Friday, 13 November 2009

Supplements - What I Take and Why

Many people would like to take a single tablet each day that ensures optimal health. Thus was born the multi-vitamin. But you can't. It's not that simple.

Until recently, my Father required an entire cupboard in the kitchen to house the collection of tablets and potions from which his daily supplementation was administered. My relentless re-education campaign is paying off: we are now down to a single shelf.

Over the years I went from no supplementation to lots of supplementation then finally to judicious supplementation. I'd like to spare you the effort of making the same journey.

First of all, a couple of assumptions to make clear.
  1. I eat a Paleo diet (most of the time.) Thus, the nutrient density of my food is high and well proportioned. My meat is mostly wild or organic / grass fed / free range. My fruit and veg is mostly organic. Yes, the nutrient density of modern fruit and vegetables, organic or otherwise, is lower than those our ancestors gathered; and yes, modern life throws at us additional toxins such as pollution. However, I doubt our ancestors had consistent access to the volume of fruits and vegetables we do. I believe this offsets the reduced nutrient content and additional toxin load.
  2. I have no special requirements. I am not pregnant (and barring some kind of unwelcome miracle, never will be) and I am not aware of any congenital deficiencies. My research has been based on my requirements as a normal healthy male.
What Supplements do I Take?
Vitamin D
I have read a lot about this (see the articles in my bookmarks under the vitamin D tag.) There is a growing consensus that it's a crucial ingredient to our wellbeing, and one whose healthy levels have been underestimated. People mistook average levels for healthy levels. Modern man spends much less time in the sun, so our bodies are not able to make what they need; and since it's almost impossible to compensate for this via diet, we have a problem only supplementation or regular holidays can solve (unless you are lucky enough to live somewhere sunny.)

I have written about how I got tested, revealing a significant deficiency, then supplemented to achieve improved levels.

I buy this product.
Summer: 3000 iu per day when I do not sunbathe. Zero iu when I do.
Winter: 4000 iu each day.
I get tested every 6 months, and adjust supplementation accordingly. I am still learning.
I don't agree with everything Mark Sisson says about supplementation, but there's no doubt he knows his stuff, and it's his views on probiotics in this post which have driven my policy. The key points I have learned are:
  • We need healthy bacteria in our guts.
  • Some things we do in our life kills the friendly bacteria (e.g. antibiotics, illness, stress.)
  • Unlike our forefathers, we are very hygienic. So the friendly bacteria does not tend to get replaced naturally.
  • Once re-introduced, friendly bacteria can grow and flourish by itself.
Based on this information I take a day's worth of acidophilus once a month, just to be sure. If I get an upset stomach now and again, or have a couple of days of stress, this will 're-seed' my friendly bacteria culture.

I buy this product (but not from this shop)
Once day per month: 36 mg Lactobacilli culture x 4.
I have my Mother to thank for this one. S
everal years ago she noted I was taking ibuprofen tablets like smarties. I was playing a lot of sport and constantly had sprains or muscular issues to combat.

Since then I have learned how bad Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) - of which ibuprofen is one - can be. They mess with your stomach in a way which (to a layman like me) sounds a lot like the impact grains have.

What are the alternatives? Well, many of the healthy foods I am already consuming have anti-inflammatory effects. Omega 3 fatty acids, for a start; and apparently cherries have excellent anti-inflammatory effects - but how many jugs of cherry juice would I need to combat a sprained ankle?

Bottom line: serrapeptase is a naturally occurring substance with a long track record of largely side-effect-free use as a powerful anti-inflammatory. So when I am injured, I take that.

I buy this product (but not from this shop)
When injured, I take 60,000 or 120,000 iu 3 times per day. I have no real basis for this dosing other than the knowledge that side effects are rare even at high doses, and I have never experienced any.
What Supplements would I Consider Taking?
Omega 3 Oil
I have read a fair bit about this too, but don't seem to have bookmarked anything. The key point is that the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids in our diet is very important to health. As hunter gatherers this was not an issue. Wild food is high in omega 3. However, processed food and industrially farmed animals are high in omega 6. Supplementation with omega 3 can therefore be a good idea to combat the modern diet.

Nevertheless, I do not supplement with omega 3 because:
  • You can get omega 3 from foods. Oily fish is an excellent source. I eat sardines, mackerel and herring by the bucket load. These are small, wild-caught, oily fish. Size is important because small fish have not lived long enough for significant quantities of cancer-causing toxins to build up in their fatty tissue. I also eat tinned salmon.
  • As I mentioned, most of the time I don't eat modern or industrialised food anyway, so my omega 6 intake is generally low.
  • I don't like spending money I don't have to.
Why Won't I Take Anything Else?
I will preface my final point with the following statement: I am always learning and certainly do not know it all. A year ago I would have written this blog post and not even mentioned vitamin D. Next week I may read an article that convinces me I should supplement with something else. For now, my views on further supplementation are as follows:

Mankind barely even 'gets' the human body at the moment. We are about as good at knowing the full effects of a supplement as we are at predicting the weather beyond next week. This is a good analogy because like the body, the weather is an immensely complex system in which everything interacts with everything else.

We run crude tests where we change one variable out of billions, then draw our conclusions from a few measurements over a few months.

We evolved to receive our nutrients from food, which is also a complex combination of many substances. Yet we identify single molecules in that food and think that by supplementing just that molecule we can compensate for eating material that barely qualifies as food.

So I will continue to 'supplement' with real food, except in cases (like vitamin D) where I am convinced this is not possible and where I am willing to take the gamble of consuming an isolated substance that crudely approximates what nature intended.


Unknown said...

I add consume ground ginger and ground cinnamon everyday in my foods. Both ginger & cinnamon are both powerful anti-inflammatory spices and high in antioxidants. I had to recover from bruised ribs about 2 months ago and used white willow bark which is the original aspirin. White willow bark didn't upset my stomach and also had anti-inflammatory properties and I found it worked just as well as Advil & Alieve.

Methuselah said...

Thanks for the tips James. I have a lot of cinnamon myself as it happens, so that must be helping.

Vin - NaturalBias said...

I follow a minimalistic approach to supplements myself. The only supplements I've used lately are probiotics, digestive enzymes, and a fermented cod liver oil / butter oil blend.

Doug said...

I have never tried serrapeptase before. Thanks for the tip.

For me, I have my core group of supps + and additional 1 or 2 that I cycle

The core group

Green drink
Fish Oil
Vitamin D
extra Vitamin B for stress
and ZyflaMend for inflammation

(I am paleo as well, so my nutrient level is higher than a normal Big Mac eater)

Aaron Blaisdell said...

Thanks for the well-articulated post. My current supplements only include Vitamin D3 (Carlson's drops which I drop into a fatty food such as yogurt or milk) of which I take about 4-6 IU during the winter and less in summer when I get sun. I also occasionally take Thorn K2 (a tiny drop in food) to make sure my Vitamin D has the right activators.

The rest is done by food, including superfoods, such as High-Vitamin fermented Cod Liver Oil (loaded with Vits A and D), High-Vitamin Butter Oil (loaded with K2 and other goodies; a la Weston Price), and I eat plenty of yogurt (both FAGE Total and some from grass-fed cows in the US midwest) for my probiotics (I prefer them natural). I also add Kombu and Dulse to my soups and stocks once or twice a week to ensure other trace minerals and Iodine, etc. I eat a fair bit of canned small fish (sardines mostly). And I eat raw-milk cheese every day. And I regularly make chicken stock and beef bone stock so that I always have some on hand. So most of my vitamins and minerals comes from real food. The exception being D3 and sometimes K2 though given the butter oil and raw-cheese I'm not sure if this is really necessary. I've also taken to adding cacao nibs to my yogurt, and I drink plenty of coffee (about 3 cups/day) and red wine just about every night.

Methuselah said...

Thanks everyone for sharing your own supplementation regimes.

Doug - what is 'green drink'?

Grok said...

5,000 iu Vitamin D
1 Tbsp cod liver oil (1,200iu more D)
Iodine - Likely upping this even more.
Multi-mineral - Started few months ago

There are several essential minerals I don't feel I was getting enough of. Especially while low-cal dieting.

Multi-Vitamin - Only while dieting

Fasting, CLO & raw ACV/Kombucha have completely rid me of inflamed joints.

I am a probiotic machine, but feel the packaged supps are worthless. I've never seen any benefit. I used to eat them like candy.

Now I get my probiotics mostly from RAW live foods like: various types of kefirs, kombucha, kraut and cheeses. Occasionally yogurt, cottage cheese and Kimchi slip in there.


This is controversial for some but I will throw it out here anyway: while it is very difficult to find an adept practitioner of muscle testing, they are available and can be quite helpful in determining which substances make the body go strong, go weak or simply have a neutral affect on the body (in which case you are wasting your money).

Anonymous said...

Low carb, Moderate protein, high fat diet is the best?! Everyone I know does well on it (as said by another imm member)?! Sorry, I do horribly on those ratios.

I hope to do a post soon on Diet, Antioxidants, HGH, and Supplements. I feel a large portion of even our enlightened audience is duped into thinking the paleo diet maximizes longevity. The Paleo diet helps increase muscle mass and decrease weight which helps with your consitution for any general moment, but the hormonal environment will be a detriment to longevity vs a diet that helps lower internal growth hormones (like lowering IGF-1).

Of course you want to eat unprocessed foods, avoid processed fructose, lower polyunsaturate intake (with balance),and avoid gluten. But a high fat diet is not the only (or best) diet out there.

Problems of a Paleo diet:

1: too much protein; even a moderate paleo diet has protein approaching 100-150g of protein a day. Plus, you can start to alter the bacteria in your stomach towards putrafactive bacteria from fermentative.
2: too much fat; remember the figures of AGEs in foods, cooked animal foods or oils or even certain nuts have lots of these. Fat can also form dangerous compounds in your gut during digestion. I trust that fats I make in my body from carbohydrates won't have this problem.

People who are overweight seem to do extremely well on high protein, low carb diets. This is precisely because they are overweight. Thin people can process carbs well (being insulin sensitive, remember the Kitava?), being thin is the natural state of man. Just as consuming antioxidants are beneficial in diseased type states, but when you are healthy, they might hurt energy production and longevity.

When you eat a Paleo diet, you are really bumping up your hormones. There seems to me to be overwelming evidence that eating a growth producing diet (while it can make you big and strong), hampers maximum longevity. More to come!

Dr. Marcus Ettinger said...


Your program is pretty spot on.

Vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids are two of the most common nutritional deficiencies I see in my practice, along with magnesium (which if I could recommend just one addition to your program, that would be it - aspartate or glycinate form 600mg's/day).

Probiotics are also very needed and when combined w/vitamin D, really help to modulate the immune response in a very positive way.

Here is just some food for thought on possible additions in the future. Vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol w/mixed tocopherols) 800IU's/day and buffered vitamin C w/rutin and bioflavonoids 1,000mg's/day helps to strengthen all of our soft parts (connective tissue/cell membranes...) and makes us more like the brick house than the straw house.

Zinc gluconate (50mg's/day) for men helps to build healthy sperm and block some of the conversion of testosterone to estrogen - a very good thing.

I think that's enough for know. I hope it was helpful. Dr. E

Methuselah said...

Thanks Dr E - will keep those in mind.

SafeNSharp said...

Sounds like you are being smart and cautious with the supps. Might want to consider taking Niacin. Learned about it from Dr. Davis's heartscan blog. I've only been on it a short time so its too early to say, but his evidence suggests it is beneficial for almost everyone's heart health.

Methuselah said...

Thanks Sifter - will look into niacin - in particular whether there are foods that are rich in it, so perhaps I can get my supply naturally...

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