Shortly after the Stay At Home order for Wisconsin went into place, we found ourselves at Costco, bearing silent witness to overflowing carts and rushed shoppers. This was so unlike the norm that we paid more attention to what everyone was buying. In addition to all the toilet paper and paper towels, what struck us was the sheer volume of liquor, wine, beer and frozen foods in cart after cart. It seemed everyone was planning to go on a two month bender of booze and frozen pizza. Maybe that explains all the toilet paper? In any case, that got us to thinking about protecting and improving our health during this time of challenge and stress. As we approach our late 50’s, we can’t accomplish much on a diet of bourbon, frozen lasagna and toilet paper, so we decided to commit to running extra miles, biking, walking more and eating better to cope with the times we find ourselves in. Supporting our increased focus on health are the health supplements we use to meet the challenges each day brings. We are grateful for the good health and mental wellness we currently enjoy, so my wife and I decided to use some of our time in lock-up to cover the health supplement angle of staying fit.
Health Supplements? Puhlease..
We can hear a muted chorus of groans as we write this. Health Supplements, and the stores that promote them are everywhere. The sheer volume of choices, baseless claims, and dizzying array of books guiding us in many times opposite directions are exhausting. We’ve read some of the books, seen the claims, commercials and testimonials, but chose our own path of study in finding out what works and what doesn’t. We would like to share our direct experience with supplements we’ve found to credibly enhance our quality of life. These are anecdotal experiences to be sure, but are corroborated by a host of health and athletic professionals who informed and inspired our exploration.
Untangling Fiction From Fact
How do those of us with an interest in supplementing healthy lifestyle habits not look at the marketing and white-noise out there and dismiss the category entirely? Even the array of supplement options at Madison’s Whole Foods is a mind crippler; What matters most? What should we avoid? Which are the real difference makers and which are pure fakery or worse, harmful? The process of finding a quality protein powder among what looks like 900 varieties is alone, enough to make people skip the category altogether. Unfortunately, for every quality supplement brand, there are several substandard products and brands competing for the same customer. To avoid being taken in by specious claims, we read articles and books on the subject by physicians and health experts. We considered only supplements that had science or decades of results behind them. Most importantly, we spoke to older athletes and athletic trainers about their experiences. Following is a distillation of our personal experience with health supplements we found to be beneficial in supporting and improving how we live each day.
How We Got Here
Once we committed to improving our health by adopting a Plant Based diet ( we recommend watching the film Game Changers), the need to use a few required supplements like B-12 and Amino Acids opened a door to experimenting with other carefully chosen supplements.
Your Health Goals — A Baseline
Before naming effective heath supplements it’s important to consider your age, health status and goals. Although the following information may be specific to our age, conditioning and health, the general benefits of supplements mentioned here will be similar across a broad spectrum of individuals that want to lead more active, healthy lifestyles. The usual disclaimers about treating or curing any illness apply here, but I’ll offer that most of these supplements possess a combination of anti-inflammation, anti-oxidant, anti-stress, anti-anxiety, healing and recovery properties that could benefit almost anyone. My wife and I are 57, ok, she’s almost 57, sorry honey. :). We run and bike extensively in the summer and add indoor strength and cardio training almost every morning in the winter. Our primary goal is continued good health, but we use short term goals such as long distance bike events and competing in local half-marathons to keep us focussed. For our age group, we would fit into the “active older adult” category, so our supplement choices are heavily influenced by our desire to remain active and healthy. We aren’t trying to extend life in years necessarily, but we are trying to fit more wellness, health, peace of mind and balance into the time we have each day to feel vital and alive.
What Supplements Are Not
Top quality Supplements are not a replacement for exercise, healthy eating and good sleep habits. By themselves supplements are not miracle workers or life extenders as some would have us believe. The supplements we use enhance the way we experience each day and have definitively improved our quality of life. The best supplements impact how we feel during peak activity, how we recover and how we experience challenge, stress and relaxation. Even the act of taking the right supplements at the right time can influence other healthy choice in food, activity and even sleep. Unfortunately, finding the best quality supplements can be expensive and time consuming. By sharing our experience, the hope is that others can find a shorter, less complicated and costly path to better living, even in these difficult times.
The summed impact of our regimen has been dramatic and consistent in terms of the enhanced wellness we’ve experienced over time. Some supplements, like Turmeric/Curcumin, Ginger, Ginseng, Rhodiola, Ashwaganda, Maca and CBD have an immediate effect as well as longer lasting benefits when used with some regularity. We’ve noted faster recovery from intense activity, markedly reduced inflammation and joint soreness and most importantly an improved sense of well being. The cumulative effects on mood and stress are consistent and easy to notice — Pandemic tested and approved. We feel more alert, engaged and social with reduced stress and generally better sleep after a long, full day. There are no stimulant side effects or downsides with this regimen — it feels clean, natural and healing. With some of these supplements, cost must be taken into consideration with a budget vs. benefit approach tailored to each person and priorities. We would not use any product that did not produce an obvious benefit, but individual experiences may vary. The supplements we take along with our healthy diet help to reduce the soreness and stress of the mind and body. At other times, supplements act as mild re-chargers that allow us to stay balanced, focussed and refreshed through each day’s unique challenges.
We don’t suggest buying a slew of expensive supplements just to weigh their collective benefit. We recommend starting slowly, introducing one at a time so you can evaluate each step. To help this process, we’re going to list them in an order we believe will support a next step. If you are over 40 and you eat well and are active, then a gradual approach allows you to assess each type of supplement on its own. The following health supplements have had a positive affect on our daily routines, including how we generally feel, perform and recover from activity, including work (we both work from home). There are cross-benefits with these supplements that improve mood, lower stress, reduce anxiety and contribute to an overall sense of wellness. Not all supplement brands offer the same benefit and some traffic in misdirection or low return for the money. We will list the specific sources, types and brands we found to be effective. If you have experience you’d like to share with us, we’d love to hear about it as we are always interested in learning more.
Following is our general schedule and the form of supplements we found to be of benefit. For example, we use a plant based Protein powder because of our plant based diet. We drink a multi-Greens powder mixed with Beet powder, Turmeric powder and filtered water in the morning to bring us fully awake. For supplements that have to do with energy, stress relief, healing, endurance and lowered-anxiety we prefer what are called natural Adaptogens taken by tincture. These are concentrated liquid herbal/root/botanicals delivered via a dropper under the tongue and held there for 30secs-60secs. Your body absorbs these extracts up to 70% more directly versus pills or powders. The effects are relatively immediate and easier to notice using a “tincture” versus capsules.
- Gundry MD’s Primal Plants (upon wakeup mixed with other powders below)
- Beet powder (1x wakeup + 1x afternoon))
- Turmeric powder with pepper (1x wakeup + 1x afternoon )
- Protein powder (1x post hard workout 3-4x per week)
- Gundry MD’s Vital Reds powder (Afternoon boost drink w/Beet powder)
- Psyllium powder (for digestion as desired)
- L-Glutamine powder (1x a day in water for Muscle recovery)
- Vitamin B-12 ( 1x a day- supplement’s our plant based diet)
- Amino Acid Capsules (2-3x day for muscle recovery)
- Glucosamine/Chondroitin (2x day for joint support)
- Turmeric/Curcumin (liquid cap. Curamed) 750mg (1xday)
- Melatonin 2.5mg (1x bedtime)
As needed – or daily Adaptogen Tinctures
- Maca (pre-workout, or for energy boost early afternoon)
- Ginseng (pre-workout and, or early afternoon for focus/energy)
- Rhodiola (wakeup or pre-workout, endurance, calm)
- CBD (pre-workout or early afternoon for calming, focus, endurance)
- Ashwaghandha (evening – after dinner for stress relief/recovery)
- Turmeric + Ginger tincture (evening/as needed anti-inflammatory)
- Qunol liquid Turmeric (1x at Bedtime)
- Turmeric Root – chopped/peppered( teas/shakes)
- Ginger Root -chopped ( teas/shakes/stir fry)
- Ginseng (Dry Sliced Roots) – ( in hot teas ) (or eat as a crunchy boost)
- Chopped Turmeric/Ginger root tea (afternoon – see recipe)
# 1 Turmeric (Curcumin) and Ginger Roots.
If you experience any type of inflammation, soreness or just feeling sluggish or run down? For us, taking various forms of Turmeric and Ginger root – with frequency and in real quantity made a definitive difference. We peel and chop up both Ginger and Turmeric roots (can be found at Whole Foods or Willy St. Coop.) and add to health shakes, teas and stir-fry’s. ** Always add a splash of olive oil and a few grinds of pepper to chopped Turmeric roots or powders. This helps your body assimilate the benefits of the Curcumin within the Turmeric root.
Turmeric/Ginger Infused Tea Recipe
As an evaluation of sorts, try this Turmeric/Ginger Infused Tea Recipe. Drink a cup of this treated tea and wait five minutes. How do you feel? The results are almost immediate, but it is the long term benefits of sipping this special tea that may be the most beneficial— and habit forming. I know this may seem too simple, but everyone I’ve recommended this to has incorporated it into a routine of 3-4x per week. Blending ginger and Turmeric roots into teas and shakes alone can change how you feel for the better in almost every way.
Other beneficial forms of Turmeric and Ginger supplements — try one at a time.
- “CuraMed” Turmeric liquid caplets – 1 a day as maintenance. ($$varies)Amazon/local health stores)
- “Feel Good” brand Organic Turmeric powder with pepper. We mix w/water, beet powder and Greens powder as our morning boost drink (Costco or Amazon $20) 2x day
- “Renew” Turmeric Curcumin + Ginger Tincture – 1 dropper-full under tongue 1x-2x day (Amazon $20)
- “Qunol” Turmeric liquid – 1 (30ml) measuring cup 1x at bedtime (Costco $34)
- “Gaia” Ginger Root liquid dropper – 2 droppers mixed with 1Tbl. water 2x day (Whole Foods/Amazon $12)
This looks like a lot, so be methodical. Try the Turmeric/Ginger Infused Tea Recipe. A week or so later, try the CuraMed liquid capsules, or the 30ml Qunol Turmeric 1x at night. Once you note the difference these make, try the “Feels Good” Turmeric powder blend in the morning with Greens powder. Each of these added a benefit for us so we continue with this regimen. Also, try adding chopped Ginger and Turmeric roots to post workout recovery shakes. Ginger is also great in stir fry’s.
Morning Health drink (“Feel Good” Turmeric powder, Whole Foods Brand Beet powder, Gundry MD’s Greens powder).
We mix these three powders together in an 8oz glass of water and drink first thing upon waking each morning. The combination is effective at rehydrating us after sleep and acts as an immediate energy boost to come fully awake. Some days it’s hard to eat enough greens, so we start with this drink and combine with beet powder (supports circulation), and Turmeric powder for an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory start to the day. Similar to plants needing water, we immediately perk up. Add 1Tbl. Psyllium Husk (Whole Foods) for digestion and fiber.
Morning Drink Ingredients:
- Feels Good Turmeric/pepper Powder (Costco $24-1 month supply) (other brands can work)
- Whole Foods Brand Beet Powder $24. ( other brands can work)
- Greens Powder —we love Gundry MD brand Greens – $50 Amazon (More $ than grass greens, but best tasting, best benefit)
- 7-8oz. Filtered water
Post Workout Protein Shake
We eat a Vegan diet and exercise often, so we look for easy ways to get more protein into our diet. Protein Powders present an easy method to replenish what we burn through, especially on long runs or bike rides. We crafted a Recovery Protein Vegan Shake starting with a base of Almond or Cashew Yogurt, 2-3 C Ice cubes and one of the following two Vegan Protein powders, which add about 20grams of Protein. We buy Organifi or Intek Vegan Protein Powders. These brands can be found at most health supplement stores. There are other brands that can be substituted based on your preference and taste. We blend all ingredients in a high-intensity blender, but leave it chunky — our preference.
Adaptogens are generally termed “healing herbs” for their ability to help the body/mind handle stressors, recover and thrive. They’ve been used in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. They are generally comprised of natural roots or botanical derivatives. We found them to help with energy, endurance, mood, stress, anxiety and energy levels. These are not medicines and they don’t claim cure anything, but we’ve found each in their own way to add a benefit when taken at the right time for the right activity, be it work, exercise, rest or recovery. These are optional, but add a benefit to the fundamentals of good health. We found the specific types we listed to be valuable additions to our supplement tool kit. You may find them to provide a benefit, or you could try just the Ginseng and find that to be all you need. We take most of these using a small 1 ml size liquid dropper under the tongue. Follow the instructions on the bottle and adjust as you might for more/less effect. The effects are subtle in the sense that they don’t chemically boost or depress our homeostasis, but each one we’ve listed has demonstrated a positive effect that is impossible to miss if you try them. Some of the benefits are immediate and others come in after an hour, lasting 3-4 hours. The best part about these is the mild, natural way the benefit sneaks up, lasts a while and dissipates as if working around the edges of our consciousness until you begin to notice upon reflection that ‘hey, these really work’.
# 1. Ginseng
This is one of the world’s oldest and most well known Adaptogen root supplements. Millions take some form of Ginseng for the wide range of health benefits it has to offer. These benefits can be obvious, ranging from more energy, sharper mental acuity, as a stress reliever, recovery booster and anti-oxidant. Finding the right source among thousands of Ginseng options can make all the difference. Some work, some are not credible. We’ve tried dozens of varieties, strains and types — liquid capsules, the root itself, powders and liquid tincture. We found raw dried Ginseng root to be most effective, followed by the liquid tincture.
The following Ginseng products, taken in the morning or early afternoon, deliver dependable results that increase with regular use. No downsides, no jittery caffeinated affects, just less stress, more alertness and better performance during activity. We are regular customers of this multi-faceted supplement.
a. Green Bay Ginseng. Sliced Roots. 1x early in day or as needed for stress, energy and focus. (Amazon $36 for about 1 month supply)
Surprisingly, Wisconsin is one of the world’s largest producers of Ginseng – #1 in the US. You can buy it in many forms. We purchase the thinly sliced hard roots (Amazon). We lightly boil the root slices in water for use in hot teas. I also chew on the root slices right out of the box anytime I need a boost -they are crunchy and mildly bitter, but leave the mouth feeling clean. The energy, mood and mental boost we feel is almost immediate but at the same time very subtle in the way it works. It’s not unlike coffee, but without the hyped feeling, sour stomach or or other side-effects. The list of benefits are wide ranging and include anti-oxidant properties.
b. “Active Ginseng” Tincture 1x day before work, or activity (Amazon $30)
This comes in a 2 oz. bottle with a dropper. The dose is two dropperfuls under the tongue for 30-60 secs. Again, like the roots, the benefit is easy to notice and comes on quickly. For any long run, hard workout, a business call or any time I need to feel sharp, one small dose of this tincture works like a charm. Like most Adaptogens, Ginseng is best taken earlier in the day or after lunch as a natural energy or mental boost. The effects are gentle but unmistakable. Again, this won’t make you feel energized in the way an energy drink does, its gentle on the system, less chemical in how it feels. It’s a clean feeling energy.
# 2. CBD Tincture ($$ Varies, take 1x day or as needed)
The marketing driven hype promoting CBD products as a modern day miracle cure for what ails us is everywhere. Like other supplements, the CBD industry is largely unregulated and without rules for its proper manufacture. As a result, you could spend yourself into poverty before finding a brand and type that are credibly produced and make a worthwhile difference. It took us a while, but we found two credible sources and products worth recommending. To help cut through the noise, we’ll offer some tips to assist in exploring this supplement.
We found only a very few carefully crafted CBD tinctures (delivered via a dropper under tongue) to offer benefits that include improved endurance and performance during long runs or hard workouts. There also seems to be a benefit promoting faster recovery from activity, keeping us from feeling exhausted at the end as we sometimes are. CBD can also act as a mild curative for muscle soreness, stress, headaches or other general physiological discomforts. Like many Adaptogens, we find the optimum benefit in taking CBD in the morning or on weekends before a long run or bike. Of the Adaptogens we’ve listed, effective forms of CBD are comparatively expensive, so finding a credible source for this product is essential. Some of the hype is warranted, good quality CBD products can be effective in supporting activity and in managing stress and recovery. Because of its cost, we are making a qualified recommendation to explore CBD as an optional tool for wellness more than as a regular/daily supplement.
Don’t buy CBD via phone, internet or store just by calling, clicking or walking in and buying without a genuine referral or careful vetting. We encountered the usual “magic elixir” claims, substandard products and confusing explanations of benefits before finding a source that was credible and lined up with the information we had. Look for local sources that farm their own Hemp and are directly involved in its production. That rules out the majority of stores that claim to specialize in this supplement. Two sources in Madison we found to be credible are Embrace Wellness (Middleton) and Quality CBD (Williamson st.). Both stores are run by the farmers that harvest and process their own product. Both store owners are willing to provide a wealth of information to help you make the right choice.
Madison’s best Supplement stores for CBD:
There may be other good local sources, but these two are solid picks because they are both farm-table controlled by the owners.
- Quality CBD/ Williamson St. (Near Willy st. Coop) (owner Tony)
- Embrace Wellness/Middleton (Near Costco) (Owner: Dave Knott)
# 3. Rhodiola Rosea Tincture (Amazon $20) As needed or 1x earlier in day
Horbaach brand concentrated Rhodiola was recommended by a fellow distance runner who swears by it for energy and endurance— like he has extra battery life on long runs. He was right. We’ve found it also benefits stress and seems to promote a general sense of well being. This is a more subtle product than CBD but when taken in the morning there is a palpable lift within a minute and a “ready to go…” impact on our psyche. The description from Wikipedia appears to be accurate. “Helps the body adapt to and resist physical, chemical and environmental stressors”. You could in fact say that about all the adaptogens we’ve listed, yet each is slightly different in its effect. Each can work alone and collectively but we recommend trying each independent of others before combining any two.
# 4. Maca Root Tincture (Amazon $20) As needed or 1x earlier in day
Maca is another ancient, well known Adaptogen supplement. For us, Maca augments our own natural energy, relieves stress and provides another natural boost to mood and the attitude we need to push through difficult tasks. Recommended 1x earlier in the day or as needed. Don’t take late in the day. It’s ok with coffee or with the other listed Adaptogens (body and mind stress managers). We buy “The Maca Team” brand through Amazon because of taste and consistent product.
# 5. Ashwaganda (Amazon $20) As needed for anti-stress, relaxation. Later in the day 1x per day
Ashwaghandha isn’t as dynamic in its effect as Maca or Ginseng, but is just as valuable in the sense that it relaxes, eases and helps relieve stress after an intense day at work or energetic activity like a long distance run or bike. Within minutes of taking our preferred Wellabs Ashwaganda tincture we can feel ourselves relax and let go of stress and anxiety. Ashwaghandha works around the edges of our awareness as it reduces stress, relaxes the mind and evens perspective. We did not find this Adaptogen to make us sleepy or more energized, so this natural herbal can be taken almost any time of day. We found it most beneficial after dinner, maybe 2-3 hours before bed but we have friends that use it more often. More than the other Adaptogens that are specific to activity, energy production, this one is the more universal of the group.
Carefully chosen Health Supplements, along with a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and proper rest are our keys to better living and staying ready for whatever challenge we may face, even if its just the next run or bike trip. The supplements listed here work in concert with our bodies and minds to balance and sustain our positive outlook, regardless of the circumstances— like a Pandemic for example. Alone, they offer support, but together they give us an edge that helps us feel good about each day as well as the people and world around us. The best health supplements serve as a reminder to eat well, train well and to recover and plan for the future, whether its time away with the kids, work or play. None are a panacea for stress, anxiety or injury, but each contributes to an overall sense of wellness and consciousness of how the choices we make affect us and the world around us.
Our hope is that sharing our experience may encourage others to experiment and find their own path to better living. These experiences are connected to our diet, our activity level and our current state of health. Conversely, If someone tells me they are sedentary and consume a diet high in sugars, carbs and meats, the supplements we’ve mentioned may be less relevant and effective than they have been for us.
We encourage everyone to keep up with their healthy routines during these challenging times. Staying focussed on family, health and wellness helps us cope with the present, while feeling positive and hopeful about the future.
- The Longevity Paradox: How to Die Young at a Ripe Old Age, Steven R. Gundry, MD
- Get Off Your Acid, Dr. Daryl Gioffre