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Supplemental Reading: The Latest Science on Supps, Explained

What vitamins should you be taking? Here are the latest answers, courtesy of science.

To take your vitamins, or not? That's the question being raised by a number of pros in the healthcare industry right now. And it's for good reason, since staying on top of the supplement game can give you as much whiplash as watching a Nadal-Djokovic match. (You know the cycle: new studies come out and make splashy headlines, then they’re debunked before you even get to the store).

To cut through some of the clutter (and those vast, fluorescent vitamin aisles) we’ve rounded up the most important supplement news in recent months. 

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Probiotics May Boost Your Mood
You probably already knew that those live microorganisms found in yogurt and other fermented foods (and sold in the pill form everywhere) do good things for digestion, IBS, and immunity, but a new study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity has linked gut bacteria with good mental health, too.

In a randomized controlled trial, 20 adults consumed a multi-species probiotic (meaning it had multiple strains of bacteria) for four weeks, while 20 other study participants were given a placebo (even though they were told they were taking a probiotic). A depression sensitivity scale at the end of the study found that the group taking probiotics reported fewer negative or depressive thoughts—furthering the theory that the gut really is the ‘second brain.’ (The gut and brain are connected by a network of neurons called the brain-gut axis, which explains why we feel so many emotions—stress!—in our stomach). 

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Vitamin B Fights Skin Cancer
Sunscreen’s still your number one protector (yep—you still need it when the temps cool down), but if you’re prone to non-melanoma type skin cancers (think: basal cell or squamous cell cancers) a year-long Australian study found that taking Vitamin B supplements could slash your risk by almost a quarter.

In the clinical trial, those who took 500 mg a day of nicotinamide (a type of Vitamin B3) had a 23% lower risk of developing skin cancer than those who took a placebo pill. Don’t forget shades, a hat, and sun-protective clothing, too, if you’re headed to the beach—guys are more likely to develop (and, uh, die) from skin cancer than women are. 

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Vitamin C Can Mimic Exercise
Time to cancel your gym membership and chug OJ instead? Hardly. But a small study of overweight adults found that those who took 500mg of daily Vitamin C supplements had similar improvements in their blood vessel tone (a key measurement for cardiovascular health) as those who followed a brisk walking routine over three months (40-60 minute walks, 5-7 days a week.)

Even though vitamin C reduced the study participant’s levels of endothelin-1 (a protein that constricts the arteries and can increase your risk for heart attacks) the benefits don’t even begin to compare to the perks of a regular exercise regimen, so consider this one a helpful move if you’re out with an injury.

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Protein Packs a Punch While You Doze  
Every trainer will tell you that having some protein after working out is crucial for recovery, but a study from the Journal of Nutrition has confirmed that deep sleep is another key time to make muscle gains. Over a 12-week period, 39 young men lifted weights three times a week and had a 275-calorie snack afterwards, but a portion of the guys also had a protein drink (27.5 g of protein, 15 g of carbs, and .1g of fat) before bed each night.

By the end of the study, the guys getting the extra dose of protein before bed had increased their muscle mass and strength by about 3%. Pick a shake made with casein, a slow-release protein, to last you through the night. 

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Low D Can Hurt Your Brain
It takes about 10 to 15 minutes of daily UV exposure to fill up your reserves of Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, but if you’re desk jockeying this fall and winter that can be a hard mark to make. (And unfortunately, finding good sources of D in your diet isn’t easy.)

There’s a laundry list of reasons why you need Vitamin D (low levels have been linked to cancer, heart disease, and infectious diseases, among other health issues.) and more recently, a study published in JAMA Neurology has found that too little D may be associated with a faster decline of cognitive function. The eight-year study of older adults found that those with inadequate levels of the vitamin lost thinking and memory skills more quickly than those with normal D levels. A quick blood test at the doc can tell you if you’re low on D, so ask your doc the next time you’re in. Luckily it’s one of the easiest (and cheapest) supplements to get your hands on. 

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