From DHEA (dehydroeplandrosterone) to melatonin, the market is now full of supplements purported to have anti-aging properties. Do these pills do what their proponents say they do, and are they safe?
Read on for the good, the bad and those in between.
The Bad: Hormone Supplements
Hormone supplements like melatonin, DHEA, HGH, estrogen and testosterone have significant risks associated with them. Of all the anti-aging supplements, melatonin gets the most hype.
Though considered safe for certain other ailments and conditions, as an anti-aging supplement, it has only been tested on animals, so effects on humans are unknown. Also, because it is a hormone, long-term use may cause cancer – just as long-term use of estrogen can raise women’s risk for cancer. DHEA does boost the immune system, but may inadvertently promote prostate and/or breast cancer. HGH and testosterone may also increase one’s risk for prostate, testicular or other forms of cancer.
Somewhere in Between
Pycnogenol – On the other hand, the pine bark derivative, pycnogenol, has promise. Some studies show that the antioxidant properties of this mixture of bioflavonoids are 60 times stronger than those of vitamin E, but until it’s proven for sure that it’s safe, pycnogenol supplements are not recommended.
The Good: Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamin C, Vitamin E & Beta-Carotene – With all the apparent risks associated with anti-aging supplements, it’s a wonder if there are any worth taking. However, supplements that contain vitamins C and E and beta-carotene are probably your best bets. Although these antioxidants are not usually thought of as anti-aging supplements, they do slow the aging process by helping to prevent the diseases associated with aging.
These three antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals, renegade cells that cause the cellular damage that is associated with aging. Vitamin E is especially beneficial. It blocks oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, thereby preventing formation of the arterial deposits that underlie heart attacks. Vitamin E also prevents DNA damage, which is thought to be the first step in the development of cancer.
Since it’s almost impossible to get enough vitamin E from food sources, a daily supplement containing 400 international units (IU) of natural vitamin E is a great solution. Natural vitamin E is absorbed more efficiently than synthetic vitamin E. However, due to the possible interactions between vitamin E and various drugs and supplements, as well as other safety considerations, consult your doctor before starting a vitamin E regimen.
In addition to fighting free radicals, vitamin C now appears to be an effective remedy for mild arthritis pain. Again, it’s hard to get sufficient vitamin C from food, so a 500 mg supplement twice a day works well. Beta-carotene helps protect against heart disease, cataracts and certain cancers, including skin cancer. Non-smokers should consume 25,000 IU of beta-carotene every day – either in supplement form or by eating 1 1/2 average-sized carrots.
The mineral selenium also seems to fight free radicals and help prevent cancer of the lung, colon, prostate and rectum. So in addition to vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, incorporate 200 mcg of selenium daily into the mix.
Finally, folic acid is now known to be critical for good health. It lowers bloodstream levels of homocysteine, a breakdown product of methionine. That’s an amino acid that we get mostly from eating red meat and milk products. Studies show a clear link between homocysteine levels and heart attack risk – even when cholesterol levels are low.
A supplement of 400 mcg of folic acid per day (or 800-1,000 mcg if heart disease is present) is sufficient. People over age 50 should take 50 mg of vitamin B-6 and 500 mcg of B-12 daily, along with folic acid. Otherwise, vitamin B-12 deficiency can be masked.