By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
When I started using dietary supplements in my cardiology practice, there weren’t a lot to choose from. In fact, there were so few truly good products that I began formulating my own so I could make sure my patients got exactly what they needed.
Today, though, the exact opposite is true. There are so many vitamins and nutritional supplements available that deciding what to buy can be overwhelming.
Which ones do you most need?
What’s the best value for your money?
What’s the best way to use supplements, without needing to take dozens of pills?
If you have the means, it’s always best to work with a nutritionally-minded doctor who can create a supplement regimen that addresses your specific health needs. But if you don’t—or if you just prefer more of a DIY approach—you want to choose supplements that will help you achieve two goals: (1) reducing inflammation and (2) increasing your body’s ability to produce energy. If you can do those two things, you’ll be well on your way to a long and healthy life.
Based on my experience and research, I currently believe that – in addition to a high-potency multivitamin and mineral supplement with B vitamins and antioxidants – there are five must-have supplements that everyone should take, regardless of health status. They are…
CoQ10 was my first love in the dietary supplement world, and it’s still my Number One must-have nutrient.
Most of all, I love CoQ10 for the heart. Why? It’s one of the raw materials needed to produce ATP, the body’s most basic form of energy. Without enough ATP, the vibration and metabolism of our cells slow, and the cells become more susceptible to disease. This is especially important for our cardiovascular health because the heart requires more energy than any other organ in the body. If it begins to fail, you’ve got real trouble.
CoQ10 also has powerful antioxidant properties, which makes it an effective tool for knocking out the free radicals that cause inflammation.
Our bodies naturally produce CoQ10, but the amount of it we make begins to fall around age 40. Not surprisingly, that’s also about the time when a lot of folks begin to notice that they’re more easily fatigued than they used to be. Our cellular energy production certainly factors into that, so I was never surprised when patients reported feeling a little more “pep in their step” after starting a CoQ10 supplement.
Another group of people who tend to be low on CoQ10 are people taking a statin drug for cholesterol or heart disease. Statins block the metabolic pathway that the body uses to make CoQ10—so it’s essential that you take a CoQ10 supplement if you’re on one of these medications, or you risk long-term damage to your health.
Recommended dosage: 50–100 mg daily; 100–300 mg if you’re on a statin drug or have other heart health concerns.
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are called “essential” because our bodies can’t produce them on their own—we have to consume them through our diet. That means a lot of cold water fish like salmon and sardines, nuts and seeds (flaxseed, in particular, is often cited as an omega-3 source), and to a lesser extent, leafy green vegetables and DHA-fortified eggs.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t eat enough of these foods to keep our omega-3 levels where they should be. Plus, the omega-3s that come from plant foods aren’t actually DHA or EPA—they’re another type of omega-3 called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). The body has to convert ALA into DHA and EPA, and that conversion process doesn’t always work as well as it should.
The takeaway? Omega-3 essential fatty acids need to be on your must-have supplement list!
Omega-3s are especially beneficial for the heart, helping to lower blood pressure and triglycerides, thin the blood, and reduce inflammation. They also give the brain a boost, reinforcing the connections between neurons.
Marine oils like fish, krill, and even algae are good sources of supplemental omega-3s, but I like squid oil the best. It has the highest concentration of DHA, which is the most-used EFA by both your heart and brain. Squid also has a short lifespan, so it’s sustainable and there’s little chance of heavy metal contamination, which can be a risk with fish oil products.
Recommended dosage: 1–2 grams daily. If you take a prescription blood thinner, like warfarin, stay on the lower end of this recommendation, to avoid too much thinning of the blood.
I like resveratrol because it does lots of good things in the body. Most importantly, it’s a potent anti-inflammatory agent, but I also appreciate its ability to supports heart health and healthy blood sugar.
Resveratrol comes from the skin of grapes, where it’s a natural protector against fungi, insects, and other environmental threats. In the body, it also has protective effects, helping to stop free radical activity and slow down the inflammatory response. This means your cells suffer less oxidative damage, so they vibrate faster and age slower. It’s also, no doubt, why resveratrol supplementation has been associated with improved circulation, lower blood pressure, and healthy arterial lining.
Taking a resveratrol supplement can be especially helpful if you have diabetes or blood sugar concerns. Studies have linked the nutrient with lower blood sugar levels, better insulin sensitivity, and added protection against diabetic neuropathy.
Recommended dosage: 30 mg daily; up to 250 mg daily if you have diabetes.
As a supplement, this bright yellow spice—known mostly as an ingredient in curry dishes—has exploded in popularity in recent years. If you’re not already taking it, you should. It’s one of the most potent weapons you can use to fight inflammation and progressive, long-term disease.
Turmeric’s power comes from its most active ingredient, curcumin. One of the ways curcumin benefits our health is by slowing several of the body’s main inflammatory pathways. It’s also a strong antioxidant, so in addition to being able to control inflammation in the body, it can help prevent it from starting in the first place. This double-dose of anti-inflammatory activity translates into a healthier heart and arteries, better circulation, less pain, and a more effective immune system (to name just a few).
One of the things I most love about curcumin, though, is that it has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. That makes it especially effective at stopping inflammation and oxidative damage in the brain, which drives Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurological diseases. We’re also learning that curcumin and resveratrol work synergistically, so combining the two just increases overall benefits.
Recommended dosage: 250–500 mg daily. Be sure to shop for a supplement with solid bioavailability data, since some turmeric supplements are not very absorbable. One tip: Look for formulas that include black pepper, since the active ingredient in pepper helps the body take in turmeric.
Of all the nutrients on this list, you might think magnesium is the most ordinary. It’s anything but!
Magnesium is a key player in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including the production of ATP in cells. Plus, we need it to help regulate muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm, blood pressure, bone strength, blood sugar levels, and dozens more health markers.
All that, combined with the fact that we just don’t get as much magnesium from our diet as we used to, make this mineral one of my must-have supplements.
There are a lot of different magnesium supplements available, but you’ll get the best results from a broad-spectrum formulation. “Broad-spectrum” simply means the product is made from different forms of magnesium. My favorites are magnesium orotate, magnesium citrate, magnesium taurinate, and magnesium glycinate, because they’re easier for the body to absorb.
Recommended dosage: 400–800 mg daily. Some people who take magnesium experience loose bowels. If that happens to you, simply reduce your dosage, and the problem should take care of itself. Also, be careful with magnesium if you have kidney issues, because it can put additional strain on those organs.
You can safely take all of these supplements on their own or in combination with each other. I would suggest taking them with food, however, since that often helps with absorption and potential stomach upset.
In closing, I would add just one more thing. Even though dietary supplements are a great way to improve your health, never, ever use them as a substitute for a healthy lifestyle. Supplements work best when they’re combined with healthy habits like following the PAMM diet. So add them to your health regimen. You’ll notice the difference!
References and Resources:
- Aggarwal BB, et al. Curcumin: the Indian solid gold. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:1–75.
- Bhatt JK, Thomas S, and Nanjan MJ. Resveratrol supplementation improves glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutr Res. 2012 Jul;32(7):537–41.
- Brasnyó P, et al. Resveratrol improves insulin sensitivity, reduces oxidative stress and activates the Akt pathway in type 2 diabetic patients. Br J Nutr. 2011 Aug;106(3):383–9.
- Chang CC, et al. Resveratrol retards progression of diabetic nephropathy through modulations of oxidative stress, proinflammatory cytokines, and AMP-activated protein kinase. J Biomed Sci. 2011 Jun 23;18(1):47.
- Gupta SC, et al. Multitargeting by turmeric, the golden spice: From kitchen to clinic. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013 Sep;57(9):1510–28.
- Mishra S and Palanivelu K. The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s disease: An overview. Ann Indian Acad Neurol. 2008 Jan-Mar;11(1):13–19.
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