Ranking the best fish oil supplements of 2016 (review)

If there’s anything resembling a super-supplement for your health, it’s got to be fish oil.  It’s a powerful way to boost your heart health and improve your resistance to chronic disease.

So what exactly does fish oil do and what are the best fish oil supplements? We thought you might ask.

Part 1 ranks and reviews this year’s top 10 fish oil supplements in order. Part 2 dives into the science of how it works and what it does for your body.

Starting with our #1 recommended fish oil supplement:

1.  The Vitamin Shoppe Omega-3 Fish Oil

fish-oilWould it surprise you if you found out that a fish oil supplement made by a brick-and-mortar supplement shop with wide name recognition was both inexpensive and effective? Well, it’s true!

The Vitamin Shoppe’s fish oil offering provides over 1000 mg of omega 3 per softgel, and of this, 680 mg are EPA and 260 mg are DHA.  These combine to make up 76% of the fish oil in the supplement, much higher than many of its competitors.

Its mercury levels are also tremendously low, as are its levels of PCB toxins.

The one drawback of The Vitamin Shoppe’s fish oil offering is its labeling.  Though the omega 3, DHA, and EPA contents are high, the listed amounts on the label don’t quite correspond to what you get in the supplement.

In this case, you actually get a little more than you’re paying for, but inaccuracies like this might be a sign that the quality control is not quite what it should be.

As for other ingredients, there are essentially none! Aside from the fish oil, the only things The Vitamin Shoppe Omega 3 Fish Oil supplement contains are gelatin, glycerin, water, and a bit of vitamin E to act as a preservative.

When it comes to value and quality, it’s very hard to beat this product.

2.  Nutrigold Triple Strength Fish Oil

The fish oil supplement offered by Nutrigold is one of the top-selling online brands.  Fortunately, its popularity is backed up by its quality.

Each softgel contains 1250 mg of fish oil; 1060 mg of this (88%) is omega 3 fatty acids.  Of these, EPA and DHA account for 750 and 250 mg each.

Nutrigold derives its fish oil only from wild-caught whitefish from American waters, which sets it apart from some of its competitors.  Though the capsule does include soy products, the soy protein has been removed, so if soy protein is a no-go in your diet, you should be okay.

If you have a severe soy allergy that can’t be pinned to the protein, you may still want to avoid Nutrigold Triple Strength.

For everyone else, though, it’s a tremendous deal: some of the most concentrated omega 3 fatty acids on the market for a pretty good price.

As you’d expect from a quality product, it also has lower than average mercury and PCB concentrations.  Beyond this, there’s not much to say; this is another one for the minimalist camp!

3.  Viva Labs Ultra Strength Fish Oil

If you want a fish oil supplement that really packs a punch, look no further than Via Labs Ultra Strength.  Each capsule provides a full 1000 mg of omega 3 fatty acids, and 705 mg and 245 mg of EPA and DHA, respectively.  Fully 83% of the fish oil was DHA and EPA.

This very high omega 3 content does make it a bit pricier than other products, but it’s hard to match when it come to raw omega 3 content.

Unlike other products on the market, there are no add-in ingredients: Viva Labs Ultra Strength provides no vitamin D3, no other omega fatty acids, and no flavoring.  If you’re okay with a bit of a fishy smell when you open the bottle, it’s a good trade-off.  This offering is for the minimalist; it does one thing (deliver a lot of omega 3) and it does it very well.

Note that you might also encounter Viva Labs’ products under the moniker of “Viva Naturals”; the company recently rebranded, so if you see a similar offering with this name, don’t worry—it’s not a copycat or imitation.

4.  OmegaVia Fish Oil

The fish oil supplement by OmegaVia is best viewed as a premium product.  Even its branding gives it an air of precision and pharmaceutical care.  Each softgel provides 1105 mg of omega 3 fatty acids, and of these, almost all of it is EPA and DHA (780 mg and 260 mg, respectively). Of the fish oil in the supplement, EPA and DHA account for 86% of the total.

As you’d expect, the mercury and PCB levels are extremely low; mercury was only at one part per billion, and PCB was below detectable limits as determined by an independent lab.

The label takes pains to point out that the fish oil is derived from wild-caught sustainably sourced Pollock and Whiting fish from Alaskan waters.  The ingredients are similarly simple and high-quality; the only non-fish oil ingredients are the softgel constituents and a little bit of vitamin E to act as a preservative.

Though the quality is top-notch, there are other supplements that offer a better deal on omega-3s from a cost perspective.  Nevertheless, OmegaVia fish oil is a good choice if you are looking for a top-quality supplement.

5.  Dr. Tobias Optimum Omega 3 Fish Oil

As the top-selling fish oil supplement on Amazon.com, Dr. Tobias Optimum Omega 3 has big-time name recognition.  Each softgel capsule provides 1000 mg of fish oil, including 400 mg of EPA and 300 mg of DHA.

The fish oil contained in the capsules is derived from sardines, and the softgel is made of gelatin, glycerin, and food glaze.  Vitamin E and a preservative coating round out the relevant ingredients.

According to analytical testing in an independent lab, Dr. Tobias Optimum Omega 3 contains 2 parts per billion of mercury—the upper limit for safety is 100 parts per billion, for reference.  Of the 1000 mg of fish oil per capsule, 845 mg of that was omega-3 fat, or 85%.

In all, Dr. Tobias Optimum Omega 3 is just what you’d expect from a top-seller: reliable, consistent, safe, and containing nothing outrageously fancy or expensive.  It’s a good option if you want a simple, no-nonsense fish oil supplement, and its quality is good.

6.  Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega D3

Nordic Naturals has put a lot of effort into name recognition: they take care to point out that their fish oil comes from deep sea fish (anchovies and sardines), and that each batch is tested for toxin contents.  Indeed, the mercury concentration and PCB (an organic pollutant that can accumulate in fish) is quite low.

The real interesting comparison is between Nordic Naturals’ own two offerings.  In addition to the “Ultimate Omega D3,” the company also offers a lower-priced product called simply “Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Purified Fish Oil.”  The ingredients are largely the same, but the concentration of omega 3 fatty acids is quite different.

The Ultimate version is definitely the one you want.  It contains 685 mg of omega 3 per capsule, and 58% of the total fish oil in the product is DHA and EPA.

The regular version, in contrast, contains only 325 mg of omega 3 per capsule (less than half the Ultimate version!) and the EPA and DHA content makes up only 28% of the total fish oil content.  Again, the DHA and EPA contents, in absolute amounts, are less than half that of the Ultimate version.

Given that the price difference is not a factor of two, it’s an easy call to make—get the Ultimate version.

7.  WHC UnoCardio 1000+

The omega 3 fish oil offering from WHC supplies a hefty amount of EPA and DHA—670 and 395 mg per capsule, respectively.  These fish oils are derived from a mixture of sardine, herring, mackerel, and anchovy.

It also contains vitamin D to boost your immune system and overall well-being; most people in cold climates don’t get enough vitamin D during the winter time seeing as the only natural way our body can produce it is via exposure to direct sunlight.

WHC UnoCardio is also naturally flavored with rosemary leaf.  This helps mask the fishy smell that causes many people resentment when they take fish oil supplements.

Given that its imported from Belgium, its cost per serving is higher than average, but it’s quite pure, with less than 4 parts per billion of mercury and very close to the label-claimed amount of EPA and DHA, as determined by independent lab testing.

Another interesting quirk about WHC UnoCardio is that its softgel capsule is made from fish gelatin only, making it a good choice for pescatarians.

8.  Nature’s Bounty Fish Oil

The fish oil supplement made by Nature’s Bounty is probably a familiar sight.  It’s at drug stores and big box retailers across the country.  How does its quality stack up?

In terms of raw omega 3 content, it is good but not great.  Each softgel provides 750 mg of omega 3 fatty acids; of these, 435 mg are EPA and 240 mg are DHA.  These fatty acids account for about 60% of the total fish oil content.  This can be somewhat justified, based on its fairly low cost.

The quality is, again, good but not great.  While it’s still at a safe level, the mercury content (five parts per billion) is higher than many of its competitors.  Its PCBs are below detectable levels, though.

From an ingredients perspective, it contains some less desirable ingredients.  While some of the highest-rated fish oil supplements have only a handful of ingredients—basically the fish oil plus a capsule—Nature’s Bounty contains a number of extra stabilizers, coatings, and preservatives.

This is less attractive if your philosophy is to limit your intake of these sorts of things, but if you care more about the big picture, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

9.  New Chapter Wholemega Fish Oil

The fish oil offering from New Chapter is a big-time seller online, even if you don’t recognize the brand name.  Each capsule contains a lot of fish oil—2000 mg—but the amount of omega 3 fatty acids is mediocre.  Some 20% of the fish oil in the supplement comes from EPA and DHA.

Because of this, it ranks very low in terms of cost.  Its dollar to omega 3 fatty acid ratio is one of the worst on the market; this is simply a function of the supplement being priced higher than average but delivering lower omega 3s per serving than average.

Like some of its competitors, New Chapter Wholemega supplies vitamin D to shore up your dietary intake, especially in the winter months.  It also provides a battery of omega 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 fatty acids.

If you’re looking to balance out your fatty acid ratios in your diet, it might be a good choice.  These other fatty acids, however, are more prevalent in foods you’d typically find in your diet.

Omega 3s, and DHA and EPA in particular, are fairly rare, occurring in only a few foods.  Incidentally, they are also the most-studied among the omega fatty acids when it comes to their health benefits.

10.  Nature Made Cod Liver Oil

As a widely-distributed and best-selling brand, Nature Made is a common sight at your local drug store, and as you’d expect, they have a fish oil offering.  This particular product derives its omega 3 fatty acids from cod liver, which is a readily available and inexpensive source for fish oil.

However, the quality of the fish oil in Nature Made Cod Liver Oil is low.  Only 20 percent of the fish oil in it is actually EPA and DHA, the two essential omega three oils, and each of these only amount to 50 mg per capsule.  Other products have about ten times that much EPA and DHA.

Worse, the mercury content is higher than average.  Though still low enough to be at a harmless six parts per billion, it is nevertheless two to three times higher than the mercury concentration of many of its competitors.

Part of this may be because of where the oil is derived from.  Fish contain some mercury to begin with, but within a fish, the liver has more mercury than the rest of the body, since the liver’s job is to remove toxins, like mercury, from the body.

For these reasons, Nature Made Cod Liver Oil finds itself at the bottom of these rankings.

Part 2: Who should take a fish oil supplement, and what can it do for you?

In the world of supplements, fish oil is one of the most widely known; as its name suggests, it is the concentrated and purified form of the fats that come in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring.

Its health benefits are widely known; some research suggests it can improve heart health and possibly also decrease your likelihood of getting cancer or neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.

Benefits of fish oil

Fish oil, and its main constituent, omega-3 fatty acids, first entered the public eye after health researchers and nutritionists noted the powerful health benefits of a Mediterranean diet.

For example, a 1998 scientific study by Michel de Lorgeril, Patricia Salen, and Jean-Louis Martin in France compared the long-term health of people with coronary heart disease based on their typical diet (1).

After controlling for possible confounding factors, like smoking and age, the researchers found that the patients eating a Mediterranean type diet—one rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and fish—was associated with a substantially lower risk of cancer and an increased survival rate from cardiovascular disease.

Remember, these subjects were people who already had heart problems!

One of the main constituents of the Mediterranean dietary pattern is “healthy” fat, as contained in olive oil and especially in fish.  The fats contained in fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a particular type of polyunsaturated fat that is thought to have special benefits.

In the lab, under a microscope and in a Petri dish, omega 3 fatty acids demonstrate potent health-prompting effects.  For example, a 1996 study by researchers at the University of Michigan demonstrated that omega 3 fatty acids have an anti-cancer effect on prostate cancer cells (2).

Naturally, scientists and doctors wanted to see if they could replicate these effects in real living human beings instead of just in microscopic cells in the lab.

Clinical trials were undertaken; these ranged from small, poorly controlled trials to large multi-center interventions.

The best way to gauge the success of a major health intervention like this is not to look at just one study (even if it’s a big one)—it’s to look at meta-analyses, a type of study which pools the results from many different studies and tries to detect an underlying trend.

A 2006 meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by researchers at a number of Boston-based medical centers looked at the results of 46 studies on omega 3 fatty acids (3).

After pooling the results, the authors concluded that increased consumption of omega 3 fatty acids, whether from actual fish or from a fish oil supplement, reduces the risk of overall death, heart attacks and other “sudden death” occurrences, and may also exert a protective effect against stroke (the evidence was not definitive on this point).

One of the main mechanisms of action appears to be the ability of omega 3 fatty acids to reduce blood triglycerides, a known risk factor for heart disease.  Though it seems counter-intuitive—how can consuming more fat reduce fat levels in your blood?—this hypothesis is backed up by good evidence.

A systematic review of fish oil supplements published by Guy D. Eslick and other researchers at the University of Western Sydney in Australia concluded that fish oil supplements produce a statistically significant decrease in blood triglycerides, with no apparent effect on cholesterol (4).

The benefits of fish oil may extend beyond heart health, too.  A 1996 study by researchers in the UK found a negative correlation between the amount of fish oil in your diet and your risk of colorectal or breast cancer.

Additionally, emerging evidence indicates that fish oil may help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease too—a review by the Cochrane Collaboration published in 2009 found that, while there are no high-quality clinical trials on fish oil and cognitive decline, circumstantial evidence from observational and epidemiological studies indicates that fish oil and omega 3 fatty acids in particular might have a beneficial effect when it comes to preserving cognitive function (5).

Recommended dosage

Most studies on the clinical and health benefits of fish oil use between one and three grams of fish oil per day.  The American Heart Association recommends people with cardiovascular disease consume one gram (1000 mg) of omega 3 fatty acids per day (7).  For people who need to lower their blood triglycerides, larger doses of two to four grams (2000 to 4000 mg) per day can be used.

No recommendation is given for healthy people; they are simply encouraged to eat a diet rich in fish and healthy vegetable oils like flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.  Regardless, if you are looking for a number to use as a guideline if you are healthy, one gram or 1000 mg per day is probably a good place to start.

Side effects of fish oil

Fortunately, for such a powerful supplement, the side effects of fish oil are trivial.  According to a study by Chenchen Wang and other researchers, the most common side effect is mild gastrointestinal symptoms: bloating, gas, etc (6).

These typically only occur at high doses (over three grams per day of EPA and DHA).    Fortunately, this is lower than the typical dosage.  In fact, half of the three hundred-plus studies reviewed in that Wang et al.’s article reported no adverse effects at all.


If you want a relatively painless way to improve your long-term health and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and possibly other health problems as well, fish oil is a great choice.

You may not need to take a fish oil supplement if you are healthy and you already eat oily fish on a regular basis.  If not, start with one gram of omega 3 fatty acids per day.  Make sure you check the label on your supplement; sometimes the omega 3 fatty acid content is far lower than the fish oil content.

http://bodynutrition.org/fish-oil/ http://bodynutritionorg.tumblr.com/post/153538340449

Ranking the best energy drinks of 2016 (review)

Feeling drained by your lunch break? Yeah, me too.

Before you go straight for the coffee, consider a more potent beverage, the energy drink. They’re tasty, refreshing, and will get you more wired than any double expresso shot drink you can think of.

First, we’ll review the 10 best energy drinks on the market.  Then, we’ll dive deeper into how they work to help you feel energized and focused.

1.  SK Energy Shot

sk-energySK Energy shot follows the familiar formula for shot-style energy supplements: 210 mg of caffeine per bottle, plus several B vitamins in a high dose and a proprietary energy blend, which includes amino acids and green tea extract.  As is often the case, the exact ratios of the ingredients in the energy blend are not disclosed on the label, so it’s hard to compare brand to brand.

The balance of the contents of SK Energy Shot are made up of natural flavors the synthetic sweetener sucralose, and a few preservatives.

In cases like this, personal experience may be your best barometer.  If you decide to use energy shots, you might need to “shop around” and try a few different brands to see how each of them affects you.  Reading reviews online can only help so much; you need to remember that the same supplement can affect different people in different ways.

Like some of its competitors, SK Energy Shot contains 30 mg of niacin per bottle, so if you want to avoid itching, flushing, and tingling, avoid taking it with any other supplement that contains niacin.

2.  6-Hour Power

Copycats don’t get much more blatant than this—6-Hour Power is obviously an attempt to upstage 5-Hour Energy as king of the single shot energy supplement category.  But how does it stack up? Is it really one hour better?

The only sane thing to do is a head-to-head comparison.  In terms of caffeine, 6-Hour Power actually contains substantially less, at 130 milligrams versus 200.  The B-vitamin content is nearly identical.  Both supplements contain the same amount of vitamin B6 and B12, as well as folic acid.

The only difference is in niacin; 6-Hour Power contains 20 mg while 5-Hour Energy contains 30mg.  This difference might shift the odds in favor of 6-Hour Power, since it’s less likely to cause flushing, itching, and tingling.

Both supplements also contain a proprietary “energy blend.”  Since these are not nutrients, their exact quantities are not listed on the label, but the ingredients are largely the same: taurine, glucouronic acid, malic acid, N-acetyl L-tyrosine, and L-phenylalanine.

The only other significant ingredient difference is that 6-hour Power contains an enzyme blend that is supposed to help with digestion, which might reduce the churning stomach feeling you get if you take an energy supplement after a large meal.

On balance, despite the name, 6-Hour-Power is a bit tamer than 5-Hour Energy.  It provides less caffeine and less niacin, so it may give you a steadier stream of energy, but it’s not likely to provide a full boost for its eponymous duration.

3.  5-hour energy

Like Red Bull, this supplement spawned an entire category of energy products, the single-shot liquid energy supplement.  With almost 200 milligrams of caffeine, 5-Hour Energy provides a hefty jolt of the stimulant to get you going.

As for the name, five hours is actually a pretty good bet for its duration—the rate at which your body removes caffeine from your bloodstream is about five hours per half-dose, meaning that half the caffeine you take in has been removed and excreted within five hours of taking a dose (1).

This varies a bit from person to person; women who are on birth control are known to have a much longer elimination timeframe.  For them, this might turn into “12-hour energy,” so be careful!

5-Hour Energy also provides a massive dose of B-vitamins, some in amounts that might be risky if you already get a lot of B-vitamins in your diet.  Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is provided at a dose of 30 milligrams.

The US Food and Nutrition board sets an upper limit of 35 milligrams per day; doses above this can result in flushing, tingling, or itching (2).  Because of this, it is not recommended that you take more than one five-hour energy during the day, nor should you combine it with other energy drinks or supplements that provide B-vitamins.

4.  Worx Energy

This is a lesser-known competitor in the single-shot energy supplement category, but it’s on par with 5-Hour Energy when it comes to energy and nutrients.  Worx provides 210 mg caffeine, alongside the expected taurine-containing energy blend, which also features many of the same ingredients as 5-hour Energy.

The blend of amino acids is slightly different, but the philosophy is the same: provide the body with all of the basic building blocks it needs to accomplish biological tasks.  The vitamin content in Worx is identical to that of 5-Hour Energy, from the B-vitamins all the way down to folic acid.

One win for Worx is that it only uses natural flavorings, not a combination of natural and artificial flavorings like many of its competitors.  One drawback is that it does use caramel color and yellow number 5 as coloring agents, which might be a turn-off to some people.

Beyond these minor points, Worx and 5-Hour Energy are essentially identical, and carry the same caveats—limit yourself to one per day, and be careful when it comes to combining it with other B3 (Niacin) containing energy supplements.

5.  Red Bull

Red Bull is practically the grand-daddy of all energy drinks.  The wildly popular formulation is available all across the world.  Its energy recipe is based around a combination of sugar, caffeine, taurine, and B-vitamins.

Each 8.4 fluid ounce can provides 80 milligrams of caffeine—just slightly less than what’s in an average cup of coffee.

Taurine, an amino acid that’s plentiful in your nervous system, is supposed to help your nerves grow and stay healthy.

The B vitamins included in Red Bull encompass B3, B5, B6, and B12.  These are provided with the hopes of enhancing energy production and efficiency at the cellular level in your body, and are responsible for the mild tingling feeling that you might get when you drink several B vitamin-containing energy drinks.

Red Bull also comes in a sugar-free version, which substitutes aspartame in place of sugar.  Real sugar can be burned by your body for energy, but if you’re not doing a physically engaging activity, like working out or hiking, the sugar is going to do you more harm than good.  In this case, the sugar-free version of Red Bull is the better choice—assuming you’re okay with artificial sweeteners.

6.  Zipfizz

Powder-form single-use energy drink mixes became popular a few years ago, and Zipfizz is one of the best-selling energy supplements in that category.  It comes in single-use tubes which contain a powder.  Dump it into your water bottle and you have a ready-made energy drink.

Zipfizz contains 100 mg of caffeine in the form of green tea extract and provides a well-rounded blend of vitamins and minerals—it’s almost like drinking a daily multivitamin.  What really jumps out is the vitamin B12 content— 42,000% of your recommended daily intake!

According to data from the National Institutes of Health, absorption of vitamin B12 is drastically reduced at high doses, so much of this may be wasted (3).  However, there is no listed tolerable upper limit for vitamin B12, so it’s still safe, even in a tremendously high dose.

The reason for this is that there are no known adverse effects in humans from taking very high doses of vitamin B12.  However, it’s still an open question as to whether a high dose of vitamin B12 is actually going to help you feel more energized.  As most energy drinks list on their label, “results may vary.”

7.  Rockstar Sugar Free

The tall can and flashy styling of Rockstar Sugar Free communicates its nature: it’s more of a drink than a supplement.

It’s nearly non-caloric, providing only 20 calories per 16 ounce can.  It provides a higher-than average 160 milligrams of caffeine per can, and a normal amount of B vitamins: 200% of your recommended daily intake of niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, and 400% of your recommended daily intake for riboflavin.

On top of this, it includes herbal extracts from a few plants that are supposed to give you an energy boost.  These include guarana seed, panax, ginseng root, and milk thistle extracts—fairly common ingredients among liquid energy drinks.

If coffee makes your stomach quiver, or if you like sugar-sweetened energy drinks but want to watch your weight, Rockstar Sugar Free is a good choice.

It’s not the most efficient delivery vehicle if your only goal is to load up on caffeine, vitamins, and herbal energy extracts, but the larger can provides a more steady energy output than downing a single shot energy supplement that’s loaded up with twice as much caffeine and ten times as much B vitamins and herbal extracts.

8.  Redline VPX

Redline VPX is another lesser-known energy shot; its main selling point is that in includes small amounts of calcium, magnesium, and potassium—electrolytes which you may lose when you sweat a lot—in addition to caffeine and the usual blend of amino acids.

Additionally, it contains several herbal extracts which are purported to have energy-boosting qualities.

These herbal supplements include yohimbe, toothed clubmoss, yerba mate extract, green tea extract, and 5-HTP.  Some of these, like yerba mate (used in an herbal drink throughout South America) have a long tradition of being used as energizing herbal remedies, while others, like toothed clubmoss, are lesser known.

Outside of its herbal ingredients, Redline VPX is similar to many other energy shots.  It is flavored with artificial and natural flavors, along with sucralose, an artificial sweetener.

Although it does contain 320 mg of caffeine per bottle, there are more straightforward ways to get caffeine.  If you use Redline VPX, it should be for the herbal supplements it contains.  Right now, there is little or no research on the effects of almost all of its ingredients, so your results might vary.  Green tea extract is one ingredient with good evidence for its efficacy (4), but the rest are shrouded in mystery.

9.  Monster Energy

Through aggressive sponsorship and marketing, Monster Energy has grown from a cult-following energy drink to one of the biggest juggernauts in the genre.

Unlike Red Bull, which comes in small, 8.4oz cans that are easily downed in a few gulps, Monster Energy comes in a larger 16 ounce can, clearly meant for longer sustained consumption.  It’s also heavily sugared, and in composition is more similar to a can of soda than an energy drink.

A full can of Monster Energy contains 210 calories, all of which come from sugar.  Unless you’re doing something highly active, like a team sports competition or a long hike, this amount of sugar is likely excessive.

It contains a moderate 160 milligrams of caffeine, along with 200% of your recommended daily intake of vitamins B2, B3, B6, and B12.  It contains a few one-off extracts, like ginseng, along with a few amino acids to give your body the building blocks for protein.

Because of these reasons, Monster Energy is probably the best choice only if you are specifically looking for a non-carbonated, caffeinated drink that also provides vitamins, amino acids, and a large amount of simple sugar that you’ll be burning for energy.

10.  Amp Energy

Amp Energy is an increasingly popular competitor in the standard-sized energy drink category.  It’s got many of the hallmarks of that genre: 16 ounce can and 150 milligrams of caffeine, but it’s flavored more like a traditional soft drink than many other energy drinks.

It has very little in the way of B-vitamins: only 20% of your daily recommended intake, which is ten times lower than that of many of its competitors.

It is also flavored with real sugar, meaning each can packs 220 calories, all of them from sugar.  Good news if you’re doing a 50-mile bike ride, but bad news if you are sitting at your desk.

Amp Energy has a few of the usual additional ingredients that accompany large canned energy drinks, like guarana seed extract, ginseng extract, and taurine, but does not go out of its way to advertise them, nor does it list their concentrations.

For these reasons, it finds itself lower on the rankings than similar drinks.

Part II: What should you look for in an energy drink and how do they work?

Energy drinks rocketed to popularity after an obscure local drink in Thailand was reformulated and marketed to a global audience.  That drink, of course, was Red Bull, which is a market-dominating juggernaut among energy drinks.

More recently, competition has gotten fierce among companies vying for a share of the market.

Benefits of energy drinks

Broadly speaking, all energy drinks are caffeinated and usually provide something beyond just caffeine to boost your energy levels.  The most common among these extra ingredients are B vitamins, taurine, green tea extract, and herbal extracts like yerba mate extract and guarana seed extract.

There are varying levels of evidence that each of these can enhance your energy levels

Still, caffeine has the biggest role when it comes to boosting energy.  Caffeine is a stimulant, meaning it kick-starts your metabolism, increases your alertness, improve your reaction time, and increase your physical performance during exercise.

The amount of caffeine you consume is related to the strength of these effects, but as always, there can be too much of a good thing!

Taurine is another staple ingredient of energy drinks.  It derives its name from the fact that it was first isolated in the liver bile of oxen in the 1800s, but it’s far more common in your body than you’d think.  It plays a critical role in the development of the nervous system and ensuring its proper function.

By including taurine in energy drinks alongside caffeine, the hope is that the energy drink will elevate your nervous system to a higher performing level than with caffeine or taurine alone.

A highly detailed study published in 2012 by Grace E. Giles and other researchers at Tufts University attempted to tease out how caffeine and taurine interact to produce the reported benefits of energy drinks (5).

In their study, a group of volunteers were given a randomized series of four treatments: caffeine only, taurine only, caffeine and taurine, and a true placebo.  After administering each treatment, the researchers subjected the study subjects to a battery of cognitive tests.

As expected, caffeine had a consistent and significant beneficial effect on tasks like short term memory and reaction time.  Taurine had some beneficial effects too, but even when combined with caffeine, it contributed only in a small, varied, and unpredictable way to cognitive performance.

This study didn’t test all of the aspects that energy drinks purport to improve; physical performance or muscular strength or coordination, for example, were not evaluated at all.

However, this does give us some evidence that we shouldn’t consider taurine content to be the biggest factor in evaluating the benefits of an energy drink.

Another common ingredient among energy drinks is B vitamins.  These play a key role in the functioning of your nervous system too.  Like with taurine, the hope is that the B vitamins will interact synergistically with the caffeine to boost your energy levels and alertness to a higher level than possible with just caffeine.

One study published in 2012 in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism by a group of scientists led by Brandon D. Spradley found that a pre-workout supplement that combined caffeine and B-vitamins, along with a few other ingredients, did boost performance on agility and lower body muscular endurance during an exercise testing session (6).

However, it did not evaluate the role of each ingredient individually—it was compared against a true placebo, not a caffeine-only supplement.

Recommended dose

Though energy drinks seem like a food or drink, it’s important to remember they’re really more like a supplement.  Too much can cause problems for your health and well-being.  In most cases, you shouldn’t drink more than two energy drinks per day.

It depends somewhat on the brand—drinks with lower caffeine contents and lower amounts of niacin are safer to consume more often, but a highly caffeinated or niacin-rich drink consumed more than twice daily could cause problems.

Energy drinks are formulated in a “pre-made” dose; they’re already calibrated for what you need.  Usually, just one should do the trick!

Side effects of energy drinks

Like with many biologically active compounds, there are drawbacks to consuming too much of several of the compounds in energy drinks.  The two you need to be most concerned about are caffeine and niacin (vitamin B3).

Caffeine is, of course, a stimulant, and in high doses, it can have deleterious effects on your body: jiggers, a racing heartbeat, and nausea are some common side effects of consuming too much caffeine.

In rare cases, high doses of caffeine from energy drinks have caused abnormal heart rhythms, which can sometimes even lead to death, as described in a case study published in 2013 by doctors in Turkey (7).

Medical reports caution that overuse of energy drinks, especially when combined with aggressive, strenuous physical activity, can cause heart problems even in young, healthy people (8).

According to the Mayo Clinic, most people can handle up to 400 mg of caffeine per day (9).  Many people, of course, consume more than this, and it’s likely that there is a wide range in individual tolerance, but this guideline is a good place to start.

Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is also known to cause some problems when consumed to excess.  Doses of 35 mg or more are known to cause flushing, redness, itchiness, and a tingling sensation (10).

Some energy drinks come very close to this amount of niacin, so to avoid this, you shouldn’t take any other supplements with niacin in them, or consume more than one energy drink per day if it has a lot of niacin.


Largely speaking, energy drinks are an effective and safe way to boost your energy levels, increase your alertness, and increase your performance on physical and cognitive tasks.

Evaluate your options carefully, since the range of energy drink products on the market have some notable differences in their ingredients.  Choose the right one to fit your needs.

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Ranking the best creatine supplements of 2016 (review)

Do you want to add muscle and gain power? Look no further than creatine.

And no, it’s not just for body building.

First, we’ll review the 10 best creatine supplements on the market.  Then, we’ll dive deeper into how creatine works and how to take the supplement.

1. Integrated Supplements 100% Creapure

integratedAs the name suggests, the creatine supplement manufactured by Integrated Supplements has only one ingredient, and that’s creatine monohydrate.

Like some of its competitors, it is micronized, meaning it’s ground into a very fine powder that makes it easier to mix into liquids (but, unfortunately, also easier to make a huge mess if you spill it on the floor).

Integrated Supplements 100% Creapure also carries the distinction of holding a Labdoor “Tested for Sport” certification, meaning the product was purchased through a normal retail channel, then sent to an advanced biochemistry lab to test for any traces of contaminants or adulterants that could trigger a positive on a doping test.

This is valuable for anybody who competes in sports that may involve doping tests, like NCAA athletes, high-level triathletes, weight lifters, and natural body builders.

In the past, some supplements from less-than-scrupulous manufactures have been tainted with prohibited substances like steroid precursors which have triggered a positive drug test, so if this is a concern for you, definitely consider the Integrated Supplements creatine offering (1).

As with other simple, minimalistic creatine supplements, the cost per serving of 100% Creapure is quite low, so it’s hard to go wrong with this choice.

2.  BulkSupplements Pure Micronized Creatine

Bulk Supplements makes a name for itself by offering cheap, pure, and simplistic supplements, and its creatine offering is no exception.  As you might guess, it has exactly one ingredient: creatine monohydrate.  Lab testing confirms this fact; its creatine content is 100%—no binders, fillers, byproducts, flavorings, or colorants.

On top of this, BulkSupplements is careful enough with their manufacturing processes that they can guarantee the product is free of common allergens like gluten, dairy, yeast, and soy.

Other companies will sometimes cut costs by manufacturing other products, like soy protein, on the same equipment as a product that has no soy ingredients.  While this is not a problem for the vast majority of people, it’s a nice touch if you’ve got allergies or sensitivities.

The usual drawbacks with unflavored powder are still a factor: creatine’s chalky taste can be off-putting, and it can be tricky to measure exact amounts with a scoop, but creatine doses are not usually super-precise—somewhere in the vicinity of five grams per day is a typical dosage, so you don’t need to be trickling grains onto a micro-scale to get the optimal effects.

3. Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine

The creatine supplement made by Optimum Nutrition is simple and straightforward powder-form supplement.  Creatine monohydrate is its only ingredient; it passes laboratory analytical testing with flying colors.  Its lab-determined creatine content is one hundred percent; no extraneous ingredients or fillers could be detected.

As with many other powder forms of creatine, Optimum Nutrition has micronized its product, meaning the powder is ground down into a very fine consistency.  This is good both for absorption reasons and for practicality—it’s easier to mix into a protein shake, and it is also absorbed more readily by your body.

As a powder, it has the same benefits and drawbacks as other powder form supplements.  It’s cheaper per serving than capsule-based creatine supplements, and it’s a good option for strict vegetarians because there is n gelatin capsule made of animal-sourced ingredients.

On the flip side, it’s harder to measure out the serving size you desire (scoops can be inaccurate), and you may not like the chalky, astringent taste of the creatine powder.  Since the only ingredient in Optimum Nutrition Creatine is creatine, there’s no flavoring or sweetening.

A capsule, of course, doesn’t need flavoring because the creatine is stuck inside the capsule until it dissolves in your stomach.

4.  MyProtein Creatine

Chalk this one up as another in the no-nonsense category.  It comes in several flavors, but the most popular variant is the unflavored creatine monohydrate, which comes in a simple foil pouch and is 100% creatine monohydrate by weight.  It’s highly pure and very cheap per serving.

MyProtein also offers flavored variants which are a good choice if you can’t stand the taste of natural creatine.  The ingredients of each specific flavor vary slightly, but most contain natural flavoring agents, sucralose, acesulfamine-K, and coloring agents.

Depending on your level of tolerance for other ingredients in your supplements, you’ll have to choose whether the flavored or unflavored versions are right for you.

MyProtein is made in a factory that does handle other allergen ingredients, which may include soy, milk, eggs, and gluten, so if you are extremely sensitive to any of these, you might want to look elsewhere, as there is some potential for cross-contamination.

While the protein does come with a scoop, MyProtein encourages you to use a scale to measure out your daily supplement servings, as scoops are not particularly accurate.  This is an issue shared among all powder-form supplements, so if you’re serious about accuracy, definitely invest in a micro-scale.

5.  NOW Sports Creatine monohydrate

With its flashy branding and bright-orange bottle, you might think that the creatine supplement made by NOW Sports is another one of the maximalist formulations that tries to cram in extra ingredients and supplements to stand out from the crowd.

In fact, just the opposite is true: it’s another single-ingredient creatine monohydrate powder.  It does well on independent lab testing, with fully 100% of its contents being creatine monohydrate by weight, and it contains no impurities or contaminants.

Its cost per serving is quite low, too, even in competition with less flashy and well-known brand names.

It does not appear to be micronized, so it may be a little trickier to blend into your protein shakes without getting clumps, but a good shaker bottle and whisk ball should make short work of that.

6.  MusclePharm Creatine

The creatine supplement from MusclePharm has one unique selling point, which is its use of a proprietary blend of different forms of creatine.

In contrast to your standard creatine supplement whose only active ingredient is creatine monohydrate, MusclePharm uses a six-part blend of various forms of creatine.  In addition to creatine monohydrate, various other forms of creatine are included.

Predictably, MusclePharm claims that their proprietary blend of creatine is superior to the usual creatine monohydrate.  And likewise, just as predictably, they point to in-house research they’ve done to support this claim; however, there’s a lack of independent scientific validation of this idea (2).

If you’re an evidence-based supplementation believer, it may be better to steer clear of MusclePharm Creatine simply for this reason: most independent, peer-reviewed scientific studies that demonstrate the efficacy of creatine as a muscle-building and performance-improving supplement use plain old creatine monohydrate.

It may well be that the proprietary creatine blend used in MusclePharm works as well or better, but why be a guinea pig if you don’t have to?

Regardless, MusclePharm Creatine does well on lab testing, containing 100% creatine by weight (in its various forms), and contains no dangerous or watch-list ingredients.

7.  MET-Rx Creatine 4200

Met-Rx provides a creatine capsule supplement for those who hate the taste of powder form creatine or just want an easier way to take their daily dose while in training.

Each capsule contains 700 mg of creatine monohydrate, as well as a small amount of silica and magnesium stearate, which both serve as binders, stabilizers, and anti-clumping agents.

The capsule itself is made of gelatin, so its’ a no-no if you’re strictly against animal products.  But capsule and binders aside, MET-Rx Creatine 4200 is highly pure: lab tests find that it’s essentially 100% creatine.

As is usually the case with capsules versus powders, the capsule form of a supplement is more expensive per serving.  You have to pay for the extra manufacturing costs associated with precisely measuring the powder content of each capsule, plus the equipment to pack the pills and of course the materials cost for the gelatin and binders.

Still, the cost is reasonable, but if you’re a penny-pincher, pure unadulterated powder is definitely the way to go.

Among the capsule forms of creatine, MET-RX is one of the best, so if you find the convenience is worth a slightly higher price, by all means go for it!

8.  Naturo Nitro Creatine Chrome with Magnapower

This product is immensely popular, with hundreds of Amazon reviews and a place high atop the best-seller lists.  If many of its competitors take a “minimalist” approach, Naturo Nitro takes the opposite.

Instead of providing straight creatine monohydrate, Naturo Nitro uses their own proprietary form of creatine called MagnaPowder, which is magnesium chelate of creatine.  Each capsule provides 650 mg of creatine, along with 50 mg of magnesium.

This could be a boon, because many people are magnesium deficient as it is (3).  Additionally, magnesium supplementation has been connected with higher levels of testosterone.

If you’re up for trying out new proprietary chemical formulations, Naturo Nitro Creatine Chrome might be worth a shot.

There’s no independent research on whether this magnesium chelate form of creatine is more efficient, better absorbed, or better tolerated than the standard creatine monohydrate, so realize you’re in uncharted territory.  It is reviewed well, but if you want to play it safe and stick to what works—and we do know that creatine monohydrate works well—then this might not be your best choice.

Still, it’s one of the better capsule form creatine supplements on the market, making it a good choice if convenience is one of your top priorities.

As is typically the case, the cost per serving of creatine will be higher, both because the supplement is in capsule form and because of the proprietary chemical formulation.

9.  TwinLab Creatine Fuel Stack

TwinLab makes a capsule-based creatine supplement that also includes glutamine and taurine.  Each capsule contains 833 mg of creatine, along with 333 mg of glutamine and 33 mg of taurine.

These other two active ingredients are supposed to help with building muscle and sustaining energy output during exercise—both taurine and glutamine are amino acids.

These two are both popular supplements among weight lifters, power sport athletes, and body builders, and at least one study found that they are more useful when combined with creatine (4).  Regardless, that’s not the same thing as being better than just creatine.

In any case, if both of these are on your supplement regimen anyways, TwinLab Creatine Fuel Stack is worth a look.

As with all capsule supplements, the tradeoff is essentially one of cost versus convenience.  It takes a few minutes to measure out a few scoops of powder, mix it into a protein shake, drink it, and (don’t forget!) clean out your protein shaker.

In contrast, it takes just a few seconds to pop a few creatine capsules and move on.  Of course, the cost per serving is higher, especially in this case because the supplement contains glutamine and taurine as well.  Weighing the costs and benefits for yourself will tell you whether it’s the right choice for you.

10.  MuscleTech Concentrated Series CreaCore Creatine

MuscleTech is a widely-known brand that you’re likely to find at your local supplement store as well as on the internet.  Though it’s a top seller on Amazon.com, MuscleTech’s creatine products do poorly when we take a closer look at its ingredients.

MuscleTech appeals to broader swaths of consumers by flavoring their creatine powder so it doesn’t taste so chalky.  In addition to creatine monohydrate, the ingredients a number of flavoring, preservative, and coloring agents.  If you can’t stand the taste of creatine, this can do the job, but this approach has a number of drawbacks.

First, it makes the absolute creatine content of the supplement a lot lower.  A clean, minimalist creatine powder will be essentially 100% creatine monohydrate.

Analytical lab testing shows that MuscleTech Concentrated Series CreaCore Creatine is only 53% creatine by weight and several of its ingredients are on consumer watch lists as being potentially risky, including acesulfame potassium, sucralose, and yellow #6.

These extra ingredients drive up the cost, too—it’s twice as expensive per serving as some other comparable brands.

With all of these facts considered, it is hard to recommend MuscleTech’s creatine offerings.  If the taste of unflavored powder drives you away from creatine, try a different product, or take capsules, which have no taste at all.

Part 2: Who should take a creatine supplement?

Creatine is a muscle- and power-building supplement that directly provides additional fuel for your muscles during short, high-intensity exercise.  This primary energy-boosting effect enables better training sessions: you can lift heavier weights for more reps, and this causes direct gains in muscle mass and strength as a secondary effect.

For these two reasons, creatine supplements are very popular with weight lifters, power sport athletes (football, rugby, sprinting, etc), and body builders.  Additional evidence indicates creatine can also be helpful for people who need to rebuild muscle mass after an injury or after being on crutches or in a cast for a long time.

Benefits of creatine

Research on athletes is very clear: creatine has a strong, specific effect on muscle power and muscle force production.  Creatine supplementation is particularly effective when combined with protein supplementation, as outlined in a 2001 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition.

In the study, Darren G. Burke and other researchers at St. Francis Xavier University in Canada followed 36 men over the course of six weeks of resistance training (5).  One third of the men were given a protein and creatine supplement, one third of the men were given a protein supplement only, and one third of the men were given a placebo, to function as a control group.

At the study’s conclusion, the researchers found that the protein and creatine group had the greatest increase in lean muscle mass, as well as in their maximum bench press and knee extension strength.

Notably, not all performance measures improved to a greater extent in the creatine plus protein group—squat strength and knee torque improved to an equal extent in the protein and creatine group versus the protein alone group, when both were compared to the placebo group.

According to a review study published in 2003 by Richard B. Kreider at Baylor University, the effects of creatine on athletic performance are well-validated and fairly well-understood (6).

Creatine has a specific and strong effect on short-term power production in muscles, meaning it is very well-suited for tasks like maximal lifting, short sprints or repeated bouts of sprinting, and for building muscle overall—which is a result of creatine supplementation enabling you to lift heavier weights for more repetitions.

Creatine is not, however, well-suited for aiding performance in longer-duration tasks, like long sprinting or aerobic exercise.  The energy demands of these exercises are fundamentally different; your body relies on its creatine stores comparatively little for longer-duration exercise.

Creatine isn’t just for hardcore athletes, either.  A 2001 study by Peter Haspel and colleagues at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium found that creatine supplementation can be helpful for people who need to rebuild muscle mass after an injury or accident (7).

In the study, 22 subjects had their leg immobilized in cast for two weeks.  Afterwards, they underwent a rehab program designed to measure and improve muscular strength in the immobilized leg.  Half the subjects received a creatine supplement, while the other half received a placebo.

Over the course of the rehab program, the researchers tracked the subjects’ muscle mass and muscle strength in the immobilized leg.  They found that the creatine supplement group gained back their strength more quickly than the group which took the placebo.

This increase was related to a boost in markers of protein synthesis in the muscles, leading the researchers to conclude that creatine helps directly increase the cross-sectional area of muscle fibers during a rehab program.

Recommended dose

When it comes to the optimal dose, many scientific studies use protocols which call for 15 to 20 grams of creatine per day, split up into five gram doses taken at different times during the day.  However, according to R.L. Terjung and other researchers at the University of Missouri, similar results can be achieved with doses as low as three grams of creatine monohydrate per day (9).

At some point, your muscles become saturated with creatine and any additional creatine in your system is simply wasted.  By this logic, the optimal dose is going to be higher if you are a person who already has more muscle mass—you have a bigger muscular fuel tank to fill up compared to a smaller person.

In most cases, between five and 15 grams of creatine per day should be appropriate.

Side effects of creatine

Fortunately, creatine appears to be a very safe supplement.  According to a book chapter on the subject authored by Adam Persky and Eric S. Rawson, the short-term safety of creatine is well-demonstrated.

There are still some questions on its long-term safety due to a lack of comprehensive multi-year studies, but those which have been conducted have not found any negative effects of creatine supplementation on kidney, liver, muscle, or heart function (8).

A 2011 study by Hyo Jeong Kim and other researchers advises against using creatine if you have kidney disease or people at high risk for kidney disease (including diabetics and people with high blood pressure), but beyond that, there should be no problems associated with even heavy loads of creatine (up to 20 grams per day) in healthy people.


A dose of five to 15 grams of creatine monohydrate per day can help you lift more, sprint faster, and see more rapid increases in muscle mass and muscular strength.

If you want a safe, reliable way to build muscle, increase power, or recover muscle mass after an injury or accident, taking a creatine supplement is a great choice.  It is a safe, reliable way to boost your body’s short-term energy reserves.

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Ranking the best CoQ10 supplements of 2016 (review)

Do you want to tune up the energy level of your heart and muscles?

That’s what is promised by a supplement called Coenzyme Q10, or  CoQ10 for short.

Part 1 reviews the best CoQ10 supplements on the market. Part 2 is a CoQ10 guide that breaks down what the supplement is and how you should take it.

Here we go:

1.  Kirkland Signature CoQ10

coq10For simple, straightforward, and reliable supplements, Kirkland Signature brand is very often a good bet.  This is the case with their CoQ10 offering: the gel capsules provide 300 mg of Coenzyme Q10 for a good price, and their purity is top-notch too.

Independent lab testing confirmed that the actual amount of CoQ10 per capsule is 302 mg, within one percent of the label-stated amount.

The solvent it uses to dissolve the fat-soluble CoQ10 is soybean oil, which should not cause any problems unless you have a soy allergy.  The capsules are gelatin, so again, vegetarians beware.

The other inactive ingredients include glycerin and soy lecithin, which help emulsify the oil solution, as well as vitamin E as a preservative and titanium dioxide as a coloring.

There really isn’t much else to cover with regards to Kirkland’s CoQ10 offering: it’s nothing fancy or flashy, but it gets the job done, and it comes in a high-dose capsule, which is convenient if you know you want to take a higher daily dosage of Coenzyme Q10.

2.  Bulk Supplements Pure Coenzyme Q10

Bulk Supplements has made a name for itself in inexpensive, high-quality, and high-purity supplements.  Its CoQ10 formula comes in a simple foil bag with an adhesive nutrition info label stuck on it; no fancy packaging to be seen here.

Its ingredients list is similarly Spartan: there’s only one! That’s right, Coenzyme Q10, in the ubiquinone form, is the only ingredient in this formulation.  It’s provided in a loose powder, so you’ll need a micro-scale to accurately measure out your serving size.

Scientific analysis shows that over 98% of the product is pure CoQ10, which is a good thing—that’s all you’re paying for.  The Bulk Supplements CoQ10 offering is a good fit if you really know what you’re doing—not only will you have to measure you your own servings every day with a micro-scale, you’ll also have to make sure you’re delivering them to your body in an effective and absorbable way.

Ingesting it alongside some fat, like olive oil, is a good place to start, seeing as CoQ10 is not water-soluble.  You can’t just mix it into your protein shake and expect it to dissolve.

Despite these functional drawbacks, the price and quality is very hard to beat.  If you are a seasoned supplement pro, this is definitely the choice for you.

3.  Nature’s Bounty Extra Strength CoQ10

Nature’s Bounty is a brand you’re apt to find at your local pharmacy, drug store, or big-box retailer.  The “extra strength” formulation contains 200 mg of coenzyme Q10 per capsule, so if you are looking for a higher dose (especially if you’d rather not split it into two separate capsules), it’s a good choice.

It’s fairly simplistic: it does not contain any other herbal extracts for flavoring or absorption-boosting purposes, and aside from the CoQ10 in each tablet, the only other ingredients are rice bran oil (a solvent to dissolve the fat-soluble CoQ10), gelatin and vegetable glycerin for the capsule, and soy lecithin and titanium dioxide for use as an emulsifier and colorant, respectively.

None of these ingredients should raise any alarm bells unless you are a vegetarian or vegan, in which case you’re SOL—gelatin is animal-based.

Purity-wise, it scores quite well: analytical testing determined that each capsule contains within three percent of the 200 mg stated dose.  For whatever reason, the top CoQ10 supplements seem to score better on quality ratings than other supplement offerings, even from respectable brands.

4.  Doctor’s Best High Absorption CoQ10 with BioPerine

The CoQ10 supplement by Doctor’s Best is the #1 seller on Amazon.com, and you’re also likely to find it at your local drug store.  It contains 100 mg of Coenzyme Q10 per capsule, dissolved in a non-GMO olive oil solution.

This is vital, since CoQ10 is fat soluble, not water soluble.  Uniquely, Doctor’s Best also contains black pepper extract, which is claimed to enhance absorption and bioavailability.

Surprisingly, there is some solid science behind this—a study published by commercial researchers for the Sabinsa Corporation found that co-supplementing CoQ10 with black pepper extract increases the levels of CoQ10 in your blood over the course of a 21 day course of supplementation (1).

Its purity is good, with lab testing showing the stated amount of CoQ10 on the label was within three percent of the actual lab-verified amount.  In terms of other inactive ingredients, Doctor’s Best CoQ10 contains soy lecithin, beeswax, and gelatin as stabilizers, since the supplement comes in a soft-gel format.

It also contains rosemary oil for flavoring, scenting, and as a natural preservative.  None of these ingredients should cause any issues unless you have a severe soy intolerance or are a vegetarian.

5.  Viva Labs CoQ10

The highly-rated and best-selling CoQ10 supplement from Viva Labs is very simple and pure.  It provides 100 mg of CoQ10 per capsule, alongside 5 mg of black pepper fruit extract to boost absorption of the CoQ10.

As with some of the other CoQ10 supplements on the market, Viva Labs cites work by corporate researchers showing that black pepper extract enhances the activity and availability of CoQ10 (2).

Viva Labs CoQ10 also comes dissolved in olive oil inside a soft gel capsule, which is stabilized by gelatin, glycerin, and beeswax.

Beyond these, the only other ingredient is purified water.  To no surprise, Viva Labs CoQ10 scores well on purity testing; independent lab testing found that each capsule contains 104.5 mg of CoQ10, so the variance from the label stated amount is less than five percent.

Perhaps because of the simplicity of the ingredients, Viva Labs CoQ10 provides some of the best value in terms of quality and quantity of CoQ10 per dollar spent.  By avoiding superfluous ingredients and flashy marketing, Viva Labs can deliver a lower-cost product to the consumer.

6.  NutriONN Extra Strength CoQ10

The Coenzyme Q10 supplement made by NutriONN is potent, pure, and simple.  Each capsule contains 200 mg of CoQ10; there are only three other ingredients—gelatin, rice flour, and magnesium stearate, a binder which facilitates the release of CoQ10 from the capsule.

This means NutriONN is a great option if you have a soy allergy, since many other CoQ10 supplements include soy in some form or another.  It’s also a good choice if you want to minimize any untested chemicals going into your body.

In independent lab testing, NutriONN CoQ10 was found to contain 196 mg of CoQ10 per capsule—within four percent of its label-stated amount of 200 mg.  This combined with how few other ingredients the supplement has puts this one squarely in the minimalist category.

This simplistic philosophy applies to its branding and marketing too; it doesn’t have flashy packaging and isn’t a top-seller, but that shouldn’t keep you from looking into it—it’s a solid product worth considering.

7.  Jarrow Formulas Q-absorb CoQ10

Jarrow Formulas is one brand that is widely known for producing high-quality supplements, and its CoQ10 offering is no exception.  It provides a standardized 100 mg of CoQ10 per capsule—lab-verified to be within 3% of its stated amount—and comes in the form ubiquinol, which Jarrow Formulas claims is more absorbable than the normal form of CoQ10.

A white paper by William V. Judy and other medical professionals questions whether ubiquinol is a superior form than “regular” CoQ10, but if nothing else, it’s no worse (3).  Like regular CoQ10, ubiquinol is only fat-soluble, so Jarrow Formulas Q-absorb comes in gelatin capsules with oils, sunflower lecithin, and beeswax mixed in to successfully deliver the supplement.

Rosemary extract and tocopherols (vitamin E) round out the formula, acting as flavorings and preservatives.

One notable feature of the Jarrow Formulas CoQ10 supplement is that it does not contain any soy; if soy lecithin is a problem for you, it’s a good option.

8.  Qunol Ultra CoQ10

Qunol’s CoQ10 makes some aggressive claims about their product: they claim their formulation is better-absorbed than other CoQ10 supplements and is the top brand recommended by cardiologists.

As is usual, these claims are backed up only by in-house research that isn’t published in peer-reviewed independent scientific journals, but that does not mean there isn’t value to be found in Qunol’s CoQ10 formulation.

The gelatin capsules provide 100 mg of CoQ10 alongside 150 IUs of vitamin E.  The purity is fair, with each capsule containing a 5.7% excess of CoQ10 than what is reported on the label.  Ingredient-wise, it includes the usual mix of oils, triglycerides, and emulsifiers.

Like many other CoQ10 supplements, it contains soy, so if you have an allergy, be aware of that.  The claims of better absorption seem to be centered around the use of vitamin E, which also protects tissue from oxidizing damage (4), along with a more effective use of emulsifiers like hydroxylated lecithin, which helps the CoQ10 intermingle with oil and water, instead of separating out into different layers and not dissolving.

9.  Garden of Life Raw Coq10

Garden of Life specializes in supplement blends that are integrated into a capsule with fruit and vegetable juice and extracts.  The Garden of Life CoQ10 supplement includes 200 mg of CoQ10 per capsule dissolved in cold–pressed chia seed oil, but also includes a blend of over a dozen fruits and vegetables.

This formulation is firmly rooted in the belief that the juices and extracts of fruit and vegetables have significant enough health benefits to justify including them in the supplement.  The chia seed oil also has the benefit of providing omega-3 fatty acids.

Even though there are so many different ingredients, Garden of Life Raw CoQ10 is carefully formulated enough so that each capsule only differs from its label-stated amount of CoQ10 by less than two percent on independent lab analysis.

This makes it a good buy if you’re interested in the fruit and vegetable nutrients that the supplement can provide, but keep in mind that these increase the cost per capsule substantially compared to a more minimalist offering that provides just CoQ10.

You will have to keep these factors in mind when considering whether this is the right supplement for you.

10.  BRI Nutrition CoQ10

The Coenzyme Q10 supplement offered by BRI Nutrition takes what you might call a “maximalist” approach: there are several additional ingredients that are supposed to help CoQ10 do its job better than a supplement that only includes that one active ingredient.

It’s bold and aggressive in its packaging and marketing too—a stark contrast to some of the more simplistic and minimalistic offerings on this list.  Their formulation, which includes 100 mg of CoQ10 per capsule along with 100 IU of vitamin E and 2,334 IU of vitamin A, claims to offer more energy and more effective delivery of the CoQ10.

BRI Nutrition cites a study backing this up, but of course it was an in-house study not published in a prestigious medical journal by independent researchers.

It’s hard to recommend an untested formulation too strongly, especially when it hasn’t been tested by an independent scientific lab for purity.

You’re also paying more for the vitamin A and vitamin E that’s added in to the formula, so these factors combine to keep BRI Nutrition’s CoQ10 supplement at the bottom of the rankings, despite its popularity.

Part 2: What is CoQ10 and what can it do for you?

Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10 for short, is a dietary supplement and bio-active chemical that plays a pivotal role in your body’s energy systems.  Without CoQ10, you couldn’t produce the energy you need.  The parts of your body that use the most energy, like your heart and muscles, also have the highest concentration of CoQ10 for that very reason.

Unfortunately, as you get older, the concentration of CoQ10 in your body starts to wane.  The concentration of the compound inside your muscle cells drops in a predictable and measurable way. Some scientists and researchers hypothesize that this might have something to do with the gradual decline in energy, vigor, and physical fitness that occurs as a part of aging.

This prompts an immediate and obvious question: Can supplementing your diet with CoQ10 increase your energy levels or increase your fitness? If so, who should be taking it and how much should they take?

Much of the research into CoQ10 supplementation has focused on its role in keeping cardiac (heart) muscle healthy in older populations.  A 1999 study by Franklin L. Rosenfeldt and other researchers in the journal BioFactors showed, in a two-step study, the effects of CoQ10 on aging cardiac tissue (5).

The first study exposed both young and old rats to an artificial aerobic exercise protocol, then examined how well the rat hearts handled the stress of exercise.  The researchers found that, as expected, the older hearts couldn’t recover as well following aerobic exercise, but if they pre-treated the elderly rats with CoQ10, their hearts recovered much better after exercise.

The second experiment studied human cardiac tissue extracted during routine open-heart surgery.  Similar to the rat experiments, the human cardiac tissue from elderly patients showed a decreased ability to handle stress (this time imposed in the Petri dish instead of via exercise protocol) as compared to cardiac tissue from younger patients.

Again, however, pre-treatment with CoQ10 improved the function of the aged cardiac tissue—in this case, bringing it back on par with that of the younger patients.

Other research has connected increased CoQ10 with beneficial changes in degenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease too: it appears to play a broader role in the aging process (x).

It’s also sometimes used to combat the negative effects of statins, drugs which lower blood lipid levels and help prevent heart attacks (6).

Given how broadly your body uses coenzyme Q10, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s involved in a wide range of disease progressions.  For now, the use of CoQ10 for treating heart disease, neurodegenerative disease, and other conditions is still experimental, but there have been some promising results.

In addition, there is also limited evidence that coenzyme Q10 could have performance-improving effects for healthy people when it comes to aerobic exercise.  A 2010 study by Hakkı Gökbel and other scientists in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the effect of CoQ10 supplementation on endurance exercise performance on an interval workout (7).

Fifteen men who did not regularly engage in exercise were given either a placebo or a 100 mg CoQ10 supplement to take daily.  Before and after eight weeks of supplementation, the men underwent a standardized interval workout to gauge their fitness.

Some, though not all, of the parameters measured in the interval workout increased in the study group that took CoQ10; peak power production and mean power production throughout the test tended to be higher in the CoQ10 group as compared to the placebo, but overall fatigue did not differ to a statistically significant extent from the placebo group.

Recommended dosage

The bulk of scientific research studies use doses of 150 to 200 milligrams of coenzyme Q10.  A few studies use a dose of 100 mg per day, and a few likewise use doses over 200 mg.  There does not seem to be any need for CoQ10 to be split up into smaller doses; most studies involve taking just one supplement tablet per day.

Research conducted by industry-sponsored scientists claims that adding a special proprietary black pepper extract to a CoQ10 supplement boosts absorption, and some of the supplements on the market include this “BioPerine” extract (10).  So far, though, clinical trials on using CoQ10 for the treatment of disease have not employed CoQ10 supplements that include BioPerene, as one of the primary desires in science is to eliminate any lurking or hidden variables that could confound your results.

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of clinical trials that have found beneficial effects of CoQ10 supplementation without adding black pepper extract; separate trials would be needed to determine if CoQ10 functioned better alongside black pepper extract.

Side effects of CoQ10

According to the Mayo clinic, CoQ10 is safe to take, even in fairly high dosages—up to 3,000 mg per day (X).  As reported by a 1999 research paper by scientists in Denmark in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, there are no known negative side effects of taking CoQ10 in doses of up to 200 mg per day for up to a year, nor in doses of 100 mg per day for up to six years (8).

This is a good sign, since almost all clinical trials are using doses on the low end of this range.  Though it may seem frustrating, it’s a long, gradual process to determine the optimal dosage.  It may be that substantially higher doses are needed to get the best effects, but so far, 100-300 mg per day looks pretty good.

The Mayo Clinic reports that some vague, mild, and transient side effects like fatigue, insomnia, or rashes might occur, but these do not appear to be serious (9).


Supplementing your diet with coenzyme Q10 is one way you might be able to boost your body’s energy production and stave off the loss of vigor that comes with age.  It may offer protective effects against heart disease and degenerative brain disorders.

On top of that, it might be able to boost your physical performance by supercharging the energy production of your muscles—results have been good in research on sedentary people, but it’s unknown whether someone who is physically fit will get the same benefits.

If you would like to use CoQ10 as an adjunctive treatment for a medical condition, make sure you talk with your doctor first.  CoQ10 may interact with certain medications, including warfarin, a blood thinner. In most cases, though, you should be able to try out CoQ10 to see if it helps you feel younger, healthier, and more energetic.

http://bodynutrition.org/coq10/ http://bodynutritionorg.tumblr.com/post/152057154644

Ranking the best calcium supplements of 2016

Just drink milk for strong bones, right? Sometimes it’s not quite that simple.

Calcium is one of the most important minerals in your diet.  If you want a better shot at strong bones, check out the following calcium supplement rankings.

This guide comes in two parts, a top-10 ranking and a guide to using calcium supplements.

Let’s go:

1.  Citracal with Vitamin D Slow Release

citracalCitracal is a rare bird among supplements: it’s cost-effective, lab-verified, and simple.

Citracal’s slow release formula means you can take one tablet per day.  Other calcium supplements need to be divided up into smaller doses throughout the day; otherwise, the calcium passes through your body too quickly and not all of it is absorbed.

The slow release formulation obviates this problem.

The supplement uses a binder called hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose to achieve this slow release effect.  Though it’s a long and technical chemical name, it’s a nontoxic plant-derived compound that forms a gel when it comes into contact with water.

This slows the rate at which calcium is released from the tablet into your digestive tract.

Citracal uses a blend of calcium carbonate and calcium citrate to provide the mineral source of calcium, and also provides 1000 IU of vitamin D per capsule alongside 80 mg of magnesium, which makes up 20% of your recommended daily intake.

Laboratory testing reveals that the supplement actually contains 1350 mg of calcium per tablet (the label reports 1200 mg) and almost exactly 1000 IU of vitamin D.  It also contains no heavy metals or toxic contaminants, and the lack of “extra” ingredients is a boon for anyone looking for a straightforward, no-nonsense calcium supplement to take daily.

2.  Bluebonnet Calcium Citrate and Vitamin D3

The calcium supplement formulation from Bluebonnet is perfect for the minimalist: it contains very few extraneous ingredients.

In fact, aside from its stated vitamin and mineral content (250 mg of calcium, 200 IU of vitamin D, and 100 mg of magnesium), Bluebonnet Calcium Citrate contains only five other ingredients, and all of them are binders or stabilizers to keep the tablets intact.

Its laboratory purity ratings are excellent.  Independent testing has verified that it contains within 2.5% of its label-claimed calcium and vitamin D content, so you know you’re getting exactly what’s been promised on the bottle.

Because of the simplicity of the tablet design, you should take Bluebonnet Calcium Citrate in smaller, separate doses to get optimal results.

If your goal was to supplement your diet with 1000 mg of calcium (100% of your recommended daily intake), you would need to take four tablets of Bluebonnet Calcium Citrate per day.

Taking these at different times throughout the day, as opposed to all at once, is a more effective way to deliver your body the calcium it needs (1).

3.  Kirkland Signature Calcium Citrate Magnesium and Zinc

Kirkland’s calcium offering might be the most cost-effective calcium supplement on the market.  Its formulation employs calcium citrate to deliver the promised calcium, as well as magnesium oxide and zinc oxide for the other three minerals included in the tablets.

Each tablet provides 250 mg of calcium, 40 mg of magnesium, and 5 mg of zinc.

While you’d have to take four tablets to get your recommended 1000 mg of calcium (disregarding the rest of your diet, of course), this is no problem when each bottle comes with 500 tablets!

In terms of raw cost per unit of calcium, Kirkland is impossible to beat.

Not only that, it can hold its own in the analytical lab, too.  The analytically determined calcium content is exactly 250 mg per tablet, though its vitamin D content is actually about 30% higher than the claimed value.  This is not a concern, as vitamin D can be taken in much higher doses without any ill effects.

As for why Kirkland and other formulations contain magnesium and zinc, scientific investigations have found that these nutrients are critical for bone health as well.

Magnesium intake is positively associated with bone density, and low levels of zinc have been associated with osteoporosis in at least two studies (2).  Since both zinc and magnesium are included in Kirkland Signature Calcium, you don’t have to worry about this.

4.  GNC Calcium Plus 1000

This is one of the brands you’re likely to be able to find in-person at a brick and mortar store.  GNC’s calcium supplement is straightforward and no-nonsense: each caplet contains 333 mg of calcium, 266 IU of vitamin D, and 166 mg of magnesium.

The only other ingredients are a binder, a coloring agent, and a vegetable-based stabilizer.

Like a few other supplements, GNC Calcium Plus exceeds its stated mineral contents by a good margin.  According to independent lab testing, each tablet contains a 28% excess of calcium and an 11% excess of vitamin D.

This is better than the converse situation—a deficit of the claimed ingredients—but is still less desirable than being spot-on with each tablet’s dosage.

GNC Calcium Plus is a good choice if you’re primarily looking for a solid dosage of calcium and vitamin D at a low cost per-dose, without any extra frills like plant-derived calcium, a slow-release formula, or other minerals like zinc.

5.  New Chapter Bone Strength Calcium

This supplement is the #1 seller across all categories of calcium supplements on Amazon.com.  How does it stack up? It comes in tablets that provide 257 mg of calcium each.

The calcium in New Chapter Bone Strength is derived from algae—most supplements use a mineral source, either calcium citrate or calcium carbonate.

Though this is different, there isn’t any evidence multiple sources are better.  Like almost all calcium supplements, New Chapter comes with vitamin D as well (333 IU per tablet), which has been demonstrated to boost calcium absorption in scientific studies (3).

Unlike other products, this supplement also provides a small amount of vitamin K, which may potentially play a role in preventing osteoporosis and improving bone density, according to a scientific report by N.C. Binkley and J.W. Suttie at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (4).

Since each tablet only contains 257 mg of calcium—about 25% of your recommended daily intake—you’ll find yourself going through the bottle fairly quickly, especially if you don’t get much calcium elsewhere in your diet.

Over time, this could get expensive.  New Chapter Bone Strength is a good choice if you find that citrate and carbonate-based calcium upsets your stomach, but it isn’t the best value, and its quality has not been independently lab-verified.

6.  Nature Made Calcium with Vitamin D

This brand is often available at your local drug store, and offers a fairly cheap and simple form of calcium and vitamin D.  Each tablet contains 600 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D, along with several binders and stabilizers.

Notably, this supplement also includes some of the same binders used in Citracal’s extended release formulation—it’s likely that this product also has a slow-release effect, which is what allows it to have more calcium per tablet than other supplements.

Recall that if a single dose of calcium is too high, some of it will pass through the body and fail to be absorbed.

Lab testing reveals that Nature Made Calcium with Vitamin D is fairly well-controlled in its manufacturing.  The capsules contain exactly the claimed amount of calcium, and an 18% excess of vitamin D.

The only other notable ingredient is gelatin—unlike other supplements, Nature Made Calcium is in capsule form, not a tablet, and thus contains gelatin, which is made from animal products.  If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, look elsewhere to fill your calcium needs.

7.  Swanson Calcium Citrate and Vitamin D

The calcium and vitamin D offering from Swanson Health Products is another one for the simplistic camp.  Each tablet contains 310 mg of calcium and 200 IU of vitamin D.  The only other ingredients are vegetable-based binders and stabilizers.

If you are looking for zinc or magnesium alongside your calcium and vitamin D, you’re out of luck, but the good news is that Swanson’s calcium supplement sources all of its calcium from calcium citrate, which is a more readily-absorbed form of calcium than calcium carbonate, which is used in some other supplements.

It scores well on purity, too: lab testing found that the actual calcium content was only 13% higher than stated on the label, and the vitamin D content was 7.5% lower.

The relatively low vitamin D content might be a problem if you don’t take a vitamin D supplement and you live in a region which does not get much sunlight during the winter months—most people who live in such regions should consider a vitamin D supplement, but that’s a topic for another day.

8.  Solgar Calcium Magnesium with Vitamin D3

The calcium/magnesium supplement by Solgar is a minimalist-style supplement, even down to the packaging.

A simple amber bottle and brown label identifies the product, which consists of small tablets offering 200 mg of calcium each, alongside 100 mg of magnesium and 80 mg of vitamin D.

You’d need to take five tablets per day to reach 1000 mg of calcium—the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily intake.

In terms of its reported versus actual content, Solgar has some discrepancies.  Analytical testing found that the actual calcium content is 25% higher than reported, and its vitamin D content is 20% higher.

This is not a strictly bad thing, since you are getting more value in terms of milligrams of the vitamin per dollar spent, but it may indicate there are some quality control issues in Solgar’s manufacturing process.

Additionally, the vitamin D content leaves something to be desired.  Other supplements contain substantially more vitamin D and do so at a lower cost, making it hard to rank Solgar Calcium much higher.

9.  Rainbow Light Calcium Citrate Mini-tablets

This calcium supplement is intended to be used in the original sense of the word—as a supplementation to your usual dietary calcium intake.  As the name suggests, the tablets are smaller in size and have somewhat less calcium per tablet than a typical supplement.

Each tablet provides 200 mg of calcium and 200 mg of vitamin D.

It’s also designed to be magnesium free, which is nice if you already know you get an excess of magnesium in your diet (either from food or from another supplement).

The supplement also includes boron, spirulina, and horsetail extract, which are supposed to enhance calcium absorption and provide “natural energy,” though these claims are not substantiated by solid research (5).

Despite this it scores well on laboratory testing, with the supplement providing 13% more calcium and 26% more vitamin D than its stated amounts on the label.  The quantity of boron and herbal extracts actually present was not tested.

If you already know you’re interested in a spirulina or horsetail extract, Rainbow Light Calcium might be a good choice, but if not, these ingredients increase the cost and likelihood of an adverse experience without a clear benefit.

10.  Solaray Calcium Magnesium Zinc

You might term Solaray’s approach to calcium supplementation as the “maximalist” strategy.  Each capsule provides a pretty-standard 250 mg of calcium, 125 mg of magnesium, and 6 mg of zinc.

However, the way in which those minerals are provided is unlike other supplements: the calcium comes from four different sources, calcium carbonate, calcium hydroxide, calcium citrate, and calcium amino acid chelate.

The magnesium is likewise sourced from a variety of ingredients; magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, and magnesium amino acid chelate round out the magnesium sources.  The zinc is only from one source, an amino acid chelate.

The stated reasoning for the broader range of sources for these vitamins and minerals is to boost absorption.  A 1985 study did find that calcium citrate is more readily absorbed by the body than calcium carbonate (6), but if this was the main reason for using calcium citrate, it’s unclear why calcium carbonate remains in the formulation.

Amino acid chelates are thought to be more absorbable than inorganic versions of the same mineral, but there is a lack of comparative studies on amino acid chelates versus mineral salts.

Regardless, it is still clear from scientific research that inorganic salts like calcium carbonate or citrate are readily absorbed.

Solaray’s formulation also includes some herbal supplements—whole rice concentrate, alfalfa leaf, watercress leaf, dandelion root, and parsley leaf—but it does not specify the purpose or role of these amino acid concentrates.

Despite its popularity, it’s hard to rank Solaray Calcium Magnesium Zinc highly without more information and more research on the reasoning behind the various sources of minerals were chosen, plus the role of the herbal supplements in the tablets.

Part 2: What does calcium do and who should take a supplement?

Calcium supplements are a good way to ensure your bones are as strong as possible when you get older.  Calcium salts are one of the primary constituents of skeletal bones, and without sufficient calcium intake, you risk having low bone density and osteoporosis.

This is not just a concern for older people; much of your ultimate lifetime bone density is determined in adolescence, and insufficient calcium intake in middle age can cause bone density loss to accelerate sooner and more rapidly (7).

Benefits of calcium supplementation

Osteoporosis is a major public health concern.  According to a 2014 study by Nicole C. Wright and other researchers at the University of Alabama Birmingham, 10.3% of all adults age 50 or older in the United States have osteoporosis.  Osteoporosis is often seen as a women’s health issue, and indeed, about 80% of these cases are in women (representing almost 16% of all women over age 50).

However, there were still over two million men over 50 in the United States who have osteoporosis (8).  On top of this, an even larger fraction (some 44% of all adults over 50) of the population has low bone density—these people are at risk for developing osteoporosis in the future.

The good news is that there are some well-known ways to help prevent osteoporosis, and calcium supplementation is one of them.  Calcium supplementation seems particularly effective when combined with vitamin D, which boosts calcium absorption (9), and exercise plays an important role in preventing bone loss.

In fact, one 1991 study found that calcium supplementation alone was significantly less effective at preventing bone loss than calcium supplementation combined with exercise (10).

Recommended dosage 

When it comes to what kind of calcium supplement to take and what dosage you should aim for, there are some pretty solid guidelines that can be found in the scientific research.

A 2007 scientific article in the medical journal The Lancet pooled 29 randomized clinical trials of calcium supplementation for reducing loss of bone density and conducted a meta-analysis on the results (11).

Drawing from a population of over 63,000 study participants, the researchers found that calcium supplementation results in a substantial and statistically significant reduction in the risk of bone fracture and in the rate of bone density loss.

Note that supplementation does not increase bone mass—that’s very difficult to do once you’re into your thirties, forties, or fifties.

Pooling massive sets of data like this allows you to find some pretty cool trends.  For example, the researchers found that the compliance rate of any given subject—i.e. how often they took the supplement—was associated with a 24% lower risk of fracture, meaning that sticking to your supplementation schedule pays big dividends.

On top of that, there’s clear evidence for optimal dosing.  Clinical trials that used dosages of more than 1200 mg of calcium and more than 800 IU of vitamin D per day were more successful than those that used less.

The recommended daily intake for calcium is only 1000 mg and the recommended daily intake for vitamin D is only 400 mg—the evidence from the research indicates that these values might need to be revised upwards, at least for adults over age 50.

As for the constituents of the supplement itself, there are a number of studies that suggest that, all else equal, a calcium supplement that contains calcium citrate is superior to one that contains calcium carbonate.

The citrate form of calcium appears to be absorbed more effectively, as demonstrated by a 1988 study by Jean A. Harvey, Margaret M. Zobitz, and Charles Y.C. Pak (12).

Side effects of calcium

While conventional wisdom holds that an excess of calcium in your diet, either through supplementation or normal dietary intake, puts you at risk for kidney stones, scientific research shows that the opposite is true—if anything, a high calcium intake reduces your risk of kidney stones.

This was the finding in a 1993 study published by Gary C. Curhan and other doctors at Harvard School of Public Health; a prospective study of 45,000 men aged 40 to 75 found that calcium intake was inversely related with the risk of kidney stones, i.e. more calcium equals fewer kidney stones (13).

There is some conflicting evidence on whether high levels of calcium supplementation may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

On one hand, a 2007 study conducted in New Zealand found that calcium supplementation increased risk of heart disease and stroke among postmenopausal women (14).  On the other, a 1998 study by researchers in South Carolina, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania found that high levels of calcium intake reduced the rate of heart disease in postmenopausal women (15).

The jury is still out on this, so you should talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about the effects of supplementation on your dietary risk.  There’s no one answer for everyone; whether supplementation makes sense for you depends on your diet, your overall health status, and your risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, or both.


In sum, there is strong evidence that taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement can help keep your bones strong and reduce your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures as you get older.  This is important as you approach your fifties, whether you are a man or a woman.

Look for a high-quality calcium supplement, ideally that uses calcium citrate as its mineral source, and definitely check to make sure your supplement includes a substantial amount of vitamin D as well.

If your goal is to prevent bone loss, you’ll get the best results with doses of at least 1200 mg of calcium and at least 800 IU of vitamin D per day.

To ensure you’re keeping your bones as strong as possible, add weight-bearing exercise like walking, jogging, or weight lifting to your daily routine, as calcium supplementation is most effective when combined with an exercise regimen.

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Reviewing the 10 best BCAAs of 2016

Want to get the most out of your next gym session?

Branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs for short, are a key building block for muscle.

A no-brainer supplementation for putting on muscle.

This guide is two parts: Part 1 ranks the top 10 BCAA supplements, Part 2 dives deeper into the science.

Here we go:

1. BulkSupplements Pure BCAA 2:1:1


The BCAA offering from BulkSupplements is about as simple and straightforward as they come.

There are only three ingredients: leucine, isoleucine, and valine, the three branched chain amino acids that we use to build muscle.

There’s no sugar, flavoring, preservatives, or stabilizers to worry about it.  The supplement comes with 750 mg of leucine, 375 mg of isoleucine, and 375 mg of valine per serving, for a branched chain amino acid ratio of 2:1:1.

It’s a best-seller at Amazon, and rightfully so.

The actual values of the amino acid contents as determined by laboratory testing differ only slightly—there’s an excess of about 50mg of leucine and a deficit of about 100 mg of isoleucine.  These differences are trifling, and probably vary a bit from batch to batch.

According to lab testing, Bulk Supplements Pure BCAA contains 96% amino acids, and is not contaminated with any significant amounts of heavy metals or prohibited ingredients.

The absence of any fillers, stabilizers, emulsifiers, sweeteners, or flavoring agents make Bulk Supplements BCAA a great choice if you want absolute control over what you’re putting in your body.

2. Bodybuilding.com BCAA powder

One of the flagship products of the internet’s most well-known resources on strength training, the Bodybuilding.com branched chain amino acid supplement boasts a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

The amino acid content is very high, with over 98% of the product containing BCAAs by weight.

The only other ingredients, aside from leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are a blend of soybean oil and lecithin, as well as silicon dioxide.  The oil and lecithin blend helps to emulsify the solution when mixed into a protein shake.

As with other supplements, this can be very useful if you hate gritty sludge at the bottom of your protein shaker, but can also prove to be a problem if you’re not supposed to be consuming soy products as a part of your diet (1).

The silicon dioxide helps prevent the powder from clumping together.

Clumps aren’t typically a huge issue if you use a wire ball in your protein shaker, but it can be a pain to measure out the right amount of a supplement if your container is full of two-inch lumps of powder stuck together.

The convenience of silicon dioxide might not be worth it for purists, though—even though it’s present in only a small amount, you’re still basically adding sand to your BCAA powder.

3. MyProtein BCAA

For the unabashed purists out there, consider taking a close look at MyProtein BCAA.

This blend of branched chain amino acids has exactly three ingredients: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

They come in a standard 2:1:1 ratio and the powder supplement contains no additional stabilizers, flavoring agents, or anti-caking chemicals.  It ranks highly on purity tests, with 95% of its constituents by weight being branched chain amino acids.

Its nutrition label fidelity leaves a bit to be desired, as lab testing shows its valine content to be higher than it should be (an excess of about 200 mg!), and its isoleucine content slightly lower than it should be.  Still, its purity and simplicity are hard to beat, so if you are looking for branched chain amino acids and nothing else, it’s a fantastic buy.

If you like the concept but can’t stand the taste of pure BCAAs, there are also flavored variants of MyProtein which employ sucralose (a noncaloric sweetener), citric acid for sourness, and naturally-derived coloring agents like purple carrot extract.

4. MusclePharm 3:1:2

The branched chain amino acid offering from MusclePharm employs a 3:1:2 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

MusclePharm’s leucine, isoleucine, and valine content is accurate, and the product contains 95% branched chain amino acids by weight.

One additional ingredient is soy lecithin, which is added as an emulsifier.  This makes it easier to blend up into a suspended solution in water.  BCAA supplements without an emulsifier might be more prone to “settle out” in your protein shake and leave a gritty residue at the bottom of your bottle.

However, soy lecithin might be a turn-off if you have a soy allergy or are trying to eliminate it from your diet.

This supplement comes in unflavored and flavored varieties.  The unflavored version contains only BCAAs and soy lecithin.  The flavored versions contain malic acid, artificial flavoring, sucralose, and a colorant.  The malic confers a tart, sour taste, while the flavoring makes the supplement go down easier.  Sucralose is a non-caloric sugar replacement which sweetens the taste when mixed with water.

For coloring agents, MusclePharm uses natural substances like beet root powder or spirulina powder, which is a nice to see—lots of lesser supplements today will just mix in some red #40 and call it a day.

5. Bodytech BCAA

Bodytech offers another no-nonsense branched chain amino acid formulation.  Leucine, isoleucine, and valine in a 2:1:1 ratio, with a small amount of soy lecithin added as an emulsifier to prevent sediment in your water bottle. No flavoring, no stabilizers, and no artificial ingredients.  Despite, or perhaps because of this, it’s a best-seller.

It does not rank quite as highly on lab purity tests, with only 93% of its contents being pure BCAAs, but further testing shows that its BCAA ratio is very true-to-label: There’s only a 56 mg deficit of leucine (2346 mg per serving when there ought to be 2400) and the isoleucine and valine servings are within 7 mg of their stated amounts.

This is better than many other competitors can manage, so if you’re looking to be very precise with your measurements and BCAA ratios, Bodytech BCAA is a good choice.

This precision does come at a cost, however, since Bodytech BCAA is more costly on a per-serving basis.  If precision is what you’re looking for, but there are better options when it comes to value and purity

6. Sheer Strength Labs BCAA

The BCAA capsules sold by Sheer Strength labs are perhaps the best capsule option on the market.

These boast a 2:1:1 leucine:isoleucine:valine ratio, and no extraneous ingredients—other than those three, all that’s in the product is gelatin (which makes up the capsule itself) and magnesium stearate, which binds the branched chain amino acid powder together and prevents it from sticking.

Lab testing shows that it is quite pure, with 97% of its contents being branched chain amino acids.  The accuracy of its labeling okay, but not stellar: there’s a 49 mg excess of leucine and a similar excess of valine, but these discrepancies are not large enough to significantly alter the relative ratios of leucine, isoleucine, and valine in the supplement.

All the usual capsule caveats apply: vegetarians and vegans need not apply; the cost is substantially higher per gram of branched chain amino acids, and you give up the flexibility of graduated measurements for the convenience of discrete, integer measurements of capsules.

The purity and simplicity of Sheer Strength Labs BCAA drives up its cost, making it substantially more expensive than an equivalent powder, so it’s definitely not the best budget option if you’re shopping around.

7. Dymatize Nutrition BCAA Complex 5050

A simple powder whose only contents are leucine, isoleucine, and valine, plus a bit of silicon dioxide as an anti-clumping agent, Dymatize Nutrition’s BCAA Complex 5050 is a solid choice for a branched chain amino acid powder.  Its 2:1:1 ratio of the three branched chain amino acids is a safe industry standard.

On the analytical side of things, Dymatize is bested by several of its competitors.  It contains only 92% branched chain amino acids by weight, and has some substantial variation in the stated amounts of amino acids present.

For example, the label indicates that there ought to be 2,526 mg of leucine per serving, but laboratory analytics by Labdoor show there’s an excess of 154 mg (2).

While this is still only about 6%, it might be an issue if you insist on very high precision—especially if you’re only using a small amount of powder for a custom-mixed recovery drink.

If you measure with a scoop, this won’t be an issue; any uncertainties of this order of magnitude will be far offset by the variation in scoop size.

8. Muscle Momentum BCAA Force

For capsule fans, Muscle Momentum BCAA Force is an option to consider.  Its branched chain amino acid ratio is a bit unusual, with 460 mg of leucine, 156 mg of isoleucine, and 384 mg of valine per serving, which translates into an oddball ratio of 6:2:5.

Like other capsules, it’s also rather expensive per serving compared to a powder.

This reflects the increased difficulty of measuring precise amounts of powder into a capsule during the manufacturing process.  The purity is quite good, however: over 98% of the contents are branched chain amino acids, by weight.

Since it’s a gelatin capsule, it’s unsuitable for vegetarians or vegans, and the supplement also contains maltodextrin and magnesium stearate as stabilizers and an excipient (a binder to hold the active substances, in this case the BCAAs).

As is usually the case with capsules versus powder, the tradeoff is convenience and measuring accuracy versus flexibility.  Since you can only take an integer number of capsules, you can’t adapt as easily to differing BCAA needs throughout your training program, but you don’t have to put up with the taste of the powder, and you don’t have to fuss around with a protein shaker and a scoop.  P

retty much everyone knows how much of a headache it can be to forget about your protein shaker at the bottom of your gym bag, only to discover it covered in mold days later.  Capsules eliminate this possibility.

9. Jarrow Formulas BCAA

Though it’s a more under-the-radar brand, Jarrow Formulas BCAA offering is still a popular and relatively easy to find option.

Unlike most of the other supplements on this list, Jarrow Formulas BCAA comes in capsules only: convenient if you’re tired of  measuring scoops or hate the mildly astringent taste of BCAA powder, but also a bit more costly.

Jarrow Formulas adds in 500 mg of glutamine per serving, which is a “regular” amino acid (i.e. not branched chain), as well as 5 mg of vitamin B6 (equivalent to 250% of your recommended daily value for that vitamin).

Glutamine is known to prevent muscle wasting in critically ill patients at hospitals, so some strength gurus recommend taking it for building muscle (3).

Vitamin B6 aids in a number of different metabolic functions in your body, including some which involve amino acid synthesis—this is likely why Jarrow Formulas elected to include it in their supplement.  The capsule itself contains gelatin (sorry, vegetarians—gelatin is animal-derived), magnesium stearate, and cellulose, which help bind and stabilize the BCAA powder in the capsule.

The inclusion of “extras” like glutamine and vitamin B6 is controversial.  If you were going to be taking those two supplements anyways, it’s great, but if you’re a purist, or just don’t want any unnecessary ingredients in your supplement.

10. Cellucor BCAA

Cellucor BCAA is a vetted top-seller, so why isn’t it higher on this list?

It’s a powder that contains leucine, isoleucine, and valine in a 2:1:1 ratio, but has some drawbacks compared to other products on the market.  First, it has a lot of extra ingredients, some of them active, and some of them not.

In addition to the three branched chain amino acids, Cellucor BCAA also contains three other amino acids: beta alanine, an amino acid that is supposed to help boost anaerobic performance; citrulline malate, which is supposed to help fight fatigue and boost energy levels; and 2-Hydroxyisocaproic acid or HICA, a metabolized form of leucine (4).

Cellucor claims these are superior to normal BCAA mixtures, but there’s a lack of solid scientific research supporting this claim.

The supplement also contains flavoring and coloring agents, including citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, silicon dioxide, the noncaloric sweetener sucralose, and red #40.

If you know that you are looking for a blend of BCAAs with other ingredients like beta alanine and HICA, you might think about giving Cellucor BCAA a shot, but there are other products on the market that offer better purity, more value, and more stringent quality control.

Part II: What are BCAAs, and are they right for you?

BCAAs are a key building block for muscle (5).

Amino acids are your body’s basic ingredients for forming all of the proteins in your body.  They are the most basic building blocks of life.

Among all amino acids, three of them are special—these are the branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs.

Now, who should be taking a branched chain amino acid supplement anyways? Answering that question requires and understanding of what these amino acids do in your body, and what the effects of external supplements have on your body’s functioning.

Benefits of BCAAs

A scientific paper published in 2006 by Eva Blomstrand and others at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden describes how branched chain amino acids boost your body’s muscle-building response to exercise (6).

According to the researchers, consuming BCAAs soon after an endurance or resistance workout (i.e. cardio or weights) causes your body to activate its muscle-building pathways more strongly, increasing protein synthesis and boosting strength.

One study cited by Blomstrand et al. showed that a direct branched chain amino acid infusion after doing quadricep raises on a weight machine had a strong effect on three signaling pathways associated with muscle building.

Additional scientific evidence suggests that branched chain amino acids can reduce the breakdown of muscle fibers during exercise and decrease post-workout soreness.

A paper published in the Journal of Nutrition by Yoshiharu Shimomura and other researchers in Japan outlines an experiment in which branched chain amino acids had a substantial effect in reducing soreness in the days following a squat workout (7).

In a placebo-controlled trial, the scientists found that a 5 gram BCAA supplement taken before the squatting protocol reduced soreness over the course of four days when compared to a placebo.  The critical point here is that the BCAA supplement was taken prior to the exercise.

Though the exact mechanism by which it prevents muscle soreness is unclear, Shimomura et al. hypothesize that branched chain amino acids reduced the actual breakdown of proteins in the muscles, while leucine in particular increases your production of muscle proteins after a workout.

Because leucine (which is itself one of the three branched chain amino acids) does “double duty” as both a stimulant for protein synthesis and a preventative factor against protein breakdown, BCAA supplements tend to supply relatively more leucine than isoleucine or valine, the two other branched chain amino acids.

There are no solid comparative clinical trials on what the optimal ratio is—there are studies that show, for example, that supplements with a 2:1:1 leucine:isoleucine:valine ratio perform better than a placebo (a supplement containing no BCAAs at all), but nothing comparing, say, a 3:1:1 ratio to a 2:1:1 ratio.

The 2:1:1 ratio appears to trace its origins to the work of Dr. Francesco Saverio Dioguardi at the University of Milan, who was among the first to use branched chain amino acids to treat liver disease (8).

After studying the absorption characteristics of the three branched chain amino acids, he developed, ad hoc, the 2:1:1 ratio as his best guess for an optimal ratio.

As these things tend to go, this ratio was quickly enshrined as the optimal one.

It should be pointed out that the 2:1:1 ratio does seem to work pretty well—otherwise there wouldn’t’ be so many studies supporting it—but there isn’t a reason to believe it’s the only ratio that will work.

On the other hand, it’s important to remember that isoleucine and valine are important, too, so if you go too far in one direction (like taking a BCAA supplement that’s loaded up with lots of leucine but very little isoleucine and valine), that is not optimal.

Side effects of BCAAs

Since branched chain amino acids are found in abundance in natural foods like eggs, fish, and white meat, there is very little in the way of acute side effects.

One report by Marin Manuel and C.J. Heckman raises the possibility of a link between branched chain amino acid supplementation and a neurological disease called ALS.

They noticed a link between the effects of BCAAs on neurons and the symptoms of ALS, and also noted a higher-than-expected incidence of ALS among professional soccer and football players, who report consuming BCAA supplements quite frequently.

However, the authors admit there are a huge number of confounding factors: these athletes also suffer a lot of head injuries, they’re prone to taking illegal steroids and other powerful supplements, and so on.  This is an interesting hypothesis that deserves further attention, but the evidence is not nearly strong enough to caution against BCAA use.

Branched chain amino acids are used in medical settings to treat conditions like mania and liver disease, and these doses are far higher than what’s typical for a healthy adult: research on hepatic encephalopathy has used up to 25 grams per day, and research on mania has used up to 60 grams per day (9).

Recommended dosage

When it comes to dosage of branched chain amino acids for health, fitness, and muscle-building, most scientific research protocols use doses of three to six grams, taken two or three times per day.

If you want to get really technical, you can get a scale and start measuring out your BCAA dosage against your body weight—often, studies will state their dosages as “0.1g/km,” meaning 0.1 grams of BCAA per kilogram of body weight.  This takes into account the fact that larger people need more of a supplement to get the same effect.


Branched chain amino acids are a great way to boost your workout productivity.

Taking a BCAA supplement before or soon after your workout has two main benefits: first, it reduces the amount of muscle breakdown that occurs during your workout, which will help you avoid soreness after a tough workout, and prevent you from plateauing or losing ground on your fitness goals.

Additionally, it will help your body synthesize protein more effectively after your workout, which will improve your strength and muscle mass gains.

If you hit the gym on a regular basis and you’re aiming to get stronger and more muscular, you should probably add a BCAA supplement to your fitness program.

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The benefits and side effects of l-arginine

l-arginineImage Source: iHerb

L-arginine is an amino acid and is considered to be one of the essential building blocks of protein. It is most commonly used by trainers and fitness experts as a dietary supplement in an attempt to induce training performance, particularly with regards to gaining higher energy and overcoming muscle fatigue.

The benefits of l-arginine largely relate to the increase in the concentration of nitric oxide, which is a compound developed by the endothelium of the blood vessels that is known for expanding blood vessels.

Additionally, l-arginine is also used for improving cardiovascular health by dilating clogged arteries and increasing proper blood flow to the body.

Other uses for l-arginine include treating wounds, improve liver function, and foster an efficient number of hormones in the body.

The following is a detailed guide to l-arginine and how you should use it for best results.

L-Arginine, or arginine, is developed naturally inside the human body.

As an amino acid, it becomes nitric oxide, which is then released into the bloodstream according to certain physiological changes, such as changes in blood pressure and cholesterol (1).

Arginine also signals your body to produce more protein, which has a considerable uses for gaining muscle and strength and for increasing sperm count.

However, arginine is not very beneficial for people suffering from heart conditions or pregnant women. In lieu of this, caution is advised.

More importantly, arginine also stimulates the growth of vital growth hormones along with glucose that enable you body to obtain the necessary nutrients for growth and higher energy.

This leads to a host of advantages that will be looked into greater detail.

Recommended dosage

Unless you are using a supplement, your body is generates a sufficient amount of l-arginine in the body.

You can increase the amount of l-arginine by eating foods such as eggs, dairy products, fish, and red meat.

However, if you intend of using supplements for training or some medical reason, you need to make sure you are within the 1200 mg per day limit.

For best results, consult a trained medical physician to weigh the risks and benefits associated with the supplement on your health.

Health benefits of l-arginine

There are various studies to show that l-arginine can help you gain muscle, boost male sexual health, and also improve cardiovascular health.

As for muscle growth, a 2009 study (2) shows that l-arginine can lead to muscle growth and fat loss. The study was experimented on 24 pigs over a 60 day period found tremendous results in overall weight loss and muscle development.

Another study conducted by Zajac et.al (3) found that increases in l-arginine leads to an increase in growth hormone levels.

This has important results for bodybuilders and trainers who train to burn fat and achieve large muscle size. The l-arginine can lead to better protein synthesis and fat metabolism.

In addition, the release of nitric oxide provides a host of advantages in reducing recovery times in between training days to help overcome DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and acute muscle soreness.

What this means is that you’re fatigued and sore muscles will be able to recover a lot faster and maximize your workout performance.

Secondly, l-arginine is also found to have important applications for fostering healthy sexual lives for both men and women.

For men, it has the capacity to treat erectile dysfunction (4). Since it turns into nitric oxide, l-arginine can ensure healthy penile erection by expanding penis blood vessels and promoting proper blood flow. As a result, the penis can become stiff efficiently and remain erect for longer durations for engaging in sexual activities.

Increases in sperm count have also associated with a rise in l-arginine levels in the body. This offers a ray of hope to infertile men and gives them the opportunity to participate in healthy sexual activities.

Thirdly, l-arginine is also has been discovered to substantially improve cardiovascular health. By turning into nitric oxide, the amino acid eases clogged arteries and ensures health blood circulation.

This is also beneficial for alleviating chest pains and symptoms of coronary heart disease (5). However, the benefits of l-arginine on the heart are not conclusive; hence, it should be used on a case-by-case basis.

Side effects of l-arginine

Although there are clear benefits to the function of l-arginine, there are also certain side-effects that need to be considered prior to use. This is why it is crucial that you consult your medical physician.

Heart patients need to be especially cautious prior to using any l-arginine supplements. There is research to support l-arginine, in fact, can lead to poor heart health.

A John Hopkins study concluded the l-arginine neither improves vascular stiff nor does it increase ejection fraction (6). The study also led to the death of 6 patients of the l-arginine which led the study being cancelled at an early stage.

There are also minor side effects associated with l-arginine that can be experienced as a result of overdose. Some of these side effects are nausea, diarrhea, and weakness in the body.

This is why it is important that you pay close attention to the type of diet you are following. We have already mentioned how l-arginine is found in many food sources. A diet rich in such foods along with l-arginine supplements can heighten the risks of an overdose.

For muscle building, l-arginine can boost your physical endurance levels and minimize recovery periods during and between workout days. If you have a medical condition, such as erectile dysfunction, impotence, or a heart disease, l-arginine can help you alleviate its symptoms. However, you should never hasten to use it without consulting your medical physician.

Summary: L-arginine supplements can be used by adults, children, athletes, and overweight or obese people. However, since your body already produces enough l-arginine by consuming the right food sources, you do not necessarily are in need of supplements unless you have a medical problem or are looking to get in shape and build muscle.

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