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Do We Need Supplements?
Core - Nº8
The world of vitamins, supplements, or anything pill-shaped is a controversial industry. And whether we should take them or not has been a staple question for decades.
A 2016 U.K. market report by the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) found 30 million adults take supplements every week, with 45% taking them daily. Further in the report, Mintel estimated the U.K. supplement market to reach £457 million in value sales by 2021—but a recent 2020 report found the market got set to reach £500 million two years earlier than predicted.
Other notable findings include:
30% of supplement takers get their information online.
Half of the respondents say they don’t get the required vitamins and minerals in their current diet. One quarter was unsure.
Multivitamins are most popular at 51%, followed by vitamin D (38%) and vitamin C (29%).
36% of supplement takers do so to strengthen their immune system, while 15% do so to improve their mood, and 13% use it to combat stress.
Only 22% believe vitamins and supplements work.
1 in 5 people struggle to find the correct information on what to buy.
We use supplements more, yet many people don’t know if they even work.
“There’s a huge disconnect between people’s perception of supplements and the reality, and that can be really destructive.”
— Markham Heid
An article by Markham Heid analysed supplement use in the U.S., which exposed the developing risk of misguided supplementation. He remarked that product misbranding and misinformation is growing, and the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner even made a statement on the matter.
“We know that most players in this industry act responsibly. But there are opportunities for bad actors to exploit the halo created by quality work of legitimate manufacturers to instead distribute and sell dangerous products that put consumers at risk. As the popularity of supplements has grown, so have the number of entities marketing potentially dangerous products or making unproven or misleading claims about the health benefits they may deliver.”
— Scott Gottlieb, M.D.
The scale of the supplement industry is also significant in Europe. Italy is the largest European market, with 52% of adults using supplements, while the U.K. is the fastest growing supplement market with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.1%. However, the U.S. supplement industry was worth $46 billion in 2019. Three out of four Americans take some form of supplement regularly, but many consumers lack the desire to read the research themselves.
So, the question is, are supplements necessary? Well, it depends. Many people struggle to meet their daily requirements, which warrants a supplement to help boost the immune system and keep on track.
But everyone is different. So, customising your supplementation will help most meet your individual, medical, genetic and dietary needs. To help further, I dived into Dr Rhonda Patrick’s research on what supplements make a real difference.
Dr Patrick got her PhD in biomedical science from the University of Tennesse Health Center and her Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry and chemistry from the University of California. She’s one of the leading researchers in health and longevity and covers topics like hormetic stressors, diseases, ageing, genetics, and mindfulness.
Here’s what she takes and recommends.
Though Dr Patrick clarifies that most of our micronutrient intake should come from real food, multivitamins can be good for getting sufficient micronutrients. In an Art of Manliness podcast episode, she says:
“Taking a multivitamin may help serve as an insurance to make sure that you’re at least not deficient [in micronutrients] (…) It’s been shown in studies that people that are deficient [in micronutrients] that take a multivitamin, they can bring their levels up to more adequate level in some cases, or at least better than they were. But of course, it’s best if you can eat a varied diet, a diet that’s rich in a variety of different vegetables and fruits, because those are very good sources of micronutrients.”
People find multivitamins appealing because they can cover what’s missing in our regular diet. But many are challenging to absorb. So, Rhonda takes one that provides essential bioavailable micronutrients and is easy to absorb and use.
According to Dr Patrick, around 70% of the U.S. population don’t get enough vitamin D (40-60 ng/mL or 1,000-7400IU). She strongly recommends getting adequate vitamin D above all, especially with the covid-19 pandemic. On the Joe Rogan podcast, she pointed out a link between low vitamin D levels and increased severity of covid-19. And of particular interest was a meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) which examined 25 randomised, double-blind, placebo-control trials and found “vitamin D supplementation was safe and is protected against acute respiratory tract infection”.
Thorne research says, “Deficiency in vitamin D has been linked with several medical conditions like depression, back pain, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. One vital function of vitamin D is that it helps maintain bone density and strength.”
Vitamin D3 is an essential steroid hormone. While we can get vitamin D through our diet, it’s not easy. So, our bodies get it through UV-B light from the sun.
Vitamin D is fat-soluble—our body can store it, and it can get too high. It also plays an essential role in serotonin control, which controls sensory gating and social behaviour. Dr Rhonda says she takes 4,000-5,000IU per day—excluding her daily multivitamin of 2,000IU. She explains more in this video.
Some other notes she makes:
Mushrooms that have been in the sun are an excellent source of vitamin D.
Higher body fat reduces the bioavailability of vitamin D in the body.
Vitamin D can regulate our ageing process from the shortening of dying telomeres (caps at the end of our chromosomes that protect us from DNA damage).
One study found people with the lowest vitamin D levels also had the shortest telomeres. The anti-inflammatory properties of vitamin D may help delay telomere attrition.
Another study showed individuals who had more vitamin D had an increased lifespan, on average.
Magnesium is vital to our body functioning in the best way. It’s the fourth most abundant mineral in our body (50% is found in bone; the rest is in our cells and blood) and plays one of the most well-rounded performance roles in our body. It allows our heart, bones, nerves and more to run smoothly, and without enough magnesium, these areas can malfunction and increase our risk of disease or depression.
Dr Patrick says that around 49% of the U.S. population have inadequate magnesium levels, which can contribute to a non-exhaustive list including hypertension, diabetes, migraines, premature ejaculation, premenstrual syndrome, and insomnia, according to a 2008 study. More recently, a 2017 study found two-thirds of the Western population don’t get enough magnesium which can cause several health issues. Healthline also says magnesium maintains cognitive function, heart health and regulates our muscle contractions.
It also helps us relax and stabilise our blood sugar levels. For athletes, it’s vital. In a video series by Dr Patrick (Part 1 & Part 2), magnesium can improve our mitochondria which enhance our energy and performance. She also tweeted a study saying a magnesium intake of over 250mg/day was associated with a 24% increase in leg power and a 2.7% increase in muscle mass.
We can’t produce magnesium ourselves, so we need to ensure what we eat is rich in magnesium. That includes leafy greens, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate, and beef and fish if you eat animal-based foods. Dr Patrick takes around 135mg of magnesium citrate a day and gets as much as possible from leafy green vegetables.
Omega-3 Fish Oil
Omega-3s (EPA and DHA) is beneficial for reducing cardiovascular issues. Many meta-analyses and trials have found omega-3 fish oil help prevent various diseases. The fatty acids are scattered into cell membranes around the body, brain, and eyes, which help us during ageing.
They’re essential for physical and mental health and help us maintain a healthy heart, reduce excess belly fat, and lower blood pressure. The best sources are undoubtedly fish, including wild-caught salmon, mackerel, and sardines.
This supplement is also helpful for pregnant women. During her pregnancy and the breastfeeding stage, uVitals state Dr Patrick took around 5-6 grams of omega-3s daily, which is higher than most people need. However, according to the American Pregnancy Association, high-quality omega-3 fish oils should be included in a woman’s supplement regime.
The supplements explained above are part of Dr Patrick’s core list of recommended supplements, but she also focuses on Vitamin K2, probiotics, collagen, melatonin, ubiquinol, sulforaphane, and PQQ. In a Tim Ferriss interview, Rhonda recommends checking if a supplement is certified by the National Sanitary Foundation (NSF). Their role is to independently test and certify supplements to ensure they don’t contain undeclared ingredients or contaminants.
Hopefully, you’ve taken something useful from this, and it’s been interesting to you. If you want more content by Dr Patrick, here’s a post on her diet, her approach to exercise, and her notes on pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby health. Credit goes to fastlifehacks.com.