If you're among the millions of Americans taking medication for pain, asthma or allergies, hypertension, high cholesterol or depression, research shows that you may be able to maximize the benefits...curb the side effects...and maybe even lower the dosages of your drugs by combining them with the right supplements.
Important: Consult your doctor before adding a supplement to your drug regimen. Some supplements can interact adversely with medications-for example, some research shows that fish oil can reduce the time it takes for blood to clot and should be used with caution by people taking a blood thinner, such as warfarin (Coumadin).
Supplements (available at health food stores) to consider using if you are taking any of the following…
Supplement with: 1,000 milligrams (mg) to 2,000 mg daily of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil. (Ask your doctor which dosage is right for you.)
What it does: Omega-3s are believed to enhance the ability of the brain chemical serotonin to act on the nervous system. In a recent British study, when depressed patients who were taking a prescription antidepressant, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or sertraline (Zoloft), added 1,000 mg of EPA to their daily regimen for 12 weeks, they reported significantly less depresSion, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, as well as improved sleep, libido and energy.
Most standard fish oil supplements contain only 200 mg to 300 mg of EPA, so you'd need up to 10 capsules daily to get the recommended 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg of EPA. If you don't want to take that many capsules, take liquid fish oil-in an amount equal to 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg daily of EPA.
Helpful: To avoid "fishy-tasting" burping (the most frequent complaint), try taking the capsules on an empty stomach with a large glass of water. Some people also find that this unpleasant aftertaste is less likely to occur with liquid fish oil.
Also try: 500 micrograms (mcg) daily of folic acid, which promotes proper functioning of the nervous system. Low levels of folic acid have been linked to depression.
Harvard Medical School researchers report that depressed patients who had achieved remission with fluoxetine were 13 times more likely to relapse during a six-month period if they had low blood levels of folic acid.
Caution: Supplemental folic acid may mask a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which can lead to nerve damage. Take a 500-mcg to 1,000-meg B-12 supplement daily to prevent worsening of a B-12 deficiency.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug
Supplement with: 350 mg of deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), three times daily.
What it does: Studies show that DGL may reduce or prevent the gastrointestinal (GI) inflammation, bleeding and ulcerations caused by aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—both prescription and over-the-counter.
Caution: Whole licorice extract also protects the stomach, but it contains glycyrrhetinic acid, which even in small doses may raise blood pressure. Stick with DGL.
Also try: 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg daily of vitamin C (in two divided doses) and 7 grams (g) of powdered glutamine (one heaping teaspoon dissolved in water, three times daily). Studies suggest that taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C twice daily may help prevent aspirin-induced inflammation of the small intestine.
Meanwhile, the amino acid glutamine, long used to help heal ulcers, may decrease the intestinal toxicity of other NSAIDs.
Asthma Or Allergy Drug
Supplement with: 1,000 mg daily of gammalinolenic acid (GLA) and 500 mg daily of EPA.
What it does: GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid derived from evening primrose oil or borage oil, may inhibit production of leukotrienes, molecules that trigger inflammation and constriction of the bronchial airways. The asthma drug montelukast (Singulair) also works by inhibiting leukotrienes.
Important: Most omega-6 fatty acids (including those found in many processed foods) increase inflammation, unless they're balanced by sufficient amounts of anti-inflammatory omega-3s. GLA, however, is an anti-inflammatory, but at high doses-and in the absence of omega-35-it can become inflammatory. The recommended 500 mg of EPA daily creates an optimal balance of omega-6s and omega-3s.
Also try: Quercetin, a bioflavonoid derived from red onions, apples and other foods. In laboratory studies, quercetin has demonstrated antihistamine and anti-allergenic properties. Clinical trials are needed, but given its safety, I often recommend quercetin to my asthma and allergy patients. Try using 500 mg to 600 mg, twice daily, of quercetin-taken on an empty stomach for maximum benefit--as an adjunct to your antihistamine and/or GLA.
Blood Pressure Drug
Supplement with: 1,000 mg of arginine, twice daily.
What it does: Arginine (also called L-arginine) is an amino acid used by the body to produce nitric oxide (NO), a molecule that helps keep blood vessels flexible and able to dilate—both of which stabilize blood pressure. Legumes (such as lentils, black beans and kidney beans) and whole grains (such as brown rice) contain some arginine, but you'll need a supplement to get the 2,000 mg daily that is recommended for blood vessel health.
Caution: Because some research has shown that arginine can be dangerous for people who have suffered a heart attack, it should not be used by these individuals. If you have the herpes simplex virus and want to take arginine, you may need to add 1.500 mg daily of lysine, another amino acid. The virus grows in the presence of arginine but is inhibited by lysine.
Also try: 100 mg daily of Pycnogenol. This plant extract appears to enhance NO synthesis in blood vessels. In a recent placebo-controlled trial, Chinese researchers found that hypertensive patients who took 100 mg of Pycnogenol daily for 12 weeks were able to significantly lower their dose of a calcium channel blocker, a popular category of blood pressure drugs.
Supplement with: 100 mg daily of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
What it does: Cholesterol-lowering statins deplete the naturally produced molecule coenzyme Q10-this depletion may lead to muscle damage.
Researchers at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, found that patients taking statins who added 100 mg of CoQ10 daily for one month reported a 40% reduction in severity of muscle pain, a common side effect of statins.
COQ10 also may prevent oxidation of LDL "bad" cholesterol—an unfortunate side effect of statins that occurs to LDL cholesterol particles not eliminated by the drug.
Also try: Fish oil that contains 1,500 mg of EPA and 1,300 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) daily. Studies show that these essential fatty acids raise HDL "good" cholesterol and lower dangerous blood fats known as triglycerides-making EPA and DHA a valuable adjunct to statins, which mainly target elevated LDL cholesterol.