In the past few months I've noticed a particular uptick in national news articles criticizing the supplement industry - and in the process, strongly questioning (and even denying) the need for vitamin and mineral dietary supplementation.
I can't tell you how frustrated I get every time I see one of these articles.
All of these articles share some combination of a grossly misinformed author, bizarrely compiled references and (universally) a preconceived bias against supplement manufacturers. As a strong believer in the potential for strategic supplementation with high-quality vitamins and minerals to produce huge improvements in well-being and perforamance, I see this type of reporting as not only irresponsible, but actually harmful to public well being.
My primary issue with these articles is that they reference studies that look at the effects of multivitamin supplementation (or in some cases, isolated vitamins or minerals). Predictably, the studies report negligible results from multivitamin supplementation. From this, the authors feel at liberty to write off the efficacy of all vitamin and mineral supplementation and declare them a "waste of money". (this is usually the point in the article where I want to throw my macbook against the wall)
Of course these studies get negligible results! Why? 99% of multivitamins on this planet are worthless crap. That's why.
What I've unfortunately never seen, is a study or article looking at the effects of what I consider to be an intelligently-designed supplementation regimen with high-quality supplements. I promise you the results of that study would not be negligible...
What We'll Cover In This Article
- Why Multivitamins Are A Waste Of Time
- but...Why Supplementaion Is Very Much Necessary
- A Philosophy Of Supplementation: Maintaining vs. Optimizing
- Supporting Your Hormones
- What You Should Be Supplementing With
The Problem With Multivitamins
The supplement industry certainly deserves a lot of the criticism it receives, even if certain authors get a bit carried away with their condemnations. The industry puts out a lot of worthless crap that they market as having great benefit. Almost every multivitamin can be classified this way.
The problem is fundamentally a financially-driven one. Some vitamins and minerals are very cheap to manufacture. Others are quite expensive. Very few people are well educated on which vitamins and minerals they need in what quantities. Given this, it is common practice to fill multivitamins with inexpensive ingredients while including just enough of the more expensive vitamins and minerals to be able to list them on the label. The result is a highly unbalanced product that supplies only a few things in meaningful quantities.
The second problem is a logistical one. To get the quantities of vitamins and minerals I believe is optimal, I take about 25 pills a day. How can that possibly fit into a single pill, or even 2 or 3 pills? Take magnesium for example. Magnesium is one of my top 3 most critical supplements, and unfortunately one that almost everyone is chronically deficient in. I take 600-800mg of Magnesium on a daily basis. This in itself is four big capsules. You know how much is in most common multivitamins? 50-100mg Worthless...
Problem three is one of quality. The quality of vitamin and mineral supplements matters. Vitamins in particular come in different forms and purities, and this will have a huge effect on how well your body is able to absorb and use the vitamins. Again for cost reasons, most multivitamins consistently use low-quality ingredients that will be marginally useful to your body.
The fourth problem is a chemical one. Multivitamins are almost encapsulated or pressed dry powders. Four critical vitamins (A, D, E, K) are all fat-soluble, meaning that they need to be in solution in (liquid) fat for the body to be able to absorb and use them. If you take a multivitamin with a meal or specifically with some fat, some of the powdered vitamin will make it's way into fat solution in your stomach, but way more of it will just be peed out of the body. Making the problem worse is that many people eat multivitamins on an empty stomach or after a meal without sufficient fat. When you buy these fat soluble vitamins individually, they come in oil-filled capsules and the vitamins will already be in absorbable form.
That is a long list and it certainly highlights the main issues with multivitamins, but it is hardly complete. Point is, don't waste your time with these products.
Why We Need To Supplement
Once upon a time, supplementing was less necessary. To understand this, we need to look back at the point in time when the human (and looking more broadly, mammalian) metabolism evolved. Our metabolisms evolved at a point in time when early humans (or our mammalian predecessors) were eating entirely foraged foods and wild meat from their local environment. These foraged foods (as well as the foods eaten by the animals hunted for meat) grew in high-quality soils that were rich in a broad spectrum of essential minerals. As a result, it was easy to get large amounts of many minerals. This meant our metabolism was able to develop many processes that required these trace minerals.
Contrast this to our food supply today. Even good-quality organic produce is grown in depleted soils that have been farmed and re-farmed for decades. Farmers add minerals (i.e. fertilize) their soils, but generally only add minerals that plants need to grow (primarily nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium - i.e. N,P,K). The result is that our produce has only a fraction of the vitamin and mineral content of prehistoric foraged foods. The same is true of 99% of the meat available today. Livestock is fed nutrient-void grains, meaning that the animals are nutrient-deficient, as are the meats they become.
What's the bottom line here? In my opinion, unless you are supplementing intelligently with a spectrum of vitamins and minerals, you will be chronically deficient. For practical purposes, it is impossible to get adequate (not to mention, optimal) levels of many vitamins and minerals through food alone. This is supported by countless studies that have shown huge percentages of the population to be chronically deficient in a number of vitamins and minerals. You, reader, are almost certain to have several chronic nutrient deficiencies.
Maintaining vs Optimizing
The human body is an amazingly adaptable machine. Even in instances of extreme chronic nutrient deficiencies, the body will continue to function reasonably well for a surprisingly long time. Most metabolic processes are "backed up" by redundant processes, and the body will adapt to make sure the most important processes continue to run despite the deficiency.
The same principle can be extended to the chronic (if not extreme) nutrient deficiencies that a huge percentage of people have. Because of the body's remarkable adaptability, you can certainly maintain an 'OK' level of health and well-being in spite of your chronic deficiencies. I'd even say, if you do a good job with other areas of your well-being, "good" health is achievable in spite of chronic deficiencies.
But this really gets to the core of what drives us here at Synchro. "OK" and "good" health are not what we're after. We want you to feel as vibrant and energized as possible. We want you be lean and fit and have exactly the body composition you're looking for. And we want you to perform (cognitively and physically) at as high a level as possible.
In other words, we are interested in optimization not maintenance.
Based in my deep knowledge of human metabolism, the countless research articles I've read and my own extensive self-experimentation - it is my belief that optimization is not possible in the context of deficiencies, and the only way to address all of your deficiencies is to adopt an intelligent and strategic supplementation regimen.
It's All About Your Hormones
The metabolism is a hugely complex network of chemical processes, and ensuring that your metabolism is never limited by deficiencies will naturally produce benefits it a lot of areas. The greatest effects will likely come from the support provided to your endocrine system. This is this system of glands responsible for the production and regulation of the body's hormones. The endocrine system is one of the more chemically-complex systems in the body and requires a wide range of vitamins and minerals to operate at full speed.
Fat-burning, muscle-building, energy metabolism, reproduction, emotional health (and nearly everything else your body does) are all governed by your endocrine system. Nutrient deficiencies lead to inadequate or unbalanced levels of hormones, and countless other bodily functions suffer as a result. Addressing your chronic deficiencies is the most meaningful thing you can do to balance and support your endocrine system. You will feel better after a few weeks of an intelligent supplementation regimen, and the support to your hormones will be the primary reason why, in my opinion.
What Should I Be Supplementing With?
To avoid this article turning into a short novel, I'm going to take the next few weeks to go through the vitamin, mineral and other supplements that I consider to be the most essential in optimizing the body/mind system. So stay tuned for those upcoming articles...
Some of the most important ones, I've already covered in previous Synchro Life Design articles. Perhaps #1 and #2 on my list are Magnesium (touched upon in Synchro Life Design #8) and Himalayan Sea Salt (Synchro Life Design #1). Both are addressing chronic mineral deficiencies that most people have lived their whole lives with. A couple weeks of daily Magnesium + Himalayan Salt will replenish your endocrine system with the minerals it needs to thrive. The support of your hormonal system (and thus, your energy levels and well-being) will be significant.
I've also covered Omega 3 supplementation in Synchro Life Design #3. Balancing your Omega 3 and 6 levels will have a huge anti-inflammatory effect and you will feel noticeably better after this balancing is allowed to happen. Since most people have a Omega 6 levels that are way out of whack, this will also take several weeks of daily supplementation to fix.
Those are the three to start with, without question. As I mentioned above, I take a minimum of 20 supplement pills a day, so there's obviously a lot more that I think is essential. Check back in coming weeks for a detailed explanation on each of those.
Looking For More On Supplementation? Check out:
Top 3 Critical Vitamin + Mineral Supplements (Supplementation Series - Part 2 of 3)
Fixing Your Nutrient Deficiencies (Supplementation Series - Part 3 of 3)
Power Your Brain with Creatine Supplementation