Today’s article is a guest post from Sol Orwell and Kurtis Frank of Examine.com, one of the premium, unbiased supplement websites on the planet.
Most people want to “feel better”, and many supplements cater towards making you feeling better. Despite how straightforward that sounds, the manner in which supplements can help you achieve that is not nearly as clear cut.
This is mainly due to the fact that “well being” is a very holistic and broad concept, and the broader the concept, the harder it becomes to narrow it down with quantifiable parameters.
Basically, we cannot actually measure how good somebody feels aside from just asking them about it and having them write it down. And that of course introduces all kinds of potential errors and short-term biases.
Couple this with the observation that anything that induces a large and rapid change in well being is unlikely to influence everybody the same way (not everybody reacts the same to huge social or chemical stressors designed for happiness). Some people can have bad reactions, aka trips. Thus, any reliable method to increase well being is going to have to be subtle.
Supplements that aid in Well-Being
Terminalia Arjuna is interesting in the sense that it is a heart health supplement that actually acts on the heart tissue itself; most heart health supplements are just anti-oxidants, and antioxidants appear to be able to slightly reduce blood pressure in unhealthy persons (in the end, a small but general claim that can be applied to damn near everything).
Arjuna aids the function of the cardiac muscle, and numerous studies in persons with cardiac issues (myocardial infarction being most common) note that Arjuna possesses rehabilitative properties. One study conducted in healthy athletes noted that Arjuna (either by itself or paired with Ashwagandha) reduced heart rate, blood pressure, and improved sprint performance relative to placebo.
Additionally, Arjuna appears to reduce and rehabilitate the damage amphetamine can do to cardiac tissue (in vitro studies); possibly of interest to stimulant (ab)users.
How this is related to well being? There seems to be a connection to how healthy one perceives themselves and their breathing; with reduced heart rate and improved LVEF capacity comes deeper breaths and more controlled breathing; this is merely a sensation with gives off the perception of being healthy and calm, and tends to increase the feeling of well being.
Although Arjuna shows most benefit due to merely being healthy for the myocardium, it can give the impression of well being secondary to improving breathing habits (many readers may have noticed this near the beginning of an exercise plan, where the initial changes in breathing seen from sedentary to athlete came with a feeling of reassurance and confidence).
Melatonin does not need as much an introduction as Arjuna, since it is so well known. Melatonin is merely the hormone secreted from the pineal gland in response to darkness which aids in sleep; supplementing Melatonin to circumvent the light-controlled pineal release can help normalize the circadian rhythm and help with proper sleep cycles.
This is mostly a well-being supplement, aside from being generally healthy, in the sense that perturbed sleep cycles are the enemy of well being. A good night’s sleep requires two things: an undisturbed and restful sleep and actually being asleep.
Melatonin makes your eyelids heavy. If you are kept awake due to fluorescent lights from a computer screen or some other worries, melatonin can aid your efforts in falling asleep (although it does not hold too much potential for actually making the sleep better). For those that are using computers late, f.lux is an interesting application to install.
Even when we consider the topic to be well-being, melatonin still works its way in here given you find it hard to fall asleep at night or if you travel frequently.
Despite the near-plethora of evidence to support the benefits of Vitamin D, I am still unsure exactly why everybody I have met and talked to who supplemented from a deficient state has claimed that they feel a lot better in regards to everything. Such a subtle and wide-reaching benefit (which seems to be pretty reliable, given how it affects almost everybody I have had the chance of speaking to who was deficient initially) basically fits the definition of well-being, but similar to that it is really hard to pinpoint exactly why it is doing this.
Probably something neurology related, but at least having normal Vitamin D levels seems to aid significantly in well-being; reasons unknown, since the anti-depressive effects of Vitamin D are not as clear-cut as many people assume. Still, many people swear that supplementation has been a big boon during the winter months, when sunlight exposure is at its nadir.
Constipation. Diarrhea. Opposite ends of the same spectrum, equally terrible.
Digestive aid is amazingly important for well being, as illustrated by a few examples:
- It’s squaterday, your mind is ready to crush the weight, but you feel like you are about to crap yourself (and the feeling won’t go away).
- You are trying to get your mind on work, but there is a funny sensation in your lower belly, slight off to the right. Is it a fart? Is it your kidney? Your inner hypochondriac takes off.
- About to have sex, but you’re so bloated that it’s painful to move. Mood killed.
- You just bought that new expensive supplement derived from grape seeds, and it turns out you see it in your feces within 4 hours; perhaps you would have actually absorbed it if your transit time wasn’t so fast?
Digestive health is one of those small things that bother you in a small way; it’s not something you think about, but it’s extremely annoying when it happens.
The first fix to this solution is to assess both dietary fiber composition (or even if you’re getting any at all) and volume of food and water ingested; feces needs to be formed from something.
Assuming you are getting enough volume of food and fiber, ingesting more soluble fiber slows the rate in which food passes you and also has a water resorbing effect. Insoluble fiber is the opposite, shuttling things out of your colon faster. Chia is mostly soluble, flax is mostly insoluble, and psyllium is pretty even between the two in case you just need to bump fiber up indiscriminately.
Beyond that, some other supplements influence motility. Caffeine and prunes are both well known to speed up intestinal transit, while berberine is known to do the opposite fairly nicely.
As for farting, the only lead at the moment is that ginger has been used to treat flatulence in some. This might actually be due to it relaxing the gastroesophageal sphincter (thus passively releasing gas formed during gastric digestion through the esophagus rather than storing it in the intestines) – might be useful for bloat, since you can just buy ginger at a grocery store.
When it comes to the perception of health and well being, one of the most noticeable hinders is chronic or acute pain or merely inflammation resulting in muscle soreness; feeling on the top of your game everyday involves keeping inflammation down to a minimum at times when it is not needed and perhaps some pain killing.
For compounds that show seemingly potent anti-inflammatory actions, we have boswellia serrata (frankensence), curcumin (paired with piperine), bromelain (pineapple extract) and feverfew (medieval aspirin). For compounds with immunosuppressive actions (potentially can be overdone and reduce the ability of one to fight off infections) we have fish oil, spirulina, and boerhaavia diffusa.
For compounds that may exert painkilling effects independent of inflammation we have eclipta alba, benfotiamine, spaeranthus indicus (East Indian globe thistle) although of most interest is toothache plant (spilanthes acmella). Not a common supplement, it literally numbs the mouth upon contact with the leaves in a salad yet may also boost testosterone and have a diuretic effect. Most of the supplements are hard to find, however, so the anti-inflammatories may need to suffice here.
Really, any of those would work despite a ton being thrown out. Curcumin and bromelain are both fairly healthy and cheap (you could also just season with turmeric and eat pineapple) and fish oil is mostly likely already in most people’s supplement regimens. Despite a huge list of potentially interesting and sexy compounds being listed, it may ultimately read as “cook with turmeric and eat some pineapple.”
Sol Orwell and Kurtis Frank are co-founders of Examine.com, where they collate scientific research on supplements and nutrition.