Certain vitamins make you stronger. Others help you sleep better or de-stress. Here’s what to take when.
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There are a lot of questions about vitamins these days. We used to think of them as another good way to stay healthy, along with exercise and eating right. And then, a couple of years ago, some research found that supplements might not help reduce our risk of disease after all. This left most of us wondering whether to take our vitamins or toss them. After experts took a closer look, we have some answers. You shouldn’t give up on vitamins completely, they say, but you do need to be smart about which ones you take. “There are a lot of worthless supplements out there, but there are many really good ones, too,” notes Dr Mark Moyad, director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center in the US and author of The Supplement Handbook: A Trusted Expert’s Guide to What Works & What’s Worthless for More Than 100 Conditions. Dr Moyad has studied vitamins for more than 30 years. Certain vitamins make you stronger. Others help you sleep better or de-stress. Here’s what to take when. THE EASY WAY TO BOOST YOUR HEALTH To help you determine what you need, and what you don’t need, we reviewed all the definitive research on the subject. Read on for the six supplements that are proven to have real health benefits for active, busy women like you.
Vitamin C This standby is the real deal. “Vitamin C helps your immune system work better, and there’s no supplement that’s cheaper or more effective at doing so,” Dr Moyad says. Large-scale studies have shown that it can help reduce the duration of the common cold by about 20 per cent and slash your risk of getting a cold by half when your system is taxed, like when you’re training for a marathon or buried in work at the office. However, take too much vitamin C and you may risk getting kidney stones. To lessen these odds but still get the benefits, choose the calcium ascorbate form of the vitamin. Pop 500mg daily during periods when you’re under stress to keep your defences strong, but don’t use it for more than three consecutive months, advises Dr Moyad. If you’re training for a race, take 500mg of C twice a day for three weeks beforehand to stay healthy and strong.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) This supplement is a powerhouse. One of the building blocks of your body’s most important disease-fighting antioxidants, glutathione, it helps you stay in peak condition. “NAC plays a strong role in keeping your circulatory and reproductive systems healthy as well, and helps protect your liver from damage,” Dr Moyad says. If you pop painkillers regularly for workout-related conditions such as sore knees, plantar fasciitis and shoulder pain, or PMS and menstrual cramps, you should also take NAC because the acetaminophen in some pain meds can impair your liver function over time, explains Dr Moyad. Aim for 1,000mg to 1,500mg daily.
Corbis Bananas Kai Schwabe
Probiotics Good bacteria that the body produces naturally, these are critical to keeping the digestive system running smoothly. If you don’t have enough in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, you’re setting yourself up for inflammation and stomach problems. For anyone who has irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which affects nearly twice as many women as men, and causes constipation, diarrhoea, and bloating, taking probiotic supplements is hugely helpful. In addition, eat foods with lots of fibre and potassium, like bananas and potatoes, to help your body generate more good bacteria. Taking probiotics two to fi ve days before a trip can also help you avoid traveller’s diarrhoea. Take the amount recommended on the package instructions, Dr Moyad says.
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L-theanine This amino acid has a calming and protective effect on the brain, and may even enhance memory, according to numerous studies. Carol Ash, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and the corporate director for sleep medicine at Hackensack Meridian Health in the US, routinely recommends it for her patients. “Sleep drugs have all sorts of side effects, and L-theanine is one of the least toxic options you can use,” she says. Instead of making you drowsy, as most sleep meds do, it stimulates neurotransmitters in your brain that help relax you so you can fall asleep easier. This soothing effect means that it can also ease stress and anxiety. Take 100mg to 150mg of L-theanine a day in divided doses, such as two doses of 50mg each, to help keep a steady level in your system. Be sure to check with your doctor first if you’re on prescription medication for stress, anxiety or depression.
Melatonin Taking this can help reset your body clock if you travel a lot or keep crazy hours, Carol says. Your body naturally makes this hormone, which helps control your sleep-wake cycle. But sometimes your system just doesn’t produce enough melatonin, so you need to supplement it. Taking extra can also help reduce jet lag. Melatonin has another, more surprising use: It can stop acid reflux by protecting the lining of your GI tract. A study in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology found that melatonin eliminated or reduced symptoms of stomach upset in almost 90 per cent of people who used it. For problems falling asleep, take 0.5mg to 3mg of melatonin 15 to 30 minutes before bed. Dosage varies widely from person to person, so start with the lowest amount. If you regularly wake up during the night, try 2mg of prolonged-release melatonin instead. To prevent acid reflux, take 1mg to 3mg of regular melatonin before turning in.
American ginseng Research shows that this herb enhances immunity and fights fatigue. In a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, people who took two doses of 200mg each of ginseng a day during peak cold and fl u season had 25 per cent less colds. When they did get sick, their colds were much milder than colds suffered by study participants who didn’t take the supplement. The herb can also help improve energy. A large trial at the Mayo Clinic in the US showed that cancer patients experienced a signifi cant reduction in fatigue after taking the supplement. Dr Charles Loprinzi, a co-author of the study, believes that the energy-boosting effect would be similar for anyone suffering from fatigue, not just patients. Look for pure ginseng pills containing three per cent of ginsenosides, an active component found in the herb. Take 1,000mg 2,000mg per day, split into two doses.
Three Supplements You Don’t Need
CALCIUM Thanks to all the foods now fortified with calcium, you should be able to get plenty without popping a pill, Dr Moyad says. Aim for 1,000mg to 1,200mg daily from foods like kale, broccoli, fortified cereal and dairy or fortified dairy substitutes like almond or cashew milk.
VITAMIN D Eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains and lean protein, and spending 10 minutes in the sunshine every day will give you what you need.
RESVERATROL Animal research several years ago suggested that this antioxidant could help protect against diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. But studies done on people haven’t shown any consistent health benefits, Dr Moyad says. His advice: Skip it.