Best Dietary and Herbal Supplements

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A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a great many people using a wide range of natural supplements.

In India, too, large populations rely on natural remedies and supplements, especially through ayurveda and branded capsules that are available with chemists or online. But do such natural remedies really work? Recent research confirms that some are indeed beneficial. Remember that most of your nutrients should come from a balanced diet and it’s always wise to consult your doctor before taking supplements, particularly if you are already taking other medications. Here are some of the best dietary supplements and herbal remedies.

Echinacea

What it is: With the arrival of antibiotics, this traditional flowering herb (available now as capsules) fell out of favour, but this herbal remedy has now made a comeback.

What it Does: The herb has a mild protective effect against colds and flu; in those who get sick, it appears to limit the duration and severity of symptoms. Other recent studies suggest that echinacea works best when taken throughout the cold season rather than waiting until the first sign of a cold.

Who Should Take it? Although it doesn’t work for everyone, echinacea is safe enough to try. However, unless directed by a doctor, people with autoimmune disorders should avoid it, as should those with an allergy to the flowers.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

What They Are: These are fats and oils essential to cardiovascular health and brain development. In addition to fish oil capsules and algal oil capsules, you can get omega-3s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) from deep sea “fatty” fish and eggs from hens fed a diet high in omega-3s. There is a different type of omega 3 in plant-based sources such as flaxseed oil, rapeseed oil and walnuts and pistachios, known as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which your body converts to EPA and DHA.

What They Do: A large study published last year of generally healthy older people found that those with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood were 40 percent less likely to die of coronary heart disease. This is because the omega-3 fatty acids lower triglyceride levels and blood pressure and have anti-inflammatory properties.

Another study last year found that women in Sweden who ate fatty fish had lower incidences of rheumatoid arthritis. Several studies suggest that there might be a link between levels of EPA and DHA and mental functioning.

Who should take them? You should include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, especially if you have a family history of heart disease or high blood pressure. The best source is fresh fish.

CoQ10

What it is: This vitamin-like substance is found throughout the human body. Although our bodies manufacture CoQ10, natural stores may drop as we age.

What it Does: CoQ10 acts as an antioxidant, protecting against free radicals that damage cells and tissue, and an anti-inflammatory, and is essential to the functioning of our muscles and organs. In a clinical trial of 80 people with early Parkinson’s disease published in 2002, researchers found that those who took CoQ10 suffered less functional decline than those who took placebos. The higher the dose, the better the outcome. One of the best-known, if somewhat controversial, uses for CoQ10 supplements is to prevent side-effects in people who take the popular cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins.

Who Should Take it? Cardiologist and author Dr Stephen Sinatra writes on his blog that CoQ10 is “literally a ‘wonder pill’ for treating and preventing heart disease.” Other physicians tend to be more cautious about recommending the supplement, but CoQ10 might be beneficial for people with a variety of cardiovascular and neurological ailments. Because CoQ10 may lower blood pressure, it can increase the effects of medications used to treat high blood pressure. Discuss dosage with your doctor.

Quercetin

What it is: Quercetin is a plant compound known as a flavonoid, found in vegetables, fruits, tea, and herbs. Flavonoids work to keep cells healthy.

What it Does: In 2011 researchers in Stockholm linked quercetin with a decreased risk of gastric cancer. That same year a paper by researchers in Italy said quercetin supplements improved outcomes when taken by people with cardiovascular and certain other inflammatory disorders. Still more studies suggest it can help relieve allergy symptoms – sometimes, better than prescription drugs.

Who Should Take it: If you eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, you’re probably getting all the quercetin you need. To mitigate the effects of inflammatory or immune disorders you might consider supplements, in consultation with your doctor. Very high doses can cause kidney damage and be careful if taking anticoagulants as quercetin may enhance their effect.

Curcumin

What it is: Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, which is widely used in Indian cuisines. What it does: An anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, curcumin may also offer protection by an as-yet unexplained mechanism against some of our worst diseases. In a Thai study of people with pre-diabetes published in 2012, half of participants were given curcumin and the other half, a placebo. After nine months, 16.4 percent of the placebo group had progressed to Type 2 diabetes; none of those taking curcumin developed the disease. Curcumin also appears to help alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms.

Who Should Take it? Most people can safely try curcumin, though be wary if you have gallbladder problems or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Flavonoids

What They Are: These two herbal products are made from different plants: Pycnogenol(pik-NAH-jeh-nal) is a registered brand available online, made from French Maritime pine bark; the other comes from grapes – each is a rich source.

What They do: Some doctors say that Pycnogenol and grape-seed extracts seem to ease the symptoms of inflammatory diseases and relieve allergies. They may also offer the cardio-protective benefits associated with red wine – but without the alcohol. Last year a study led by Dr Belcaro of Chieti-Pescara University in Italy found that grapeseed extract lowered blood pressure better than a placebo in people with mild hypertension.

Who Should Take Them? If you suffer from any of the conditions above you might consider one of these supplements. As Pycnogenol may cause the immune system to become more active, avoid it if you are being treated for an autoimmune disease.

Zinc

What it is: An essential trace mineral; some of the richest natural sources are shellfish (particularly oysters, crab and lobster), red meat and poultry.

What it Does: A 2011 review of 15 clinical trials reaffirmed that taking zinc reduced the common cold’s miseries. In a study published last year Australian researchers showed that zinc blocks the ability of streptococcus bacteria (which can cause pneumonia and meningitis, among other diseases) to utilize manganese, a mineral the germ needs in order to trigger illness. Studies have also shown that low levels of zinc may be why some women deliver premature or low-birth-weight babies. Zinc deficiencies have been linked to behavioural problems and, in some cases, impotence. And a 2011 Swedish study found that men with prostate cancer were less likely to die of that disease when their diets included foods rich in zinc.

Who Should Take it? Most adults can safely take zinc gluconate lozenges to limit a cold’s duration. Vegetarians might also take multi-vitamins with zinc to protect against deficiency. But be cautious: too much will depress your immune system.