Various semi-popular supplements

...and three relatively unknown brain boosting herbs

Written by and verified by the Research Team. Last updated on Apr 16, 2013.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a joint health supplement that is structurally similar to DMSO, and appears to be used for a variety of health related purposes as well as analgesic. MSM does appear somewhat effective, but there is no robust and repeated evidence to support it as being better than other supplements (glucosamine sulfate or acetominophen).

The page on MSM as well as glucosamine (where sulfate works, but hydrochloride doesn't) having similar effect size and variability in benefits seem to suggest that the joint health is coming from sulfur provision rather than the vessel by which sulfur is provided. In this case, a high dietary protein intake (via methionine and cysteine) or supplemental N-Acetylcysteine would also be similarly effective. Future trials need to investigate effects of these supplements in persons with or without relative sulfur deficiencies.

Rhodiola Rosea is an adaptogen compound with the main bioactive of hydroxytyrosol and its glycoside (salidroside); it appears to be highly effective for combating neural fatigue and reducing the side-effects of fatigue (reduction in cognition, increase in depressive or stress symptoms) although it currently does not have much support for improving physical fatigue associated with exercise and is mostly unexplored in chronic fatigue syndrome. Rhodiola appears to be an effective supplement for work-related 'burnout'.

There are other health benefits associated with rhodiola, and alongside panax ginseng rhodiola is an adaptogen that is used in research often to merely see the effects of this 'adaptogen' class. Due to this, some evidence links rhodiola to promoting longevity independent of caloric restriction but this requires mammalian evidence.

Guarana is an energy producing seed powder that is the highest naturally occurring source of caffeine. Guarana is somewhat unique in the sense that 90mg of the seed (conferring a level of caffeine that is commonly seen as inactive) appears to promote cognition. It is not known what molecule is causing this as it has not yet been identified, but something in guarana appears to either inherently promote cognition (perhaps secondary to an anti-fatigue effect) or work synergistically with caffeine.

Despite the popularity of guarana in energy drinks, there is a surprising lack of research available in English, with most being hidden behind language barriers (Spanish) and not catalogued on main databases such as Pubmed.

Olive leaf extract is a supplement with a high concentration of tyrosol-like molecules, and appears to be a very potent antioxidant following oral ingestion of low doses that seems to protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation. There is a large body of evidence on this topic using virgin olive oil against processed (processing destroys the phenolics) where even doses as low as 9mg appear effective.

Olive leaf extract appears to be very promising for perhaps being included in combination supplements (since it is active at a low concentration) and the Examine page can be used as evidence to the benefits of virgin or cold-pressed olive oil over processed oil as there does appear to be significant health differences between them due to the olive leaf phenolics.

Salvia hispanica (Chia) is a grain/seed that has traditionally been used as a meal replacement and energy promoting agent. Overall, there is currently no evidence to support chia as being remarkable in any capacity. There is insufficient data on the phytonutrients in chia (so no conclusions can be made there) and human evidence so far is just not remarkable. Anecdotally, however, chia appears to be as nice for promoting good bowel movements as psyllium husk which may be a good use for it.

Krill oil is a form of fish oil fatty acids where, rather than being triglycerides, the fatty acids are present in phospholipid forms (most prominent one being phosphatidylcholine). Krill oil is better absorbed than fish oil on a per gram basis and thus requires a lower dose (if using the dosing protocols of fish oil from other fish) and supplementation is essentially combination supplement of both fish oil and phosphatidylcholine; the astaxanthin content of krill oil has not yet been demonstrated to contribute to the benefits.

Currently, the evidence in support of krill oil is very remarkable in the magnitude of benefit (the independent study in hyperlipidemics noting a 50% increase in HDL-C) and although it is independent of any disclosed financial support all studies seem to use 'Neptune Krill Oil' and are a tad too promising. Consider the evidence preliminary, and an independent systemic review would be very valuable in the near future to assess if krill oil is 'just fish oil and PC' or something more.

And three other Ayurveda based brain boosting herbs: Jatamansi, Evolvulus alsinoides, and Convolvulus pluricaulis. The latter two are two of the four herbs referred to as 'Shankhapushpi' (alongside Clitoria ternatea and Canscora decussata) while the former herb is simply referred to as jatamansi. All three herbs are preliminary in their evidence with no human studies, but animal studies suggest that they can increase learning and memory in otherwise healthy young rodents with potency similar to the reference drug (Piracetam) or, in the case of Jatamansi, may be exceeding Piracetam. Mechanisms are not known for these herbs, but the general phenotype of rodents following ingestion seems to be similar to Bacopa monnieri (in regards to anxiolysis, antidepression, learning enhancement, neuroprotection, and adaptogenic effects).

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"Various semi-popular supplements,", published on 16 April 2013, last updated on 16 April 2013,