Are you feeling sluggish, achy, or otherwise, well, mediocre? Before you reach for one of the bottles in your bathroom cupboard, know that there may be a better way. Hundreds of scientific studies now confirm what holistic doctors, alternative-medicine experts, and your grandmother have known for years: some of the foods you already have in your kitchen have the potential to make you feel better—in many cases, without the side effects that can come with prescriptions and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. We asked several top natural health experts* for their picks. Here’s what they recommend:
Important: some supplements can interfere with prescription and OTC medications or may not be safe if you're pregnant, nursing, or have a medical condition. Check with your physician or pharmacist before taking them.
Research suggests that coconut oil may play a role in weight loss. Its medium-chain triglycerides, a type of saturated fat, tend to be burned for fuel instead of stored, the way some other fats are. In addition, a study published in Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that premenopausal women who ate coconut oil had higher levels of "good" HDL cholesterol. Coconut oil makes a great moisturizer, too.
Dose: Include a teaspoon or so in your daily diet. When using it topically, massage it directly into skin.
“Aside from water, it’s the healthiest beverage you can drink,” says Chris Kilham, founder of Medicine Hunter, Inc. “Data shows that its antioxidant content enhances heart health and reduces the risk for many cancers [including breast and colon] and neuro-degenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s disease. And every cup you drink lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes by 7 percent, according to a 2011 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry study.
Dose: Drink it as you like it, but if you suffer from anxiety, high blood pressure, or insomnia, switch to decaf. You’ll get the same benefits without the jitters.
Derived from turmeric root (a primary ingredient in curry powder), curcumin reduces inflammation. That’s why it’s been shown to be more effective than ibuprofen and naproxen in pain-relief studies, and it doesn’t pose the same risk for liver and kidney damage that the over-the-counter meds do. Research also shows that it offers relief for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and headaches, and may help treat depression, asthma, and psoriasis.
Dose: Take 1 to 3 grams daily.
*Real Simple’s Natural Health Expert Panel:
Suzy Cohen, R.PH., licensed pharmacist, functional-medicine practitioner, and author of Drug Muggers: Which Medications Are Robbing Your Body of Essential Nutrients—and Natural Ways to Restore Them. (suzycohen.com)
Tod Cooperman, M.D., founder of ConsumerLab.com, which provides independent test results on nutritional supplements.
Chris Kilham, founder of Medicine Hunter, Inc., and author of Tales From the Medicine Trail: Tracking Down the Health Secrets of Shamans, Herbalists, Mystics, Yogis and Other Healers. (medicinehunter.com)
Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., chair of the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention Dietary Supplements Admissions Committee, author of Healthy at Home: Get Well and Stay Well Without Prescriptions, and former member of the White House Commission on Complementary & Alternative Medicine Policy. (drlowdog.com)