I’m dating an herbalist now, and she’s pretty amazing. (She’s also going to be reading this). [2018 update: I have since married someone who is not the herbalist!) Her training, her philosophy is all about herbs, straight from Nature, prepared the way our ancestors prepared them. I, on the other hand – I love the herbs, too; don’t get me wrong – but I also think nutraceuticals are great. She says nature never intended us to have 1,000 mg of vitamin C, or high-dose B-vitamins, or even standardized herbal extracts: they’re not really “natural.” I say, “Natural, schmatural – so what? Who says we can’t improve on nature?”
Discussion ensues. We’re both opinionated people.
Finally, we decided to be each other’s guinea pigs. For my part, I’m going to go on an herbal protocol of her choosing, to fix (or “balance”) what ails me. She is going to take some supplements I recommend.
The disappointing thing, however, is that nothing is really wrong with her. Nothing needs fixing. How boring! Sure, she sometimes gets headaches if she skips a meal; that’s probably a blood sugar thing. And she’s going to start taking chromium for that. But otherwise, healthy, happy, fit as a fiddle. So I decided (and this is where the newsletter comes in) to write a simple supplement protocol to maintain great health for the next 60 years. Assuming she already eats great. Assuming she isn’t a millionaire. And one final rule: no herbs.
1. A good multivitamin/mineral.
Vitamin B6 does dozens of things in the body, most of which are crucial to life. I could name some of them, but why bore you? Zinc is needed every time we read our DNA. Without vitamin C, we can’t make the very stuff we’re made of. Folic acid, at pennies a day, lowers the risk of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s. The newest research into vitamin D points to a role, not just in osteoporosis, but in arthritis, depression, chronic pain, and cancer. Etc.
Chances are, you’re not outright deficient in any of these. If you eat a balanced diet, you should be doing okay. But there’s a difference between having “enough” of a nutrient – after all, Wonder Bread, Carnation Instant Breakfast, and tap water are “enough” to survive on – and having an optimal amount. That’s where a good multi comes in.
We’re not necessarily talking about megadoses here, although I guess that depends on what we mean by “megadose.” For example, 25 mg of vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6 might be however-many-thousand percents of the Recommended Daily Allowances, but these doses are eminently sane and healthy. With some nutrients, calcium for example, you don’t want to exceed the RDA by much. But with others (the B-vitamins especially), you should. And to get to these levels, you need to look to supplements.
2. Fish Oil (capsules or liquid):
Look up “vitamin” in the dictionary. It says “A substance that is critical for proper functioning of a living organism that the organism is unable to produce in for itself.” By that definition, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils are vitamins. And more so than any other vitamin, omega-3s in higher levels than those needed to simply survive provide a vast spectrum of health benefits.
First and foremost, fish oils reduce inflammation. And – please forgive the oversimplification here – inflammation is what eventually kills most of us. Whatever disease finally gets you, you can bet that inflammation will be a part of it. Of course, controlled inflammation is a good thing, part of a healthy immune response. To that end, fish oil doesn’t suppress inflammation across the board; rather, it supplies raw materials that the body can use to control inflammation when it gets out of control.
Over a lifetime, fish oil reduces the risks of: heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and getting senile. Shorter term (weeks and months), there’s real benefit in arthritis, learning disorders, general aches and pains, depression (very impressive results), and a variety of skin conditions.
What really clinched it for me was the study where people receiving a 4 g a day of EPA (the most important part of fish oil) for 3 months were better able to resist sunburn than people who got a placebo. Wow! Fish oil will lower my risk of cancer, heart disease, depression… and sunburn? Gotta’ get some!
Two things: first, buy from a company that puts their product through rigorous quality control, so you won’t worry about contamination. And secondly, most companies are afraid to scare off people by recommending the higher doses supported by research (“I don’t want to take that many pills,” says the customer, “I’ll just buy that other brand that says to take less!”) For optimal benefit, take at least 3 g combined EPA & DHA.
3. A Whey Protein-Based Shake for Breakfast:
Okay, disclosure time: what you’re reading now isn’t the exact protocol I’m handing my girlfriend. Because this item isn’t on her list; it is, however, on yours.
Or maybe it isn’t… You, too, can skip this one if you eat a spectacular breakfast every morning. But please understand, by “spectacular” I don’t mean a bran muffin (organic or not), some yogurt, or a little fresh fruit. I’m talking about three eggs scrambled with peppers and onions, Moroccan olives, fresh herbs, whole-grain toast with almond butter, a grapefruit and some organic berries, and green tea – a meal. Not a snack.
A whey protein shake with fresh fruit is the next best thing. And it’s so easy to make! It takes seconds! A number of weight loss books endorse whey protein. So do bodybuilding (weight gain) books. More than that, whey contains stuff that helps the liver detoxify, deals with mercury poisoning, maintains the immune system under stress, the list goes on and on. More than that even, I believe a whey protein shake for breakfast, is one of the best things for anyone who feels their energy drag in the middle of the day, craves sweets, or even… gets headaches when they skip a meal. Hmmm…
4. Alpha-Lipoic Acid:
Oxidation is the chemical process that makes iron rust, that causes a cut apple to turn brown. Inflammation (see #2, above) is intimately connected with oxidation. As you might imagine, oxidation is right up there with inflammation in terms of what makes us get sick, get old, and die.
Any designation of “best antioxidant” is pretty arbitrary. Some antioxidants are better at some things than others. Other “antioxidants” aren’t even antioxidants: instead, they stimulate your body to make its own antioxidants. Nevertheless, I’m going out on a limb and calling alpha-lipoic our “best antioxidant.” Here’s why:
We’re constantly exposed to oxidation, in the form of sunlight, pollution, cooked food, smoke, etc. It’s every-where. Most antioxidants work just fine against this kind of oxidation, because they intercept it before it gets in to do much damage. The problem is, we also make our own oxidation, in the mitochondria (or “power plants”) of our cells. Regular antioxidants don’t get in to our mitochondria. They still stop oxidation, but only after some damage has already been done. In a sense, they’re like fire trucks putting out a house fire: they may save the neighborhood, but the house is still destroyed. Alpha-lipoic acid, on the other hand, is like a fire extinguisher. Not because it’s weak, but because it gets in and quenches the fire where it starts – before the house burns down, so to speak. It gets into the eyes, it protects the nerves, and it specifically helps protect against the consequences of high blood sugar.
In studies involving animals, alpha-lipoic acid, alone or in conjunction with, acetyl-l-carnitine, greatly reduced some of the signs of aging, more so than any supplement I’ve seen. I’d take 300-600 mg a day.
5. Medicinal Mushrooms, especially Reishi:
The Chinese don’t call Reishi the “Mushroom of Immortality” for nothing! Reishi increases vitality and health. Reishi protects and strengthens our lungs and livers. Our livers perform hundreds of vital chemical reactions, from processing hormones, to storing energy and detoxifying stuff 90% of the toxins we have to deal with. Beyond this, Reishi enhances and nourishes the deepest levels of the immune system. Reishi increases the activity of immune cells called Natural Killer cells, which provide surveillance against “altered-self” cells, that is, virally-infected and cancerous cells.
6. Green Tea:
Breaking the rules again? Of course not! Green tea isn’t an herb, it’s a tea… Oh, never mind… Perhaps the single most effective cancer-preventative supplement.
7. Honorable Mentions:
Sesame seeds, any berry that can stain your clothing… and SAMe: if the research keeps on coming in on how bad homocysteine is (and SAMe lowers homocystein), it might surpass green tea.