Vitamins, herbs, and minerals offer an impressive array of health benefits. But browse the bottle-lined aisles of your favorite natural products store long enough, and you'll get a headache. New formulas and improved remedies seem to pop up all the time, along with news of (often contradictory) scientific research. Here, we share tips and recommendations from two prominent health experts.

Tip>> Don't skip your daily dose Whether you're a man or woman, 25 or 65, you'll benefit from a good multivitamin/mineral, says Shari Lieberman, PhD, CNS, FACN, and author of The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book (Avery, 2003). A 2002 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association backs her up, advising all adults to take multivitamins to help ward off chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis (vol. 287, no. 23).

The fine print>> You'll absorb nutrients more efficiently if you divide your daily dose so you take the pills more than once a day.

Tip>> Go for optimal amounts
Look for at least 100 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of the essential vitamins (C, E, D, B1/thiamin, B2/riboflavin, B3/niacin, B6, B12, and folic acid) and the essential minerals (copper, zinc, iodine, selenium, and chromium). But remember, RDI amounts are really the bare minimum; they were set to prevent nutritional-deficiency diseases such as scurvy.

The fine print>>
For more disease prevention and therapeutic benefits, choose high-potency multis that offer optimal daily intake (ODI) amounts. For example, the ODI for vitamin E is 400 IUs; the RDI is a mere 30 IUs. (For more tips, see "What Should Be in My Multi?" below.)

Other must-take supplements
Tip>> Everybody needs fish oil
This natural anti-inflammatory is great for the heart, skin, bones, brain, immune system, and more. Adults should take at least 1 1/2 grams of fish oil twice a day, says Jennifer Nevels, NMD, chair of the Women's Integrative Medicine Department at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona.

The fine print>> Check labels to make sure your brand has been tested for—and is free of—mercury and other heavy metal contamination. Liquid oil is generally more economical and easily absorbed, Nevels says. It's often flavored; swallow it straight or add to smoothies or oatmeal. To prevent rancidity, store oil in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator. (Oil should never have a strong smell; if it does, throw it away.) Capsules are a convenient alternative. And to avoid fish-oil burps, take with food, particularly carbohydrates, Lieberman says. Or try enteric-coated capsules, which open in the intestines rather than the stomach.

Tip>> Women need more calcium
Women require 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium per day to slow bone loss. A multi typically cannot fit in this amount, so most women need additional supplementation.

The fine print>> Choose calcium citrate over calcium carbonate; it's more easily absorbed. Also, take calcium in divided doses; the body can absorb only about 500 mg of calcium at a time. "Take one at bedtime because your body absorbs more calcium while sleeping," says Nevels.

Tip>> Focus on your Achilles heel
It's not possible—or advisable—to try out every supplement you read about. Focus on areas where you need the most support, be it reducing stress or preventing hereditary conditions such as cancer or heart disease.

The fine print>>
Check out these picks recommended by our experts.

  • For antiaging: Alpha-lipoic acid; coenzyme Q10 (Co-Q10); vitamin E (Take antioxidants together for a synergistic effect, says Lieberman.)
  • For cancer prevention: Green tea (Camellia sinensis); diindolylmethane (DIM); melatonin
  • For heart health: Co-Q10; fish oil; B-vitamin complex
  • For stress relief: Standardized extracts of rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea); ashwagandha (Withania somnifera); Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
  • Carlotta Mast wrote about nixing your sugar fix for our March 2006 issue.