, and the ideal amount.
Most people get a minimum amount of vitamin D (otherwise, they would have rickets). But they do not get the ideal amount.
Vitamin D supplementation can improve mood and provide long-term protection against cognitive decline and bone deterioration. It stacks very well with vitamin K2 and magnesium (I’ll be talking about stacks in a few days).
Vitamin D’s effects are sometimes exaggerated, but that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective - it simply went from underused to overhyped. While it isn’t a cure-all, vitamin D is cheap, safe, and effective for long-term supplementation. People in cold places or overcast areas should possibly take it.
Many studies have shown that most people are not in the optimal range for vitamin D.
Bottom line: Vitamin D supplementation works to improve your health.
If you follow sports, you may have heard of creatine being compared to steroids or other drugs.
This couldn’t be further from the truth! Creatine is naturally found in meat, and even the IOC (International Olympic Committee) has said that creatine is 100% legal.
Creatine is basically a source of energy for your cells. Extra energy means extra effort, which means better results!
Creatine has a lot of evidence to support its safety, and it’s cheap and can be supplemented indefinitely. Plus creatine isn’t just limited to benefiting physical performance and muscle growth - it also shows promise for brain-related conditions like major depression.
Bottom line: Creatine works. It is especially powerful if you are vegetarian.
My Indian grandmother cooked all our food growing up, and she used turmeric and other hot spices in every single meal (even though I couldn’t handle spicy food … thanks for not coddling me I guess?) She used to tell me that curcumin was good for my health.
When I was just starting my nutrition research career, I dismissed my grandma, noting that the curcumin in turmeric needed an absorption enhancer or else it wouldn’t be able to cross through the intestine and enter circulation.
But a decade later, evidence has come out that sometimes you want the curcumin to stay inside your intestine (for example, if you have intestinal inflammation). Turns out grandma was right, turmeric is healthy, and it doesn’t have to come in a fancy absorbable pill.
So while there’s nothing wrong with getting that curcumin into systemic circulation in order to possibly help other parts of the body, that’s not necessarily the only way turmeric can help you. As Hippocrates famously said, “All disease begins in the gut”.
This hormone had a pretty defined role until recently - it helps sleep. But then marketers started latching onto papers exploring other characteristics of melatonin, and suddenly it became a magic pill.
For example, cherries naturally contain melatonin, as do a few other foods. And lo and behold, alternative medicine websites have just started to note the benefits of cherries on a huge variety of different conditions, due to their melatonin and phytochemical content. In reality, the evidence for melatonin is either mixed or negative for most non-sleep related conditions.
And even for the tried-and-true benefit of better sleep, melatonin mostly helps you fall asleep (especially if you insist on exposing yourself to a computer or TV light before bed … in which case we strongly recommend you change your habits!). So for those who have problems waking up at night, issues with anxiety or intrusive thoughts, or other sleep issues, melatonin may not be the magic bullet. But if you had a late night out and need some temporary sleep help, go ahead and grab some melatonin.
N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) stands out from the crowd of antioxidants on the supplement store shelf because it’s actually effective when supplemented. NAC is needed to produce the antioxidant enzyme called glutathione, which exerts a general protective effect on the body.
NAC can also be supplemented by a variety of cognitive benefits, which include the treatment of drug addiction, reducing irritability and obsession, and protecting against cognitive decline.
NAC is also one of the few supplements that might actually remove heavy metals from the body. Though many detoxifying supplements are claimed to have this effect, NAC is one of the few that delivers.
So there you go -- a balanced and nuanced take on five popular supplements + a bonus, even if they don’t dazzle with amazing claims of curing what ails you. Remember that if a claim sounds too good to be true … it probably is.