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Conditions update: supplements guide

Conditions update: supplements guide

Baby boomers who once laughed in the face of aging are changing their tune, according to Laurie Steelsmith, ND, and Andrew Weil, MD. This age group is now turning to naturals retailers for information on supplements that support bone and heart health, promote weight loss, boost energy and help manage blood sugar and diabetes.

We went back to Steelsmith and Weil to expand on their recommendations in our guide to the Top 20 Supplements. Here’s their advice on managing common baby-boomer health concerns.

More than half of adults age 50 and older have osteoporosis or low bone mass, with osteoporosis causing 1.5 million bone fractures a year.

Calcium is still “essential for strong bones,” Weil says. Men should strive to get it from food—like organic dairy products, dark leafy greens and canned salmon—since it’s easy for them to get too much of a good thing. “High calcium intake has been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer,” Weil says. Women, however, should supplement with 700 to 800 mg daily of calcium citrate.

Vitamin D
This nutrient helps the body absorb calcium and incorporate minerals into bones. Weil recommends 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) a day for men and women.

Vitamin K2
“K2 helps build bones,” Steelsmith says. Weil says the research is unclear, but it may work “by acting on osteocalcin, a protein important in bone mineralization.” While it’s present in meats and cheeses, the richest source is a Japanese fermented soy food called natto. “Natto has a very strong flavor and is usually unpleasant to Westerners, so most people will supplement with K2 instead,” Steelsmith says. She recommends up to 450 mcg daily, whereas Weil advises lower doses—around 50 to 100 mcg, consistent with the recommended dietary allowances of 80 mcg. “Side effects are uncommon, but vitamin K2 does interfere with blood-thinning medications such as warfarin (Coumadin),” Weil notes.

“Diabetics who are taking prescribed medications for the condition should let their physicians know when they're experimenting with one of these remedies,” Weil cautions. “As sugar metabolism improves, dosages of their medications may need to be adjusted.”

Weil says this trace element helps stabilize blood sugar. “I recommend supplementing with 1,000 mcg a day of GTF (glucose tolerance factor) chromium, a form that's well used by the body,” he says.

“Magnesium promotes healthy insulin production,” Weil says. Common food sources include spinach, tofu, almonds, broccoli, lentils, pumpkinseeds and sunflower seeds. “I also recommend taking magnesium glycinate, a form with less of a laxative effect, in a dose of 400 mg daily,” he says.

One in three adult Americans has some type of cardiovascular disease and fewer than 10 percent eat the recommended servings of heart-healthy whole grains, fruits and vegetables, making supplementation all the more critical.

Coenzyme Q10
“Co-Q10 is a natural antioxidant … that may improve oxygen utilization at the cellular level. Research data suggest therapeutic benefit for people with high blood pressure or heart failure when taken in a daily dose of 30 to 300 mg,” Weil says. He also recommends it for anyone already taking a statin drug because statins inhibit the body’s natural production of Co-Q10.

“The failing heart is energy starved,” according to the authors of a 2009 study on D-ribose. That explains why this naturally occurring carbohydrate is one of Steelsmith’s favorite heart-health supplements. “D-ribose helps with energy production inside the cells,” she says, and it’s been shown to improve the condition of patients with congestive heart failure. Weil also likes it for people with congestive heart failure, but says he’d like to see more research investigating whether it also supports general heart health.

Old news, you say? Maybe so, but these fatty acids remain a veritable heart-health dynamo. Weil says “they can lower triglyceride levels, increase HDL [good] cholesterol, help minimize inflammation and blood clotting, and keep blood vessels healthy. Look for molecularly distilled fish oil products that provide both EPA and DHA.”

Red rice yeast
This naturally occurring source of statins can lower cholesterol, but according to Weil, “is much less likely to cause the side effects that sometimes occur with the pharmaceutical versions.”

There are a variety of drug-free remedies that can help manage the depression and lack of mental clarity that can be caused by aging.

“Most people who use rhodiola find that it increases their energy and mental clarity and improves their mood,” perhaps by inhibiting the breakdown of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, Steelsmith says. She recommends a daily dose of 100 to 170 mg. While rhodiola is a very safe herb with low toxicity, she says, “it should not be used if a person has bipolar disorder, is taking stimulants or is on antidepressant medication.”

St. John’s wort
Research has shown this herb to be “as effective as some prescription drugs in the treatment of mild to moderate depression,” Weil says. “Take 300 mg of an extract, standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin and 5 percent hyperforin, three times a day with food.”

A naturally occurring amino acid compound that’s useful for mild to moderate depression, SAM-e “works faster than St. John's wort and may provide liver and joint-health benefits as well,” Weil says. “Use only the butanedisulfonate form in enteric-coated tablets, or in capsules in a dose of 400 to 1,600 mg a day taken on an empty stomach.”

Weil has reservations about supplements for sports, but has strong recommendations for people who need an energy boost for daily activities.

One or two capsules a day of this mushroom tonic is helpful, “especially for those recovering from illness or lacking in vitality,” Weil says.

Vitamin D3
“For sports performance, I make sure my patients have adequate levels of vitamin D,” Steelsmith says. A 2009 meta-analysis found that peak athletic performance occurred when vitamin D levels approached those found after full-body summer-sun exposure. Even in Hawaii, where sunshine is abundant, Steelsmith says, vitamin D levels are often well below acceptable ranges. She typically does a blood test to determine the best dose, but says most people can get up to speed with daily supplements of 1000 IUs.

With two-thirds of Americans overweight, dietary supplements that may help consumers slim down are perpetually popular. Weil does not recommend any weight-loss supplements, saying “I don’t believe that weight-loss supplements or diet pills have any role in a healthy weight-management program. They do not help sustain appropriate weight loss and a few have been associated with potentially dangerous side effects.” Steelsmith, however, does have a recommendation for retailers.

Conjugated linoleic acid
“I always include CLA in my programs to help patients lose weight,” Steelsmith says. “A number of studies show it can reduce body fat, especially abdominal fat, while preserving lean muscle mass.” Researchers in 2009 theorized that CLA fights fat by improving sensitivity to insulin. Steelsmith recommends people take 3,400 mg a day until they meet their weight-loss goals.

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