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 widely used and important supplement ingredients.
What it is: Biotin is a member of the B vitamin family, and sometimes referred to as vitamin B7 or vitamin H.
Where it comes from: This B vitamin is found in a number of foods, including egg yolks, milk, barley, liver, royal jelly, and brewer’s yeast.
Main uses: Biotin is essential for healthy skin, hair, nerve cells, cellular energy production, fatty acid synthesis, and mental well-being. It’s what is known as “cofactor,” meaning that it’s a necessary nutrient for critical enzyme reactions in the body. Biotin deficiencies can occur during pregnancy or in those born with metabolic disorders. This, in turn, can affect the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels and build strong healthy structures like hair, skin, and nails. Additionally, biotin is needed by the body so it can process glucose. It also helps keep inflammation in check.
What to look for: A B complex supplement that includes biotin.
Typical dosage level: 250 up to 5,000 mcg daily
What it is: Potassium is an essential mineral and an electrolyte that helps maintain blood flow and hydration in the body. It must be supplied by the diet or from supplemental sources.
Where it comes from: Excellent food sources include bananas, sweet potatoes, pinto beans, spinach, avocados, oranges, cantaloupe, beets, Swiss chard, lentils, salmon, cod, and yogurt.
Main use: The balance between potassium intake and sodium (salt) consumption is critical. You want to have more of the first, and less of the second. Unfortunately, many of us have just the opposite. And too much salt and too little potassium can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease because muscles and nerves need potassium to work properly. One muscle that critically needs enough potassium is the heart.
What to look for: Increasing your intake of potassium-rich foods while decreasing sodium is one of the most effective ways to keep these two minerals in balance. It also helps to keep blood pressure under control, helps prevent stroke and heart disease, and protects your kidneys. By law, supplements are limited to an upper dosage of 100 mg, which equals only two percent of the daily requirement. Your health care practitioner may prescribe a higher dosage supplement if necessary.
Typical dosage level: 100 mg daily.
What it is: Collagen is a protein that helps build the cushioning cartilage between your joints and gives your skin elasticity and a youthful appearance. It is one of the most abundant naturally occurring proteins in the body.
Where it comes from: Supplemental collagen is generally derived from an animal source like poultry.
Main use: There are two main uses for supplemental collagen: to improve the skin and to help protect joints. The collagen needed for joint support is called type II collagen. This type of collagen makes up to 90 percent of the collagen in articular joints like your knees, elbows, and fingers. While it has been shown to reduce osteoarthritis symptoms, it is especially useful for those with rheumatoid arthritis because it moderates the immune response that causes the body to attack its own collagen. Clinical research shows positive results in as little as three months. Type I and type III collagens, on the other hand, support a healthier, younger-looking complexion.
What to look for: Low-dosage, native, type II collagen backed by clinical research is best for joint support. For skin support, look for a high-quality supplement that contains both types I and III.
Typical dosage level: 40 mg daily.