5 supplement duos proven to pack a healthy punch

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS
Published July 23, 2020

Key Takeaways

For some time, experts thought that combining vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids could decrease the risk of heart attack, stroke, and certain cancers. Unfortunately, this association failed to pan out according to a high-powered, prospective study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

“Supplementation with vitamin D3 (at a dose of 2000 IU per day) did not lead to a significantly lower incidence of invasive cancer of any type or a composite of major cardiovascular events (myocardial infarction, stroke, and death from cardiovascular causes) than placebo. The intervention also did not lead to a lower incidence of total deaths from cancer or a lower incidence of breast, prostate, or colorectal cancer than placebo,” wrote the authors.

“Effects did not vary according to baseline serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels. The use of vitamin D did not lead to a significant difference in any of the secondary cardiovascular end points or in the rate of death from any cause in the overall cohort or in subgroups,” they added.

Although vitamin D plus omega-3 fatty acids may do little to prevent illness, other supplement combinations do seem to help prevent illness or promote health. Here are five to consider.

Iron plus vitamin C

“The key role of ascorbic acid for the absorption of dietary nonheme iron is generally accepted,” wrote the authors of a review article published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. Another way to boost iron absorption is to decrease fiber intake; however, decreasing nutritious daily fiber isn’t the most advantageous tactic.

Ascorbic acid works to enhance iron absorption by stymieing the formation of insoluble/unabsorbable iron compounds. It also reduces ferric to ferrous iron, a reaction that could facilitate iron absorption by mucosal cells.

Curcumin plus piperine

Curcumin is a bioactive polyphenol derived from turmeric, a member of the ginger family. It has been used for thousands of years in traditional Asian medicine for its anticarcinogenic, antimutagenic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. It helps with a wide variety of medical conditions including metabolic syndrome, pain, and inflammatory/degenerative eye conditions.

When consumed alone, though, curcumin doesn’t do the body much good because of its limited absorption, rapid metabolism, and swift elimination. Instead, it needs to be combined with another enhancer to increase bioavailability.

But which enhancer? “Piperine is the major active component of black pepper and, when combined in a complex with curcumin, has been shown to increase bioavailability by 2000%,” According to the authors of a review article published in Foods. Thus, combining curcumin with piperine provides all those health benefits named above.

Folate plus other B vitamins

Elevated homocysteine levels are known to raise the risk of heart disease. 

“Supplementation with folic acid and other B vitamins, a relatively inexpensive way of reducing plasma homocysteine levels, might be a way to lower CVD risk,” wrote Milly Ryan-Harshman, PhD, RD, and Walid Aldoori, MB, BCh, MPA, ScD, in a review article published in the Canadian Family Physician. Data from several studies have supported the relationship between taking folate, also known as vitamin B9, with other types of B vitamins.

In another study, researchers showed that taking 5 mg of folic acid and 250 μg vitamin B12 for 12 weeks decreased plasma homocysteine levels by 32% in 42 patients with at least 70% stenosis of one major coronary artery. 

Intriguingly, it’s unclear how exactly vitamin B12 interacts with folic acid to improve cardiac outcomes. Per Drs. Ryan-Harshman and Aldoori, “Although at least one study has shown that vitamin B12 augments the role of folic acid in the homocysteine–cardiovascular disease pathway, its biological significance has been difficult to assess.”

They hypothesized: “A fortification scheme for vitamin B12 like that of folic acid in flour might lower homocysteine levels more effectively, but physicians should at least ensure that their patients older than 50 are receiving adequate intakes of vitamin B12 from foods fortified with B12 or supplements containing B12.”

Leucine plus whey

What’s the most effective way to build muscle? Make sure to get your essential amino acids (EEAs) with your protein shortly after your workout. Oral intake or infusion of amino acids leads to a rise in skeletal muscle protein synthesis, which is further augmented by prior strength resistance training. Specifically, the essential amino acid leucine appears to facilitate muscle protein synthesis, researchers have found.

However, it can be problematic to eat a lot of protein and amino acids right after a workout. But, it’s not clear if a lesser amount of protein will enable the same level of muscle protein synthesis. In a small study published in the Journal of Physiology, researchers found that adding leucine to as little as 6.25 g of whey protein may do the trick.

“We report that a suboptimal dose of whey protein (6.25 g) supplemented with either leucine or a mixture of EAAs without leucine stimulates myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS) similar to 25 g of whey protein under resting conditions,” the researchers wrote. 

They conceded that 25 g of whey protein is the better option to increase resistance exercise-induced muscle anabolism but, in a pinch, adding leucine to a suboptimal dose of whey is as effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis.  

Multiminerals plus vitamin D

Preeclampsia is a major cause of maternal and prenatal death, with other repercussions including thrombophilia, eclampsia, stroke, liver/kidney failure, heart disease, intrauterine growth retardation, and prematurity. Preeclampsia affects between 5% and 7% of pregnant women, with poor nutrition thought to play a role.

In a study published in the International Journal of Reproductive BioMedicine, researchers found that pregnant women with at least one risk factor for preeclampsia who received one multimineral-vitamin D tablet containing 800 mg calcium, 200 mg magnesium, 8 mg zinc, and 400 IU vitamin D3 per day were less likely to develop preeclampsia or develop neonatal complications. 

“Considering the significant effect of multiminerals supplements (Ca, Mg, and Zn) in the prevention of preeclampsia and taking these multiminerals during pregnancy can be a low-cost and affordable way to reduce the incidence of preeclampsia in women who are at high risk of preeclampsia,” wrote the authors.

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