Vitamin and supplement companies often claim that their products offer amazing benefits, ranging from improved energy to a lower risk of cancer. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell if those claims are true just by reading product labels. Before you spend your money on the latest miracle health product, take a few minutes to read this post to get the lowdown on “functional foods” like green tea and other popular vitamins and nutrition supplements.
For centuries, tea has been recognized for its soothing properties; but did you know that tea, particularly green tea, can lend more than just an afternoon “pick-me-up”? Studies show that drinking green tea may offer more advantages than you might realize, including:
- Cancer Prevention: Data suggests that cancer rates are generally lower in countries where people regularly drink green tea.
- Cholesterol and Blood Sugar Control: Drinking green tea can lower your total cholesterol level, raise good cholesterol and balance your blood sugar level if you have diabetes.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease Relief: The anti-inflammatory properties of green tea can be beneficial for those who suffer from ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
- Weight Loss: Some research has indicated a potential link between green tea and improved metabolism, however, most of these studies are based on the use of supplemental green tea extract. A study performed at The Pennsylvania State University discovered that mice that consumed green tea extract and exercised regularly reduced their average body mass by 27 percent.
Take note: The FDA does not regulate nutrition supplements such as green tea extract. The safety and efficacy of supplements vary greatly, and special care should be taken with their use … especially for those who suffer from chronic diseases. Before you purchase that expensive bottle and add another pill to your day, consider taking the more holistic (and less expensive) approach … sit back, relax and sip on a nice cup of freshly steeped green tea!
Coenzyme Q10 (also called CoQ10) is an antioxidant that’s produced naturally by your body. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, preventing the dangerous molecules from damaging your cells. This compound is certainly available in supplement form, but it may also be found through dietary sources. Organ meats and seafood are rich in Coenzyme Q10; some vegetables like broccoli and leafy greens also contain small amounts. CoQ10 has shown promising results of Parkinson’s disease and continues to be evaluated for efficacy in managing the following conditions:
- Cardiovascular Disease: A review of several clinical trials indicated CoQ10 may be beneficial for management of congestive heart failure when combined with traditional treatments. The ability of this powerful compound to improve energy production in cells and reduce blood clot formation has also led to its consideration for use in patients with hypertension and high cholesterol. It has even demonstrated promising results for those recovering from a heart attack.
- Other Benefits: Coenzyme Q10 may improve blood sugar in people who have diabetes, reduce migraine frequency, and improve asthma and chronic fatigue symptoms.
- Quicker Recovery from Gum Disease: Lower levels of Coenzyme Q10 are common in people who have gum disease. While more research is necessary, some small studies have indicated supplementation may shorten healing time and speed repair of the tissues in your gums.
We’ve all heard the old saying: “milk does a body good” … but did you know that there are many other delicious ways to boost your intake of calcium, the power mineral responsible for this slogan? As more and more Americans shy away from milk and other dairy due to intolerances and fad diets, the risk for calcium deficiency increases. While nutrition supplements are certainly recommended for those struggling to obtain enough calcium through their diet, it’s important that you take care not to overdo it! There is such a thing as too much calcium, especially in supplemental form. Seek food first in your efforts to keep those bones strong, and talk with a registered dietitian or your primary care provider if you need advice on supplementation. Here are a few nondairy alternatives to try:
- Canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones)
- Soybeans and other soy products (like tofu)
- Leafy greens (collards, turnip greens, kale and bok choy)
- Calcium-fortified juice, almond milk, cereals and breads
Your body uses folic acid to make new cells and regulate serotonin, a neurotransmitter that sends messages from your brain to your nerve cells. Because folic acid plays an important role in the development of a fetus’ brain and spine, the March of Dimes recommends that women of childbearing age choose a daily multivitamin that contains 400 micrograms of folic acid. During pregnancy, the need is even higher … moms-to-be need 600 micrograms of folic acid. A quality prenatal vitamin should fulfill this guideline and is highly recommended during this delicate life stage.
Never forget the power of a well-balanced diet in your efforts to meet nutrient needs. Consider this: 1 cup of spinach contains about 100mcg folic acid, one egg contains about 25mcg and most fortified cereals supply anywhere from 100 to 400mcg per half cup. Whip up a quick veggie scramble with a side of whole grain cereal for breakfast, and you are at least halfway to your goal for the day!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids keep your brain healthy and help lower the risk of depression, fatigue, mood swings and memory problems. The acids are available in supplements and are found naturally in salmon, broccoli, herring, spinach and chia seeds.
B vitamins are commonly a topic of interest in the dietary supplement world because of their main role in the body: conversion of food to energy. For the last 60 years, staples like cereal grains and bread have been fortified with many of the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin). Deficiencies of these nutrients are more common in developing countries; however, vitamins B-6 and B-12 may be of concern for vegetarians and/or vegans, as they are most predominant in animal products. Pernicious anemia is a serious side effect of inadequate vitamin B-12 intake and is certainly of concern for such populations. Individuals who have altered absorption of nutrients due to conditions or surgical procedures like gastric bypass may also be at risk.
Interestingly, vitamin B-6 has been touted for its ability to provide relief to pregnant women suffering from the woes of morning sickness! Research has shown a daily dose of vitamin B-6 may actually reduce nausea and vomiting.
Despite claims, vitamin B-12, which is commonly given via injection, does not necessarily speed your weight loss efforts. However, if you are deficient in vitamin B-12, your energy levels may be compromised, and this can certainly decrease your ability to follow through with lifestyle goals like exercise. In such cases, supplementation may assist with boosting weight loss as a secondary result of increased motivation and physical activity.
As with all nutrition supplements, the need for additional vitamin B-6 or B-12 outside of dietary sources varies by individual. Always check with your health care provider before adding excess supplementation of any form.
As Hippocrates said: “Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Creating a well-balanced dietary regimen with the assistance of the clinicians, registered dietitians and nurse practitioners at LifeStyle Medical Centers can help you ensure adequate intake of each of these nutrients, and we are happy to recommend appropriate supplementation on an individual basis should you have the need. Call us to find out how we can help you improve your health.
National Institutes of Health: Vitamin B12
Archives of Internal Medicine: Calcium and Vitamin D Intake and Risk of Incident Premenstrual Syndrome
University of Maryland Medical Center: Coenzyme Q10
Molecular Aspects of Medicine: Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure with Coenzyme Q10 Illuminated by Meta-Analyses of Clinical Trials
University of Maryland Medical Center: Green Tea
Penn State: Research Suggests that Green Tea, Exercise Boosts Weight Loss, Health
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Tea Polyphenols: Prevention of Cancer and Optimizing Health
National Institutes of Health: Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth