If you’re like me, it’s been a while since you’ve heard of any of the following ingredients. Perhaps you’ve never even heard of them, and you probably don’t even know if you’re deficient in them.
If you’re looking for something to help your health and your body in general, you’ve come to the right place. The focus of the content we’re posting here will be on supplements, such as vitamins and supplements, that help out your health and well-being. We will be doing research to find out what is currently proven, and what is just a myth.
Today, the market is flooded with tens of thousands of dietary supplements. Unfortunately, many of them only make your wallet lighter and some can be downright dangerous for you.
Others – like fish oil, vitamin D, creatine, probiotics, green powders and simple multivitamins – can improve our health, athletic performance and body composition.
There is another group of supplements that offer equally important (and research-backed) benefits, but remain largely unknown and underutilized.
To find out more about this, I spent a few hours on Examine.com, a website that collects and analyzes the latest research on hundreds of supplements and products, and other nutrition and health-related topics.
The database alone contains over 50,000 research papers. The editors carefully select and sort the information to make it more understandable. The result is a very valuable resource for anyone interested in nutrition and health.
Although I consider myself to be quite knowledgeable, after checking out the site I gained new information about some amazing but lesser known additions that I must share.
Great addition #1: Curcumin
Curcumin is a yellow pigment found in turmeric and curry spices that has been studied for decades for its many potential health benefits.
Because curcumin reduces inflammation, especially when taken over a long period of time, it also reduces pain, especially post-operative and arthritic pain.
Moreover, long-term use of curcumin reduces the symptoms of osteoarthritis by more than half. When middle-aged and older osteoarthritis patients took curcumin, their well-being and performance improved significantly, allowing them to lead more active lives.
Curcumin also helps relieve everyday ailments – and the relief provided by 400-500 mg of curcumin seems similar to taking 2000 mg of acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Curcumin may help reduce pain associated with other conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and nephritis, by reducing inflammation and improving organ function. Perhaps because of its effect on inflammation, curcumin may also slow down brain aging and cognitive decline.
Long-term administration of curcumin not only reduces inflammation, but also several markers of oxidation, such as C-reactive protein or lipid peroxidation.
Oxidation is the name given to the process that occurs when oxygen comes into contact with and changes the cells in our body. This process is completely natural, it happens all the time and helps to maintain our health.
Free radicals (cells damaged by oxidation) lack critical molecules. In an attempt to repair themselves, they sometimes run amok in our bodies and end up damaging other cells by damaging their DNA. This can lead to illness.
Our bodies naturally contain antioxidant enzymes to protect us, namely superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione and catalase. These powerful enzymes are our first line of defense against induced oxidation.
Interestingly, curcumin is not only a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, but it also significantly increases the levels of these endogenous enzymes, strengthening our defenses.
Therefore, curcumin supplements can protect DNA from damage even when a person has been exposed to dangerous substances like arsenic!
Curcumin also has anti-cancer properties. That’s because it can initiate a process called autophagy.
Autophagy is the selective destruction of damaged cell tissue. Think of it as cell cleaning – damaged cells are cleared of debris and prevented from accumulating.
Autophagy isolates damaged organelles, ensures proper cell differentiation and promotes the death of cancer cells. In other words: He puts some bad guys in solitary confinement, separates those who need to be separated, and kills others.
People who consume a lot of curcumin are less likely to develop colon, prostate and breast cancer.
And if you already have cancer, curcumin can even make chemotherapy more effective and protect healthy cells from radiation. It’s not that bad.
Safety and dosage
In general, the recommended dose for general health purposes is about 500 mg of curcumin per day. Studies show that doses of up to 8-12 grams per day are safe. The main side effect is some gastrointestinal discomfort.
However, curcumin itself is poorly absorbed. So to benefit from it, you need a supplement with increased bioavailability.
Methods to increase bioavailability include addition of black pepper extract (piperine), mixing with phosphatidylcholine (phytosomes) or ingestion with curcumin nanoparticles. Check the labels to make sure you are getting a product that can actually be digested.
Since curcumin is a fat-soluble substance, it should be taken with food or another fat source (such as fish oil) to further enhance its absorption.
Great addition #2: Berber
Berberine is a compound found in many plants, including Oregon grapes, barberry and lily of the valley.
Like curcumin, berberine has a yellow colour – so intense that it was once used to dye wool, leather and wood.
The magical properties of berberine include an anti-inflammatory effect, a lipid-lowering effect and, most importantly, an incredibly powerful anti-diabetic effect. Many of these benefits are due to the fact that berberine activates AMPK, a powerful enzyme that plays a key role in maintaining the energy balance of our cells and protecting their growth and function.
Berberine also has some antifungal and antibiotic properties.
But let’s look at the most powerful benefits of berberine.
Blood sugar monitoring
The anti-diabetic properties of berberine are well known. In fact, berberine is just as powerful as pharmaceutical drugs. Few supplements can boast such efficiency.
Taking 500 mg of berberine 3 times daily (1500 mg total) improves blood glucose control and other indicators of type 2 diabetes in the same way as taking 1500 mg of metformin.
In addition, metformin and berberine work synergistically together to help control blood sugar levels even better.
But diabetics are not the only ones who can benefit from berberine. It may also protect against metabolic syndrome by lowering blood sugar, body fat, triglycerides and cholesterol levels.
Berberine seems to work in several ways.
First, it improves muscle sensitivity to insulin and promotes the absorption of glucose and fatty acids from the blood into muscle cells.
It also causes the liver to reduce glycolysis and regulate the high levels of free fatty acids in the blood that result from poor body composition, thereby reducing insulin resistance.
A series of three studies in which people with metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes took about 1 gram of berberine per day for 1-3 months showed that blood glucose levels dropped by 17-26% and HbA1C levels dropped by 12-18%. (HbA1C is a measure of blood glucose control over time).
These are remarkable improvements, easily comparable to those achieved with diabetes medications.
Lowering of blood lipids
Berberine can also lower blood lipid levels. This means it can protect against heart disease.
A meta-analysis of berberine supplementation in diabetics showed that it reduced triglyceride levels by an average of 42 mg/dL, and total and LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 22 mg/dL. This is a serious limitation!
Furthermore, when it comes to lowering lipid levels, berberine seems to work differently than statins – currently the most commonly prescribed drug for this purpose. In theory, these two substances can work synergistically to lower blood lipid levels more effectively and efficiently than either substance alone.
Safety and dosage
In most studies, a dose of 1-2 g of berberine per day, divided into 3-4 servings, has been accepted. Higher doses are well tolerated but do not necessarily provide more benefit.
With the exception of a slight disturbance of the gastrointestinal tract at high doses and the possibility that berberine may interfere with muscle growth, it has virtually no side effects.
The AMPK-activating effects of berberine are incredible for improving blood sugar control and lowering blood lipid levels, but they come with a price: An increased AMPK can even inhibit muscle growth.
This undesirable side effect can be somewhat or largely compensated for by vigorous resistance training and anaerobic training. But there have been no studies yet, so it’s mostly guesswork.
Finally, berberine is known to interact with enzymes involved in drug metabolism. This means that it can ensure the proper metabolism of prescription drugs, such as. B. some antibiotics, can interfere and cause severe cardiotoxicity. Consult your physician before taking any supplements.
Great addition #3: Spirulina
Spirulina is a blue-green mixture of algae. It contains bioactive compounds (including phycocyanobilin) that provide exceptional health benefits. In particular, spirulina seems to inhibit NADPH oxidase, a substance that promotes oxidation. So it helps protect us from free radicals and the damage they can cause to healthy cells.
Of course, the data on the many health benefits of spirulina are limited and need to be repeated before we can assess them with absolute certainty. But the preliminary data is conclusive.
Blood lipid protection
Several studies have shown that the intake of spirulina reduces lipid peroxidation (a marker of damaged blood lipids) by an average of 15% in humans and animals.
A number of studies conducted in people with metabolic syndrome or other conditions that lead to high triglyceride levels have shown that supplementation with spirulina can lower triglyceride levels by about 10-15%.
Effects requiring further examination
- Allergy control. A study showed that daily consumption of 2 g of spirulina for 6 months was associated with a significant reduction in nasal allergy symptoms.
- Lowering of blood pressure. Several studies have shown that 6 weeks of supplementation lowers blood pressure by 11 points for systolic pressure (upper number) and 6 points for diastolic pressure (lower number) in people without hypertension. This is a big change.
- Increase power. In one study, performance increased by 20-30% during exercise, while placebo provided no gain. This effect was stronger in untrained subjects and weaker in trained athletes.
- regulation of the immune system. One study showed that the levels and activity of natural killer cells increased significantly when subjects took spirulina. This suggests that spirulina may have powerful anti-tumor properties.
- Lowering of liver enzymes and fatty liver. Although these preliminary results are based on case studies and rat data, they suggest that spirulina may improve liver health in people with liver damage.
Safety and dosage
Spirulina has been given a safety class A by the American Pharmacopoeia. There is currently no evidence of harm associated with the application.
However, it should be noted that other, non-spirulina blue-green algae may contaminate spirulina supplements and produce potentially toxic metabolites. So if you decide to take supplements, look for a reliable source.
Spirulina is usually consumed at a dose of 1 to 3 grams per day, often in divided doses.
Incredible addition #4: Rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola rosea may sound like the name of a character from a children’s book. But it’s actually an adaptogenic herb that grows in cold climates like the Arctic and other mountainous regions of the world.
An adaptogen is a compound that can reduce the negative effects of stress, even when the stress is still being felt. (For more on stress, see Good stress, bad stress: find your weakness).
Rhodiola is an adaptogen with a long history of reducing fatigue and exhaustion in situations of prolonged stress. (Including situations like mine: living in the same house with an infant and a child).
Reduced fatigue; improved wellbeing
The research on Rhodiola’s ability to reduce fatigue and improve well-being is very compelling and has been repeatedly confirmed.
A meta-analysis of 5 studies found that students who took Rhodiola experienced less cognitive fatigue, had better motor skills, and made fewer task errors than students who took a placebo. They also concentrated better, reacted faster and generally felt happier.
In one of these studies, students who took Rhodiola even scored 8.4% higher on exams than the group that took a placebo. This is a very big advantage!
In addition to these studies, Rhodiola intake has also been shown to significantly reduce overall fatigue and increase mental performance and overall well-being in military cadets on night duty.
Finally, a study of healthy physicians found that Rhodiola intake significantly reduced fatigue and improved performance of professional tasks by ~20%.
Rhodiola seems to make us smarter by reducing fatigue, but not for an independent reason. If mental fatigue is not a problem, it is not known to what extent Rhodiola helps improve cognition.
Nevertheless, the cognitive effects of fatigue reduction seem to be quite strong.
Effects requiring further examination
Like spirulina, Rhodiola seems to have additional benefits. But the research is still in its early stages, so we can’t be sure.
Nevertheless, here are some of the perceived benefits:
- Reduces depression. In the only relevant study, Rhodiola intake reduced symptoms of depression by 50%. One study is not enough, but the result is still significant.
- Increases life expectancy. Studies conducted on worms and flies with Rhodiola have shown an increase in life expectancy of 10 to 24%. While this is fascinating, it’s not clear if this benefit also applies to humans. Many other life-extending methods that have worked on worms and flies are not transferable to humans.
Safety and dosage
Human studies of Rhodiola have shown no clinically significant side effects. However, it may interact with some medications, so be sure to discuss this with your doctor if you want to take a supplement.
Rhodiola rosea extract contains 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside. The normal dosage is usually between 250 and 680 mg.
Rhodiola also has a bell-shaped curve, which means that once you cross the threshold of 680 mg, the effectiveness of the supplement decreases. There’s no reason to take more.
Amazing addition #5: Betaine
Betaine is naturally present in many plants to protect cells from dehydration. Sugar beet, quinoa and spinach are the three main dietary sources of betaine.
Betaine is a methyl donor. The methylation cycle is a biological pathway that regulates or contributes to almost every important function in the body, including detoxification, cell repair and transport, energy production, etc.
Strength and power improvement
A moderate amount of research shows that consuming 2.5 grams of betaine per day during strength training can increase the number of reps they can perform, which in turn contributes to increased strength. Although the improvements found in the studies were relatively small, even small improvements can be significant for trained athletes looking for every possible advantage.
Some studies also show that betaine can improve peak and average performance.
Other studies show that supplementation with betaine can significantly increase bench press strength, bench press isometric strength, vertical jump strength, and overall peak performance. However, other studies have not found this benefit at a similar or lower dose.
Increase in endurance
Research on betaine and endurance is still in its infancy. However, the addition of betaine allowed some subjects to maintain high levels for extended periods of time.
However, it should be noted that betaine administration does not improve performance in long-distance endurance sports. So it probably won’t help you in a marathon.
Improvement of body composition
Taking betaine over a longer period of time can also improve body composition.
Subjects who took 2.5 g of betaine per day for six weeks during a structured exercise program showed an increase in shoulder muscle mass. In the process, they gained 2.4 pounds of lean body mass and lost 2.9 pounds of fat, improving body composition by more than three percent. The placebo group showed little or no change in these areas.
However, this is the first study to show such results; other studies of people who did not exercise showed no improvement in body composition.
Effects on cardiovascular health
Betaine administration systematically lowers homocysteine levels. This is good, because high homocysteine levels are associated with heart disease.
At doses of 6 g per day, betaine can actually increase LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in healthy people. But doses of 4 g per day had no effect on blood lipids. So overall, the research is inconclusive.
Safety and dosage
The normal recommended dose is 2.5 g per day. Less than that is not good, and more (up to 6 g per day) can cause problems, such as B. an increase in blood lipid levels.
Moreover, no serious side effects have been reported – but the study is still in the early stages.
Surprising extra bonus: Beet juice and nitrates
Nitrates are naturally present in many foods, with beets and spinach being the two richest sources. This high nitrate content may explain why beet juice has a positive effect on human performance.
Why do nitrites improve performance? Nitric oxide appears to reduce the need for oxygen during exercise. Reduced oxygen demand reduces ATP turnover, and since ATP is the main energy source during exercise, we can work longer, harder and more efficiently.
A study comparing beetroot juice with natural nitrate content with beetroot juice without nitrates found that the nitrate content of the juice had positive results.
Nitrates are naturally present in many foods. But about 80% of the nitrates in food come from vegetables.
Processed meat is another major source of nitrates in some diets. Nitrates are added to processed meat as a preservative to prevent bacterial growth. These nitrates are then converted into nitrites in the body.
When eating fruits and vegetables, nitrates appear to have health benefits, especially for the heart. However, nitrates from processed meat are associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
It is not clear whether nitrates in processed meat are responsible for these negative effects, especially since nitrate-rich fruits and vegetables are associated with a lower risk of developing these diseases. Therefore, for now, it is best to limit the consumption of processed meat and eat plenty of vegetables.
Several studies have shown that nitrate supplements, mainly from beet juice, can increase endurance and improve time trial performance. Time to exhaustion improved by 15%. And running speed improved by 5%.
Eating beets can also improve muscle recovery between sets of resistance training by reducing fatigue and oxygenating muscle tissue (via our mitochondria).
Finally, beet consumption improved power production in trained cyclists, resulting in increased speed and faster times in time trials.
Note, however, that these improvements may be more pronounced in moderately trained individuals than in elite athletes.
To learn more about how beets and beet juice can affect performance, read the research report : Can beets help you run faster?
Lowering of blood pressure
There are over sixteen high-quality randomized, placebo-controlled trials (the strongest kind) on beet/nitrates and their effect on blood pressure.
Overall, the data shows that consumption of beetroot juice lowers systolic blood pressure (top number) by an average of 4.4 points and diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) by 1.1 points.
Safety and dosage
In almost all studies using beetroot juice, subjects were asked to drink 500 ml for several days before the test. Lower doses or a shorter duration (e.g. one dose just before an event) have less lasting effects. If you don’t suffer from allergies, there’s probably no risk if you drink 500ml of beetroot juice a day.
What you can do
Surprised at the benefits of these lesser-known supplements? It was me. And I’m glad the research is continuing so we can learn more.
Right now, despite their benefits, most of us probably don’t need to take one of these supplements on a regular basis.
Of course, curcumin and/or spirulina may provide some long-term benefit, especially if you have certain health risks.
However, the performance benefits of betaine and beet juice may only be relevant to competitive athletes.
Berberine and Rhodiola should be used in the very specific situations mentioned above, and not without distinction.
And don’t forget it: Just because you can buy supplements without a prescription doesn’t mean they are always safe for you.
Therefore, consult your doctor and/or pharmacist before adding them to your routine. This will help you avoid dangerous interactions between medications and supplements.
Click here to see the sources of information referenced in this article.
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Cholewa JM, et al. Effects of betaine on body composition, performance and homocysteine-thiolactone. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):39.
Del Favero S, et al. Creatine supplementation, but not betaine, increases phosphoryl-creatine levels in muscles and strength performance. Amino acids. 2011 ; 2299-2305.
Hoffman JR, et al. Effect of betaine supplementation on strength and fatigue. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009;6:7.
Hoffman JR, et al. Effect of 15-day betaine administration on concentric and eccentric strength during isokinetic exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(8):2235-2241.
Lee EC, et al. Ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation on strength and power performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:27.
Olthof, MR, et al. Effect of homocysteine-lowering nutrients on blood lipids: Results of four randomized placebo-controlled trials in healthy volunteers. PLoS Med. 2005;2(5):e135.
Pryor JL, Craig SA, Swensen T. Effect of betaine supplementation on sprint performance in cyclists. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):12.
Schwab U, et al. Betaine administration lowers plasma homocysteine concentrations but has no effect on body weight, body composition or resting energy expenditure in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Nov;76(5):961-7.
Schwab, W., et al. Orally administered betaine has an acute, dose-dependent effect on serum betaine and plasma homocysteine concentrations in healthy volunteers. J Nutr. 2006;136(1):34-38
Schwab U, et al. Long-term effects of betaine on risk factors for metabolic syndrome in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011;65(1):70-76.
Trepanowski JF, et al. Effect of chronic administration of betaine on exercise performance, skeletal muscle oxygenation and related biochemical parameters in trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(12):3461-3471.
Bailey SJ, et al. Dietary nitrate intake reduces O2 consumption during low-intensity exercise and increases tolerance for high-intensity exercise in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2009;107(4):1144-55.
Bailey SJ, et al. Dietary supplements containing nitrate increase the efficiency of muscle contraction during knee extension exercises in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2010 Jul;109(1):135-48.
Cermak NM, Gibala MJ, van Loon LJ. Improvement of 10-kilometer running ability in trained cyclists by nitrate supplementation. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2012;22(1):64-71.
Cermak NM, et al. No improvement in endurance performance was observed after a single intake of beetroot juice. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2012;22(6):470-8.
Christensen PM, Nyberg M, Bangsbo J. Effect of nitrate intake on VO₂ kinetics and endurance in elite cyclists. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013;23(1):e21-31.
Hobbs DA, Kaffa N, George TW, Methven L, Lovegrove JA. Beet juice and new beet-enriched baked goods lower blood pressure in men with normal blood pressure. Br J Nutr. 2012;108(11):2066-74.
Hord NG, Tang Y, Bryan NS. Dietary sources of nitrates and nitrites: physiological relationship and potential health benefits. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;90(1):1-10.
Chord N.G. Dietary nitrates, nitrites and cardiovascular disease. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2011;13(6):484-92.
Lansley KE, et al. Nutritional nitrate supplementation reduces O2 consumption during walking and running: a placebo controlled trial. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011;110(3):591-600.
Murphy M, Eliot K, Hoyertz RM, Weiss E. Consumption of whole beets acutely improves running performance. Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112(4):548-52.
Siervo M, Lara J, Ogbonmwan I, Mathers JC. Intake of inorganic nitrates and beet juice lowers blood pressure in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Nutr. 2013 Jun;143(6):818-26.
Vanhatalo A, et al. Dietary nitrate reduces disruption of muscle metabolism and improves exercise tolerance in hypoxia. J Physiol. 2011 Nov 15;589(Pt 22):5517-28.
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