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Research Newsletter-Spring/Summer 2010


Balz Frei, Ph.D.
LPI Director and Endowed Chair
Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics

As director of LPI, I am often asked what supplements I take—after all, thinking about and researching micronutrients every day, I should know what dietary supplements are most important. While I think eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy body weight, and avoiding tobacco are of utmost importance to maintain good health, I also think that some dietary supplements are critical for optimum health.

First, I take a daily multivitamin/mineral with 100% of the Daily Value (DV) or Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of most vitamins and essential minerals. I take this multivitamin primarily as "health insurance"; that is, to make sure I get at least the recommended amounts of most vitamins and minerals in case I don't get each and every one of them from my daily diet. This multivitamin is not an excuse not to eat a healthy diet; instead, I consider taking a multivitamin part of a healthy lifestyle. Plus, it's dirt cheap—you can buy a year's worth of multivitamins for less than a nickel a day!

Next, I take 500 mg of vitamin C every day, in keeping with LPI's recommendation to get at least 400 mg daily, which should be enough to saturate my vitamin C body pool. I also get 60 mg of vitamin C from my multivitamin and another 100-200 mg from my diet, including a glass of fresh grapefruit juice every morning and additional fruit and vegetables as part of my regular diet. I take the free acid supplement of vitamin C—ascorbic acid—as I don't have any stomach or gastrointestinal problems with its acidity; but if you do, try a mineral salt of vitamin C like calcium or magnesium ascorbate.

I also take a daily supplement of 2,000 IU of vitamin D, which is in addition to the 400 IU I get from my multivitamin. Vitamin D deficiency is a major health problem in the U.S. The majority of Americans have serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels less than 32 ng/mL, putting them at increased risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures and possibly hypertension, several cancers, and multiple sclerosis. In addition, the work by LPI's Fritz Gombart has shown that adequate vitamin D intake is essential for healthy immune function and protection against infectious diseases like tuberculosis. I had my serum vitamin D level checked a little over a year ago, and to my dismay it was barely sufficient at only 30 ng/mL. The doctor put me on 50,000 IU of vitamin D per week for 8 weeks to load up my body stores for the winter, and now I am on a maintenance dose of 2,000 IU. This dose also is consistent with the Institute's recommendation, which is higher than the government's recommendation of 400 IU (rumored to be increased soon to 1,000 IU).

Furthermore, I take a daily 1,200-mg fish oil supplement, which contains 360 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These omega-3 fatty acids are important for cardiovascular health and have been shown to lower the risk for heart attacks and sudden cardiac death. In addition, they have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation increases with age and is a critical contributing factor to many chronic diseases, including heart disease and certain types of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Omega-3 fatty acids also are important for brain health, and accumulating evidence suggests that DHA may slow cognitive decline in older adults and lower the risk for Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. And some very recent evidence suggests that fish oils may help maintain the ends of DNA called telomeres. Telomere shortening has been suggested to be an indicator of biological aging and may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Finally, I take 400 mg of lipoic acid and 1,000 mg of acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) daily. This is based on the research by LPI's Tory Hagen on the role of these "age-essential" micronutrients in improving mitochondrial function and energy metabolism with age, and the research in my own laboratory indicating that lipoic acid has anti-inflammatory properties and lowers body weight and serum triglycerides in experimental animals. In addition, lipoic acid is well known to stimulate the insulin receptor and improve glucose metabolism, and is used in Europe to treat diabetic complications.

My lipoic acid-ALCAR supplement also provides 300 mcg (100% of the DV) of biotin and 150 mg (15% of the DV) of calcium, which complements my multivitamin that contains only 30 mcg of biotin (the current RDA) and 200 mg of calcium. Multivitamins do not contain the daily recommended calcium dose of 1,000 mg because it would make the tablets too bulky. Therefore, it is important to make up the difference with an extra calcium supplement or from your diet. I close the gap from the 200 mg in my multivitamin with 150 mg from the lipoic acid-ALCAR supplement and my daily 16-oz cappuccino—providing about 250 mg of calcium—and an 8-ounce low-fat probiotic yogurt with another 400 mg.

My daily supplements in combination with my diet and regular exercise closely reflect LPI's Rx for Health, except that I don't take a supplement of 200 IU natural source alphatocopherol (d-alpha-tocopherol). I get 30 IU of vitamin E from my multivitamin and additional vitamin E from my fish oil supplement. Since I have experienced an increased tendency to bleed if I take both fish oils and extra vitamin E, I do not take the latter on a regular basis. My health is excellent, and I hope to remain healthy for a long time. Our Rx for Health is designed to help you live longer—with the best health, too.

Last updated June 2010