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.
Vitamin: Vitamin E
What it is: Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, and technically the name for a full set of components called tocopherols.
Where it comes from: Vitamin E is found naturally in sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, broccoli, and hazelnuts.
Main use: Vitamin E prevents the oxidation and buildup of “sticky” LDL cholesterol in the blood vessels, and is often part of a heart-friendly regimen. In fact, natural levels of vitamin E can be boosted with CoQ10 supplementation. It is also an important antioxidant active in the outer layers of the skin and hair, where it protects those cells from oxidative damage. In addition, vitamin E keeps nerve cell signaling strong, fortifies the immune system, and helps DNA replicate properly.
What to look for: The best form of vitamin E is when it contains a full family of mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols, an under-recognized component of the nutrient. While much vitamin E research has focused on tocopherols, study of tocotrienols has found that while they protect brain cells, stop oxidative damage, prevent tumor formation, and lower cholesterol levels, they do so along different pathways than tocopherols. Additionally, tocotrienols may have anti-inflammatory capabilities that tocopherols lack. These naturally occurring components work synergistically, and this is how the vitamin is found in foods. Many supplements, however, only provide the d-alpha tocopherol form of vitamin E, which is far from the complete form, and can’t provide its full potential. At minimum, look for a supplement that contains all four tocopherols—d-alpha, beta, gamma, and delta.
Typical dosage: 15 to 35 mg daily.
What it is: Selenium is an essential mineral for the thyroid, immune system, and overall vitality.
Where it comes from: Tuna, liver, oysters, and clams are excellent food sources of selenium, but Brazil nuts top the scales with up to 700 percent of daily value in just one serving!
Main use: Selenium helps convert thyroid hormone T4 to active T3, protects cells throughout the body from oxidative damage, and can help balance immune responses, making it especially useful for anyone with autoimmune disorders. Scientific research shows that selenium may help prevent tumor growth—low levels of the mineral could be a risk factor for prostate cancer.
What to look for: Supplemental selenium is best used by the body when it is chelated to the amino acid glycine.
Typical dosage: 50 to 100 mcg daily.
What it is: Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) is a botanical used for centuries by Ayurvedic practitioners in India.
Where it comes from: Boswellia from various species is found in Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Africa.
Main use: Boswellia outperforms conventional drugs and other strong botanicals by fighting 5-LOX inflammation—associated with autoimmune, digestive, respiratory, and joint disorders—including colitis, COPD, and rheumatoid arthritis. Properly standardized, it is ideal for anyone dealing with asthma, allergies, IBS, and muscle recovery as well. Scientific research shows that boswellia may also prevent tumor growth.
What to look for: Look for boswellia standardized for at least 10 percent of a compound abbreviated as “AKBA”, which is boswellia’s most researched and beneficial component. This concentrates the herb’s power to 10 times that of an unstandardized supplement.
Typical dosage: 500 mg once or twice daily.