If someone offered you a magic pill that would fix all your problems, would you take it? Of course you would! That’s why the supplement industry is such big business. Lured by the promise of products that will make us younger, stronger, thinner, and smarter, Americans spend roughly 30 billion dollars a year on supplements—around $100 per person annually.
When consulting with patients for the first time, I ask them to give me a list of all the supplements they’re taking. Too often, people aren’t even sure exactly what the products they’re using are supposed to be doing, much less whether they’re working or not. The truth is, unless you’re working with an expert who can help you determine exactly the type of support your body needs, there’s a good chance you’re wasting your money.
All this is not to say that I don’t believe in supplements. Quite the opposite! I think supplements can be one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal when it comes to optimizing your health. That’s why I pay close attention to the science around supplements, keeping up with the latest research on the many products perpetually flooding the marketplace.
Every once in a while, something truly cutting-edge will jump out at me, piquing my interest and inspiring me to dig deeper. Here are three of those things—I consider them to be supplements of the future.
Nicotine: Potential Smart Drug
Before I begin to discuss the possible benefits of nicotine supplements, let me make one thing clear: I do not in any way condone cigarette smoking or vaping! As an integrative physician, I spend a fair amount of time trying to convince my patients who smoke to quit, and I would certainly never suggest that someone become a smoker in the name of health.
That said, nicotine does appear to possess some beneficial qualities. A researcher named Paul Newhouse who directs the Center for Medicine at Vanderbilt University has been examining the effects of nicotine on brain disorders for more than three decades. He and his team have conducted several studies that tested whether transdermal nicotine patches could help people with the type of memory loss that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, and they found that nicotine significantly improved memory and attention.
The power of nicotine to improve cognition has led some intrepid biohackers to use it as a smart drug. With research suggesting the use of nicotine patches and gum can enhance vigilance, memory, and even coordination, people are starting to take the idea of nicotine supplementation seriously.
Obviously, using nicotine is not without risks. In addition to being addictive (and poisonous at high doses), nicotine has been associated with cancer, heart problems, and increased inflammation. You should consult with an expert before you consider nicotine supplementation.
Lithium: Possible Mood Booster
When you hear the word lithium, you may think of the psychiatric drug used to treat bipolar disorder and other types of mental illness. But it turns out this chemical element—trace amounts of which can be found in everything from groundwater to grains—can also be used in low doses as a supplement.
A form of lithium known as lithium orotate has been getting attention for its potential health benefits. Concrete information is still emerging about how lithium orotate supplements work, but some experts believe they may help protect the brain, improve cognitive function, stabilize mood, and more.
Nrf2: Fighter of Free Radicals
Nrf2 is a protein that’s found in each of your body’s cells. Although abundant, Nrf2 is latent and requires activation to do its job. Once activated, Nrf2 switches on the production of powerful antioxidants like glutathione that can protect your cells from free radical damage, which has been associated with accelerated aging and increased disease risk.
So how do you activate Nrf2? Research suggests certain compounds found in food may be able to spur activity in the Nrf2 pathway, triggering antioxidant production. One of these compounds, sulforaphane, has been shown to be particularly effective for activating the Nrf2 pathway. Found in broccoli and other cruciferous Brassica vegetables, sulforaphane shows potential for protecting cells from the damaging effects of oxidative stress. It may also possess anti-cancer properties.
As scientists begin to isolate which compounds work best to activate Nrf2, supplement companies are responding with formulas designed to boost antioxidant levels in the body. Many of these products are so new that there isn’t a ton of information available about them yet, but research on one all-natural product called Protandim is particularly promising, with over 25 peer-reviewed studies already published. One study showed a 40% average reduction in oxidative stress and another extended the lifespan of male mice by 7%. The company has several patents on the product so it’s only available through their website, but you can check it out here. It’s one I recommend to patients often and even take myself because of the many well-known benefits of the ingredients and strong scientific backing.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is the Chief Medical Officer of Vault Health, a national medical practice specializing in care for men, and Is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.