Who needs the `super' supplements?


To boost energy, strengthen immunity and enhance memory--maybe you do.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the vitamin shop, along comes a brave new world of supplements with unfamiliar names that promise to do everything from increase your stamina to burn your fat away. Coenzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid, phosphatidyl serine, N-acetylcysteine and gammalinolenic acid may not yet be household names, but they happen to be five of the fastest-rising stars in the supplement universe.

Out of the dozens of "hot" supplements, we selected these five because research has shown them to be the most effective in their respective categories: cell energizers, blood sugar regulators, memory enhancers, immune boosters and anti-inflammatories. Each of these vitaminlike substances is produced by the body and found in trace amounts in food. But because everyone produces, consumes or utilizes them with varying degrees of efficiency, some of us could benefit from getting a little extra.

That doesn't mean you should rush out and scoop them up. For starters, you probably don't need all five. For another thing, many of these supplements are frightfully expensive. However, if you're suffering from nagging health problems--or think you might be at risk for some or would like to prevent them in the first place--these supplements could make a tremendous difference in how you feel and function. Of course, before you start taking any supplement, you should check with a nutritionally oriented health-care practitioner.

If you don't have the strength or endurance you once did, there may be a disruption in your cells' energy-producing process. If so, coenzyme Q10 (coQ10) may be for you.

CoQ10 plays a crucial role in "bioenergetics"--the process by which your body's 60 trillion cells make energy. (British researcher Peter Mitchell. Ph.D., won the 1978 Nobel prize in chemistry for his analysis of this role.) Your body puts coQ10 to use primarily in muscle cells, which do everything from pumping your blood to letting you tap dance.

But the supplement also has been proven to be effective for healing specific muscle disorders, particularly those relating to the heart. Peter Langsjoen, M.D., a cardiologist in Tyler, Texas, gives large doses of coQ10 (300 to 400 milligrams [mg.]/day) to patients suffering from car. diomyopathy and congestive heart failure. By boosting the energy output of heart cells, coQ10 makes heart muscles stronger and better able to pump blood.

If you take cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as lovastatin, which interfere with the body's coQ10 production, supplementation is a must, says Langsjoen. However, people taking digitalis and other heart-stimulating drugs should exercise caution to avoid overworking the heart. If you do decide to take coQ10, work with your physician to adjust the dosage of both the supplement and your medication.

While many people consider coQ10 primarily a heart tonic, it also can increase energy levels in generally healthy people. Langsjoen, a fit 43-year-old, has been taking it preventively for 14 years.

For vegetarians, yeast-based coQ10 supplements are certainly preferable to organ meats, the richest dietary source of coQ10. The recommended dose is 30 to 100 ma. daily. Be sure to take it with peanut butter or another oily food to enhance absorption.

As our bodies age, they become less responsive to the hormone insulin, which moves glucose from the blood to cells. As a result, our blood sugar (glucose) levels creep up. Elevated levels are the hallmark of adult-onset diabetes--and they set the stage for hypertension, coronary heart disease and obesity, according to Gerald M. Reaven, M.D., a leading researcher in glucose disorders at California's Stanford University.

Alpha-lipoic acid safely lowers and stabilizes blood sugar levels, making them more like those of a younger person. Lipoic acid (as it's commonly called) has two functions: It helps insulin move glucose out of the blood and into-the cells so more gets utilized, and it increases the efficiency with which glucose is used within cells. Consequently, glucose levels are restored to more normal ranges, and the risk of diabetes is reduced. In 1996, Stephan Jacob, M.D., of the University of Tubingen, Germany, presented data at an American Diabetes Association symposium showing that for diabetics, 600 ma. daily can lower and stabilize glucose levels by 10 percent to 30 percent. Because lipoic acid is also a powerful antioxidant, it neutralizes the free radicals that can cause cancer and heart disease.

A routine blood test can determine whether your glucose levels are high. Taking 50 to 200 ma. of lipoic acid daily should help lower elevated glucose levels and reduce long-term risk of diabetes or heart disease. Diabetics, who have a higher risk of developing heart disease or obesity, may do better with 600 ma. daily but should only take it under a physician's supervision since it may lower their requirements for insulin or hypoglycemic drugs.

If you're over 50, you probably suffer from age-associated memory impairment (AAMI), more commonly known as, "Honey, have you seen my keys?" Phosphatidyl serine (fos-fuh-TIE-dul SEER-een) can help sharpen memory and help people be more alert, says Richard Kunin, M.D., a nutritionally oriented psychiatrist in San Francisco.

Phosphatidyl serine forms part of the structure of cell membranes or walls. Young cell membranes, rich in phosphatidyl serine, are flexible and have no difficulty allowing nutrients to move in and waste products to pass out of cells. But as we age and our phosphatidyl serine levels decline, cell membranes become rigid, shutting the door on this process. Brain cells seem particularly sensitive to these changes.

Replenishing phosphatidyl serine levels can have dramatic effects on brain function. In one study, Thomas H. Crook, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Scottsdale, Ariz., gave 300 ma. of phosphatidyl serine daily to 149 patients with AAMI. After 12 weeks, they scored 30 percent better on tests that measured name and number recall.

Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., Tucson, Ariz.-based author of Brain Longevity (Warner Books, 1997), recommends one 100 ma. tablet or capsule daily to delay or prevent age-related memory loss and 200 ma. per day to enhance cognitive function. Khalsa has been prescribing--and taking--phosphatidyl serine for several years. Not only does he report a lack of side effects, he notes an increase in his own ability to juggle several mental tasks at once.

Do you seem to catch every cold or flu that's going around--or suffer from more serious infections such as hepatitis or HIV? N-acetylcysteine (en-uh-SEE-tul-sis-teen), a safe form of the amino acid cysteine, can give your immune system a needed boost.

Doctors have used NAC for years to clear mucous from congested lungs and to treat overdoses of Tylenol Registered Trademark. A potent antioxidant, it works primarily by increasing the body's production of another antioxidant (glutathione), which detoxifies hazardous substances and boosts immune function.

In a study published last year in the European Respiratory Journal, Italian physicians reported that 1,200 ma. of NAC daily significantly reduced flu symptoms. Leonard Herzenberg, Ph.D., an authority on antioxidants and immunity at Stanford University, used NAC to bolster immunity in 204 AIDS patients. Those taking very large amounts of NAC (3,200to 8,000 mg./day) were twice as likely to live two years longer than patients who chose not to receive long-term treatment. For more general immune strengthening and resistance to infection, Herzenberg recommends 600 mg. of capsules or tablets twice daily.

Inflammation is one way in which the body fights infections and heals injuries, but sometimes the process runs amok, creating muscle pain, harming healthy tissue or even causing rheumatoid arthritis. To deal with the discomfort of inflammation, many people resort to taking ibuprofen (e.g., Advil Registered Trademark). But you can help your body make its own natural anti-inflammatories and regulate a overactive immune response by taking supplements of evening primrose or borage oil, which are rich in the natural anti' inflammatory gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).

Normally, our bodies produce their own anti inflammatories. But because of genetics or a poor diet, many people do not, says David Horrobin, Ph.D., editor of the British journal Medical Hypotheses. But this bio-chemical roadblock can be circumvented by taking GLA supplements. In a study of 41 people with rheumatoid arthritis, Robert B. Zurier, M.D., of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester, found two-thirds of the patients had significant reduction in joint swelling, tenderness, pain and morning stiffness when given GLA.

Many doctors recommend 4,000 to 6,000 ma. of evening primrose oil (which would provide 360 to 540 ma. of GLA) daily for rheumatoid arthritis. For minor aches and joint stiffness, you can probably get by with 1,000 to 2,000 ma. daily.

Because these supplements are pretty pricey (a two-month supply of phosphatidyl serine can set you back $100), you need to evaluate whether your health really warrants them. If you do decide to use any of these supplements, however, shop around for the best price. Then follow the 30-day rule: If symptoms ease up after a month of taking a supplement, keep taking it. But if you don't sense any benefits after 30 days, stop taking it. If your symptoms worsen, the supplement might have been helping and may be worth trying for several more months. Then again, if you're taking it for prevention, trust your instincts: After all, they're your highest source of wisdom.


By Jack Challem

Jack Challem writes and publishes The Nutrition Reporter Trademark newsletter. You can visit his Web site at http://www.jrthorns.com/Challem.

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