‘Superfood’ is a popular buzzword. Whether the latest fad is imitating Native American corn preparation techniques or eating way too many bananas, most superfoods are just another failed silver bullet, disappointing everyone that bought into the hype in hopes of discovering a shortcut.
The Examine.com editors have come up with a short list of foods that may actually qualify as superfoods, based on existing evidence.
Older people can take dark berry supplements or eat dark berries to improve memory. Though the mechanism behind this effect – increasing a growth factor called BDNF – could potentially work for young people as well, more research is needed to confirm this effect.
Studies suggest supplementing spirulina can increase bile acid blood levels, a characteristic of Gilbert’s Syndrome. People with Gilbert’s Syndrome are at lower risk for diabetes and obesity, as well as cardiovascular and neurological disease. Animal research suggests spirulina may also be neuroprotective, but studies on people are needed to confirm this effect.
Unfortunately, spirulina is the worst-tasting supplement on this list.
Nitrates also improves blood flow by dilating blood vessels. Eating nitrate sources daily will help lower blood pressure over time.
Avoiding fads and hype will save you money in the long run. Instead of looking for a shortcut, pick a couple real superfoods to add to your diet, and slowly make changes to your lifestyle habits over time.
If Examine.com was a dog, we'd be entering our adult phase now. And that's exactly how we feel.
Four years ago, we launched with little fanfare. Unlike most Internet organizations today, we didn't plan a massive "launch party" or have influencers trumpeting about how we were gonna change the game. That's just not our style.
We went live, and we focused on what we did best - research. Looking at the evidence. Selling you nothing but the truth.
From day one, we've seen this as a partnership of responsibility. We've stayed independent (no advertising, no sponsorship, no donations ever) to earn your trust, and you guys have supported us more than most organizations can dream of.
Just a few weeks ago, we announced that we hit 1,000,000 visitors in a month. That's all been driven by your word of mouth - with over 15,000 tweets and over 250,000 Facebook likes, you guys have spread the word.
You've helped us battle terrible headlines, exposed people plagiarizing our research, and helped us be financially independent so we can focus on what we do best -- producing quality unbiased research.
At the start of this blog post, I mentioned how we feel like we're entering our adult phase now. We have over 25 experts contributing to various parts of Examine.com and our Examine.com Research Digest. Next month we're going to put out a call for more experts. But for now...
As a way of thanking everyone for their immense support, we're having a quick 60-hour sale. Our Stack Guides (for the layperson), our Supplement-Goals Reference (for the enthusiast), and our Examine.com Research Digest (for the professional) are all on sale until Thursday midnight EST.
And to make this sale extra juicy, everything is on sale from their original price. That means up to 40% off.
In the world of supplements, you can find an endless array of shelves promising everything from muscle growth to pain management to libido enhancers. Although the industry caters to all walks of life, there seems to be a shift in marketing (and research funding) towards supplements that focus less on aesthetics (muscle building or hair growth), and more on health goals such as depression and pain alleviation.
With spring approaching and as people start exercising more, a lot more of our readers have been asking us specifically about joint health supplements. So here’s a quick overview of some of the most popular supplements in the market, and a potentially promising one.
There are four main groups of people who belong in this particular niche:
When it comes to dietary supplements however, research for joint pain among the aging and the obese is quite common meanwhile research for stress-related joint pain in athletes and laborers remains limited.
If you’re suffering from joint pain, here are a few supplements worth considering:
Although these commonly used supplements may be helpful for joint pain, they were primarily studied using people suffering from arthritis, with little to no focus on indidividuals from athletic or laboring groups. This makes it difficult to recommend any of these products for athletes experiencing joint pain.
Fortunately, other supplements, like Cissus quadrangularis, show some promise when it comes to treating work-related injuries. However, while the commonly praised benefits of cissus for athletes may make it seem like the go-to supplement for joint pain, with only a single study backing its benefits on joint health, the lack of research behind cissus makes it hard for us to strongly recommend its use for stress-related joint pain.
Supplementing for joint pain takes some prudency and patience to find what works for you, and we at Examine.com can only do so much to narrow down what the most promising and likely options are for you. Our best recommendation? Do your homework before supplementing (for any health goal) and always use supplements alongside good diet and exercise for the best results.
The Examine.com editors have finished reviewing the page on Molybdenum. Molybdenum is one of the essential minerals the human body requires to function. It is a component of three enzymes, one of which is responsible for removing sulfur from the body, which comes from dietary protein and supplements like Taurine and N-Acetylcysteine.
Molybdenum is an important part of the diet, since a lack of the mineral can cause deficiency symptoms, which are similar to sulfur toxicity. Actual molybdenum deficiencies are very rare, since the human body retains molybdenum well and needs just a few micrograms to avoid a deficiency. In fact, molybdenum deficiencies have only been observed in clinical settings and in a small number of studies. Molybdenum is found in water and grains, which is part of the reason why molybdenum is unnecessary to supplement. Beans and leafy green vegetables are also good sources of molybdenum.
Some supplements, like multivitamins, sometimes contain molybdenum doses of 100 micrograms or more. There is mixed evidence regarding the safety of this kind of dose. There is no good evidence to suggest this much molybdenum provides any benefits.
Due to the lack of research on molybdenum as a dietary supplement and very little evidence for its benefits, molybdenum cannot be recommended as a standalone dietary supplement. Since molybdenum deficiencies are uncommon, it is not necessary to include molybdenum in a multivitamin formulation. Doses of 50 micrograms or less are safe to include in multivitamins.
Our fifth issue of the Examine.com Research Digest is out and this month, we’ve covered topics ranging from beets and nuts, to nutrition for marathoners.
March’s sneak peek includes an investigation on beating high blood pressure with beets-- read it now!
Serious about nutrition? Subscribe now for the latest in nutrition research.
In February 2015, over one million people have visited Examine.com. Almost 35,000 people visit us every day.
To compare, we had roughly 600,000 visitors in February 24, 2014.
We've been able to stick to our guns (unbiased, neutral, and independent) because of the massive support we've had from our fans and supporters.
Slowly but surely, working together (you guys spreading the word, us focusing on the evidence), we're making a dent in the nonsense that is health and fitness online.
We're one million strong now. And with your continued support, we're only gonna grow!
There are several different ways to determine your body fat percentage, and with summer quickly approaching, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about the most accurate method.
Body fat measurement techniques range from cheap and inaccurate, to expensive and precise. Though the ideal method is accurate, repeatable, and cheap, no such method actually exists. The two most accurate methods, hydrostatic weighing and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA, which is synonymous with DXA) are too expensive for the average person to use frequently.
A recent study compared the accuracy of DEXA and a ‘bod pod,’ or air displacement plethysmograph, a device that determines body fat based on how much air is displaced when a person gets in the pod. This is conceptually similar to hydrostatic weighing, except it uses air, not water.
This study examined three groups of participants: people with a below average BMI (18.5), higher than average (25 or greater), and a middle group with BMI between 18.5 and 24.99. Researchers performed two body fat measurement tests on each participant, six hours apart.
Underweight people measured with DEXA were determined to have 8.82% body fat, while the bod pod measured 16.15-16.16% body fat. The bod pod overestimated body fat by an average of 6.79-6.84%, when compared to DEXA measurements. The largest individual difference was 13.2%, which was observed when an individual with a very low body fat percentage was measured.
People with a healthy BMI had 20% body fat, as calculated by DEXA, compared to 21.96-22.45% according to the bod pod. Average weight individuals had slightly higher body fat percentage when measured by the pod pod, compared to DEXA.
Overweight individuals reported an average body fat of 34.38% when measured by DEXA, compared to 31.64-32.93% from bod pod measurements. Bod pod readings were slight underestimations compared to DEXA.
The researchers concluded that the bod pod was more accurate when testing people closer to a healthy BMI. The bod pod was less accurate than DEXA when it came to measuring very lean individuals. People with low body fat percentages were much more likely to get a higher reading from the bod pod, and people with higher body fat percentages were more likely to see a lower readout.
This finding is important for both research and self-tracking. The more accurate scientists can be when tracking data and people’s health, the more they know about potentially life-saving therapies and medicines. People who get their body fat tested (whether bodybuilders or just people looking to track their weight loss) sometimes equate the bod pod to DEXA in terms of accuracy, but they should be aware that measurements between the two can vary considerably.
Herbal tea products pop up frequently in supplement stores. Whether they’re marketed for weight loss or detoxification, herbal teas are often a haphazard mixture of herbs that’s geared toward taste, not necessarily health benefits. Still, there are a few herbs that have a unique effect. Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, commonly known as uva ursi or bear’s grape, is sometimes included in herbal tea products, though it’s not a very popular dietary supplement.
Uva ursi is a plant native to Europe and North America. It is one of several plant species referred to as the bearberry. The leaves of uva ursi, often brewed into a tea, have traditionally been used by women to alleviate urinary ailments.
Uva ursi leaves contain a relatively large amount of hydroquinone, though not enough to result in toxicity. The liver can safely package hydroquinone to prepare it for waste disposal. This is the reason uva ursi supplementation can protect against urinary tract infections (UTI). When hydroquinone or its metabolites are present in the urinary tract, bacteria are unable to stick to tissue and are removed through urine.
Preventing bacterial adhesion is a potent and uncommon way of fighting bacterial infections. Cranberries, which also protect against UTIs, are also able to prevent bacterial adhesion without actually killing the bacteria. This mechanism explains the benefits Pelargonium sidoides provides for the respiratory tract as well.
Uva ursi cannot be recommended as a dietary supplement because there is a lack of human studies on its effects, though it has been found to be effective at fighting all of the tested strains of bacteria endemic to the urinary tract. Based on current evidence, uva ursi is a promising supplement, with a mechanism akin to cranberries. More research, ideally comparing uva ursi to cranberries, will determine uva ursi’s role in urinary health.
With Valentine's Day right around the corner, we've had a surge of people asking us what supplements they can take to help rev up their libido. Luckily, there’s a whole category of supplements available: aphrodisiacs.
Instead of focusing on muscles and fat loss, aphrodisiacs are supplements marketed to improve your love life. Aphrodisiacs are named after the Greek goddess of love and pleasure, Aphrodite, but unlike the goddess, these supplements cannot cause you to fall in love. Despite all the marketing, there are no compounds that are capable of such a mind-altering effect after oral supplementation.
The majority of these supplements are libido enhancers. Like with most supplement categories, it takes a bit of research to figure out which of these compounds work and which are a waste of your money.
Supplements that enhance libido rarely undergo rigorous scientific examination. Though most of the supplements listed below have some evidence to support their effects, even the very best options have only been the subject of a couple studies.
Maca and fenugreek are two of the best-researched libido-enhancing supplements. Both require at least a week of supplementation to provide benefits. Maca has been specifically shown to work for women, an often-overlooked population when it comes to libido enhancement.
Similar supplements include Tribulus terrestris and eurycoma longifolia jack, though there has only been one human study done on each of these herbs. There is, however, animal evidence that supports the results found in human studies, suggesting these herbs may be useful supplements to improve libido.
Supplements that are able to improve libido immediately after oral supplementation are rare and often come with unwanted side effects. Yohimbine has been shown to improve libido, but it should not be supplemented by people using medication for heart and brain conditions. Alcohol can also be an effective spur-of-the-moment libido enhancer for some people (in moderate doses) because it provides a small boost to testosterone and reduces inhibition. But this effect doesn’t work for everyone. Some people experience a small reduction to testosterone after imbibing alcohol, or no effect at all. This unpredictability, combined with alcohol’s health risks, make it unsuitable as a long-term testosterone booster and libido enhancer.
There are many more herbal supplements marketed as libido enhancers, but if they’re not one of the four listed above, there’s a good chance the supplement is just marketing hype. Have you heard of DHEA, Ginkgo biloba, L-DOPA, or velvet antler? All of these supplements have been marketed as libido enhancers, despite evidence suggesting they are ineffective as oral supplements.
Even foods traditionally associated with romance and love turn out to have a limited effect on libido once they’re studied. Rose, used in aromatherapy, and chocolate (sometimes supplemented through cocoa extract) may have mild relaxing properties, notably for women, but these effects contribute more to stress reduction than libido enhancement.
There is no evidence to suggest eating oysters before bed improves performance, though if you’re low on zinc, oyster consumption could alleviate a deficiency, which can negatively affect several hormones that influence libido.
Visit the Examine.com page to find out more about supplements marketed as testosterone boosters.
Some people choose to introduce stimulants into the bedroom for special occasions. These supplements should be used cautiously, not just in terms of safety, but due to their potential effect on performance.
Apart from pharmaceutical options like Viagra, stimulants are generally not recommended for bedroom use. Ephedrine has been found to increase sexual arousal when supplemented by men and women, but other stimulants like nicotine, rather than influencing arousal, reduce perceived stimulation.
Any substance that increases diastolic blood pressure or increases the risks of cardiovascular damage should not be used with Viagra. For example, there are numerous case studies on marijuana use resulting in a heart attack when combined with Viagra, since marijuana increases diastolic blood pressure.
Don’t let the marketing get to you. Chances are, you’d be better off spending your money on an extra-romantic dinner.
Before introducing a new supplement into the bedroom, talk to your partner. People taking medication or with chronic heart conditions should talk to their doctor before supplementing for the bedroom.
Have fun, and stay safe this Valentine’s Day!
For a step-by-step breakdown of supplements proven to work synergistically for increased libido check out our human effect matrix for libido here.
February is National Heart Month. Although heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women worldwide, it is preventable. That makes heart-health supplements a big business, which brings a lot of marketing fluff with it. Here are five supplements that have actual evidence behind their effects and have been shown to help lower your risk for heart disease (remember to always consult with your physician before taking anything).
Nitrates and potassium are two of the reasons vegetables are so good for you. Nitrates, found in beets and a variety of leafy greens, are a reliable and effective way to increase nitric oxide synthesis in the body, which improves circulation and reduces blood pressure.
Eating a diet high in nitrates decreases your risk for hypertension and the problems associated with high blood pressure, such as myocardial infarctions and sexual dysfunction.
Hydrogen sulfide is another compound that can reduce blood pressure. In fact, it even aids in the creation of new blood vessels. Garlic, whether part of the diet or ingested through supplementation, is a cheap and potent way to increase hydrogen sulfide’s signaling in the body. Like elevated nitric oxide levels, improved hydrogen sulfide signaling helps sustain reduced blood pressure, while also promoting the growth of new arterioles.
Studies show that garlic can also reduce arterial calcification, as well as lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, though this effect is less potent than its effect on hydrogen sulfide. Garlic is a good heart-health supplement because it can improve several parameters of heart health.
A healthy artery is a flexible one. During arterial calcification, calcium adheres to the artery wall, increasing its stiffness. Arterial stiffness and “compliance” (the inverse of stiffness) are very reliable biomarkers of mortality from cardiovascular diseases.
In addition to providing benefits for bone health, Vitamin K (found in high doses in kale and natto) is one of the few dietary supplements that may be able to reduce arterial calcification. The optimum daily intake for vitamin K supplementation, characterized by heart health benefits, is higher than the amount food could reasonably provide. This is why vitamin K supplementation is recommended in addition to eating food rich in vitamin K.
Insulin resistance can worsen cardiovascular health over time, since chronically elevated blood sugar levels can cause tissue damage and increased blood pressure.
Berberine, an AMPK activator (which means it draws glucose and lipids into a cell, allowing them to be used as energy) and comparable to the diabetes drug Metformin, is a very potent blood glucose–lowering agent that can be beneficial for people with glucose intolerance and diabetes. Berberine supplementation also reduces cholesterol and triglycerides.
Unlike the supplements above, which indirectly benefit the heart by improving and protecting blood vessels and other tissue, arjuna water extracts affects the heart directly. Although its exact mechanisms are unknown, Terminalia arjuna has a protective effect on cardiac tissue, shielding it from catecholamines or elevated glucose levels.
Human studies on Terminalia arjuna are limited by their small number of participants, but results show that the patients given arjuna experience a cardioprotective effect, especially in regard to left ventricle function.
Adding more garlic, leafy greens, and beets to your diet is an easy first step to protect your heart and February is the perfect time to get started! Remember - supplementation comes after ensuring your nutrition is in check (and that you’re getting enough sleep).