Your body is a machine. What goes in (nutrition) ultimately impacts what you can get out of it (performance). If what you put in is crap, what can you expect? This article outlines the most important vitamins and minerals you should be getting to get the most out of that machine.
First, be careful…
Supplementation is not as simple as you’d hope. Supplementation industry isn’t regulated the way the medical industry is. Basically, they’re allowed to sell pretty much anything regardless of whether there’s proof it works or not. The contents of supplements aren’t regulated either. If a manufacturer claims their product contains 100µg of vitamin D, it might actually contain 50µg or 200µg. You have no way of knowing for sure. For this reason, it’s very important you get your supplements from a reputable manufacturer. If there’s a “certificate of analysis” available, that is a good sign. You can also check if for instance labdoor.com has analyzed any products from a particular manufacturer. Some supplements are downright dangerous and harmful to your health if you don’t know what you’re doing. Especially the vitamin B group has some potential trouble makers if you take too much.
With that said, supplementation isn’t rocket science either. There’s plenty of research on the subject and I’ve used that to make recommendations that are easy to follow. But remember, getting vitamins and minerals from whole foods is always better than getting them from pills. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get the optimal amount of everything from food alone. That’s where supplements come in.
Biohackers talk about “stacks”. I’m going to talk about the primary stack you should take daily and this should be the basis of your supplementation. I’ll also talk about some optional supplements. Also, I’ll briefly mention some interesting nootropics and adaptogens. More about the latter two will follow in a future post.
The primary stack
This is something everyone should take. There’s hard science behind each and every substance and the benefits range from preventing cancer to boosting your brain and improving cognitive function. The top 3 are all intertwined when it comes to bone health for instance.
Unless you lived in a bottle for the past 10 years you already know you should supplement on vitamin D. It increases cognition, immune health, bone health and well-being. Vitamin D really is the mother of all supplements.
Dosage: 100µg per day if you don’t get a lot of sunlight and you don’t know your starting point. This will most likely get you to the optimal range. I was badly deficient in vitamin D when I started. Currently, I’m taking 125µg which should take me to about 125nmol/l serum concentration, which is considered optimal. If you know your serum levels, see this for fine tuning (link fixed Nov 15th)
The majority of people, up to 80% are magnesium deficient. The benefits of magnesium supplementation range from reducing arrhythmia to improving bone health, and reducing the risk of diabetes. “Researchers have now detected 3,751 magnesium-binding sites on human proteins, indicating that its role in human health and disease may have been vastly underestimated.” (source)
Dosage: 500mg per day. Magnesium citrate powder is the most cost-effective choice if you don’t mind the acidity.
Like vitamin D, vitamin K2 also has a link to calcium absorption. Deficiency of K2 has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, as well as osteoporosis. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of research on benefits of K2, but for now K2 supplementation seems to at least increase bone density, reduce fracture risk and reduce cancer mortality.
Dosage: 100µg of the MK-7 form of K2 seems adequate. The MK-7 form absorbs more efficiently than the MK-4 form. If you use the MK-4 you should use a higher dose.
Vitamin B12 and Folate
Supplementing on these two improves your energy, focus, and memory. I’ve experienced this personally, and also heard others talk about similar effects. It also lowers homocysteine levels which have been linked to reducing the risk of many conditions like heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Stay away from folic acid unless you’ve tested your DNA and know you don’t have the MTHFR gene, which about one in three people have. B12 and folate should always be taken together because a deficiency in one can mask a deficiency in the other.
Dosage: 1mg of B12 and 400mg of folate (5-MTHF) per day.
Increased intake of omega-3 may lower your blood pressure, lower your triglyceride levels, and reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and arrhythmia.
Dosage: 1000 mg of DHA and EPA per day (combined) is recommended by American Heart Association.
Zinc & Copper
Zinc may improve your immunity against the cold as well as reduce the severity and duration by about 1 day. Note that zinc supplementation may cause copper deficiency, which is why you should choose a product that also contains copper.
Dosage: 15mg+1mg per day. For cold symptoms use lozenges, 90mg per day. Start supplementing within 24 hours of first symptoms. For cold treatment, you should specifically use zinc gluconate or zinc acetate.
Iodine deficiency will cause thyroid problems. It is not very common because salts typically contain enough iodine for you to get to the RDA level. However, if you use anything other than the “regular salt” the odds are it doesn’t contain iodine. If that’s the case you should either supplement or change the type of salt you use. Using kelp or some similar seaweed product as a spice in your cooking can also be an easy way to ensure sufficient iodine intake.
Dosage: 150µg per day is the RDA. The maximum tolerable dose is 600µg per day.
“An athlete supplementing vitamin C, […] can expect to cut the risk of getting a cold in half. Supplemental vitamin C is able to reduce the duration of a cold by 8-14% in any population, when it is taken as a daily preventative measure, or at the beginning of a cold.” (source).
Dosage: If you eat a balanced diet full of vegetables and fruit, you probably don’t need to supplement on vitamin C on a daily basis. The RDA is only 60mg, but I try to reach 500mg daily. Getting this much is challenging (but doable) by eating whole foods alone. Having some extra vitamin C handy when you can’t quite stick to a healthy diet for any reason makes sense. Vitamin C is water soluble and doesn’t store in your body. Make sure you get enough every day.
A healthy gut equals a healthy brain. Several conditions such as eczemas, allergies, headaches, brain fog, etc. can actually be due to problems in your gut. Whether the reason is poor diet, recent antibiotics, or an unknown factor, probiotics together with healthy nutrition can be the solution. However, whether a healthy person benefits from probiotics or not doesn’t seem clear at the moment.
Dosage: At least 10 billion bacteria per day for “maintenance”. Use higher doses if you have bigger gut issues. In that case, see for example VSL3 or Vivomixx, both of which have hundreds of billion bacteria per dose, but are also quite expensive.
This one is an important point for a biohacker. Your genes and your diet impact your vitamin and mineral absorption capabilities. For instance, if you’re vegan you probably have an increased need for supplementing particular vitamins, K2 or B12 for example. Personally, I have a genetic tendency of having a lower vitamin B6 level than an average person. Thus, I might benefit from a B6 supplement. I used 23andme.com and promethease.com to analyze my genome and find out about my individual needs. I’ll write more about this in a future post.
The No-No Stack
This isn’t a stack at all to be honest. It’s just a list of things you should NOT be taking by default unless you have a good reason.
- Generic multi-vitamins. You shouldn’t take multivitamins unless you’ve looked at each and every individual component of if and made sure it’s something you benefit from. Many multi-vitamins will have folic acid, for instance, which is harmful to about third of the people due to the MTHFR gene.
- Calcium. No, calcium supplementation is not necessarily good for your bones. The majority of people get plenty of calcium in their diets. The problem generally is more about absorbing the calcium in your food. Excess calcium can actually lead to higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Also, any calcium your body does not absorb will increase your risk of having kidney stones. Vitamin D improves your calcium absorption. Also, you should be getting calcium and magnesium roughly at the ratio of 1:1. In most cases, if you get enough vitamin D and magnesium, there’s no need to supplement on calcium.
- Omega-6. There’s already too much omega-6 in your diet unless you’re a hunter-gatherer. Evolutionary studies indicate the ratio of omega-6-to-omega-3 used to be around 1:1. Estimates of the ratio on a western diet range from 10:1 to 20:1. This is actually one of the many reasons you should avoid vegetable oils like canola oil and sunflower oil. They will screw up your ratio.
There are several other substances worth trying, but I won’t cover them in depth this time. I’ll just leave a list here in case you’re curious and wish to do more digging on your own.
Adaptogens for energy and stress management: Ashwagandha, Maca, Ginseng, Rhodiola.
Brain boosting supplements: Creatine, Caffeine together with L-theanine, Alpha GPC, Acetyl L-Carnitine, nicotine (use nicotine gum, not tobacco).
So where do I get all this stuff?
I’ve put together two iHerb shopping carts you can use to buy the stuff mentioned in this article. If you’re a first-time buyer you’ll also get $5 off your order, or $10 if it’s more than $40 total. If you use my links, I’ll also get a few bucks off my next iHerb order. Thank you in advance if you choose to use them. If not, that’s also cool.
If you wish to have your genome sequenced, you can use 23andme.com. It’s super simple and they present the results in an easy to interpret way. They will also allow you to download your raw data, which can be further analyzed by 3rd party services such as promethease.com. Again, if you use the 23andme links in this article, I will get a small referral bonus. Full disclosure here.