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Supplementally speaking, both men and women benefit from the “basic seven.” Beyond that, it gets a little more complex. Here’s what you need to know to customize a nutrition plan based on individual needs
Choosing the perfect supplementation program for ultimate health is a huge challenge.
Although in some basic ways all of us humans are alike, on many more levels we are profoundly different. A postmenopausal woman, a 40-something man, a pregnant 23-year-old, and a tennis player on the masters circuit all have very different nutritional needs. So how do you come up with a basic supplement program that provides you with everything you need, yet respects the fact that we’re all biochemically unique?
That’s the question I asked myself when tackling this guide. I designed this basic seven supplement program by choosing supplements that have the greatest systemic effect, would be useful to the widest range of people, and would give anyone taking them the biggest nutritional bang for their buck—the greatest amount of protection for the basic metabolic processes that we all share, despite our many unique needs.
The basic seven supplements listed here are equally important for both men and women. These are the seven I would choose if I were going to be stranded on a desert island for a year, the seven I would not want to be without on a daily basis, the seven I give to my family and friends. I’ve also included three extra supplements that may be especially beneficial for women, one that is a stand-out for men, and a few honorable mentions.
1) Fish Oil
It’s taken a while, but even conventional medicine now grudgingly accepts that omega-3s are vital for a healthy body, and virtually everyone agrees that we don’t get enough of them. Fish oil supplements—with their generous dose of two vitally important fatty acids, EPA and DHA—can reduce the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease. They lower blood pressure slightly, and triglycerides even more. They’ve been known to improve mood and are being studied at Harvard for just that reason. Most important, they are anti-inflammatory. With inflammation being a central feature of every degenerative disease from Alzheimer’s to cancer to diabetes to heart disease to arthritis, supplementing with fish oil on a daily basis is one of the single best things you can do for your overall health. My recommendation: Consume at least one gram (1,000 mg) daily of combined EPA and DHA. (If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, use high-quality flaxseed oil like Barlean’s, but make sure to take at least one tablespoon per 100 pounds of body weight per day.)
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2) Vitamin D
According to vitamin D expert William B. Grant, PhD, the health benefits of vitamin D extend to at least 100 types of disease, with the strongest evidence for many types of cancer (breast, colon, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and rectal), cardiovascular disease, diabetes types 1 and 2, respiratory infections such as type A influenza and pneumonia, other infections such as sepsis, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D has been linked to better mood, better physical performance, and even better results with weight loss programs. One recent study found that those with the lowest levels of vitamin D in their blood had the greatest chance of dying from any cause whatsoever! I recommend daily supplementation with 2,000 IUs.
Your gut is populated with an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing over 500 different species. The balance between the “good” bacteria and the “bad” bacteria—like Candida albicans (yeast)—is critical for health. “Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function,” according to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. You can get probiotics from yogurt that contains active cultures or from traditionally fermented foods, but most of us don’t get the optimal amount in our diet. About 70% of all immune cells are in the gut, so keeping it healthy is a top priority for ultimate health. Daily probiotic supplements can help keep your digestive and immune systems functioning at their best.
Resveratrol has gotten a ton of attention in the media during the last decade as an “anti-aging” nutrient, largely because of the discovery that this naturally occurring plant compound “turns on” longevity genes in the body known as the SIRT genes. Studies have shown that resveratrol extends the life of every species studied so far, from fruit flies to monkeys. But the benefits of resveratrol—found naturally in the skins of dark grapes and in red wine—go beyond even this. It’s a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. There are at least ten active cancer research projects investigating resveratrol as a possible anti-cancer agent. I now recommend it as a part of every basic supplementation package for optimal health. Try to get at least 250 mg a day of trans-resveratrol, the active form of the compound. (If a 500 mg capsule of resveratrol is “standardized for 20% trans” that means each capsule delivers 100 mg of trans-resveratrol.)
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What nutrient is critical for a healthy blood pressure and a healthy heart, helps control blood sugar, is essential for strong bones, and helps relax you when you’re stressed? It’s magnesium! Several studies show that a staggeringly high percentage of Americans—in the neighborhood of 70%—don’t get nearly enough of this critically important mineral. According to researchers at MIT, magnesium deficits have been tied to allergies, asthma, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, heart disease, muscle cramps and other conditions. (Those same MIT researchers also found a potential role for magnesium in protecting memory function in middle age and beyond.) Magnesium is a supplement that just about everyone could benefit from. I recommend between 400 and 800 mg a day for both men and women.
Curcumin is the general name for a group of plant compounds found in the spice turmeric, which is responsible for making curry yellow. The number of things this supplement does—and the mechanisms by which it does them—could fill a small book, but this incredible passage from Physicians’ Desk Reference for Nutritional Supplements is a good summary: “The curcuminoids may have anticarcinogenic (anti-cancer), anti-atherosclerotic, anti-inflammatory (including anti-arthritic), antiviral, antifungal, and immune modulating effects. They appear to detoxify some drugs and other chemicals.” ScienceWatch recently noted 19 core papers on the health benefits of curcumin, many of them on its anti-cancer activity. I now consider it one of the most important supplements to take on a daily basis. Recommended dose: 1,000 mg a day.
7) A Multivitamin
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health state in the Journal of the American Medical Association that “suboptimal intake of some vitamins—above levels causing vitamin deficiency—is a risk factor for chronic diseases and common in the general population,” adding that “it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.” Alex Vasquez, ND, DC, DO, coauthor of the Textbook of Functional Medicine says this: “Vitamin deficiencies—especially when mild—can result in “long-latency deficiency diseases” which can include osteoporosis, chronic pain, depression, heart disease, and cancer even while there is no evidence of acute or severe nutritional deficiency.” Taking a good multiple every day just makes good sense.
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Virtually every man over 40 knows what it’s like when you have to get up several times during the night to visit the bathroom. Frequent urination during the night for men is almost as inevitable as the eventual need for reading glasses. And the reason is a gland called the prostate.
As we age, the prostate gets a little larger, a condition known as BPH (benign prostate hyperplasia). It’s benign because it isn’t life threatening, but it’s annoying as heck. The herb saw palmetto has been found to be incredibly helpful for the symptoms of BPH. Often mixed with other prostate friendly herbs, a saw-palmetto formulation for the prostate is a must-have supplement for any man over 40. It works by preventing testosterone from converting into a nasty little compound called DHT (dihydrotestosterone), which in turn causes prostate cells to multiply. (DHT is also a leading cause of male pattern baldness). Take 320 mg of saw palmetto daily. Prostate formulas frequently combine saw palmetto with other prostate-helpful ingredients like pumpkin seed extract, artichoke heart extract, or beta-sitosterol.
Note: These supplements are beneficial for both men and women, but recent studies spotlight their benefits in bone and breast health:
Though recent studies reported the scary findings that taking calcium supplements slightly increases the risk for heart disease, it’s important to remember that in those studies people were taking calcium supplements without any magnesium or vitamin D. Women—and men—need calcium. But women should feel safe taking up to 1,000 mg a day, provided their calcium is mixed with other important bone nutrients like magnesium (preferably in a ratio of between 1:1 cal/mag to 2:1 cal/mag), vitamin D, vitamin K2, boron and silica. A high-quality bone protecting formula will contain at least the first three of these ingredients.
Indole-3-Carbinole or DIM
Decades ago, scientists puzzled over the fact that Eastern European women had significantly lower rates of breast cancer than their relatives who moved overseas and adopted the typical American diet. Many research studies later, they identified cabbage as being the prime cancer-protective food in the diet of the Europeans. The reason? Cabbage, broccoli, and other members of the brassica vegetable family contain plant chemicals known as indoles which help steer estrogen metabolism into benign pathways less likely to be carcinogenic. The most powerful indole is indole-3-carbinole, and it’s available as a supplement. Research shows that indole-3-carbinole metabolizes into an even more powerful chemical called DIM (di-indole-methane) which many health professionals now recommend as a cancer-fighting supplement.
Another group of plant compounds found to be cancer-protective are the lignans found in flaxseed. These lignans are included in a supplement known as Brevail, and have been found to be protective of breast, prostate, and several other cancers. I recommend one to two capsules a day.
For both men and women, it’s worth adding a short list of “honorable mentions.” CoQ10 is an important nutrient for the heart, and must be taken by anyone on cholesterol-lowering meds since these drugs deplete this nutrient when you need it most. Many people over 40 have less digestive enzymes and so are less able to access the nutrients in their food—digestive enzymes taken with every meal is a great solution. Alpha-lipoic acid is one of the most powerful antioxidants on the planet, and as an added bonus, helps you recycle vitamins C and E. And vitamin E is a worthwhile addition, helping blood vessels to relax, thinning the blood, and offering a significant amount of antioxidant power of its own. (But read the labels—look for mixed tocopherols or high-gamma tocopherol. Pure alpha-tocopherol doesn’t contain all 8 fractions of vitamin E so you won’t get the full spectrum of benefits.)
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