Are supplements necessary? Which ones should you take? Not take? With so many options these days, navigating the world of supplements can be tricky. But when used correctly, supplements can help you recharge your energy, boost your immunity, and improve cognitive function. Here, biohacker, entrepreneur, and creator of Bulletproof.com Dave Asprey provides his insight on the importance of using supplements the right way in order to maximize your nutrient intake and support all of your biochemical pathways.
Here, I’ve provided a summary of the issues with generic supplements, how to select the right supplements for your body, and a list of supplements almost everyone should be taking.
In my experience, there are three general opinions of supplementation:
The first opinion is that any form of supplementation should be avoided because “it isn’t natural.” These are the people who claim that cavemen didn’t have supplements, so why should we?
The second is that supplements are an ideal way to “make up for” a poor diet, high stress levels, and pretty much everything else. For these people, supplements are a fantastic excuse to treat your body badly.
The last opinion falls somewhere in the middle – the ideal place to be. Why? Because supplements are a double edged sword. The wrong ones can do more damage than good, but the right ones can dramatically improve your health, even if you’re eating the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
Just say goodbye to multivitamins!
With half of the U.S. population taking a multivitamin, many people seem to think a multi is the first line of defense against malnutrition and disease. But human nutrition isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. Here are a few reasons why targeted supplementation is better:
. There is no one pill for every human.
There is no way to fit “a complete spectrum” of nutrients in one single pill. Most multivitamins contain too much of some nutrients (like vitamin A or B6) and not enough of others (like magnesium and zinc). The result is an imbalance of nutrition that makes more sense for the manufacturer’s bottom line and less sense for your body. Still, most consumers are drawn to the simplicity and convenience of taking just one pill, and don’t notice there are pointless amounts of some nutrients, and not enough of others.
2. Quality goes down the drain.
Nutrients come in all different forms that behave differently inside your body. For example, folate is an essential B vitamin, but folic acid, the kind found in generic multivitamins, may be carcinogenic in high doses and is not easily absorbed by many people. Instead, a high-quality methylated folate will actually be absorbed and used by the body. In addition, many multivitamins are made with fillers and additives that the body the body won’t even use. Or worse, that you’re bound to be sensitive or allergic to like soy, corn and wheat.
In the end, you get what you pay for with supplements. Here are some general guidelines to help you get the most out of your supplements:
Use food as your foundation. You should always shoot for getting most of your nutrients from food.
Consume supplements of the highest, purest quality. Consume supplements of the highest, purest quality. These are usually from companies that employ regular third party testing and other forms of quality control.
When in doubt – go without! It’s best to avoid the low quality supplements that may contain fillers your body doesn’t need.
Get the majority of your nutrients from food.
You don’t eat nutrients – you eat food. The good news here? The Bulletproof Diet
is the most nutrient-packed diet in the world. Whole foods behave differently from their individual components, working together in a process known as food synergy. This means that the nutrients in food work synergistically to deliver the right compounds to the right places in your body. Plus, nutrients in their food form are more readily absorbed and used by your body, as opposed to their synthetic cousins.
When in doubt – go without.
Safety is never a guarantee and supplements do not come without risk. Even the most natural supplements in the form of herbs or something as unassuming as vitamin C can contain heavy metals, contaminants, and other byproducts from processing. Supplementing without an intimate knowledge of the biochemical pathways of your body can result in a disruption of hormones and can even mess up neurotransmitter production. Just because some of these are sold at the supermarket doesn’t mean they’re foolproof.
In many cases, excessive nutrients are eliminated in the urine, but in other instances, it’s better to go without than to take something your body does not want or need.
Creating your individualized supplement regimen.
Everyone’s ideal supplement profile is different, and should be carefully customized to your body based on your symptoms, health history and goals. But to make things as simple as possible, here’s a breakdown of supplements that most everyone should be taking.
For each nutrient, you will get a:
- Dosage recommendation.
- The correct form it should be taken in.
- The time it should be taken.
- A recommended brand.
I have no relation or affiliation with any of these companies. They are simply the ones I trust with my health and use on a daily basis. Note: I am not a doctor, so seek medical advice from your personal physician prior to supplementing.
Here are the 10 nutrients (almost) everyone should supplement with.
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K2
- Vitamin C
- Krill Oil
- Vitamin A
- Folinic Acid with B12
First and foremost: Vitamin D. As the most important supplement, Vitamin D influences more than 1,000 different genes and serves as a cofactor for sex hormones like testosterone, human growth hormone, and estrogen. It plays a role in immunity, regulating inflammation, calcium metabolism, and bone development. It’s no coincidence this is one of the few vitamins the human body can synthesize on its own. It’s true – you can get plenty of vitamin D from sun exposure, but for non-nudist, non-equatorial dwellers, relying on the sun alone is probably not sufficient. Because this is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is important to test your vitamin D levels before dosing at levels more than 1,000-2,000 IU. Too much vitamin D in supplement form can lead to toxicity.
1,000 IU / 25 pounds of body weight.*
Recommended Brand: Jarrow Formulas D31
*People with darker skin tones don’t convert sunlight into vitamin D as readily as lighter skinned people. If you’re brown skinned, a safe bet is more like 1,500 IU / 25 pounds of body weight, but you should always test your blood levels because individual response to dosage varies.
Magnesium is used in over 300 enzymatic processes in your body, including all of those involved in ATP (cellular energy) production. It’s also essential for DNA and RNA transcription.
Magnesium deficiency is a serious problem in the U.S. and can contribute to conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, anxiety disorders, and PMS. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include heart arrhythmias, tachycardia, headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, metabolic syndrome, migraines
, and many more. Almost all Americans are at least a little deficient in magnesium. Due to the depletion of minerals and other nutrients in our soil and and poor farming practices, it’s almost impossible to get enough magnesium from food sources alone. Bottom line: everyone should probably supplement with magnesium. Start with 200 mg and work your way up to tolerance. Some forms of magnesium can cause loose stools.
300-800mg / day
Citrate, malate, glycinate, threonate, or orotate
Recommended Brand: Life Extension
Unless you grew up eating only grass-fed meat and raw milk, you’re likely deficient in vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is a fat-soluble vitamin essential to calcium metabolism, which helps to ward off atherosclerotic conditions and heart attacks, as well as increase bone strength. We get vitamin K1 from leafy green vegetables
, and vitamin K2 from grass-fed animal products. Humans don’t convert vitamin K1 into K2 efficiently. You should consume a total of at least 2,000 mcg per day of K2, at least 100 mcg of which should be the MK-7 form.
2,000mcg / day (100mcg MK-7 form)
MK-4, and MK-7
Doesn’t really matter, but it’s best to take this with vitamin D, so morning is best.
Recommended Brand: Life Extension
Raise a glass to vitamin C, which is high on the spectrum of both safe and effective. We need vitamin C to form collagen
and connective tissue. It’s also used to synthesize the potent antioxidant glutathione
. Vitamin C can enhance immune function and help fend off free radical damage. It’s often challenging to get enough vitamin C from the diet alone and your body is constantly using and excreting it. Some fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin C, but cooking and storage methods can diminish vitamin C content. I recommend supplementing with at least 1,000 mg per day. Take more if you’re battling an infection or injury.
1,000-2,000 mg / day
Ascorbic acid crystals or time-release capsules.
Morning and evening, but it’s best not to take it after a workout as isolated antioxidants can negate the insulin sensitivity gained from exercise.
Recommended Brand: Solaray
When you hear iodine
, think thyroid function. Your thyroid needs iodine to function properly. It also promotes immune function and protects against neurological damage. Given that most of the population is iodine deficient, I advocate supplementation. Food sources include seafood and iodized salt, but still this may not be adequate. Iodized salt won’t get you optimal levels and is often highly processed anyway, which can include heavy metals and other contaminants from processing. For iodine supplementation, a good starting point is 1 mg from kelp powder or as potassium iodide. Iodine should be supplemented along with selenium, as they work together to support thyroid function. If you suffer from a thyroid condition, talk to your doctor before supplementing with iodine, as it can sometimes make things worse.
1mg / day
Kelp powder or potassium iodide capsules
Recommended Brand: Pure Encapsulations potassium iodide
EPA/DHA (Krill oil)
This is a tricky one. Here, quality and dosage are key. Small doses of high quality fish oil
reduce inflammation, improve brain function, and even enhance muscle growth, but poor quality or high doses can cause more problems than they help to solve. If you can’t find a quality fish oil, forget about it and just steer clear. Better yet, eat some low-mercury, wild fish 2-3 times per week. I recommend krill oil over fish oil altogether since it’s more stable. In its phosphorylated form, it’s much more efficient for the brain to use. It’s also rich in astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant.
There are real benefits to taking EPA and DHA, but most of these are strongest if your diet is deficient in omega-3s, or too high in omega-6’s. If you’re eating a Bulletproof Diet, this won’t be a problem. Humans only need 350mg of DHA and EPA a day for optimal brain function. If you’re eating grass-fed meat and wild caught fish, you can easily achieve this. Otherwise, you should supplement with at least 1,000 mg of krill oil per day.
1,000mg / day
Recommended Brand: Jarrow Krill oil
In addition to these basic supplements, there are a few you should also consider taking.
If you aren’t eating organ meats, you’re likely deficient in vitamin A, which is an integral cofactor for numerous metabolic reactions and bodily functions. Keep in mind: plants sources contain beta-carotene, NOT vitamin A. Beta-carotene does get converted into vitamin A in the body, but some people are more efficient at this than others. So, if you’re not eating organ meat or are a vegan or vegetarian, you’re more likely to be deficient in this important fat-soluble vitamin. Again, vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, so over supplementation can cause toxicity.
10,000-15,000 IU / day.
Retinol (A good source of vitamin A is cod liver oil, which also has vitamin D)
Recommended Brand: Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil (Arctic Mint flavor)
This important nutrient supports immunity, can be anti-carcinogenic, fends off neurodegenerative disease, and safeguards the thyroid. Although it is possible to consume sufficient amounts of selenium from wild caught fish and grass-fed animal products, the reality is that most of us do not. In these cases, supplement with 200 mcg per day. Caution though: in excessively high amounts, selenium can cause toxicity.
200 mcg / day
Se Methyl Selenocysteine or selenomethionine
Recommended Brand: Life Extension
Zinc and copper go together in your body like bacon and eggs. Zinc is a powerful and essential mineral involved in countless aspects of cellular metabolism. It plays a major role in your immune function, protein and DNA synthesis, and wound healing.
Copper is needed for proper vascular and heart function. With a majority of the population taking in a meager 0.8 mg daily, most of the U.S. does not get enough copper. Zinc and copper intake has fallen over the last century due to new farming and dietary practices. Zinc is found in higher levels in foods like oysters, herring, beef, lamb, pork, liver, egg yolks, carrots, beets and cabbage. And if you’re eating at least four ounces of beef liver per week, you can meet your copper needs. Other good sources of copper include cocoa
(dark chocolate – look for low toxin Bulletproof Chocolate Powder), cashews, and lobster. If you don’t feel like you’re getting adequate zinc and copper from food or if you suffer from a compromised immune system, you should supplement with at least 10mg zinc and 1mg of copper per day.
: 10-15mg zinc and1mg copper / day
Zinc picolinate / Capsule form of copper
Recommended Brand: Pure Encapsulations
B-12 and folic acid
Vitamin B12 is a common deficiency, which is a shame since B12 can protect against dementia and depression, boost the immune system, optimize nerve function and signaling, protect against atherosclerosis, repair DNA and regenerate cells. B12 lowers homocysteine and protects against atherosclerosis. It’s absolutely essential for brain function.
Folate deficiency can also lead to neurological issues. Folate and B12 are vastly intertwined, and both are required for mental function. One deficiency will cause another, but folate will not correct a B12 deficiency. If you make the mistake of treating B12 deficiency with folate, you may suffer permanent brain damage. Vegans, please take note: you can only get B12 naturally from animal products, so if you don’t eat meat or animal byproducts, you must supplement. Likewise, high amounts of folate without adequate B12 can cause neurological conditions. Therefore, it is important to take these two together. Indeed, they go hand in hand.
: >5mg of methylcobalamin or hydroxycobalamin and >800mcg of folate (5-MTHF or folinic acid, NOT folic acid)
The optimal supplementation regime varies from individual to individual. It is inextricably linked with preexisting diet and lifestyle factors. As a general rule of thumb, get the majority of nutrients from your diet. Food delivers nutrients in their most natural, “perfect” forms. When you do supplement – you absolutely get what you pay for. Remember, the key here is quality.
Want to read more?
Diagnosed with High Triglycerides? Why Fish Oil Needs to Be Part of Your Diet
My Chronic Illnesses, Panic Attacks, and Migraines Left Me Barely Able to Move…Until I Turned to Paleo to Heal
What’s All the Buzz About Sea Vegetables? Here’s Why You Should Be Eating Them