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Are These the Next Super Supplements?

I'm a cautious supporter of supplementation. The fact is, there are a lot of supplements out there that will do little more than lighten your wallet, and some can even damage your health. On the other hand, certain supplements can be an excellent addition to most people's nutritional regimen when taken appropriately.

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My favorite supplements
Most people who want to improve their health, athletic performance and body composition can probably benefit from at least three supplements: an omega-3/fish oil supplement, a green-food powder and a protein supplement. Other good supplements include vitamin D, creatine, probiotics and the humble multivitamin. (Check out more "Precision Nutrition-approved" supplements here.)

If you're an athlete or a health-news junkie like me, you're probably wondering: What's next? Which rock-star nutrients are on their way to supplement stardom?

I've been keeping tabs on supplement science for years and have been pleasantly surprised by the following ones. These may have real potential for health-conscious people who want to be fitter, healthier and happier.

1. Curcumin 
Curcumin is the yellow pigment in turmeric and curry spice. It's been studied for decades because of its many potential health benefits. Now scientists say it may even help you live a longer, pain-free life.

The Benefits
- Pain relief. Good news for athletes: If you've ever felt crippling pain after "leg day," or you've suffered an injury -- maybe even required surgery -- curcumin could offer relief. Its properties reduce inflammation and in turn relieve pain.

- Antioxidants. You've probably heard about free radicals -- uncoupled electrons that rampage our body, causing disease. Antioxidants are a great weapon against free radicals, and curcumin has antioxidants in spades. Plus, it can boost the antioxidants that are already in your body, further bolstering your defenses.

- Cancer-fighting. Curcumin could help you avoid "the big C." This is because it ignites a process called autophagy, which destroys damaged cellular tissue. Think of it as cellular housekeeping: It gets rid of all those harmful damaged cells. In doing so, it could reduce your risk of certain cancers, including colorectal cancer and prostate cancer.

The Fine Print
- Recommended dose: Generally a dose of 500 milligrams daily is recommended (though research suggests that up to eight to 12 grams per day is safe).

- Side effects: The main reported side effect is some gastrointestinal discomfort.

- Check the label: Curcumin by itself is poorly absorbed. So you'll need a supplement with enhanced bioavailability. Check the label of any curcumin supplement to make sure it contains black pepper extract (piperine) or phosphatidylcholine (phytosomes). Or take it with a curcumin nanoparticle product.

- How to take it: Curcumin is fat-soluble, so take it with a meal or other fat source (such as fish oil).

2. Betaine
Betaines naturally occur in many plants such as sugar beets, quinoa and spinach. Research suggests that supplementing with betaine can improve strength, endurance and even body composition.

The Benefits
- Increased strength and power. Research suggests 2.5 grams daily of betaine may increase the number of reps men can complete while strength training. Some research also suggests it can improve peak and average power output; for example, increase bench throw power, isometric bench press force, vertical jump power and overall peak power. Admittedly, the improvements were small. But any well-trained or competing athletes know that small improvements can make a big difference.

- Improved endurance. We're not talking long-distance here, but betaine could help you with high-speed sprints. Studies have shown it can help men run at higher speeds for longer periods. Research is still in its infancy, but it sounds promising.

- Better body composition. Get this: In one study, subjects who took 2.5 grams of betaine per day for six weeks while on a structured training program showed a three percent improvement in body composition. On average, subjects increased upper-arm muscle mass, added 2.4 pounds of lean body mass and lost 2.9 pounds of body fat. The placebo group showed almost no changes in those areas. Again, the research is still in its beginning stages, but things are looking good.

The Fine Print
The recommended dose is 2.5 grams per day. Lower than that and you won't get any benefits. Too much higher (up to six grams per day) and you could run into trouble -- such as increased blood lipids. So don't go nuts with the betaine. The research is still in its early stages, but it's definitely one to watch.

3. Rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola rosea might sound like the name of a character in a kids' book, but it's actually an herb that can soften the negative effects of stress, helping people feel less fatigued and overwhelmed in challenging situations. As a father of three small children, I say: Sign. Me. Up.

The Benefits
- Decreased fatigue. Rhodiola has been shown to reduce cognitive fatigue, improve performance and reduce errors among people in a host of stressful situations, including students, physicians and military cadets.

- More happiness. In some studies, students taking rhodiola showed an improved feeling of happiness. Now scientists are wondering if rhodiola could even reduce depression. So far, just one study has explored this and found that rhodiola decreased depressive symptoms by up to 50 percent. One study is not enough to go on, but the result is significant.

The Fine Print
- Normal dosage usually ranges from 250 to 680 milligrams. Rhodiola has a bell-curve response, so once you exceed that 680-milligram threshold, the effectiveness of the supplement actually decreases. Don't bother taking more.

- Check the label. Rhodiola rosea extract should be 3 percent rosavins and 1 percent salidroside.

- Side effects. Human trials supplementing with rhodiola have not found any clinically relevant side effects, but it could interact with some pharmaceutical drugs. Ask your doctor before taking it.

What you need to remember about supplements
These are just a few of the surprising supplements that scientists are exploring. (Click here to learn more about other surprising supplements.)

Personally, I find supplements fascinating. It's cool to think how adding specific nutrients to our diet have the potential to help us lead healthier, happier lives. Yet a lot of supplement marketing can be misleading. (Remember what I said about being a cautious supporter of supplementation? Emphasis on cautious.)

So take all these studies with the proverbial grain of salt. Do your research before taking any new supplement, and get your doctor's advice. Meanwhile, don't ignore the basics: Regular exercise, solid nutrition and a good night's sleep are still the building blocks of a long, healthy life.

--John

Want some help finding the best diet for you? Download these free starter kits for men and women:

Health and Fitness Starter Kit for Women 
Health and Fitness Starter Kit for Men

Readers -- Do you take supplements? If so, what kind? Do you take any of the ones mentioned above? What was your experience with them? Leave a comment below and let us know.

John Berardi, Ph.D., is a founder of Precision Nutrition, the world's largest online nutrition-coaching company. He also sits on the health and performance advisory boards of Nike, Titleist and Equinox.

In the past five years, Dr. Berardi and his team have personally helped more than 35,000 people improve their eating, lose weight and boost their health through their renowned Precision Nutrition Personal Coaching program.

Connect with John at the Precision Nutrition website and on Facebook and Twitter.

 

References
Apicella JM, et al. Betaine supplementation enhances anabolic endocrine and Akt signaling in response to acute bouts of exercise. Eur J App Phys. 2013;113(3):793-802.

Armstrong LE, et al. Influence of betaine consumption on strenuous running and sprinting in a hot environment. J Strength Cond Res. 2008;22(3):851-860

Cholewa JM, et al. Effects of betaine on body composition, performance, and homocysteine thiolactone. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):39.

Del Favero S, et al. Creatine but not betaine supplementation increases muscle phosphorylcreatine content and strength performance. Amino Acids. 2011; 2299-2305.

Hoffman JR, et al. Effect of betaine supplementation on power performance and fatigue. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009;6:7.

Hoffman JR, et al. Effect of 15 days of betaine ingestion on concentric and eccentric force outputs during isokinetic exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(8):2235-2241.

Lee EC, et al. Ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation on strength and power performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:27.

Olthof, MR, et al. Effect of homocysteine-lowering nutrients on blood lipids: results from four randomized, placebo-controlled studies in healthy humans. PLoS Med. 2005;2(5):e135.

Pryor JL, Craig SA, Swensen T. Effect of betaine supplementation on cycling sprint performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):12.

Schwab U, et al. Betaine supplementation decreases plasma homocysteine concentrations but does not affect body weight, body composition, or resting energy expenditure in human subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Nov;76(5):961-7.

Schwab, U, et al. Orally administered betaine has an acute and dose-dependent effect on serum betaine and plasma homocysteine concentrations in healthy humans. J Nutr. 2006;136(1):34-38

Schwab U, et al. Long-term effect of betaine on risk factors associated with the metabolic syndrome in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011;65(1):70-76.

Trepanowski JF, et al. The effects of chronic betaine supplementation on exercise performance, skeletal muscle oxygen saturation and associated biochemical parameters in resistance trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(12):3461-3471.

Bailey SJ, et al. Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of low-intensity exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2009;107(4):1144-55.

Bailey SJ, et al. Dietary nitrate supplementation enhances muscle contractile efficiency during knee-extensor exercise in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2010 Jul;109(1):135-48.

Cermak NM, Gibala MJ, van Loon LJ. Nitrate supplementation's improvement of 10-km time-trial performance in trained cyclists. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2012;22(1):64-71.

Cermak NM, et al. No improvement in endurance performance after a single dose of beetroot juice. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2012;22(6):470-8.

Christensen PM, Nyberg M, Bangsbo J. Influence of nitrate supplementation on VO₂ kinetics and endurance of elite cyclists. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013;23(1):e21-31.

Hobbs DA, Kaffa N, George TW, Methven L, Lovegrove JA. Blood pressure-lowering effects of beetroot juice and novel beetroot-enriched bread products in normotensive male subjects. Br J Nutr. 2012;108(11):2066-74.

Hord NG, Tang Y, Bryan NS. Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;90(1):1-10.

Hord NG. Dietary nitrates, nitrites, and cardiovascular disease. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2011;13(6):484-92.

Lansley KE, et al. Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of walking and running: a placebo-controlled study. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011;110(3):591-600.

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