Ranking the best ginseng supplements of 2016 (review)

If you want to boost your immune system, improve your concentration levels, and feel more energized, ginseng is a great place to start.

Part 1 of this guide reviews the best ginseng supplements on the market and ranks them in an ordered list. Part 2 breaks down what exactly ginseng is and how it benefits your body. Here are the top ten ginseng supplements on the market, ranked.

1.  Auragin Korean Ginseng

ginsengAuragin is a best-selling authentic Asian ginseng supplement produced in Korea.  Each tablet contains 300 mg of Korean ginseng root, of which 8% are ginsenosides, the suspected active ingredient.  It’s tremendously minimalistic; ginseng root is literally the only ingredient.

It’s pressed into tablets and packaged; there are no preservatives, additives, or fillers included whatsoever.

Independent lab testing calls into question the true content of ginsenosides, however.  Analytical testing shows that the true content is more like 5%, though part of this might be the difficulties of detecting ginsenosides at low concentrations.

Regardless, other supplements are able to come closer to their label-stated ginseng content, so it’s certainly doable.

Partially because it’s imported from Korea, Auragin is not going to be the cheapest ginseng supplement on the market.  Despite this, many people believe that Asian ginseng is superior to American ginseng, albeit while being more expensive to produce and import.  This has a lot to do with its place in traditional Chinese medicine as a remedy for a number of health problems.

2.  NuSci Panax Ginseng

If you know exactly how much ginseng you want, and you want it as cheap and as readily available as possible, this is the product for you.  NuSci Panax Ginseng comes in powder form, packaged in a foil bag, with only one ingredient; ginseng extract.  It contains 10% ginsenosides, making calculations easy to do, assuming you have a scale.

Therein lies the major advantage and disadvantage of free powdered ginseng extract.  You need to do all of the measuring yourself.

It’s a lot of extra work, and you’ll need to purchase a high quality micro scale to accurately determine the milligram amounts of powder that you want, but if you know how much ginseng you want to be taking every day, it’s a tremendous value. This has to be number one in the cost-savings department, assuming you already have a scale and are comfortable using it.

Lab testing confirms the purity of NuSci Panax Ginseng.  In fact, it seems that the powder actually contains more like 12% ginsenosides per serving, meaning you get even more value.

One tricky part about powder is figuring out how to consume it.  If you have your own capsule loading machine, that is one option, but that can get expensive and time-consuming.

Mixing ginseng powder into food is another approach that can work, but it has a fairly potent taste.  For best results, mixing it into a protein shake or smoothie will help it go down easier.

3.  Nature’s Answer American Ginseng

This ginseng supplement comes in an unusual form.  Instead of a tablet, capsule, or free powder, it comes as a liquid in an eye-dropper bottle.  The standardized serving size is listed in number of drops, and since it’s so high (56 drops per serving!) counting them out can be very tedious.

However, it delivers an incredibly potent ginseng dose, with each serving containing 2000 mg of ginseng extract, of which 75 mg (about 4%) is ginsenosides.

The other ingredients are included purely to dissolve the ginseng extract, and they are vegetable glycerin and purified water.

Because it already comes in a liquid format, it’s very easy to add to a glass of water to take your ginseng dosage.

The label is also very accurate: 2 mL of the solution (56 drops) is supposed to contain 75 mg of ginsenosides, and a lab-tested quantity of the same amount of solution measured 80 mg of ginsenosides.

Taking Nature’s Answer American Ginseng would be even easier if you had an accurate micro-pipette, but these are even harder to come by than a micro scale.  Most people will have to make do by counting out droplets from the eye dropper.

This is the only real drawback to this ginseng supplement, assuming you are okay with the ginsenosides coming from American ginseng instead of Korean ginseng.

4.  Solgar Korean Ginseng

The ginseng supplement from Solgar comes in a traditional capsule form, with each vegetarian cellulose capsule containing 250 mg of Korean ginseng extract, of which 8% is ginsenosides.  Interestingly, it also contains ginseng powder, which is presumably unextracted ginseng root.

For unknown reasons, the ginsenoside content of this second source of ginseng is not listed.

However, based on some simple math from the actual lab determined ginsengoside content of the supplement, we can figure out how much extra the root powder adds.

Assuming the 8% figure is accurate, 250 mg of ginseng root extract should provide 20 mg of ginsenosides.  Lab testing reveals that the supplement contains 28.8 mg of ginsenosides per capsule, meaning the extra root powder adds 8.8 mg of ginsenosides.

Because the supplement is in capsule form, it needs some extra ingredients to act as preservatives and bulking agents.  In Solgar Korean Ginseng, these com in the form of magnesium stearate and a proprietary blend of beta-carotene and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

In this case, these anti-oxidants aren’t included for a direct health benefit; they just prevent oxidative damage from degrading the ginseng over time while it’s in storage, preserving the shelf life.

5.  Puritan’s Pride American Ginseng

The proudly American-made Puritan’s Pride ginseng supplement provides a fairly high 500 mg of ginseng per capsule.  The capsule is gelatin based, which is fine for most people unless you have objections to animal products (gelatin, of course, being made from animals).

According to the label, each capsule contains 25 mg of ginsenosides, but lab testing found quite a bit more than that— 41 mg! Large errors of this magnitude (~60%) don’t give the impression that the product is carefully made and that manufacturing processes are sound, but the good news is that the error is in your favor—you’re getting a lot more ginsenosides than you pay for.

All this aside, the capsule contains the usual magnesium stearate and magnesium silicate, both simple binders and stabilizing agents.

If you are okay with some errors in the measurement accuracy of the manufacturing process, Puritan’s Pride is a fairly good source for an American ginseng supplement.

6.  aSquared Nutrition Pure Red Korean Panax Ginseng

aSquared Nutrition’s ginseng supplement sells quite well online, though you’d be hard-pressed to find it in a brick and mortar store.  Each vegetable cellulose capsule provides 500 mg of Panax (Asian) ginseng, and the only other ingredients in the capsule are rice powder and magnesium stearate, fairly standard for this kind of product.

Unfortunately, no independent lab testing is available to see what the actual ginsenoside content of the supplement is, and the label is similarly unhelpful.

Given how widely ginsenoside content varies from product to product (ranging from less than two percent to over 10%) it’s hard to give aSquared Nutrition’s ginseng supplement a ringing endorsement.

Nevertheless, if you assume that the ginsenoside content is fairly high (which is not guaranteed), it could be pretty good value in terms of cost.

7.  Buddha’s Herbs Ginseng

As the name suggests, this ginseng supplement makes use of strictly Panax (Asian / Korean) ginseng for its capsules.  In keeping with the name, the capsules are also made from vegetable cellulose instead of gelatin, which is an animal product.

In addition to 100 mg of Panax ginseng root extract per capsule, (with a standardized ginsenoside content of 10%), each capsule also contains rice flour, silicon dioxide, and magnesium stearate, fairly standard stabilizing agents.

Laboratory testing uncovers a difference in the actual ginsenoside content, however.  Testing shows that each serving contains 16 mg of ginsenosides instead of the expected 10 mg.

While this does mean you are getting better value per capsule, it also may point to problems with quality control in the manufacturing process—an error of 60% is quite large, and does not bode well for the overall quality of the supplement.

Because of these concerns over quality, Buddha’s Herbs is not ranked as highly as it could be if these were addressed.  Additionally, the absolute ginseng content per capsule is on the low end of what’s expected for a ginseng supplement.

8.  Nature’s Bounty Ginseng Complex plus Royal Jelly

Nature’s Bounty is a brand that’s commonly sold at drug stores and pharmacies, and its ginseng product is a top seller on Amazon.com.  The approach to this supplement is more maximalist or holistic; it’s not just a pure ginseng supplement.

First off, it includes two kinds of ginseng: American ginseng and Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng).  The Asian ginseng contains 2% ginsenosides and the American ginseng contains 5% ginsenosides.

Each is included at an amount of 25 mg per capsule, totaling 50 mg of ginseng from all sources per capsule.  Notably, this is substantially lower than some of its competitors.

The supplement also includes 500% of your recommended daily value for vitamin B12—this is probably an effort to further boost energy levels, since a lot of energy drinks also contain high levels of vitamin B12.

Additionally, as the name of the supplement suggests, it also contains royal jelly concentrate, which is a compound secreted by honey bees to feed larvae.  It’s concentrated in sugars and amino acids, as well as a small amount of fats and trace vitamins.

One thing to be aware of is that royal jelly carries and allergic reaction risk, since it contains many kinds of animal proteins and animal products.  You should think twice before taking this supplement if you have had allergic reactions in the past.

9.  NOW Foods American Ginseng

Depending on your opinion of the relative worth of American versus Korean ginseng, your opinion of NOW Foods’ ginseng supplement may vary.

The supplement, as the name suggests, uses only American ginseng.  Each capsule provides 500 mg of ginseng root, though the label does not list the standardized ginsenoside content.

Independent lab testing, however, did reveal the actual ginsenoside content: a paltry 11 mg per capsule.

This computes out to only roughly two percent ginsenosides by weight in the American ginseng root extract. Some other supplements contain five times this much in terms of ginsenoside concentration.

Because of this, even though the raw price of the supplement is fairly low, the actual value in terms of dollars per quantity ginsenoside per serving is not very good.

The capsules also contain a few stabilizers and bulking agents.  The capsule itself is vegetarian, being comprised of cellulose, and the only other two ingredients are rice flour and magnesium stearate.  These act as stabilizers and fill up the rest of the capsule.

Because of these deficits, NOW Foods American Ginseng does not find itself ranked very highly among the top ginseng supplements despite its best-selling status.

10.  Swanson Full Spectrum Korean Red Ginseng Root

Swanson Vitamins is typically a reliable and high quality brand.  How does their ginseng supplement stack up? For one thing, it’s Korean ginseng, which will win over traditional medicine purists.

Secondly, it comes in capsules containing a fairly respectable 400 mg of ginseng root each.  In addition to ginseng root, the capsule is comprised of gelatin—a negative for vegans and anyone else who avoids anima products—along with cellulose, magnesium sulfate, and silica.

Unfortunately, the label does not list the ginsenoside content.  However, independent lab testing has confirmed that each capsule contains 6.8 mg of ginsenosides.  This is a rather disappointing result.  This comes out to less than two percent of the total ginseng contents of the capsule.

This also hurts the value in terms of cost per milligram of ginsenosides.  Even though the relative price of the capsule is low, since it contains so little ginsenosides by weight, it is not your best bet for value or quality.

Combining these factors makes it clear that Swanson Vitamins’ ginseng offering does not measure up to its competitors, and indeed does not even measure up to the fairly high standard that this brand usually represents.

Part 2: What is ginseng and how can it benefit your body?

Ginseng is an ancient herbal remedy that’s been used for centuries to treat a range of ailments.  Currently, advocates for ginseng supplements believe that it can improve concentration, increase sport performance by giving you more energy, and boost your immune system.

Benefits of ginseng supplements

While ginseng has been an ingredient in traditional medicine for centuries, modern science has only recently begun to investigate its effects on the body.

Ginseng appears to modulate your body’s immune system response to external stimuli.  A 2008 study by Patricia D Biondo and other researchers at the Alberta Institute for Human Nutrition investigated the effects of a ginseng supplementation routine on the body’s immune response to exercise (1).

The experiment, described in a paper published in the scientific journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, recruited ten healthy men who received either a ginseng supplement (1125 mg of American ginseng extract per day) or a placebo supplement.

All of the men completed an exercise protocol and the researchers measured the men’s immune response to the exercise routine.  Three months later, the subjects returned, and the supplement and placebo were switched—this type of crossover design ensured that all of the subjects were exposed to both conditions.

The results showed that the men who had taken the ginseng supplement increased production of a protein called interleukin 2, which helps your body activate infection-fighting white blood cells.  This raises the possibility

The researchers noted, however, that the overall effect was a moderate one, and other parts of the immune system remained unchanged by the ginseng supplementation routine.

Ginseng also appears to have an effect on your psychological perception of fatigue.  This may be why people find that ginseng supplements seem to give them more energy.

A 2011 study published by Ji Young Choi and other researchers at Uimyung Research Institute for Neuroscience in Seoul, South Korea examined the effect of Asian (Panax) ginseng on physical and psychological energy levels in mice (2).

This might sound like a silly experiment—how do you measure psychological fatigue in mice?—but Choi and his fellow researchers subjected the mice to both exercise (which induces physical fatigue) and stressful conditions, which induces psychological fatigue.

Choi et al. found that, while the ginseng supplementation regimen had no effect on biological markers related to exercise performance, like blood lactate levels, mice who were usually sapped of energy and unmotivated after being exposed to stressful conditions had more energy when taking a ginseng supplement.

The researchers measured their baseline movement and activity levels, along with the amount of time they could swim in cold water.  In both cases, the mice taking the ginseng had more energy, meaning they moved around more often and swam longer in the cold water.

Not all the evidence is as promising, however.  Some studies have found that ginseng does not have an impact on some of the most desirable qualities that could be affected by such a supplement.

A 1996 study by Hermann-J. Engles, Josephine M. Said, and John C. Wirth at Wayne State University in Michigan tested the effects of a 200 mg per day supplementation routine of Asian ginseng in adult females (3).  The test subjects performed a graded exercise test on a treadmill before and after the supplementation routine, which lasted for eight weeks.

The researchers found that there were no detectable effects on the exercise performance test—further, the women’s self-reported activity levels did not differ either.

This might call into question the ability of a ginseng supplementation routine, at least one with these design parameters, to boost your energy levels and give you more motivation to be active in your everyday life.  Clearly, more research on more people is needed to determine whether ginseng is all it’s cracked up to be.

Recommended dosage

Despite its long history of use as an herbal medication, there are few good guidelines on what the appropriate or optimal amount of ginseng intake per day should be.  Most scientific studies use doses of 200 to 1000 mg of ginseng root extract per day, using supplements that contain on the order of 5% ginsenosides by weight.  This is a good place to start.

You can begin at the low end of the range (perhaps 200 mg per day) and see if supplementing at that level gives you the desired effect.  If not, you can try increasing the dosage.  If you still don’t have the desired effect, ginseng may not be effective for you, and you may need to look for answers elsewhere.

Side effects of ginseng supplements

Even though the science behind ginseng is not bulletproof, the good news is that ginseng appears to be a pretty safe supplement.

Studies on its use as a supplement, such as a 1995 study on ginseng therapy in diabetic patients, find that there are no well-known negative side effects associated with taking a ginseng supplement at the usual dosages used in these studies (4).

There are a few case reports of serious medical issues associated with ginseng use.  One study describes a 56 year old woman who suffered a manic episode when she started a ginseng supplementation routine (5).  Notably, she had a known mood disorder before she started taking ginseng.

Another study described a possible drug interaction with the blood thinner warfarin (6).  A 47 year old man with heart disease had abnormal blood markers of clotting at one of his regular check-ups.  After reviewing his medication, the doctors determined the only major change had been an introduction of a ginseng supplement.  After discontinuing the ginseng supplement, the man’s blood clotting factors returned to normal.

Though neither of these are definitive cause and effect relationships, they are worth noting.

Until there are larger studies on the possible side effects of ginseng, people with a history of serious mood disorders and people taking blood thinners like warfarin should refrain from a ginseng supplementation routine.

Recap

If you need a little more psychological energy to get through the day, or if you want a little boost to your immune system, ginseng might be what you’re looking for.

The evidence behind its efficacy is not as robust as some other supplements, but it does appear to be safe for the vast majority of people, so it may be worth a try.

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Ranking the best magnesium supplements of 2016 (review)

If you want to boost your testosterone levels or improve your heart health, a magnesium supplement might be the right place to start.

They are powerful, effective, and safe as long as they are taken as directed.

Part 1 will review and rank the best magnesium supplements of the year. Then, part 2 will break down how the supplements work and how to take them safely.

1.  Metagenics Mag Glycinate

mag-glycinateMetagenics made a name for itself as a prescription-style supplement company that offered high-potency supplements that were only available with a code from a doctor, chiropractor, or other medical professional.

Now, however, it’s possible to buy them directly online.  Does the quality still measure up?

Their magnesium supplement offering comes in the form of magnesium glycinate, a salt form of magnesium that’s not as well-absorbed as a chelate, but tends to be better tolerated than magnesium oxide (used in inexpensive magnesium supplements), which can upset the stomach because of its alkalinity.

The dosage is a fairly standard 100 mg per tablet, and the inactive ingredients are almost identical to a number of its competitors—cellulose, croscarmellose sodium, stearic acid, etc.

Its air of exclusivity still makes it a bit more costly than other competitors, so the value in terms of dollars per serving of magnesium is not as good.

Regardless, it does quite well on independent analytical tests of its contents.  Lab testing reveals that it contains 105 mg of magnesium per capsule, meaning there’s an excess of 5% magnesium in your favor.

Accuracy on this order of magnitude is good news if you’re worried about the overall quality of the product.

2.  Now Foods Magnesium Citrate

The magnesium supplement offered by Now Foods comes in a loose powder form.  It’s a best-seller, and is very simplistic.

Its only ingredient is magnesium citrate, which had decent absorption properties and comes with a sharp tart taste.

Since it’s a free powder, the serving size is up to you, but the recommended serving is half a teaspoon, which provides 315 mg of magnesium (79% of your recommended daily intake).

You might be wondering if eyeballing half a teaspoon is a reliable way to measure your magnesium intake, and surely it is not.

As with most other loose powder form supplements, you’ll need a micro scale to accurately measure your dosage.

If you already have an accurate scale that can measure milligram amounts, Now Foods Magnesium Citrate might be a good choice, but otherwise you might want to stick to a capsule or tablet.

The good news is that the cost per serving is fairly good, since there’s only one ingredient and there is less manufacturing involved.

3.  Life Extension Magnesium Caps

The magnesium supplement from Life Extension takes a hard-core approach to the absorption challenge—it attempts to hit your body with as many forms of magnesium as possible to maximize the absorption.

The per-capsule dosage is also very high.  Each vegetarian capsule contains 500 mg of magnesium (125% of your recommended daily intake), and it comes in four different forms.

These forms include magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, magnesium succinate, and an amino acid chelate.  The thinking behind this unusual approach is to take advantage of different absorption pathways.

While the magnesium oxide waits to be dissolved by your stomach acid before being absorbed, the magnesium amino acid chelate can be absorbed right away—or so the logic goes.  It goes without saying that there’s no independent peer-reviewed science on whether this kind of approach actually works.

Regardless, if you know you need to dramatically boost your magnesium intake, Life Extension Magnesium Caps are probably your best choice.

Their magnesium content is within 4% of the label stated amount, and though the cost per serving of magnesium is higher than average (presumably because of the numerous magnesium containing ingredients), its raw power when it comes to delivering a lot of magnesium is tough to beat.

4.  Doctor’s Best High Absorption Magnesium

It’s the best selling magnesium supplement on Amazon.com for good reason—Doctor’s Best High Absorption Magnesium provides a reliable dose of magnesium in each tablet.

The tablets themselves contain 100 mg of magnesium each, which represents 25% of your recommended daily intake.  If you’re wondering why this amount isn’t higher, it has to do with your body’s magnesium absorption mechanism.

There are diminishing returns associated with higher doses of magnesium—if you take 100% of your daily intake all at once, you won’t actually absorb as much compared to taking 25% at four different times throughout the day (1).

The form of the magnesium in Doctor’s Best is chelated magnesium—this means that each magnesium atom is surrounded by organic molecules that are supposed to help your intestinal tract absorb the magnesium more readily.

Putting the magnesium in a chelate form helps it get absorbed more readily than if it was in a simple inorganic salt form (2).

Aside from the active ingredients, Doctor’s Best contains cellulose and two stearate sources to help bind the tablets together, as well as a compound called croscarmellose sodium—it sounds complex, but really it’s just a powder that allows the tablet to break down more quickly.

Again, this is in keeping with the philosophy of maximizing absorption.  Though it’s not the most simplistic magnesium supplement on the market, Doctor’s Best is a great choice if the goal is to maximize absorption.

5.  Viva Labs Magnesium

If you want a simple magnesium supplement that comes in an easily-absorbed form, look no further than Viva Labs.  Each capsule provides 100 mg of magnesium (25% of your daily intake) in the form of an amino acid chelate.

The specific form is a proprietary formulation called TRAACS, which is used in a couple of other high-quality magnesium supplements, though not always by itself.

The amino acid chelate requires a few more stabilizers in the tablet, so the ingredients also list some unfamiliar compounds like hydroxypropyl cellulose and ascorbyl palmitate, which might be a disincentive if you’re not a fan of ingredients you can’t pronounce.

Still, the value and simplicity of this supplement is attractive.  Amino acid chelates aren’t the cheapest way to deliver magnesium, but when you factor in the better absorption (almost twice as much magnesium gets absorbed from a chelate versus a standard inorganic salt), the value becomes more apparent.

Its label-stated amounts are accurate, too—lab testing finds that the true magnesium content is within 4.5% of the stated amount.

6.  Natural Vitality Natural Calm

The approach taken by Natural Vitality to magnesium supplementation is a little different.  Instead of a capsule or tablet, Natural Vitality Natural Calm comes in a powder form that you scoop into a glass of water to drink.

One serving (assuming your teaspoon measuring skills are accurate) delivers 350 mg of magnesium, which represents 87% of your recommended daily intake.  Since it’s a powder, however, you can measure out as much as you want.

The magnesium is in the form of magnesium carbonate, alongside citric acid, presumably to boost absorption and give the drink a tart, pleasing taste.  Magnesium carbonate, however, is not absorbed as well as some other forms of the mineral.

Strangely, even though Natural Vitality Natural Calm comes in a powder form, it’s on the expensive side when it comes to cost per serving of magnesium.

Usually, powder form supplements are cheaper, since the manufacturers don’t have to worry about pressing the powder into capsules or tablets, which demands extra machinery and ingredients.

Taking the above considerations in mind, it’s hard to rank Natural Vitality too highly, unless you’re looking for something you can mix into a protein shake or smoothie to boost the magnesium content.

7.  Jigsaw Health Magnesium w/ SRT

Jigsaw Health’s magnesium supplement is more than just a tablet that provides one nutrient.  The philosophy behind this product is to provide several ingredients that work together to help magnesium do its job inside your body.

Whether this product is right for you depends entirely on whether you agree with this approach.

In addition to 125 mg of magnesium, each tablet of Jigsaw Health w/ SRT provides vitamin C, vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin B12, and malic acid.  The rest of the ingredients are the standard binders and stabilizers you’d expect in any tablet—cellulose, croscarmellose sodium, silicon dioxide, and wax.

While each of these other vitamins and minerals have their own roles in the body, and many interact with magnesium, the real question is whether you need them in addition to magnesium in your own diet.

If your vitamin and nutrient deficiencies are widespread, it may be more productive to work on improving your diet directly instead of supplementing with so many different things at once.

These other ingredients push up the cost of Jigsaw Health Magnesium w/ SRT, but not as much as you’d expect.  It’s still competitive with other magnesium supplements on the market.

8.  Solgar Magnesium Citrate

Though its brand name is usually synonymous with quality supplements, Solgar’s magnesium supplement offering is a real disappointment.

It doesn’t offer anything innovative—its tablets contain 200 mg (50% of your recommended daily intake) of magnesium in the form of magnesium citrate, and have some extraneous ingredients that don’t seem strictly necessary, like titanium dioxide and dicalcium phosphate.

Worse, Solgar Magnesium Citrate also suffers from the presence of arsenic contamination.  Given the size and scale of Solgar’s supplement manufacturing operation (not to mention the other brands that also have arsenic presence problems), one should expect that they have the capacity to do analytical testing for heavy metal contamination.

Certainly, other manufacturers have been able to create magnesium supplements without arsenic contamination.  One of the most effective ways you can exert pressure to solve this problem is to simply not buy supplements that have traces of arsenic in them!

9.  KAL Magnesium Glycinate

The well-selling KAL magnesium supplement offers a simple and higher dose of magnesium than other competitors.  Each tablet contains 200 mg of magnesium in the form of magnesium glycinate, and the only other ingredients are the usual stabilizing agents.

If your magnesium needs are high, you can absorb more of a higher dose, but 200 mg in a single capsule is pushing the limit a bit—you may end up just excreting some of the magnesium unabsorbed, which hurts the cost-effectiveness of the supplement.

More alarmingly, lab testing revealed that KAL contains high levels of arsenic, a known heavy metal toxin.

Though there seems to be a problem with some magnesium formulations including detectable levels of arsenic, many brands are able to prevent its inclusion in the product without any problems.

This alone should be grounds to look elsewhere; it’s very hard to make up for heavy metal presences when competitors offer a superior product.

10.  Sundown Naturals Magnesium

Though it’s a top-seller on Amazon.com, Sundown Naturals does not rank highly when it comes to the quality and purity of its ingredients.

Each tablet contains 500 mg of magnesium oxide, which should be a red flag from the start—there’s no way your body can absorb all that magnesium at once, and delivering all of it in the form of magnesium oxide is a good way to upset your stomach.

Magnesium oxide is alkaline, meaning it will react with your stomach acid strongly and upset the balance of acidity until it gets dissolved.  This is less of a problem in smaller doses, but taking a large bolus of magnesium oxide like this is not the best idea.

Further, there’s a lot of extraneous ingredients in the tablets.  Dicalcium phosphate and titanium dioxide are two inactive ingredients which other manufacturers don’t feel the need to put into their magnesium products, so their presence here is a little puzzling.

The real problem, however, comes from analytical testing by an independent laboratory.  Testing uncovered unusually high levels of arsenic, a heavy metal that is toxic to your body.

The levels weren’t high enough to be acutely poisonous, of course, but the mere presence of a toxic heavy metal is a real concern.  Given that it’s not a market-topper in quality or in value, it’s best to leave this product on the shelf and look for something else.

Part 2: What role does magnesium play in your body and how can supplementation help you?

Magnesium is a vital mineral nutrient that helps your body produce energy, keep up testosterone production, and sleep well.

When your body does not get enough magnesium, you might have muscle cramps or weakness, fatigue, insomnia, and general malaise.

According to one study, almost half the population of the United States does not get enough magnesium in their diet, so addressing magnesium deficiency should be a priority for many people (3).

Benefits of magnesium supplements

If you get plenty of magnesium in your diet from foods rich in magnesium, like almonds, spinach, cashews, other nuts, and black beans, you probably don’t need a magnesium supplement.

But since these foods are not always cheap or easy to integrate into your normal diet, you might find you need extra magnesium from external sources.

One group of people who can often benefit from magnesium supplementation is older men.  One of the classic problems that comes with getting old as a male is decreased testosterone.

This male sex hormone is associated with strength, vigor, energy, and libido, and when levels of testosterone decrease, all of these qualities decrease as well.

You’ve no doubt seen advertisements for prescription drugs offered as a treatment for “low T.”  Wouldn’t it be great if you could get similar results without a prescription?

There is some tantalizing evidence that this might be possible with magnesium supplementation.  A scientific paper published in 2011 in the International Journal of Andrology by Marcello Maggio and other researchers at the University of Parma in Italy studied the blood magnesium levels in a group of elderly men over age 65 (4).

Maggio and his fellow scientists found that, among their sample of elderly men, lower magnesium levels were strongly correlated with lower levels of testosterone, as well as the muscle-building hormone IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1).

This, combined with the fact that almost half of the American population does not get enough magnesium in their diet, indicates that you might see a boost in testosterone if you start taking a magnesium supplement.

Indeed, further evidence for this hypothesis was presented in a study published in 2010 by researchers in Turkey (5).

Martial arts practitioners took either a magnesium supplement or a placebo supplement over the course of a four week training program; during the study, the researchers tracked the testosterone levels of the subjects.

The researchers found that, as we’d expect, magnesium supplementation increased testosterone levels in the athletes; this increase was compounded by the exercise they did.

This suggests that the testosterone boosting effects of magnesium supplementation are better achieved when combined with a full-body exercise routine—in this case, tae kwon do training.

Beyond improving testosterone levels and their associated benefits (more energy, vigor, muscular strength, etc.), magnesium may also be helpful when it comes to improving sleep quality.

A 2012 study by researchers in Iran found that a daily supplementation regimen of 500 mg of magnesium improved subjective measurements of insomnia in elderly patients (6).

The magnesium supplementation program increased sleep time, decreased early morning awakening, and improved the speed at which the patients fell asleep at night.

Magnesium might also be helpful if you have restless leg syndrome at night.  A 1998 study by researchers at Albert Ludwigs University in Germany studied ten patients with restless leg syndrome who underwent a magnesium treatment during a four to six week period (7).

The 500 mg dose of magnesium helped decrease periodic limb movements during sleep by over half.  Given that other treatments for restless leg syndrome involve fairly powerful neurological drugs, using a magnesium supplement might be an attractive alternative or adjunctive treatment.

Recommended dose

Though research thus far is limited, most studies use doses of around 500 to 700 mg of magnesium per day.  The tae kwon do study discussed earlier used a dose of 10 mg of magnesium per kilogram of body mass—so a 150 pound male would take a dose of 680 mg of magnesium per day.

These by-weight formulas help compensate for the fact that larger people need a larger dose of medication to get the same effect as a smaller person.

Recall that the absorption of magnesium is related to the dose you take.  If you tried to take 500 mg of magnesium all at once, your body would not absorb it as well as if you’d split that dose into four or five daily portions (11).

Of course, this doesn’t stop some studies from taking this exact approach—the insomnia study on elderly patients conducted in Iran used a straight 500 mg bolus before bed.  In practice, this definitely means that less than the full dosage was absorbed.

Keep in mind that your own needs might be lower if your diet is better than average.  Indeed, if your diet is good enough, you probably don’t even need a magnesium supplement.

Side effects of magnesium supplements

As a water-soluble nutrient that’s ubiquitous in many kinds of foods, the human body is well-equipped to tolerate a range of magnesium intakes.

One study reports that slight abdominal pain and nonspecific musculoskeletal pain can occur, but this only occurred with a high dose of magnesium chloride consumed in a fasted condition (i.e. without taking any food) (8).

According to Healthline, excessively high doses of magnesium can cause cramping or nausea (9), and the Mayo Clinic cautions that only people with healthy kidney function should take a magnesium supplement (10).

Some types of magnesium supplements might upset your stomach, since some magnesium salts like magnesium oxide will react with the acid in your stomach.

This can be useful—magnesium oxide is sometimes used as a treatment for indigestion and heartburn for this reason—but if you don’t have these problems, it could disrupt the normal function of your stomach acid.

A citrate or amino acid chelate form of magnesium would be better if you’re worried about this.

Recap

There are two groups of people who will likely benefit most from a magnesium supplement.  The first group is older people, especially men, who want to boost their testosterone levels for more energy, vigor, muscular strength, and libido.

The second group is people with sleep disturbances like insomnia or restless leg syndrome.  Magnesium might be able to help your body get back to normal and leave you feeling stronger, more energetic, and healthier.

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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.

Recap

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.

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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 2: 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.

Recap

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. [click to continue…]

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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. [click to continue…]

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Ranking the best calcium supplements of 2016 (review)

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 review 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. [click to continue…]

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Reviewing the 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

bulk-supplements

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. [click to continue…]

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