Top 10 Supplements for Healthy Aging
In different ways, these 10 nutrients address changes that occur as we live longer. In some cases, our need for the nutrient simply increases with age. In others, a supplement can help our bodies counteract situations that are more likely to develop later in life, including lack of energy, inflammation that underlies most age-related diseases, and a less-effective immune system that lowers resistance to infections and slows healing from injuries or surgeries.
CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10)
A vitamin-like substance, CoQ10 feeds mitochondria, the energy-generating components of our cells. Our bodies naturally make CoQ10, but levels decline as we get older—just when we need it most. Low levels of the nutrient have been linked to heart disease, brain diseases, cancer, and diabetes.
In studies, CoQ10 supplements improved heart function in people with heart failure; protected the heart against damage from some chemotherapy drugs; improved exercise performance, sugar metabolism, blood pressure, brain function, and fertility; and helped relieve chronic fatigue syndrome, gum disease, diabetic neuropathy, and headaches.
We can get small quantities of CoQ10 from food: 9–12 mg in a 3.5-oz. serving of organ meats; a few milligrams in muscle meats and fish; and less than 1 mg per serving from most plant foods. But these amounts are too small to be therapeutic.
Typical daily doses: 30–200 mg, or more to treat diseases.
PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline Quinone)
An antioxidant found in trace amounts in plant foods, PQQ promotes the growth of energy-producing mitochondria in all cells and enhances the health of nerve cells. Lab studies show that it may help inhibit the growth of brain plaques and cancer cells.
Preliminary human studies of PQQ have shown that it can enhance memory, mood, and other mental functions. It also promotes sleep and reduces fatigue and inflammation. Because both CoQ10 and PQQ enhance mitochondria, they are often combined in supplements.
Typical daily doses: 10–40 mg, often combined with CoQ10.
Scientists became interested in fish oil after studies in the 1970s discovered that Greenland Eskimos enjoyed surprisingly healthy hearts, despite eating a very-high-fat diet. The omega-3 fats in fish oil—EPA and DHA—seemed to be responsible. Since then, many studies have been exploring just how fish oil produces beneficial effects.
Fish oil reduces levels of triglycerides, blood fats that contribute to diabetes and heart disease when elevated. It also lowers inflammation in plaque deposits within artery walls, which reduces the odds of a heart attack or stroke being caused by rupture of the plaque. Where blood pressure is elevated, omega-3 fats can help lower it.
Reducing chronic inflammation—which generally increases as we get older—is the mechanism underlying the various benefits of fish oil. Studies have found that it has therapeutic effects on depression, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, psoriasis, arthritis, and other inflammation-related conditions.
Typical daily doses: 500 mg of a combination of EPA plus DHA, usually found in 1,000 mg fish oil; 1,000–2,000 mg of an EPA-DHA combination daily for health conditions. Vegan sources of EPA and DHA are also available.
A powerful antioxidant that comes from certain algae, astaxanthin gives salmon and other sea creatures their pink color because they eat the algae. Astaxanthin protects skin against damage from the sun’s UV rays—which are well known for speeding up aging—and reduces signs of aging that stem from a slower turnover of skin cells as we get older.
Studies have found that astaxanthin enhances skin elasticity and reduces wrinkles, age spots, and skin inflammation. Because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it can also enhance muscle recovery and decrease soreness after exercise. It’s also been shown to help relieve carpal tunnel syndrome, and is taken for heart, brain, eye, and overall health.
Typical daily doses: 4–12 mg. Astaxanthin can also be found in topical skin creams and serums.
The main therapeutic ingredient in red wine, resveratrol has a beneficial effect on sirtuins, enzymes that control various pathways involved in the aging process. In animal studies, it has extended lifespan.
By activating sirtuins, resveratrol enhances the body’s ability to withstand stress and may slow down the aging process. Studies have found that it helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol; improves heart, brain, and joint health; and helps to protect against cancer.
In addition to wine, resveratrol is found in grapes, some berries, peanuts, and other foods, but amounts are too small to produce the therapeutic effects observed in studies. Supplements are generally made from Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), a rich plant source of resveratrol.
Typical daily doses: 200 mg or more.
A patented extract from French maritime pine bark, Pycnogenol enhances blood circulation, reduces inflammation, and helps maintain healthy skin and joint tissues. It binds to collagen and elastin, which give skin and other tissues structure. It also helps to regenerate hyaluronic acid, which maintains moisture.
Studies have found that Pycnogenol supplements may help improve memory, vision, attention span, blood pressure, cholesterol, asthma, menstrual problems, erectile dysfunction, gum disease, osteoarthritis, skin conditions, blood sugar in diabetics, menopausal symptoms, leg cramps, and jet lag.
Typical daily doses: 30–150 mg.
With age, risks increase for eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, and reading glasses become all too common. Lutein is an essential and well-studied nutrient for eye health. It protects eyes against damage from UV rays, aging, and eyestrain from blue light that emanates from electronic devices. For eye health, it works synergistically with zeaxanthin.
Recent research has found that lutein is also needed for a healthy brain. Studies have found that lutein supplements increase blood flow to the brain, protect it against damage, and enhance memory, attention, and overall mental function.
Typical daily doses: 10 mg lutein with 2 mg zeaxanthin.
Turmeric or Curcumin
Curcumin is the key active ingredient in turmeric, the plant that gives curry its yellow color. In studies, supplements of both turmeric and curcumin have reduced inflammation and provided relief from a wide variety of conditions, including different forms of arthritis, low back pain, depression, Crohn’s disease, heartburn, genital herpes, HIV, and inflammation after surgery.
Although many nutrients decrease inflammation, turmeric and/or curcumin are especially helpful for inflammatory conditions, whether they affect joints, the heart, the digestive system, or any other area. And these often develop later in life.
Typical daily doses: Follow product instructions, as extracts vary.
Zinc lozenges are popular as a cold remedy, but the mineral is essential for ongoing healthy immune function. Yet, both zinc intake and immunity tend to decline with age.
Zinc is needed for many processes in the human body, and lack of it manifests in ways similar to the aging process, with increased susceptibility to infections and diseases such as atherosclerosis and cancer, poor wound healing, and degenerative diseases of the brain and nervous system. The technical term for this decline, “immunosenescence,” means an aging immune system.
Studies of zinc supplements have found that it reduces infections, improves healing from injuries and many diseases, and helps resolve skin conditions—sometimes making warts disappear.
Typical daily doses: 15 mg (an amount found in many multivitamins), or more.
Two types of protein powders can be especially beneficial for healthy aging: whey and collagen. Each delivers different benefits—for muscles and connective tissues in joints and skin—and the two are complementary.
Research shows that whey is most effective at maintaining and rebuilding muscle in older people. It works best when combined with strength-training exercises. It’s especially beneficial in cases where recovery from injury or illness have made people less active than usual, as inactivity speeds up age-related muscle loss. Some protein powders also include concentrated greens for added nutrients.
Collagen is a building block of connective tissues in skin, joints, blood vessels, and organs. Our bodies produce collagen, but that process slows down with age. Collagen protein can help buck that trend.
Typical daily doses: Follow product directions.
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