The Best Supplements You've Never Heard Of

Five nutritional supplements that fly under the radar but really work.

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Reduce pain. Prevent disease. Build muscle in the gym.

No, this isn’t a late night infomercial. In this article, I’m sharing the potential benefits of some surprising supplements that fly under most people's radar. Sure, some supplements on the market are little more than snake oil. However, certain supplements -- herbs, spices, plant compounds, and even algae – can be a valuable addition to your fit-guy life.

(For more on this, check out the article All About Surprising Supplements.)

Just remember: before you try any new supplement, make sure it’s backed by solid research. Take marketing claims with a big pinch of salt. And check with your doctor first. With that said, here are five supplements with surprising benefits that are worth learning more about.

Curcumin for pain relief

Curcumin is the yellow pigment in turmeric and curry spice, and it’s been studied for decades because of its many potential health benefits. For one thing, curcumin is anti-inflammatory and can help decrease pain. In fact, the relief provided by 400 to 500 mg of curcumin seems comparable to taking 2000 mg of acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Curcumin can also function as an antioxidant, helping to defend against cellular oxidation and therefore warding off disease. Note that curcumin by itself is poorly absorbed. A good curcumin supplement will contain either black pepper extract (piperine) or phosphatidylcholine (phytosomes) to make it bioavailable.

Check the label before buying.

Berberine for blood sugar

Berberine is a compound found in many plants, including Oregon grape, barberry, and goldenseal, among others. Berberine is known for helping with blood sugar control. In fact, berberine’s anti-diabetic properties are proven to be as every bit as powerful as a pharmaceutical drug.

Not many supplements can boast that kind of effectiveness.

Berberine can also reduce blood lipids, which means it also might protect against heart disease.

There is one possible downside to berberine, though:  it could inhibit muscle growth. Something to keep in mind if you’re actively training.

Spirulina for cholesterol

If you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, or you’re at risk of heart disease, you might want to check out spirulina, which is a blue-green mixture of algae species. Studies show that spirulina supplementation can lower lipid peroxidation levels (a marker of damaged blood lipids) by around 15%, and reduce triglyceride levels by about 10-15%.

Tip: Make sure you’re taking a reliable, true spirulina source.  Non-spirulina blue-green algae could contain toxic contaminants.

Rhodiola rosea for fatigue

Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb that grows in cold climates, such as the Arctic, and other mountainous regions of the world. Rhodiola has been shown to decrease fatigue, boost focus and improve overall well-being.

In one study, students taking rhodiola scored 8.4% higher on their exams than the placebo group. That’s a pretty big advantage! Similarly, in a study of healthy physicians, rhodiola supplementation significantly decreased fatigue and improved performance on work-related tasks by about 20%.

Betaine for power & strength

Betaines naturally occur in many plants to protect cells from dehydration. Sugar beets, quinoa, and spinach are three of the best food sources of betaine. Research suggests that 2.5 grams of betaine per day may help you increase your reps during resistance training. It may also boost your power when throwing, jumping and lifting.

One study implied that long-term betaine supplementation may improve body composition, but more research is needed to find out whether betaine can actually help you gain lean mass and/or lose fat.

Tip: The recommended dose is 2.5 grams per day. Lower than that and you won’t get any benefits, and too much higher could be unhealthy.

What you need to remember about supplements

For these (and many other) supplements, research is still in the early stages; in some cases, in its infancy. Also, be sure to treat supplements as just that: supplements. They aren’t meant to replace your other healthy habits. You still have to eat well. You still have to find time to exercise. And you still have to hit the pillow and get proper sleep.

Once you’ve got a solid foundation, supplements can simply be a ‘bonus’. They’re just one more tool in your fit-guy arsenal. And for more about Dr. John Berardi, including links to his latest men's health articles, click here.


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