17 of the Best Health Supplements That Actually Work

Article Summary:

  • Most nutritional supplements are just marketing hype.
  • Some supplements, however, are backed by multiple research studies. You’ll learn about 15 with solid efficacy/safety evidence below.
  • You’ll also find out which ones, specifically, may help with these health challenges: Energy / Focus, Gut Health, Immunity, Pain / Inflammation, Fat Loss / Lean Muscle Gain, Relaxation / Anxiety

Do nutritional supplements work?

While it’s true that most dietary supplements are complete junk that don’t do much of anything, saying all supplements have no benefit is just plain absurd.

Because there are a handful of health and wellness supplements that have very promising health benefits.

In this article, you’ll learn about 15 of the best supplements that help address some of the most common health challenges (losing weight, easing digestive issues, increasing energy, boosting immunity, alleviating pain, and decreasing anxiety).

Each of the supplements you will learn about has multiple peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled research that support its efficacy and safety.

I’m confident you’ll find something in here that can help you.

Click the links below to jump around or scroll down to get started.

Energy/Focus

1. Rhodiola

2. Ginkgo Biloba

3. Ginseng

Gut Health

Probiotics / Digestive Enzymes

Turmeric / Curcumin

Fiber

Immunity

Zinc

Pain / Inflammation

Glucosamine / Chondroitin

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Pine Bark Extract (Pycnogenol)

Muscle Gain / Weight Loss

Protein Powder

Creatine

Beta Alanine

Stress / Anxiety / Sleep

Ashwagandha

Lemon Balm

Reishi Mushroom

CBD

 

The Best Supplements for Energy / Focus

There’s no shortage of supplements touted for their ability to help you improve energy and focus.

Unfortunately, most don’t work.

Here are three that do:

#1: Rhodiola

Rhodiola rosea health benefits research

Rhodiola rosea is an herb that’s native to the arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and Alaska. It has a long history of use as a medicinal plant in Iceland, Sweden, France, Russia, and Greece.

Rhodiola is a popular adaptogen, a class of plants can help your body combat physical, chemical or biological stressors.

It’s most researched benefits are as-follows:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Reduce Fatigue
2. Improve Cognition

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11081987
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19170145
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12725561
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10839209
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15256690
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036578
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22228617
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0108416
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17990195

Preliminary evidence has also looked at neuroprotection and lowering symptoms of depression, among other possible benefits (although more research is needed on these).

Is Rhodiola Safe?

Rhodiola is generally recognized as safe but might cause dizziness, dry mouth, or excessive saliva production for some people. Here are some other information safety considerations:

  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There isn’t enough reliable information about the safety of taking Rhodiola if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Rhodiola might simulate the immune system, which may impact people with autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and others.
  • Diabetes: Rhodiola might reduce blood sugar levels, so should be used with caution in patients taking insulin or other diabetes medications.
  • Low blood pressure: Rhodiola might lower blood pressure, so should be used with caution in patients taking blood pressure meds.

If you’re on any medications or have pre-existing conditions, talk to your doctor before taking any nutritional supplement.

#2: Ginkgo Biloba

ginkgo biloba supplement

Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living tree species. Most ginkgo supplements are made with extract prepared from its fan-shaped leaves.

The most helpful components of ginkgo are believed to be flavonoids, which have powerful antioxidant qualities, and terpenoids, which help improve circulation by dilating blood vessels.

These are the biggest benefits of taking a ginkgo supplement, based on the body of evidence available today:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Reduce cognitive decline (particularly in people who have dementia).
2. Improve short term memory.*
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22459264
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23196025
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8741021
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/hup.470020305
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22086747
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10890330
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21802920
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22700031
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12404671

*Note: Ginkgo’s effect on memory enhancement has had conflicting results. While some evidence suggests that ginkgo extract might modestly improve memory in healthy adults, most studies indicate that ginkgo doesn’t improve memory, attention or brain function.

Is Ginkgo Biloba Safe?

When used orally in moderate amounts, ginkgo appears to be safe for most healthy adults. Here are some important safety considerations when taking this supplement though:

  • In certain people, ginkgo can cause headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, upset stomach, constipation, and allergic skin reactions.
    • If you are epileptic or prone to seizures, avoid ginkgo.
    • If you are older, have a bleeding disorder or are pregnant, don’t take ginkgo because it might increase your risk of bleeding.
    • Ginkgo might interfere with the management of diabetes.
  • Don’t eat raw or roasted ginkgo seeds, which can be poisonous.
  • Possible interactions include: Alprazolam (Xanax), Anticoagulants and anti-platelet drugs, herbs and supplements, Anticonvulsants, Antidepressants, Certain statins, Diabetes drugs, Ibuprofen

#3: Ginseng

Ginseng root supplement for

The herbal remedies collectively referred to as “ginseng” are derived from the roots of several different plants. One of the most commonly used and researched of the ginseng plants is Panax ginseng, also called Asian or Korean ginseng.

The main active components of Panax ginseng are ginsenosides, which have been shown to have a variety of beneficial effects, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer effects.

Results of clinical research studies demonstrate that Panax ginseng may improve psychologic function, immune function, and conditions associated with diabetes.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Improve cognition and focus.
2. Reduce blood sugar.
3. Boost happiness and well being.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15982990
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20737519
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16401645
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8721940
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11895046

Is Ginseng Safe?

  • Overall, Panax ginseng appears to be well tolerated, although caution is advised about combining it with some pharmaceuticals, such as warfarin, oral hypoglycemic agents, insulin, and phenelzine.
  • Because ginseng may affect blood sugar levels, people taking drugs for diabetes should not use ginseng without talking to their doctor first. Ginseng can interact with warfarin and with some medicines for depression. Do not take ginseng without consulting your doctor if you take any medications. Caffeine may amplify ginseng’s stimulant effects.
  • Given the lack of evidence about its safety, ginseng is not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The Best Supplements for Gut Health

GI issues plague so many of us these days (your humble author included).

Here are some supplements that can offer relief:

#4: Probiotics

best probiotic supplements

I wrote about probiotics in my article Do Probiotics Work? Here’s What Science Really Says.

Here are the biggest takeaways from that piece:

  1. Many foods claiming probiotic content don’t contain enough for health benefit.
  2. Eating fermented foods is good … but not the same as taking probiotics.
  3. More strains doesn’t always means better. What’s more important is finding a product/strain that has been studied to treat the health condition you’re looking to improve.
  4. Talk to your doctor (preferably a gastroenterologist) about which probiotics you should be taking for specific health conditions.
  5. Diet and lifestyle are still the most important determining factors of gut microbial composition.

With that in mind, here are some strains that do appear to work for GI health:

BenefitsEvidence
1. L. acidophilus produces a number of powerful antimicrobial compounds in the gut that can inhibit the growth and toxin producing capabilities of some 23 known disease-causing pathogens.

2. Bifidobacteria consume old fecal matter, have the ability to remove cancer-forming enzymes, and protect against the formation of liver, colon, and mammary gland tumors.

3. L. salivarius helps digest foods for a healthy intestinal tract and makes vital nutrients more assimilable.

4. L. plantarum has the ability to eliminate thousands of species of pathogenic bacteria (such as E. coli).

5. B. coagulans appears to help alleviate abdominal pain and diarrhea in IBS patients, decrease gas, and improve bowel movements.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3700768/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3539293/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4908950/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5031164/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29409331
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30141154
https://bmcgastroenterol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-230X-9-85
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09168451.2014.972331

Are Probiotics Safe?

Probiotics are mostly unregulated, which is a problem. Certain studies have reported probiotic-related deaths and others have shown adverse events.

That’s why’s it’s so important to make sure the strain(s) you’re taking have been studied for safety and efficacy in peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

#5: Turmeric / Curcumin

turmeric curcumin health benefits

Turmeric is a spice that’s a member of the ginger family. It’s commonly used in several types of Asian cuisine. Turmeric roots contains a yellow-colored compound called curcumin that has some pretty impressive health properties.

In addition to the digestive benefits below, there is strong evidence that shows turmeric is high in anti-oxidants, which help protect your cells from damage and can help reduce inflammation, pain, anxiety and even symptoms of depression.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Relieve IBS
2. Aid digestion
3. Ease heartburn
4. Reduce gas and bloating
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3882399/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5553098/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664031/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3731878/

Is Turmeric Safe?

According to JECFA (The Joint United Nations and World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives) and EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) reports, the Allowable Daily Intake (ADI) value of curcumin is 0–3 mg/kg body weight.

Despite this well-established safety profile, some negative side effects have been reported. A small percentage of people in several clinical studies reported nausea and diarrhea.

#6: Fiber

foods high in fiber

Dietary fiber is a plant-derived nutrient that can’t be digested by your body. This is a good thing because fiber helps move material through your digestive system.

Problem is, most Americans still aren’t getting enough of it from their diet, especially if you follow a low carb or ketogenic diets.

The recommended daily intake of fiber is at least 25-30 grams. Most people get around 15.

A 2019 meta analysis of studies and clinical trials conducted over nearly 40 years showed that the health benefits of eating at least 25g or more of dietary fiber a day included:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, many types of cancers.
2. Improve digestive health.
3. Live longer.
https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.l159
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3399949/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25552267

If you’re struggling to get enough fiber from whole foods in your diet, then a supplement containing a little extra fiber may help. In rare cases, eating more fiber can lead to side effects. Here are some specific examples:

Is Fiber Safe?

  • Fiber supplements may decrease the absorption of some medications. Therefore, you should not take supplements within 2 hours of taking other medications.
  • When using fiber supplements or increasing dietary fiber intake, you should gradually increase your intake over a few weeks to avoid or reduce adverse effects such as intestinal flatulence, bloating, diarrhea, and cramping.
  • If you have a preexisting medical conditions, and especially one in which you need to restrict fluid intake (e.g., renal dysfunction or congestive heart failure), or if you’re currently taking any medications you should discuss the use of fiber supplements with your primary health care provider.
  • If you have intestinal ulcerations, stenosis, or disabling adhesions you should avoid fiber supplements because of the possibility of fecal impaction or intestinal obstruction.

The Best Supplements for Immunity

#7: Zinc

is zinc good for immunity

Zinc is an essential trace mineral and the second most abundant metal in humans. Since the human body does not store excess zinc, it must be consumed regularly as part of the diet. Zinc deficiency in humans is quite prevalent, affecting over two billion people

Here are some proven benefits of taking a zinc supplement:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Boost your immune system.
2. Treating common cold and recurrent ear infections, the flu, upper respiratory tract infections.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2277319/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636409/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5748737/

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Zinc

AgeMaleFemalePregnancyLactation
0–6 months2 mg2 mg  
7–12 months3 mg3 mg  
1–3 years3 mg3 mg  
4–8 years5 mg5 mg  
9–13 years8 mg8 mg  
14–18 years11 mg9 mg12 mg13 mg
19+ years11 mg8 mg11 mg12 mg

Source: Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc

Is Zinc Safe?

  • Zinc is likely safe for most adults when applied to the skin, or when taken by mouth in amounts not larger than 40 mg daily.
  • In some people, zinc might cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, metallic taste, kidney and stomach damage, and other side effects. Using zinc on broken skin may cause burning, stinging, itching, and tingling.
  • Zinc should not be inhaled through the nose, as it might cause permanent loss of smell. Avoid using nose sprays containing zinc.
  • Taking more than 100 mg of supplemental zinc daily or taking supplemental zinc for 10 or more years doubles the risk of developing prostate cancer. There is also concern that taking large amounts of a multivitamin plus a separate zinc supplement increases the chance of dying from prostate cancer.
  • Taking 450 mg or more of zinc daily can cause problems with blood iron. Single doses of 10-30 grams of zinc can be fatal.

The Best Supplements for Pain / Inflammation

Almost a third of Americans suffer from chronic pain–nearly 100 million people.

Prescription pain medications like opoids have become a major problem though.

Here are some supplements that can help relieve pain naturally, without the use of prescription meds:

#8: Glucosamine / Chondroitin

glucosamine chondroiton for joint pain

Glucosamine is a supplement derived from shellfish that may provide minor pain relief and help people who suffer from arthritis (particularly of the knee).

Chondroitin is a supplement frequently paired with glucosamine as a combination therapy to help with joint pain and stiffness, and other symptoms of osteoarthritis.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Decrease pain.
2. Lessen arthritis symptoms.
3. Reduce collagen degradation.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11279782
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17265490
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12860572
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12374520
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19724889
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29980200

Are Glucosamine / Chondroitin Safe?

  • No serious side effects have been reported in large, well-conducted studies of people taking glucosamine, chondroitin, or both for up to 3 years.
  • However, glucosamine or chondroitin may interact with the anticoagulant (blood-thinning) drug warfarin (Coumadin).
  • A study in rats showed that long-term use of moderately large doses of glucosamine might damage the kidneys. Although results from animal studies don’t always apply to people, this study does raise concern.
  • Glucosamine might affect the way your body handles sugar, especially if you have diabetes or other blood sugar problems, such as insulin resistance or impaired glucose tolerance.

#9: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

omega 3 fatty acid supplement health

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fats—your body can’t make them from scratch and therefore must get them from food. Foods high in Omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts, flax seeds, and leafy vegetables.

Omega-3 fats are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and help regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation.

There are three main omega-3s:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) come mainly from fish, so they are sometimes called marine omega-3s.
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the most common omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets, is found in vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat, especially in grass-fed animals.

Omega-3 fats have been shown to help with a variety of health conditions …

BenefitsEvidence
1. Prevent heart disease and stroke by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.
2. Control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis.
3. Play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.
4. Reduce symptoms of depression.
5. Reduce arthritis-related joint pain.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21975919
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150191/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21903025
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5295086/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26387397
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16531187

I personally use Krill Oil, and highly recommend it.

Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Safe?

  • Side effects of omega-3 supplements are usually mild. They include unpleasant taste, bad breath, bad-smelling sweat, headache, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea.
  • Several large studies have linked higher blood levels of long-chain omega-3s with higher risks of prostate cancer. However, other research has shown that men who frequently eat seafood have lower prostate cancer death rates and that dietary intakes of long-chain omega-3s aren’t associated with prostate cancer risk. The reason for these apparently conflicting findings is unclear. 
  • Omega-3 supplements may interact with drugs that affect blood clotting.
  • It’s uncertain whether people with seafood allergies can safely take fish oil supplements.

#10: Pine Bark Extract (Pycnogenol

Pine Bark Extract Pycnogenol

Pycnogenol, also known as “French Maritime Pine Bark Extract,” contains catechins similar to those found in green tea, grape seed extract and cocoa polyphenols. 

Pcynogenol does appear to possess dual anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and its benefits include increased blood flow and improved blood glucose control.

BenefitsEvidence

1. Promotes healthy aging. 
2. Improves symptoms of knee pain for patients with osteoarthritis.
3. Shows anti-inflammatory effects.
4.Increases antioxidant capability. 
5. Improved endothelial function in hypertensive patients.

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30215292
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18570266 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3203267/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12530550
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14659974

Side Effects

  • One study showed unwanted effects of a “mild and transient nature,” such as gastrointestinal problems, vertigo, headache and nausea. 

The Best (Legal) Supplements for Building Muscle and Losing Fat

#11: Protein Powder

protein powder plant

Prot