Your favorite health food store has plenty of supplements. But trying to figure out which nutrient is the best—decoding them—can be tricky. Here is a codebook for three of the most widely used and most important natural ingredients.
What it is: Vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, is one of two forms of vitamin D.
Where it comes from: Vitamin D3 is synthesized naturally in your bodies after you’ve been in the sun, which is why it is often called “the sunshine vitamin.” As a supplement, vitamin D3 is often sourced from lamb’s wool oil, and is a co-product of wool shearing.
Main use: This critical nutrient helps build bone density, boosts immune defense, strengthens knee cartilage, protects brain cells, keeps metabolism running properly, and improves your mood. If you are older or work indoors, you may be deficient in vitamin D. By the time you’re 65 years old, your ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight can decline by 60 percent.
What to look for: For most people, the vitamin D3 form is best. There is a vitamin D2 form, also known as ergocalciferol, but it must be converted by the body into vitamin D3 in order to be useful, so it makes sense to simply start with D3.
Typical dosage level: 500 to 5,000 IU or 12.5 to 50 mcg daily
What it is: Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It is a primary component (but not the only one) of strong bones and teeth. It is also required for muscle strength and recovery.
Where it comes from: Calcium is naturally bound to carbonate in sources like limestone or chalk. Other supplemental forms, like calcium malate—bound to malic acid—may yield more elemental calcium.
Main use: Most people associate calcium supplementation with strong bones, but it also is important for exercise performance and the immune system. For the best results, combine calcium with other nutrients including magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin D3. Calcium on its own, or in doses exceeding 1,200 mg per day, can lead to arterial blockage and kidney damage.
What to look for: For strong bones and teeth, use calcium malate or calcium chelated to amino acids like glycine. For stopping muscle cramps, dry coughs, and boosting immune support, calcium lactate (combined with magnesium and zinc) works best.
Typical dosage level: From 250 mg of calcium lactate for muscle recovery to 1,000 mg daily for bone density.
Botanical: Olive Leaf Extract
What it is: Olive leaf extract comes from the leaves of the olive tree, the same source as olives and wonderfully healthy olive oil.
Where it comes from: From Mediterranean, olive-producing countries including Spain, Italy, Turkey, and Greece.
Main use: Olive leaf extract is primarily used for lowering blood pressure. Olive leaf extract protects the walls of the blood vessels, and widens narrow blood vessels so that blood flows more easily and with less effort. Interestingly, a study investigating bone density found that calcium combined with olive leaf extract was more effective than calcium alone—and it helped lower LDL levels, too.
What to look for: Look for an extract standardized for at least 16 to 24 percent of oleuropein, the key compound associated with olive leaf’s ability to reduce blood pressure.
Typical dosage: 500 mg twice daily. Even though clinical results have been seen in eight weeks, stick with it for at least three months for the best results.