This post is a follow up to the previous post which dealt with the non-negotiables of nutritional supplements. Like the last guide, this one is independent and unaffiliated.
In addition to helping meet vital nutrient needs, there are other reasons that we might want to supplement.
For example, we might supplement to enhance our mental or physical performance, to reverse or stall the process of ageing, for disease treatment and prevention – or even to replace our need to eat food.
This article looks at the following specific nutritional supplements/enhancers:
- Vitamin C
- Supergreens supplements
- Herbal tonics
- Colloidal Silver
Vitamin C – agent of repair
Vitamin C was the one that everyone knew about when I was growing up.
‘Drink your orange juice for Vitamin C!’, they’d say. Never mind that no or very little Vitamin C would survive the heat process that most commercially available juices are subject to.
Benefits of daily high dosing
The thing to really know about Vitamin C is that it’s the most potent antioxidant out there. By the way, when you hear that term, you can just think ’anti-ageing’, because that’s what antioxidants do for your body.
Some of the conditions that high dose Vitamin C has been linked to improving:
- Depression (Vitamin C is a natural tranquilizer)
- Parkinson’s Disease
- (And this one is highly documented) Cancer
There are a ton more too, including osteoporosis, gout, age related macular degeneration (loss of vision) and arthritis.
The upshot is, at the proper high level (see below), Vitamin C is an awesome preventative health agent and fighter of disease. It is the Vitamin equivalent of Jack Bauer.
The RDAs set by various organisations worldwide are paltry. They fall well short of what is needed for good health.
The proper amount is about 4000 mg (4 grams) of Vitamin C per day, per 150 pounds of body-weight.
Note that not one case of Vitamin C toxicity has ever been documented in the world’s medical literature. At worst, overdosing might result in diarrhea.
Food sources probably won’t give us the super high doses I am talking about above – but they can definitely contribute.
The highest food sources are papaya, pepper, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. To give you an idea, one large papaya has around 200 milligrams of Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is very vulnerable to compromise during the heating process.
Although eating food in its raw (uncooked) state preserves the nutrients, you need pretty robust digestion in order to take down raw broccoli. You might, therefore, be better off lightly steaming your veggies.
Camu camu, which is a fruit that is grown in Peru and Brazil, is the highest documented source of Vitamin C. 100 grams of the fresh fruit provides around 2000 mg (so ten times the amount in a large papaya). I have never tried the fresh stuff. Depending on where you are located in the world, your access to Camu might be limited to the powder form. You can source that easily online.
Acerola cherry, native to South America, southern Mexico, and Central America, has one of the highest concentrations per gram of natural Vitamin C in any fruit. Again, I have found the powder form to be easily sourced online.
Synthetic v natural supplements
Ascorbic acid, the synthetic replacement of the natural form of Vitamin C, is poorly absorbed by our bodies. Plus, the bacteria-neutralizing behavior of ascorbic acid destroys health-critical beneficial microbes. This is why it is far better to use the natural version.
- Take one teaspoon (around 1 gram) of either Camu camu/Acerola cherry powder at least once a day (preferably twice, once in morning and once in evening). Each has a tangy, citrus flavor, and can be added easily into water, coconut water, fresh juice or smoothies.
- Make papaya your fruit of choice, and regularly eat peppers, broccoli and sprouts; either lightly steamed or raw.
Green superfoods powders – multivitamins on steroids
There are some really amazing products in this category on the market now. Made from ingredients like alfalfa, barley and algae, as well as fruits, vegetables, herbs, and probiotics, the supplements may provide a healthy boost of vitamins and nutrients.
I recommend exercising discretion if you are going to make use of such supplements. A report recently showed that nearly a third of those marketed don’t live up to their bold dietary claims — and may even be contaminated with lead. Nice.
- Supergreens supplements are an excellent idea if: (a) you can afford them, and (b) there is some kind of issue (I can’t think what) preventing you from eating a high quality diet.
- I would caution against their use if they cause you to become complacent with food choices. It’s always much better to just eat well.
- If you are going to use them, follow the dosing and be consistent.
Resveratrol – Fountain of Youth?
Many of you might have heard of Resveratrol in the context of grapes (or a certain very enjoyable grape product *COUGH*).
The anti-aging and disease fighting possibilities for Resveratrol have come from laboratory or animal studies, rather than evidence from trials involving humans. However, the results of the studies have been very exciting.
I’ll avoid getting overly technical here, but the excitement stems from Resveratrol’s ability to mimic Caloric Restriction to turn on ‘longevity genes’.
Calorie Restriction – minus the pain
Caloric Restriction (i.e. cutting calories – YUK) has been shown to be one of the most effective means of slowing the pace of aging and extending lifespan. Yes, allowing ourselves to get really ravenous is actually good for us.
In studies, severely reducing the food intake of laboratory mice increased their lifespan to the human equivalent of 162 years.
Resveratrol occurs naturally in two related forms, referred to as Trans-Resveratrol (‘TR’) and Cis Transrevatrol. Of the two, the TR is the one that has been shown in numerous studies to be the most bioactive and clinically beneficial form of resveratrol.
- Recommended doses range from 5 mg of TR daily for preventive purposes, to up to 20 mg, twice daily, for therapeutic purposes.
- (Boots relatively recently started selling one which provides 40mg of TR per serving).
- (Life Extension sells a good supplement containing 250mg of TR per serving).
Creatine is naturally occurring substance, present in our living tissue. It can be stored in our skeletal muscles and used as energy throughout exercise.
Synthetic creatine is used as a nutritional supplement to improve performance in athletes. It helps increase their ability for rigorous exercises, like resistance training and sprinting, as well as promoting muscle growth.
Does it work?
In short, it seems to work but (as with everything in nutrition) the science is far from complete.
Creatine seems to help specifically during intense workouts and activities (it is far less popular with the endurance crowd). It allows you to work harder and better, with decreased regeneration time of the ATP – the precursor for energy in most muscles.
Creatine might increase performance by between 5-10%.
Creatine is considered very safe, and it’s also pretty inexpensive.
The glitch with using creatine is our cells cannot absorb water as well. This may result in dehydration, which obviously produces negative side effects of itself. Relating to that, creatine use might cause weight gain.
- If you do use it, German-grade creatine monohydrate powder is touted as the best quality form available.
- Research has shown that the most rapid way to increase muscle creatine stores is to follow the ‘loading method‘: take 0.3 grams per kg of body-weight per day of creatine for 5 to 7 days (so if you’re a 77 kilogram person, that’s around 5 grams taken four times per day).
- Once muscle creatine stores are saturated, studies indicate that you only need to take 3 to 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day in order to maintain elevated creatine stores.
Nootropics – so called ‘Smart Drugs’
Nootropics – which have in fact been around for donkey’s years – are becoming very popular recently with students, corporate climbers, and entrepreneurs looking to super speed their brains without doing class A drugs. Great that everyone is exploring their options.
The term actually describes a broad classification of drugs with cognitive enhancing properties, and with minimal (note not absent) side-effects, making them appropriate for long-term use.
Nootropics are heralded as increasing levels of the various neurotransmitters associated with learning and memory (see below), increasing brain blood and oxygen flow, and preserving and protecting the brain’s neurons via toxin removal and anti-oxidation.
Note that nootropics currently sit in a regulatory void, so if you use them, then it’s on your head in more ways than one.
Potentially very useful – but exploit other avenues first
There is no doubt that nootropics are an interesting and potentially useful class of drugs. Their greatest potential is probably for treatment of various states of neurological disease or injury. Their use as smart pills, however, currently lacks sufficient evidence.
I have yet to experiment with nootropics because I think there are superior options (see below).
Vasopressin – the natural nootropic
Vasopressin, which our bodies make naturally, is a hormone responsible for the regulation of electrolyte levels. It is today recognized as one of the strongest cognitive enhancement drugs available (though its prescribed for very different reasons than brain boosting – see below).
Sold under the name Diapid, also known as Arginine Vasopressin and antidiuretic hormone (ADH), the two primary functions of Vasopressin are to retain water in the body and constrict blood vessels. Its use to date has been mostly as a treatment for individuals suffering from frequent urination.
If I were to use a nootropic, it would be Vasopressin.
How hacking your lifestyle can achieve nootropic results
As I mentioned, if I were in the market for enhancing my brain (I am), I would much rather go down the natural route, particularly as nature already offers so much in the way of cognitive ‘uppers’.
Before you even think about that, however, ensure that you are firing on all cylinders by taking care of the basics:
- Our brains are 80% water. We need to drink. Research has shown that the brain actually shrinks when it is dehydrated. See our previous post on this.
- Any amount of sleep deprivation will also diminish mental performance. Just as we need to drink, we need to get adequate sleep if we want good levels of concentration and focus.
- Meditation has been demonstrated to have a desirable expansive effect on your brain.
- In terms of foods, research suggests that four different types of chemicals and nutrients interact with the brain in a positive way:
Glucose – The brain draws nearly all of its energy from glucose. We get glucose from everything we eat (not just sugar as is commonly thought). It is relatively easy to feed the brain enough glucose, provided that you are not dieting. However, it is not going overboard on sugar, to the detriment of your brain, that is more challenging. Recent research shows that a steady diet high in sugar can damage memory and learning.
Fatty acids – Specifically, Omega 3 and 6. These help strengthen the synapses in your brain related to memory. A good fish oil supplement will help here. See the previous post about supplements.
Amino acids – Amino acids come from protein rich foods and help connect the neurotransmitters, which are essential for keeping your brain sharp. These neurotransmitters are dopamine (for proper immune and nervous system function), norepinephrine (for alertness and concentration), serotonin (for mood, sleep, memory, and learning) and acetylcholine (for storage and memory recall).
I wrote about how best to meet your protein requirement in the last post.
Antioxidants: Antioxidants help to regulate the oxidative stress that destroys brain cells. The stress is caused when your body is converting glucose to energy, and extra oxygen is created (‘free radicals’). Antioxidants block them so your brain doesn’t have to work as hard.
For that reason, it’s smart to consume lots of high ORAC foods (stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). The foods with the highest scores include raw chocolate, acai berry, goji berry and blueberries. As a rule of thumb, if a (whole) food is purple, it will have a high ORAC score.
Guidelines for ensuring your brain functions optimally throughout the day
- Graze (in favor of eating large meals) to regulate glucose levels. The brain operates best with approximately 25 grams of glucose in the bloodstream, which is about what you’ll find in a banana.
- Eat predominantly low ‘GL’ foods. Eating predominantly foods with a low glycaemic load will release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, so as not to overwhelm your brain.
- Get your amino acids. Meeting your daily requirement for protein will go a long way to improving brain function.
Other ways to enhance your cognitive function are:
- Give your brain the best possible chance of performing optimally by using the lifestyle hacks described above.
- Consider supplementing with natural nootropic Vasopressin.
Herbs – the original nootropics
Wait a minute. There was something else before nootropics, that certain cultures have been using for centuries in order to enhance cognitive function and general wellness?
Um, yeah. Let’s talk herbs.
A herb just means any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume. For this article’s purposes, I am talking specifically about tonic herbs (see below).
Certain herbs have been used in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Ayurveda (traditional Hindu medicine) for a long time to improve health and wellbeing. Many have been well researched.
In order to be classified as ‘tonic’, a herb should satisfy certain special characteristics. It should:
- Have anti-aging characteristics and promote longevity;
- Have broad and profound health-promoting actions;
- Help balance our emotional energy;
- Have no negative side-effects when used reasonably, and therefore may be taken continuously over a long period of time if desired, yielding cumulative, long-term benefits;
- Taste good enough to be consumed easily; and
- Be easily digestible and assimilated.
Unlike nootropics, herbs can be used in unlimited amounts – the effects are cumulative and only good. Often herbs are inexpensive and highly available.
Here is a list of my personal favorite herbs and what they do:
Chamomile – Relaxing, calming, anti-inflammatory and a natural sedative. It’s good for insomnia, sleep disturbances, and anxiety.
Ginkgo Biloba – (Nothing to do with Rocky Balboa). Most widely used herbal remedy in the West. There are various conditions that Ginkgo has been used to help, mostly related to its ability to improve blood flow.
Gotu Kula – Combats stress, a promoter of memory and a blood purifier.
Mucuna Pruriens – If you’ve ever watched the movie Awakenings with the late (blub blub) Robin Williams, you’ll already know about this one. Exciting research is being done around its ability (due to its L-Dopa content) to help patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Mucuna is also a renowned as a mood enhancer and libido booster. Plus, Mucuna can help you to burn fat and build muscle by boosting testosterone.
Valerian – A natural sedative and relaxant, it calms the nervous system. Another of nature’s tranquilizers, Valerian can promote sleep and relieve pain.
The form of the herb will depend on the extraction process needed to get the benefits. Many of the tonic herbs’ benefits may be extracted by simply preparing a hot water infusion. Some ‘give’ on a cold water infusion (i.e. a good example is goji berries). Others require pressure cooking to extract the benefits (for example, woody mushrooms like Reishi – see below). There are many excellent products now that have taken the hard work out of extraction (see below).
Funghis – they’ll love you long time
Mushrooms are a special category of tonic herbs. Their medicinal properties are widely documented. In addition to their value in enhancing cognitive function, mushroom are known to promote longevity.
Where I am from in the UK, we have a mushroom man, Paul Stamets, who is doing his bit to educate people and switch them on to the benefits of mushrooms to health.
Do good-ing mushrooms include Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane and Reishi.
- Cordyceps is well known to help combat the effects of fatigue and ageing. Recent studies suggest it may have anti-depressant effects by affecting the adrenergic and dopaminergic systems.
- Lion’s Mane is used to improve memory and mood.
- Reishi is a potent adaptogen, helping the body adapt to the stressors of life. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is used for treatment of general fatigue and weakness, asthma, insomnia, and coughs.
Because people are waking up to the super immunity properties of mushrooms, they are now commercially available in powder form, which you can (at small cost) just chuck into your smoothies. Tres convenient!
This medicinal plant, used by Shamans in Peru and now at an increasing number of places around the world, is gathering popularity as a thing to do.
Ayahuasca is a medicinal tea that contains the psychedelic compound dimethyltryptamine, or ‘DMT’ (you might have seen the movie).
Numerous anecdotes have shown the brew has the power to cure anxiety, PTSD, depression, unexplained pain, and numerous physical and mental health ailments. Studies of long-term Ayahuasca drinkers show they are less likely to face addictions and have elevated levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for happiness.
In one recent study, it was shown to reverse diabetes.
I predict we will hear more and more about this plant, as people are switching on to its potential benefits.
- Use herbs in a targeted way (depending on the result you want to achieve) to help you to get awesome levels of mental and physical energy and vigor.
Soylent – ‘free your body’, or just lighten your wallet?
Soylents have gathered popularity in recent months. They have an interesting ethical dimension, but I’ll focus exclusively on their use as a meal replacement.
As with nootropics, soylents aren’t new, but inventor of its modern form, software engineer Rob Rhinehart, created a new market for soylent – time starved techies. Now it seems everyone wants in – or at least people that aren’t that fussed about eating actual food.
Soylent is a powdered meal replacement product, advertised as a staple meal. Its creator states that it meets all nutritional requirements for an average adult. I love the slogan of the major manufacturer – ‘free your body’. It does exactly that, as it liberates you from eating food.
A few thought leaders in health (notably Tim Ferris) have raised concerns about soylent, specifically about whether it lives up to its bold claims of nutritional efficacy. Rhinehart has been considerably robust in its defense.
Concept is great – but the quality might need work
I personally think this is a great idea if you’re a non-foodie and you can afford it, though I do prefer the EU version of the product (Joylent), whose ingredients I can actually recognize.
Rhinehart’s soylent is still a very processed food. I would totally opt to concoct my own version of soylent (like my friend Grant), and that way avoid things I have no use for – like most of the ingredients on this list.
- If you’re interested in the idea of replacing all or most of your need to eat food, then consider soylent. Better still, make your own.
Colloidal Silver – the immunity angel?
You may have come across Colloidal Silver when battling some form of infection. Then again, maybe you haven’t.
Colloidal Silver is considered to be the most universal antibiotic substance, that is also non-toxic to humans in super small concentrations. Based on laboratory tests with Colloidal Silver, destructive bacteria, virus and fungus are killed within minutes of contact.
Colloidal Silver is used for:
- Colds and flu
- Intestinal infections
- Mouth Infections/Gum disease
- Yeast Infections
- Any viral and bacterial infection
Colloidal Silver wasn’t done any favors after this unfortunate story hit the headlines in 2013.
Doubts have been raised from very well respected quarters.
My personal view on this has changed somewhat. After regularly taking Colloidal Silver, I found that a lingering infection survived. That wasn’t definitive testing, as I did not take the Silver consistently. I would like to experiment further with it before drawing any long term conclusions.
- Simply be aware that Colloidal Silver might be something you can use to enhance your immune system. Read up about it.
D-Mannose – cystitis, be gone
Bladder infections, also known as cystitis, are particularly common among women: our anatomy makes us much more susceptible than men. Small price, I say.
As anyone who has suffered with this would tell you, cystitis is extremely painful and uncomfortable.
The standard treatment is antibiotics (uh oh). If you have been reading this blog, you’ll already know I’m not a fan.
D-Mannose to the rescue
D-Mannose, the natural sugar found in cranberry, is 10-50 times stronger than regular cranberry.
It’s non-toxic and completely safe to use, with no adverse effects.
D-Mannose can help cure more than 90% of all Urinary Tract Infections within 1 to 2 days. It does not kill any bacteria, but rather it just renders them unable to stay in your urinary tract.
- If you have ever had cystitis, you want to keep a packet (you take it in tablet form) of this at home all the time: cystitis has a nasty habit of returning once you have had it.
- If you get cystitis for the first time – you know what to do now. No need for antibiotics.
- Taking high doses of Vitamin C (around 4 grams per person) is excellent for overall health.
- Supergreens supplements are an excellent idea if you don’t regularly eat wholefoods, and are great at doubling up if you can afford to do that.
- Resveratrol might extend our lifespan. In a supplement, you should be looking for at least 40mg of Trans-Resveratrol.
- Creatine probably won’t do you any harm and might accelerate muscle building.
- Before you spend money on a nootropic, ask yourself what are you trying to achieve and whether it can be done naturally. It is perfectly possible to orchestrate excellent levels of brain health. You can probably mimic nootropics with lifestyle modifications.
- Make use of tonic herbs. Being inexpensive, available and having no side effects, there are really no drawbacks.
- If you like the idea of using soylent, consider making your own.
- Colloidal Silver might present a long term alternative to antibiotic use.
- D-Mannose is the natural solution to Urinary Tract Infections.
What supplements do you use that I’ve missed from this list? Get in touch!