Nutraceuticals is just a term that allows us to talk about the universe of supplements that are not vitamins, minerals, or herbals. There are some with evidence of safety and effectiveness, while many others are unfortunately more hype than hope. When you hear health claims or read advertisements that sound too good to be true, go check a variety of reliable sources to see what they say.
Omega-3 fatty acids and choline are essential to your health. Others- such as melatonin, alpha-lipoic acid, CoQ10, glucosamine, and SAMe- are made in the body but can also be taken in supplement form.
Also called thioctic acid is a naturally occurring antioxidant. It is often written as “ALA”. It may offer considerable benefit to our brain and nervous system for conditions ranging from sciatica to dementia. It may also alleviate some of the complications of diabetes, particularly those who might be showing any signs of neuropathy (tingling, numbness, burning sensations). People with a family history of dementia or other neurodegenerative diseases and anyone aged 65 or older may want to consider supplementing with ALA.
It is an essential nutrient necessary for the structural integrity of cell membranes, proper liver function, heart health, synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, the prevention of birth defects during pregnancy, and the healthy development of the brain and nervous system of young children. Data from the 2007-2008 NHANES study, roughly 90 percent of Americans fail to meet the adequate intake for choline.
Like folic acid, choline plays a role in preventing birth defects, but it may also provide the child lifelong protection against anxiety and exaggerated responses to stressors. Most prenatal supplements do not contain choline. It is also involved in transporting fat and cholesterol away from the liver to tissues that need them. Like folate and vitamin B12, choline also works to prevent the buildup of homocysteine in the blood, which can lead to cardiovascular disease. Make sure you are taking choline with other B vitamins, particularly pantothenic acid, which is needed to convert choline to acetylcholine.
Also known as ubiquinone, is a fat-soluble antioxidant. Some scientists believe that CoQ10, along with ALA and acetyl-l-carnitine, may help us age better and perhaps even live longer. This hypothesis is based upon the mitochondrial theory of aging. Mitochondria are the energy-producing structures within our cells. Some researchers believe that aging occurs when these powerhouses are damaged.
Studies show that when CoQ10 is taken alongside medication for the treatment of heart failure, it improves an individual’s quality of life and symptoms such as shortness of breath and leg swelling, while decreasing the number of hospitalizations. It may be particularly helpful for those who have suffered a heart attack. It lowers blood pressure too. CoQ10 is beneficial for the prevention of migraines at doses of 100 mg taken three times per day. There are now several toothpastes and oral care products that contain CoQ10. When taken orally or applied topically, it reduces gum bleeding and plaque.
CoQ10 not only has to be absorbed but also has to get inside the cell to do its job. At this time, Dr Low Dog recommends ubiquinol, which evidence shows is more bioavailable than other forms. For optimal absorption, take with a fatty meal and take in divided doses. That means it is better to take 150 mg with breakfast and with dinner than 300 mg at once.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
They are two naturally occurring substances found within the cartilage that cushions our joints, where they help to maintain joint integrity and flexibility. The combination of these two substances is commonly used for the treatment of osteoarthritis (OA). Both have been shown to reduce inflammation and promote the synthesis of collagen, a substance that provides structural support for connective tissue in joints. The majority of high-quality clinical trials have shown a beneficial effect for the combination of glucosamine sulfate (GS) or glucosamine hydrochloride (GH) and chondroitin sulfate (CS) in relieving the pain and improving the function of arthritic joints. Not only does the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin relieve pain over time, it also appears to slow the progression of the disease, which is good news for anyone wanting to put off a knee replacement. They are slow-acting agents. Significant relief is typically not seen for the first four months.
Who might benefit: Anyone with joint pain due to aging and/or osteoarthritis and/or trauma should consider taking the combination of GS and CS. The earlier the better! Experts generally consider the sulfate form to be more effective.
Safety: Glucosamine sulfate is found in the shells of shellfish. Although it is unlikely that someone would be allergic to glucosamine, as it is the shell that is used, not the meat protein, those with severe allergic reactions to shellfish should still exercise caution. Chondroitin is manufactured principally from bovine cartilage.
It’s a hormone secreted by the brain’s pineal gland as well as by the cells in the GI tract. It maintains our sleep-wake cycle, but also acts as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, pain reliever, and antidepressant. Blue light, such as that from the sun and many artificial lights, is the strongest inhibitor of melatonin. Melatonin, when taken several hours before sleep, can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, as well as help you stay asleep. Levels of melatonin should rise as evening sets in, peak in the middle of the night, and fall as morning approaches. Melatonin enhances dreaming. Vivid dreaming is the number one side effect reported for the supplement. Dreams are necessary for our mental health, helping us to consolidate our memories, process our emotions, and wrestle through conflicts in our lives.
Melatonin is produced with the start of tryptophan. Tryptophan can go down one of two pathways, leading to the production of niacin, or 5-HTP, serotonin, and then melatonin. If your diet is low in niacin, your body will divert tryptophan to make this essential vitamin- at the expense of making serotonin and melatonin. You must also have plenty of vitamin B6 on board, as it is required to convert tryptophan to serotonin (newer research shows that vitamin D is needed to activate it). Are you beginning to see why so many people are feeling tired and depressed and are not sleeping well?
Warning: you should not rely on over-the-counter supplements if you are suffering from more severe depression.
Melatonin not only improves sleep quality but may also help certain pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, pelvic pain, IBS, and even migraines.
The melatonin-gut relationship: because the pineal gland gets most of the credit for melatonin production, many people are unaware that cells in the GI tract produce large quantities of both serotonin and melatonin. It plays a major role in protecting the lining of the stomach and small intestine, and is found in very high concentrations in the large intestine and rectum, where it helps regulate gut motility and reduce abdominal cramping.
Another important area of research is the use of melatonin for the prevention and treatment of GERD. A study showed that in just four weeks, patients with GERD who took 3 mg of melatonin before bedtime got very significant relief, and at the eight-week mark, there was no difference between the effectiveness of melatonin and Prilosec: All participants had complete relief of their symptoms.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are two essential fatty acids we must get in our diet: linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. They make and maintain the membranes that surround all of our cells, regulate our immune and inflammatory responses, promote wound healing and healthy skin and hair, regulate metabolism, and support the structure and function of our brain, nervous system, eyes, and bones, particularly during fetal and early childhood development. Americans get far too much omega-6 in their diets because we eat so many processed foods. Too much omega-6 can cause excessive amounts of inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids dial back inflammation. There are three omega-3 fatty acids you should be familiar with: ALA, EPA and DHA. ALA is found in walnuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. EPA and DHA can technically be synthesized in the body from ALA. However, humans can’t make EPA and DHA very efficiently from ALA. They are critical to the health of our cardiovascular system, brain, and eyes. They may even help protect us from depression. Fish are rich in EPA and DHA, premade and ready for our body to use- no conversion necessary. You can also find them in omega-3-enriched eggs, wild game, grass-fed beef, and certain seaweeds.
Who might benefit: Anyone who doesn’t regularly consume fatty fish twice a week should supplement with fish oil. For most people, taking 400 to 800 mg of EPA and 200 to 500 mg of DHA per day, or three to four times per week, is probably sufficient.
A 2014 study compared four different types: concentrated triglycerides, ethyl ester, whole salmon, and krill. Hands down, the concentrated triglycerides (Nordic Naturals) resulted in the most significant rise in blood EPA and DHA.
In and on our body are more than 100 trillion microorganisms. We provide them a home and in return, they help us out by extracting and synthesizing vitamins and other nutrients from our food; regulating digestion, metabolism, and elimination; fine-tuning the immune system; preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria; and maintaining the integrity and barrier function of the intestinal wall. This complex community of microbes is collectively referred to as the microbiome.
Antibiotics, diets high in fructose, chronic stress, being born prematurely or by C-section, exposure to environmental toxins, consumption of meat from animals fed antibiotics, frequent use of ibuprofen or aspirin, prolonged use of PPIs, and even normal aging can perturb the delicate balance of these microbes. (This describes most of America!)
Probiotics decrease the number of “bad” bacteria that can cause infection or drive inflammation and increase the number of “good” bacteria that do all the jobs mentioned above. They come in the form of yogurt, kefir, some soft cheeses, pickled vegetables, miso, tempeh, and kimchi. Our GI tract has its own nervous system made up of more than 100 million neurons embedded within the gut wall stretching from the esophagus to the anus. This enteric nervous system produces neurotransmitters, hormones, and other chemicals that are very similar to those found in the brain- in fact, roughly half of all our dopamine, 90 percent of the body’s serotonin, and a considerable amount of melatonin are found in the gut. Between 70 and 80 percent of our immune cells are found here. Clearly, given its importance, we should all want to ensure that our internal ecology is in optimal shape.
Antibiotics can be lifesaving when used appropriately. They are overprescribed and can have serious long-term consequences to our health. They don’t just kill the “bad bugs.” The rapid destruction of friendly organisms often leads to diarrhea. If you have to take antibiotics, make sure you start taking probiotics within 72 hours and continue taking them for at least three to six months. Our intestinal tract was designed to tightly regulate what stays in our intestine and what is released into our bloodstream. That’s why there are tight junctions, or barriers, between the cells in our intestine. Our friendly bacteria act as guards at these tight junctions, signaling which substances are safe to go through and which ones should be denied entry. Most of us probably have leaky gut to one degree or another, which is why essentially everyone would benefit from probiotics.
Short for S-adenosyl-l-methionine, is a naturally occurring compound in the body made from the amino acid methionine. SAMe is present in every cell of our body and is required for brain, liver, and joint health. Studies have found it equally as effective as prescription antidepressant medications in the treatment of depression. It provides the same pain relief as such drugs as Celebrex and indomethacin. SAMe can be expensive, but it is effective.
Do not take SAMe if you are taking prescription antidepressant medications, as it might bring about a rare condition called serotonin syndrome, in which too much serotonin builds up in the brain.