Selecting Smart Supplements
Let’s take a moment to talk about supplements. If we all lived in a perfect nutritional world—one where we grew our own food on our own farm, and ate only what we grew, fished, or hunted—we probably wouldn’t need nutrition in a pill. “Supplements” are just that. They fill in the nutritional gaps that exist in even the smartest diet.
We modern eaters suffer from what nutritionists call “micronutrient deficiencies.” This means that because we deprive our plants and animals of good care and good feeding, modern produce and meat, like modern humans, are nutritionally deprived. Even worse, on its way from farm to fork, our food gets weakened with artificial processing and chemicals to increase its “shelf life.”
The two top nutritional needs for the brain—your “fathead”—are omega-3 fats (the smartest fats for your brain) and antioxidants (natural anti–wear and tear nutrients). To smartly select any nutritional supplement, remember Dr. Bill’s triad:
- Show me the necessity—do I need it?
- Show me the science—what’s the proof?
- Show me the source—where does it come from?
“Do I eat enough seafood in my daily diet?” Hold up your fist. Do you eat a minimum of two fistfuls of wild salmon (or its equivalent in other seafood, like sardines or anchovies) a week? Probably not! If you don’t, then you need an omega-3 nutritional supplement.
“Do I eat enough fruits and vegetables every day?” Do you eat a minimum of ten fistfuls? Also unlikely. Therefore, you need to take supplements that are rich in the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.
Show Me the Science
As a smart supplement taker, you want to know the science behind your supplements. First, has what’s in the supplement capsule been proven to be bioavailable—that is, does it “get into the body,” and from your gut into your blood? (We doctors joke about patients coming in with their bag of supplements that “go in the top end and come out the bottom end” without ever getting into the body.) And, second, have the healthful effects of the supplement been proven?
Good news: Omega-3s are the most scientifically researched nutritional supplement on the planet. More than 22,000 scientific articles have proven that the more omega-3s you eat or take, the healthier nearly every organ in your body will be.
The science is slimmer when it comes to most fruit and vegetable supplements. Nearly all fruit and vegetable supplements lack research into bioavailability. So, when selecting a fruit and vegetable supplement, look for scientific studies published in credible medical journals showing that hundreds of people were given the supplement and then had their blood drawn. The level of antioxidants found in their blood should go up to match the supplements they put in their mouths. The study should then follow these supplement-takers and discover the good health effects of these supplements, such as less inflammation and better blood flow.
Show Me the Source
Another thing to consider when it comes to selecting a supplement: you want it to come from clean soil and clean sea. The trusted sources we mention next are those whose fishing grounds and farms we have personally inspected to see how the seafood and plant food is fed and cared for.
Check with Your Doctor First
While all the supplements we mention here have been proven safe and effective for most people, you may be taking certain medications or have an illness for which your doctor may want to change these recommendations. We strongly advise you to check with your healthcare provider before taking nutritional supplements, especially if you are currently taking prescription medications.
Our Six Favorite Supplements
- Omega-3. Specifically, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Usually from a fish oil source, some are now available from sea plants for those looking for a vegan source. See our Omega-3 section to learn all about these essential fats.
- Fruit and vegetable concentrate. A combined extract of many fruits and vegetables enjoys the nutritional perk of synergy. When you team many colorful foods together, as you do in a salad, smoothie, or in this case a capsule of dozens of fruits and vegetables, each nutrient enhances the effect of the others. Juice Plus is our choice for this supplement category.
Astaxanthin. The natural nutrient that makes salmon pink, astaxanthin is one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants and has been shown to help protect against dementia. The science we really like is how it has been proven to cross the blood–retinal barrier. Neuroscientists assume that if it crosses the eye barrier, it should be able to cross the brain barrier as well, and get into brain tissue where you want it to work. Following our theme that good science and good sense are trusted partners in health, follow this logic:
The brain is one of the top organs prone to oxidation (wear and tear that leads to disease).
Astaxanthin is one of the top antioxidants that science shows, when eaten, gets into the brain.
Therefore, to prevent wear and tear on the brain, eat or take more astaxanthin.
That makes sense!
Unless you eat two to three fistfuls of wild salmon each week (you need a minimum of 6 ounces of wild salmon at least three times a week to get enough astaxanthin to quell neuroinflammation), we recommend this supplement, especially for athletes and vigorous exercisers.
Our choice is Hawaiian Astaxanthin, available at Nutrex-Hawaii.com.
- Spirulina. Learn all about this other powerful antioxidant here.
Vitamin D. Besides our two favorite sources, salmon and sunshine, recent research shows that taking a vitamin D supplement can be an effective tool in preventing a wide range of illnesses including many cancers, diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and others.
The latest recommendation for optimal health is a vitamin D level greater than 50 ng/ml. Your doctor can add this to any blood test.
Our good friend Carole Baggerly runs the website GrassrootsHealth.net, a wonderful resource to learn more about the amazing benefits of and research behind Vitamin D.
- Probiotics. Probiotics are billions of good bacteria residing in your gut. These are widely available in supplement form, which helps populate your gut garden with healthy bacteria. The word “probiotic” literally means “pro-life,” and maintaining a healthy population of gut bacteria has a host of incredible health benefits for the whole body. Learn more about the benefits of probiotics here.
This article about supplements was excerpted from “Selecting Smart Supplements” from our book, The Healthy Brain Book.