SAW PALMETTO, GLUCOSAMINE, CO-ENZYME Q10--these are the Brad and Jen and Angelina of the natural health world, adored by millions, hounded by the press, and nearly ubiquitos. But for every supplement that makes it big, there are others waiting in the wings that are just as talented and worthy of attention. We turned some of the country's top experts into our talent scouts, getting a sneak peek at the products they're recommending to their patients or using themselves. Here's their hot list pf six impressive performers that may help you prevent disease and maintain a healthy, energetic lifestyle. You'll give two thumbs-up to all six of these rising stars.
POWER BENEFIT Essential for proper immune function; may reduce the risk of certain cancers; helps rid the body of free radicals.
THE SCIENCE While some people have already crossed paths with selenium, few know how critical it is to overall health, or how agricultural and processing practices degrade food sources of this essential trace mineral. A powerful antioxidant, selenium works especially well with vitamin E to fight damaging free radicals. It's vital for the immune system, boosting the body's defenses against bacteria and viruses, and it may reduce cancer risk, particularly in the prostate, colon, and lungs. The National Cancer Institute is currently sponsoring a study on whether supplementing with selenium and vitamin E can help prevent or delay prostate cancer.
Selenium is found in meat, wheat germ, nuts (particularly Brazil nuts), eggs, oats, whole-wheat bread, and brown rice. "But modern farming practices have depleted the soil, so many people don't get sufficient selenium from their diets anymore," says Tanya Edwards, M.D., medical director for the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Refining and processing also reduce selenium levels, which is why eating whole, unprocessed, organic food is the best way to obtain the nutrient.
Since this isn't always possible, Edwards recommends supplementing with selenium, which can be found by itself or in multivitamins. Taking selenium is particularly recommended for people with certain digestive conditions, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
How TO TAKE IT 200 micrograms per day, in combination with vitamin E for best results. Since vitamin C can interfere with the absorption of selenium, take them at separate times.
CAVEATS Over time, high doses (over 900 meg per day) may lead to depression, nervousness, vomiting, and nausea.
(Vitex agnus castus)
POWER BENEFIT Relieves symptoms of PMS and pert-menopause and may be helpful for some kinds of infertility.
THE SCIENCE A shrub in the verbena family, chasteberry bears a fruit that has been used medicinally for centuries. As the name suggests, it was once thought to dampen sexual desire; it's also called "monk's pepper," since brothers in orders reportedly chewed the dried berries to decrease libido. Contemporary studies have found that the herb can help regulate hormones, and it has become a standard European treatment for premenstrual syndrome--it's especially effective in helping decrease symptoms of cyclic breast tenderness and fibrocystic breast disease.
"Chasteberry can be particularly helpful during peri-menopause, when the hormones can go completely crazy," explains Edwards. During this time, progesterone levels often start to decline before estrogen levels fall, which can lead to depression, headache, bloating, fatigue, irritability, and breast tenderness. Unlike creams that introduce progesterone from an outside source, "chasteberry helps the body increase its own natural levels of progesterone," notes Edwards. It may also be helpful for infertility caused by high levels of prolactin, since chasteberry can suppress the release of this hormone from the pituitary gland.
HOW TO TAKE IT One 400-milligram capsule daily.
CAVEATS Discontinue if nausea, rash, headache, or agitation occurs. Chasteberry's influence on hormones can interfere with the effectiveness of oral contraceptives, and its effect on prolactin makes it inadvisable for women who are pregnant or nursing.
POWER BENEFIT Improves cholesterol profile.
THE SCIENCE A compound made of two vitamins in the B family (niacin and inositol), this is considered the best-tolerated form of niacin supplement. Also known as vitamin [B.sub.3], niacin is a natural agent for lowering cholesterol levels. But at the high doses necessary for effectiveness, other available forms--nicotinic acid and nicotinamide--often cause unpleasant side effects. "People can experience flushing, like a massive hot flash, or liver problems," advises J. David Forbes, M.D., founder and director of Nashville Integrated Medicine in Tennessee and a board member of the American Holistic Medical Association. "Inositol hexaniacinate is better on both counts, with fewer people experiencing flushing and liver toxicity." Sometimes marketed as "no-flush niacin," the compound can have comparable benefits to statin drugs, lowering LDL cholesterol by 5 percent to 25 percent and triglycerides by 25 percent to 50 percent, and raising HDL by 15 percent to 35 percent.
HOW TO TAKE IT Start with 500 mg twice a day, and gradually increase over two weeks to 1,000 mg three times a day.
CAVEATS Skin flushing is less likely but still possible. Taking inositol hexaniacinate with meals reduces the chance of stomach upset. At the high doses needed to lower cholesterol, there is a risk of serious side effects, including liver damage and stomach ulcers. Any niacin product should be taken under the supervision of a health-care provider, who can check your liver function periodically. Niacin is inappropriate for people with liver disease, gout, peptic ulcers, glaucoma, or a bleeding disorder. Check with your physician if you're already on cholesterol medication, since combining niacin with a statin could increase the risk of side effects.
POWER BENEFIT Enhances sexual function; increases energy and endurance; may boost immunity.
THE SCIENCE Also called caterpillar fungus, this rare mushroom has been used by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries to treat fatigue, cough, and sexual dysfunction. Research suggests that cordyceps has antioxidant properties and increases blood flow to the organs. "Cordyceps is highly valued in China for building sexual energy over time by enhancing kidney yang and replenishing kidney yin; it's considered a potent sexual tonic," says Laurie Steelsmith, N.D., a Honolulu-based naturopathic physician, and author of Natural Choices for Women's Health. Cordyceps was essentially unknown in the West until 1993, when a group of Chinese runners broke several world records and attributed their stellar performance to a cordyceps-based tonic. Recent studies suggest that it may boost oxygen uptake during exercise, helping the body work more efficiently.
HOW TO TAKE IT Two 400 mg pills once or twice a day; Steelsmith recommends the hot-water extract made by JHS Natural Products (jhsnp.com).
CAVEATS Do not use while nursing or pregnant or when running a fever. Cordyceps may affect glucose metabolism, so people with diabetes should be sure to monitor their blood glucose levels.
POWER BENEFIT Relieves depression, anxiety, and insomnia; enhances mood; may ease migraines and promote weight loss.
THE SCIENCE A derivative of the amino acid tryptophan, this nutrient is converted into serotonin, the "feel good" neurotransmitter. "Serotonin promotes a sense of well-being, decreases depression, and makes the glass look half full--and 5-HTP helps the body synthesize more serotonin in a more natural way," says Russell Canfield, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque. "It's also a great sleep promoter, lengthening and deepening sleep; it appears to promote the particularly restorative stage-four deep, dreamless sleep, when growth hormone is released" There's also evidence that the supplement decreases carbohydrate cravings.
Safety concerns have lingered regarding 5-HTP since 1989, when contamination of a related supplement, L-tryptophan, led to its removal from the market. It was reintroduced in 1996."I believe that the current manufacturing process for tryptophan is safe," Canfield says.
HOW TO TAKE IT Begin with 50 to 100 mg once or twice a day. Can be slowly increased up to 400 mg daily.
CAVEATS Drowsiness and temporary nausea may occur. Seek a physician's guidance if you're on an SSRI antidepressant (e.g., Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil), since excess serotonin can cause confusion, rapidly fluctuating blood pressure and heart rate, agitation, and loss of coordination.
POWER BENEFIT Boosts alertness and energy; enhances concentration; fights fatigue; may improve performance capacity and help prevent stress-related illness.
THE SCIENCE Sometimes called "golden root" or "Arctic root," this high-altitude herb has long been used in Russia to boost energy and fight fatigue. "It's classified as an adaptogen, which means that it helps the adrenals work better to adapt to various kinds of stress," says Jamey Wallace, N.D., medical director of the teaching clinic at Bastyr University in Seattle. "It can enhance concentration levels and alertness, and help people through stressful periods." While not a substitute for sleep, he notes, rhodiola can be particularly helpful in countering exhaustion from excessive physical or mental activity. Research suggests that rhodiola can increase physical work capacity and shorten the recovery time between bouts of high-intensity exercise.
How TO TAKE IT 100 mg once daily before noon; can be increased to twice daily.
CAVEATS To avoid sleep disruption, take this herb first thing in the morning. Prolonged use may lead to bouts of irritability and insomnia, so reserve rhodiola for brief periods of excess stress.
To get the most benefit from your supplements, it pays to invest in quality. ConsumerLab.com, an independent testing company, examines hundreds of products and finds that about one-quarter of them come up short. The most common reason, notes company president Tod Cooperman, M.D., is "too little or none of the main ingredient." Demerits are also given for too much active ingredient, the wrong ingredients, dangerous or illegal ingredients, contamination, or if the product is labeled in misleading or insufficient ways. If you'd like access to the lab's ongoing results, the $24 fee for a one-year subscription has been reduced to $18 especially for the readers of NATURAL HEALTH. Visit consumerlab.com/ subscribe.asp and enter the promotional code "natural."
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