Many of us prefer to go the natural route when it comes to our health.
You’d likely choose a supplement over a prescription drug to improve your health and make lifestyle changes instead of starting medication to treat a health condition.
While certain health conditions may require a prescription medication at some point, many of today’s chronic diseases can be treated or prevented more naturally.
We’ve compiled five dietary supplements that have science-backed benefits and can be more powerful than drugs.
*Disclaimer – this article isn’t meant to replace your healthcare provider’s recommendations or offer medical advice. You shouldn’t stop taking any of your medications without first consulting your healthcare provider. Be sure to notify your healthcare provider about any new supplements you want to take, as some supplements may interact with prescription medication.
Five Natural Supplements That Are as Powerful as Drugs
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin important for bone health by balancing levels of calcium and phosphorus. Additionally, vitamin D also helps your body fight infection, and may even help protect you against certain cancers.
According to an NHANES survey from 2005-to 2006, vitamin D deficiency rates among all races and ethnicities were about 40%, with black people having the highest prevalence of over 80%.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, bone pain, muscle weakness/aches/cramps, and mood changes such as depression.
Vitamin D synthesis in your body occurs when sunlight absorbs into your skin. You’re more likely to be deficient in vitamin D if you have darker-colored skin since the presence of melanin (the pigment that makes skin dark) makes it more difficult for your skin to absorb the sun’s rays.
Vitamin D isn’t present in many foods, which makes vitamin D supplementation even more important.
You can get vitamin D from fatty fish, cod liver oil, egg yolks, fortified cereals, and dairy products with vitamin D added such as milk.
If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, getting enough vitamin D through your diet can be more challenging.
Choose a vitamin D dietary supplement with at least 600 IU of vitamin D per serving or 800 IU if you’re 70 or older. If you have a history of vitamin D deficiency, your healthcare provider may recommend a higher dose such as 5,000 IU per day.
Vitamin D3 is preferred over vitamin D2 since it raises vitamin D levels significantly more than vitamin D2.
2. Cod liver oil
Cod liver oil is not only a great source of vitamin D but has other impressive potential benefits.
It is rich in heart-healthy fats such as EPA and DHA, which are omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and may help promote healthy cholesterol levels.
According to a small study, people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis were more likely to be able to reduce their pain medications by 30% compared to the placebo group.
In another study, people who used cod liver oil had lower levels of C-reactive protein, a measure of inflammation in the body. High C-reactive protein levels can be associated with arthritis, cancer, heart disease, and other inflammatory conditions.
Cod liver oil is also rich in vitamin A, which acts as an antioxidant in some forms. Antioxidants help reduce inflammation. This helps to potentially reduce your risk factors for cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.
Curcumin is the active substance in turmeric, the rich golden-colored spice popular in Indian cuisine.
Turmeric and curcumin have gained popularity among dietary supplements in recent years thanks to their potential health benefits.
According to a study of 45 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin was more effective at reducing symptoms (painful joints and swelling) compared to a prescription painkiller.
According to a review of studies, curcumin might also reduce post-exercise soreness, reduce anxiety, improve hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol and blood fat), and aid in managing several inflammatory conditions.
Not only can curcumin lower inflammation, but it might help reduce your diabetes risk as well. Inflammation plays a role in developing type 2 diabetes, which is why curcumin has anti-diabetic properties, according to a systematic review.
When looking for a curcumin supplement, be sure to choose one that also contains piperine (the active compound in black pepper), which can boost the absorption of turmeric by 2000%.
The dose of curcumin in some of the studies was 500 milligrams, which is similar to the amount found in standard curcumin and turmeric dietary supplements. Higher doses of 2,000 milligrams have been used in some studies, but that isn’t recommended long-term.
4. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is responsible for forming red blood cells and making DNA. It is primarily found in animal products like meat (red and white meat), fish, eggs, and dairy products. It’s also added to vegan and vegetarian foods like fortified non-dairy milk, cereals, and nutritional yeast.
Getting enough vitamin B12 can be difficult for people who follow a vegan diet, which excludes all animal products.
Vegan dieters are at increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, memory loss, confusion, and depression.
Your body needs a protein called intrinsic factor to absorb vitamin B12. Intrinsic factor is produced in the lining of your stomach. You can develop vitamin B12 deficiency if you’ve had gastric bypass surgery which reduces the availability of intrinsic factor.
Taking metformin can also increase your risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Approximately 6-30% of people taking metformin experience vitamin B12 deficiency. According to studies, the higher the metformin dose, the greater the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.
If you’re taking a multivitamin, chances are high that it contains vitamin B12. If you don’t take a multivitamin and don’t eat any animal products, then it’s wise to take a vitamin B12 supplement.
Berberine is a compound you can find in some plants like European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, Phellodendron, and tree turmeric.
In fact, berberine is popular as a natural alternative to metformin for treating insulin resistance and high blood sugar.
According to a small study on people with metabolic syndrome, berberine improved insulin sensitivity, reduced blood triglyceride (fat) levels, and reduced waist circumference of participants.
A waist circumference of >35 inches in women and >40 inches in men is a risk factor for developing heart disease and can be a sign of insulin resistance.
Studies on berberine for weight loss show that berberine may help you lose weight by improving insulin resistance, which can make weight loss more difficult.
Berberine might also help promote healthy blood pressure levels. High blood pressure (hypertension) is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and can put you at a greater risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
Women with PCOS (a hormonal imbalance and one of the leading causes of female infertility) may also benefit from taking berberine.
Women with PCOS don’t ovulate regularly, which reduces the likelihood of achieving pregnancy. A review of studies found that berberine improved ovulation rates and improved live birth rates among women with PCOS.
A pilot study compared berberine and metformin directly for their ability to help treat symptoms of type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that berberine produced identical results as metformin in terms of improving blood glucose metabolism.
In addition, A1c, fasting blood sugar, postprandial blood sugar, and insulin levels all improved with the administration of berberine.
Berberine was more effective at improving blood lipids, including cholesterol and triglycerides, compared to metformin. The dose used in this study was 500 milligrams three times daily.
One of the benefits of supplements is that they can provide impressive health benefits without causing unpleasant side effects.
Many supplements are safe to take during pregnancy and lactation, which isn’t always true for prescription medications.
Drugs don’t solve nutrient deficiencies, but dietary supplements containing those nutrients can help.
Supplements can also be more cost-effective and more accessible if you don’t have good medical insurance or prescription drug coverage.
Not all dietary supplements contain quality ingredients in effective dosages. Check the supplement label so you know how much of the active ingredient you’re getting in each serving, and try to choose supplements from reputable brands.
Be wary of any supplement that makes claims that are “too good to be true”, because they often don’t live up to the hype. Instead, consider supplements that have research-backed benefits like vitamin D, cod liver oil, curcumin, vitamin B12, and berberine.