Posted by: Integra Massage | May 23, 2011

Three supplements that make a powerful difference to health

Do you get panicked looking through the catalogues of nutritional supplement suppliers? It seems as if every supplement is going to be essential to your continued well being and that you will have to remortgage the house!

Many people take vitamin and mineral supplements, over half of adults in the USA according to a recent report. However I rarely recommend and even more rarely use vitamin and mineral supplements.  I have real doubts about their effectiveness, absorb-ability  and the untested effects of large doses over a long time.  I continue to believe that we do best getting our micronutrients from our food. I have listened to the people who say that in the modern age we cannot get enough vitamins and minerals from our diet, but I have also noted that this view is mainly expressed by people who have an interest in making or selling supplements. I believe that with a little effort and thought, we can eat a fully nutritious diet.

Interestingly, the composition of many vitamin and mineral supplements have changed over the years with more and more nutrients being added, more supporting phtyochemicals and compounds that are closer to natural ones.  In fact, supplements are gradually becoming more and more like … well….. food!  I think that says something.

But there are a very few supplements I do take on a daily basis because they make a very powerful difference to health. So here are the three supplements I would not want to live without.

1. An Adaptogenic Tonic

The term “adaptogen” was invented by the Russian scientist Israel Brekham to describe medicinal plants that have a generalised strengthening effect on the body’s systems.  Many adaptogens have been known since ancient times as tonics and rejunevators.  The first adaptogens to become popular in the west were Ginseng and its distant relative Elutherococus, (popularly but incorrectly known as Siberian Ginseng).  Since then scores of adaptogenic herbs have been “discovered” and from a scientific point of view they are among the most thoroughly researched plants.

My favourite adaptogen is Rhodiola Rosea or Golden Root.  This small plant with pretty yellow flowers grows across northern Eurasia in Siberia, Tibet, Scandinavia and even Wales. Traditional peoples in northern Asia used it to treat tiredness, depression and impotence.  It was the primary longevity herb of Tibet. Vikings used it to give stamina and endurance in battle.

Research on Rhodiola began in Russia in the 1960s and there is now an impressive body of laboratory and clinic evidence that Rhodiola may:

  • Increase energy, endurance and stamina
  • Help reduce stress and anxiety
  • Can decrease the recovery time needed after strenuous muscular workouts
  • Uplift mood
  • Promote mental clarity and mental performance
  • Prevent heart arrhythmia
  • Improve libido and sexual responses
  • Enhance fertility
  • Promote healthy sleep
  • Protect the body from cellular damage

My experience with Rhodiola is that within a few days of regular use, one is likely to be aware of an increased sense of physical and mental well being, greater stamina and capacity for work and exercise and a stronger libido. The herb is largely free from side effects except that some people may feel a mild stimulant effect which could affect sleep if it is taken in excessive doses or late in the day.

In conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, good diet and proper exercise regime, I consider the use of adaptogens like Rhodiola to be one of the keys to good health.

The ideal form to take Rhodiola would be the highest quality roots freshly tinctured, but for most people a capsulated standardised extract is the most reliable and convenient form.  Earthrise Foods sell a high quality Rhodiola extract that I often recommend to clients.  The usual dose in one to two capsules per day.  I recommend cycling Rhodiola with other adaptogens, taking for a month and then taking a break or switching to another herb.  Most often I alternate Rhodiola with the adaptogenic mushroom Cordyceps, another amazing healing plant that I blog about in the future.

2. Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins

Don’t even try to pronounce it! Most people simply say OPCs.  Grape Seed Extract, Pine Bark Extract and Pycnogenol are names that refer to OPC rich supplements.  (pycnogenol has been hijacked as a trademark in the USA but in Europe it is a generic term for pine bark extract.)

OPC’s are often referred to as “super antioxidants”.  Antioxidants are nutrients that protect the body from cellular damage and thereby are essential in the prevention of aging, cardiovascular problems, cancer and a host of other health issues.  Vitamins C, A and E, zinc and selenium are examples of important anti-oxidants used by the body.  OPCs are perhaps the powerful antioxidant available to us. Research suggests that OPCs protective function may be 50-100 times greater than vitamin E. Interestingly OPCs actually allow the body to recycle vitamin C and E, increasing their effectiveness.

Research suggests that OPCs have an extraordinarily wide range of benefits primarily relating to blood circulation and cardiovascular health.  They also appear to be beneficial in a number of serious chronic aliments including arthritis, migraine, endometriosis, diabetes, MS and macular degeneration. As one of few nutrients that can directly pass the blood-brain barrier they may have a significant effect on age related brain degeneration. Here is a representative list:

  • Lowers blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide production
  • Reduces the risks of blood clots by improving blood viscosity
  • Protects and strengthens blood vessels and capillaries and helps with varicose veins and oedema
  • Normalises cholesterol
  • Normalises blood sugar levels
  • May increase fat breakdown whilst decreasing fat storage
  • May improve lung function and help with asthma
  • Has a anti allergy effect
  • Reduces inflammatory diseases like psoriasis
  • May protect skin against sunburn and reduce risk of some cancers
  • Has an affinity with connective tissue and may slow the aging of skin and joints
  • Is a natural anti inflamatory that may ease arthritic pain
  • May reduce menstrual cramps
  • May reduce estrogen dominance and help with PMS, menopause etc
  • Improves sperm quality and function
  • alleviates erectile dysfunction
  • may benefit the prostate
  • Improves eye health

If you think that list reads like an encyclopedia of modern health issues, then you will be beginning to realise why I consider OPCs to be such a valuable supplement.

OPCs are usually free of harmful side effects but you will need to exercise caution  with their use if you are taking blood thining medication like Wafarin or Heparin. If you are using medication to control cholesterol, blood pressure or blood sugar, you will need to be careful because OPCs will increase the action of these drugs.  Regular use of OPCs could reduce or eliminate dependency on such drugs, but I strongly recommend that you monitor this in conjunction with your GP and qualified complementary health care providers.

OPCs are one supplement I recommend taking long term.  But please do not regard them as a replacement for regular intake of antioxidants in your diet.  OPCs will work best in conjunction with a diet that is rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and low in refined carbohydrates, transfats, alcohol and other sources of cellular damage.

I recommend a daily dose of 100-150mg of grape seed extract (not grapefruit seed extract!!!) or pycnogenol.  With serious health conditions double the dose for a month to flood your system with OPCs.  Make sure the product you buy is listed as containing 95% OPCs.  Again I recommend Earthrise Foods. (Please note that I have no connection with that company but I do like their products.)

3. Black Seed Oil

Black Seed (or Black Cumin Seed or Nigella Sativa) is a medicinal plant that grows in the Middle East and particularly Egypt.  It is in fact a member of the Buttercup family and unrelated to Cumin. The seeds are used medicinally and in cooking. (There is a Turkish restaurant in York that makes beautiful flat breads flavoured with Black Cumin Seeds).  However it is the oil that is most prized for its healing properties.

There is an Arabic saying that Black Seed cures everything but death.  May be, may be not, but it is a treasury of healing.

Firstly ,like oils derived from Evening Primrose, Borage (Starflower) and Black Current seed, Black Seed Oil is a potent source of the omega 6 essential fatty acid Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA). This nutrient is important to for the regulation of the body’s inflammatory response.  GLA may be helpful to anyone with an inflammatory condition.  By reputation and in some cases research it may have a beneficial effect on: diabetic neuropathy, arthritis, allergies, breast cancer, eczema, high blood pressure, menopause, mastaglia, osteoporosis and PMS.

It also contains nigellone, which is a bronchial dilator, and beta-sitosterol, which help to prevent enlargement of the prostate and has anti tumour properties. There are a host of other nutrients in the oil which add to its effectiveness.

I first encountered Black Seed Oil as an extraordinarily effective remedy for allergies, particularly to pollen and pet hair, asthma and respiratory problems generally.  It is also a potent anti fungal when applied to the skin.  Traditional uses also encompass skin problems, chronic fatigue, diabetes, digestive problems, headaches and migraines, high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, joint pains, kidney stones, impotence and PMS.  In other words it is a bit of a cure all!

Black Seed Oil is widely available, but you need to sure of a good source.  Only cold pressed oil is worth using.  I have always obtained my oil from Iman Products .  The oil has a pungent spicy flavour which is not to everyone’s taste. You can get in capsules or stir it into some juice if you really need to diguise it.  Dose is two 5ml teaspoons a day.

Black Seed Oil is not a particularly rich source of another essential fatty acid: omega 3.  We can obtain Omega 3 from oily fish, flax seeds/oil, walnuts, good free range eggs and a few other sources.  If your diet is not rich in these food.  You would do well to take a supplement of fish oil, krill oil or flax seed oil as well.

If you have enjoyed this article or found it helpful please share it with your friends.  You can also visit my website  and follow me on twitter or become a Facebook fan.



  1. […] are milder and slower in action and usually free from unwanted side effects. Supplements such as pine bark/grapeseed extract and Black Seed oil also have a track record and some research evidence supporting their use to relieve the symptoms of […]

  2. Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular post!
    It is the little changes which will make the greatest changes.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi and thanks for the appreciation. I’ve certainly felt the benefit of long term use of these supplements.

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