If you’re proactive about your health, you already take supplements to guard against any nutrient deficiencies that might arise from a less-than-perfect diet. But it might be time to fortify your body to address specific concerns, including aging and sleeping well, heart health, diabetes, and weight management. Our natural health experts offer ideas for taking your supplement routine to the next level with a few less-familiar but science-backed supplements.

HEART HEALTH:

What you're taking now Fish oil, plant stanols/sterols, fiber

Consider:

COENZYME Q10 (CoQ10)

What it is:

A compound made by the body that fuels energy production in muscle cells (including the heart) and scavenges free radicals that can damage blood vessels and hasten plaque formation. Age and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may dampen CoQ10 production.

How it works:

When taken in conjunction with statin drugs, CoQ10 can prevent side effects such as muscle aches caused by CoQ10 deficiency; in heart attack survivors, CoQ10 may prevent heart attack recurrence and chest pain; in congestive heart failure patients, it helps the heart pump more efficiently and alleviates leg swelling. Also shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Research:

Studies show daily CoQ10 after a heart attack can significantly lessen the chances of recurrence. One 2009 study found that when 23 people on statin drugs took 200 mg of CoQ10 daily for 12 weeks, their side-effects, including poor blood flow to extremities, subsided.

Recommended dose:

100–400 mg daily

Caution:

None

PINE BARK EXTRACT

What it is:

Extract from the bark of French maritime pine trees. Two companies produce patented products (Pycnogenol by Horphag; Toyo-FVG by Toyo Bio-Pharma).

How it works:

A powerful antioxidant also known for its ability to strengthen blood vessel walls and capillaries, and reduce constriction that impairs circulation. Used to improve circulation and reduce high blood pressure.

Research:

Many studies show it dilates vessels and boosts blood flow. One 2008 study of diabetics showed that, after 12 weeks, those who took pine bark extract along with antihypertension medicine showed lower cardiovascular risk factors than the control group; 60 percent were able to cut their conventional medication in half.

Recommended dose:

125 mg daily

Caution:

None

NIACIN (vitamin B3)

What it is:

A vitamin found naturally in yeast, meat, fish, milk, eggs, greens, and grains.

How it works:

Niacin is best known for its ability to raise good cholesterol levels, and has long been used—in prescription form—alongside statin drugs to help keep triglycerides and cholesterol levels under control. More recent studies suggest that niacin alone, and in combination with drugs, can help normalize blood pressure and slow the progression of—or even reverse—plaque formation.

Research:

One 2006 study of 104 heart disease patients, conducted by researchers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, found that patients given extended-release niacin daily for 12–24 months saw a significant regression of plaque formation. The longer they took it, the healthier their arteries got.

Recommended dose:

250–1,000 mg daily, starting low and increasing gradually over the course of a month or two.

Caution:

Excess niacin can cause a warm, flushing sensation on the skin. Not recommended for people with ulcers or liver disease.

WEIGHT MANAGEMENT

What you’re taking now

Bitter orange, caffeine

Consider:

WHEY

What it is:

A protein source found in milk products and available in powdered form as a supplement.

How it works:

Protein helps people feel full faster, stay full longer, and helps build muscle mass, which in turn stimulates metabolism. One of the most nutrient-dense protein supplements, whey is loaded with amino acids that ignite appetite-regulating hormones. It has been shown to prolong satiety more than other forms of protein, such as casein, and boost energy without spiking insulin.

Research:

One 2003 British study found that people who drank a liquid with 48g of whey 90 minutes prior to a buffet meal significantly decreased their food intake (more so than those who had a casein drink before eating). The study also showed that in the whey group, participants’ stomachs emptied more slowly and they felt satisfied, longer. A 2007 study of obese men in Australia found that those who drank whey protein drinks experienced a 2–4-hour suppression of the appetite-boosting hormone, ghrelin, while blood levels of GLP-1, a hormone associated with fullness, soared.

Recommended dose:

As meal replacement, 17–25 grams of powdered whey, 1–2 times per day, mixed with food, such as a yogurt shake or a bowl of oatmeal.

Cautions:

May not be appropriate for people with dairy allergies.

CONJUGATED LINOLEIC ACID (CLA)

What it is:

A family of fatty acids found in beef and dairy.

How it works:

Believed to decrease fat storage, increase the rate of fat breakdown, lower the number and size of fat cells, and increase the rate of fat metabolism. CLA may work best to prevent rebound weight gain among yo-yo dieters. Also believed to promote lean muscle mass.

Research:

A 2007 analysis of 18 CLA studies concluded that participants given 3.2 grams per day lost roughly 1 pound per month body fat compared to those taking a placebo. Another 2007 study of 40 overweight adults found that those who took 3.2 grams CLA per day for six months reduced body fat and did not gain weight during the holiday season.

Recommended dose:

3–4 1,000 mg capsules per day

Caution:

None

GLUCOMANNAN

What it is:

A soluble fiber derived from Asian konjac root.

How it works:

When taken before a meal, it promotes fullness and satiety.

Research:

A 2008 review of 14 studies, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that glucomannan supplementation “significantly” lowered body weight, cholesterol, and triglycerides. A previous study of 20 obese subjects found that those who took two 500 mg capsules of glucomannan with water one hour before each meal, without changing their eating patterns, lost an average of 5.5 pounds over 8 weeks.

Recommended dose:

1 gram with plenty of water one hour before meals, up to three times per day.

Caution:

May have a laxative effect or cause gas. There have been some reports of tablets expanding in the throat and causing choking.

DIABETES

What you are taking now

Chromium, fiber

Consider:

ALPHA-LIPOIC ACID

What it is:

A powerful, naturally occurring antioxidant that helps cells efficiently convert glucose into energy.

How it works:

Believed to lower blood sugar levels by metabolizing glucose and ushering it to the muscles where it is needed for energy. Used in Europe as a prescription remedy for diabetic neuropathy, a numbness, pain, or tingling sensation in feet or legs that occurs when high blood sugar levels damage nerve endings.

Research:

A 2006 study of 180 diabetic patients found that patients taking 600–1,800 mg daily of ALA for five weeks saw significant reduction of diabetic neuropathy compared with those taking a placebo.

Recommended dose:

300¬–1,200 mg per day

Caution:

Can lower blood-sugar levels, so should be taken under the care of a doctor.

GURMAR (GYMNEMA SYLVESTRA)

What it is:

An Indian herb used for centuries to treat diabetes.

How it works:

When taken before a meal, gurmar (the “sugar destroyer”) is believed to bind to taste receptors on the tongue, snubbing out sweet perception. Some animal studies indicate that standardized forms may also lower blood glucose levels.

Research:

One study found that when 27 people with type 2 diabetes were given 400 milligrams of a standardized oral extract called GS4 for 18–20 months, alongside their diabetes medication, they showed significant reduction in blood glucose. Five were able to go off their diabetes drugs and maintain healthy blood sugar.

Recommended dose:

200–250 milligrams of standardized extract twice daily by mouth. At least one company has come up with a gymnema gum, Sugarest, to fend off cravings for sweets.

Cautions:

May cause reaction in people allergic to milkweed.

CINNAMON (CINNAMOMUM CASSIA or BURMANNII)

What it is:

Not to be confused with Ceylon cinnamon, Cinnamomum cassia or burmanniivarieties have greater antidiabetic properties.

How it works:

Lowers blood sugar, trigylcerides, cholesterol, and may slow gastric emptying, leaving stomach full longer.

Research:

A 2003 study of 60 volunteers with type 2 diabetes found that c. cassia supplementation reduced fasting blood glucose by up to 29 percent after 40 days. In 2007, a smaller study of 14 subjects found that taking 6 grams of cinnamon in pudding after meals slowed stomach emptying and lowered postmeal blood sugar levels.

Recommended dose:

Start with 250 mg twice daily before meals.

Caution:

Those with liver disease should not take high doses for prolonged periods of time.

HEALTHY AGING

What you may be taking now:

Vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, CoQ10

Consider:

RESVERATROL

What it is:

A polyphenol abundant in red grapes, pomegranates, blueberries, and red wine.

How it works:

Believed to have the same effect on cells as calorie restriction does by activating “anti-aging” genes (called sirtuins), which help repair DNA and counter the oxidative stress that damages cells.

Research:

In 2008, European researchers found that 1,000 mg of pure polyphenol resveratrol increased oxygen consumption in the frontal part of the brain; those taking resveratrol scored higher on cognitive tests than the control group. Another 2008 study conducted by the National Institute on Aging found that mice fed resveratrol had better heart health, bone health, fewer cataracts, and better motor coordination.

Recommended dose:

100–300 mg of transresveratrol (considered the most bioavailable form) daily.

Cautions:

None

SULFORAPHANE

What it is:

A compound found in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage.

How it works:

A detoxifying agent that activates cell enzymes that flush toxins before they can damage DNA.

Research:

Studies link sulforaphane to prevention of stomach ulcers, macular generation, high blood pressure, and cancer. A recent study found that patients testing positive for H. pylori (the bacteria associated with stomach ulcer and gastric cancer risk) colonization who ate 70 grams of sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprouts daily had decreased levels of H. pylori at the end of eight weeks compared with a group who ate alfalfa sprouts. Another recent Hopkins study found that when sulforaphane was applied to skin before UV exposure, redness and inflammation was reduced by 37 percent.

Recommended dose:

50 mg of active sulforaphane per day. Most accessible form is in Brassica tea (2 or 3 cups per day). Or take a quality broccoli sprout supplement (500 mg capsule will likely yield about 50 mg sulforaphane).

Cautions:

None

CURCUMIN

What it is:

A potent polyphenol found in the spice turmeric.

How it works:

Believed to dampen the activity of enzymes that lead to excessive inflammation in the body and hasten cellular aging. Also enhances glutathione, an important antioxidant.

Research:

Shown to prevent or slow tumor formation in animal-based research. In a 2008 study, curcumin was shown to significantly inhibit the growth of human colon cancer cells. Other research suggests that curcumin’s antitumor effects may be linked to its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Recommended dose:

500 mg per day, preferably in a mixture with black pepper extract (which helps with absorption).

Cautions:

May increase bleeding in people taking blood thinners.

SLEEP

What you may be taking:

Valerian root, chamomile, kava kava, skullcap

Consider:

L-THEANINE

What it is:

An amino acid prevalent in green tea and available in oral supplements and sleep supplement combinations.

How it works:

Sometimes called the “anti-caffeine,” L-theanine is believed to bind to and downregulate anxiety-producing glutamate receptors, calming the mind and reducing anxiety without knocking you out and making you feel hungover. Believed to promote production of alpha brain waves associated with relaxation. It’s considered ideal for the person whose mind races at bedtime after a stressful day.

Research:

One 2006 Japanese study found that those who took L-theanine prior to a stressful situation had lower heart rates and fewer stress responses compared to those in a control group.

Recommended dose:

1–3 100 mg capsules at bedtime.

Cautions:

None

MELATONIN (slow-release

What it is:

A hormone produced by the brain in response to darkness, triggering sleepiness.

How it works:

Supplements the body’s natural melatonin levels to help regulate sleep-wake cycles. Often prescribed for people whose sleep-wake cycle is out of sync due to sleep deprivation from jet lag, working the night shift, or blindness. Also recommended for those who can’t fall asleep until midnight and then sleep in too late.

Research:

A 2007 review by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found “strong evidence” that melatonin works for such uses.

Recommended dose:

1.5–3 mg of controlled-release melatonin one hour before bedtime.

Caution:

Not recommended for pregnant or nursing women or women who want to conceive (may disrupt ovulation).

GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid)

What it is:

Known as “the breaks of the brain,” this neurotransmitter is responsible for modulating excitability and quieting a racing mind.

How it works:

Interacts with GABA receptors to calm the mind and body. Drugs that work on the GABA receptors, such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), have an anti-anxiety effect. Several generations of sleeping drugs operate on this premise.

Research:

A 2008 study found that brain GABA levels were 30 percent lower in people with primary insomnia. While trials of GABA-containing pharmaceuticals are ample, supplement trials in humans are slim. One small 2006 Japanese study found that when subjects were given oral GABA, alpha brain waves (associated with relaxation) increased, while beta waves (associated with anxiety) decreased.

Recommended dose:

Take the natural, nonsynthetic form of GABA (fermented using bacteria), said to more effectively cross the blood/brain barrier. 1–2 tablets up to three times per day.

Caution:

If you are taking antianxiety, epilepsy, or prescription sleep medications, ask your doctor for advice.