Several years ago, when I made a conscious decision to clean up my diet, I thought I was doing everything I could to eat clean and live a healthy and active lifestyle. My goal was to fulfill my daily nutritional needs through whole foods that would provide me with the fuel I needed to perform at a high level and recover from intense training. Since I had never been one to take loads of supplements, I was always skeptical of the claims that marketers used to sell the newest secret to weight loss success, promises of anti-aging, increased vitality, or products for any of the other goals we typically have that enable us to become the best versions of ourselves.
However, the more I discovered about food production as it exists today and learned about the deteriorating quality of what we eat, even when eating healthily, the more I felt compelled to supplement my diet with targeted nutrients. The problem that arose from this is that I found my medicine cabinet beginning to look eerily similar to someone on the opposite end of the health spectrum who may be suffering from chronic illnesses and taking 5-10 different medications per day. Taking all these products was especially problematic anytime I was traveling or away from home for an extended period of time. Since it was a big pain in the ass to have so many bottles on hand, especially when travelling, I decided to try to simplify everything by putting an entire week or two supply into one bottle. This was still not practical as I often had to hunt through different capsules and tablets in the hope that I was taking the right amount of each. It was a bit like supplement roulette…give the bottle a shake, see what comes out, and throw it down the hatch. I guess I could have organized everything into tiny ziplock baggies like Katy Perry, but even that seemed like too much work.
I experienced the same thing when working as a territory manager for a large nutraceutical company. I would travel around the country with a suitcase full of vitamins, powders, and tablets that I would use as samples when presenting at patient support groups and attending conferences. Imagine going through airport security…I would constantly get treated as if I was smuggling drugs. Needless to say, I finally gave up and decided to start checking my luggage because it just wasn’t worth the hassle.
Not only was all this terribly inconvenient, but it was also VERY expensive. To fill the nutritional gaps in my diet, I found myself taking a multivitamin, fish oils, probiotics, CoQ10, and a number of other products that were deemed to help me live optimally. Plus, on top of this was protein powder, which added additional cost and inconvenience. Even with my generous employee discount, I was still spending upwards of $150 on supplements every month and nothing about it was easy. I was fed up and decided that something needed to be done. I wasn’t willing to stop supplementing because I felt great and was rarely sick, which means that something must have been working. The problem I was looking to solve was how to get the most of what I needed in the least number of products. In order to accomplish this I began researching what the most common nutrient deficiencies are and what supplements have been scientifically proven to provide real health benefits.
Before we get to the solution I arrived at, let’s first take a look at why supplementing your diet is important in the first place. After all, everything that we’ve been told says that if we eat a well-rounded diet and adhere to the USDA food pyramid we should have all the nutrients that our body needs. The problem is, this is the big fat lie that we’ve been sold by industrial food companies with deep pockets who control the governmental recommendations through power, influence, and MONEY. These recommendations are set to meet the bare minimum requirements and not designed for someone who wants to live optimally. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing that you’re like me and you don’t want to just survive, you want to THRIVE!
It should be noted that the intent of any dietary supplementation program should be to SUPPLEMENT a healthy diet and not to replace food altogether or to make up for poor food choices. The purpose of food is to be broken down into key nutrients that our body needs to function and to be used as fuel for energy. The problem is that the foods we consume today are becoming less and less nutrient dense making it increasingly difficult to get what our body needs from food alone. A recent paper by scientists from the Council for Responsible Nutrition in Washington reports:
“In large proportions of the population, micronutrient sufficiency is currently not being achieved through food solutions for several essential vitamins and minerals. Use of age- and gender-specific multivitamin supplements may serve as a practical means to increase the micronutrient status in subpopulations of Americans while not increasing intakes above the upper intake level.”
The reason why this problem exists is multi-factorial, but can be largely attributed to depleted nutrients in the soil, the use of pesticides in agriculture, unnatural diets, hormones, and antibiotics being fed to the animals we eat, and exposure to toxins in the environment and in many of the products we consume. Our bodies have not evolved to combat all the dietary changes, toxins and external stressors that exist in modern life, which is why we need added nutrient support to help us combat the onslaught of factors that can lead to deteriorating health.
The biggest surprise came when I learned more about crop production in the U.S. and that due to loose governmental regulations, even organic sources of fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with pesticides and not adhere to higher quality standards than conventionally farmed produce. In 2009, after reviewing 162 scientific studies published between 1958 and February 2008, the British Food Standards Agency concluded:
“No evidence of a difference in content of nutrients and other substances between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products was detected for the majority of nutrients assessed in this review suggesting that organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products are broadly comparable in their nutrient content. The differences detected in content of nutrients and other substances between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products are biologically plausible and most likely relate to differences in crop or animal management, and soil quality. It should be noted that these conclusions relate to the evidence base currently available, which contains limitations in the design and in the comparability of studies. There is no good evidence that increased dietary intake, of the nutrients identified in this review to be present in larger amounts in organically than in conventionally produced crops and livestock products, would be of benefit to individuals consuming a normal varied diet, and it is therefore unlikely that these differences in nutrient content are relevant to consumer health.”
A similar meta study done by Stanford researchers in 2012 had similar conclusions, however, the study has been criticized by organic foods advocates who argue that the study takes a narrow view on organic goods because it fails to consider other reasons why consumers choose organically grown foods like avoiding hormones, pesticides, and other chemicals. Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, it is safe to assume that food production as a whole, whether organically or conventionally produced, results in is less nutrient dense food than what existed during the paleolithic era. This change in food production began to occur as little as 50 years ago and has become increasingly worse just in the last couple of decades, which has not yet given us time to adapt, causing our health to suffer.
While there may be little we can do to change how food is produced at scale, the choice each of us does have is to decide what we use to fuel our bodies. For me, that answer is whole foods as close to their natural source as possible combined with a targeted supplement regimen to provide the nutritional insurance my body needs. So the question remains, what are the common nutritional gaps that exist in our diet and what can we do to avoid nutrient deficiencies? Since we are all genetically different and respond differently to food and environment, a good place to start is to get your labs done to identify your unique nutrient levels and find out what your specific needs may be. Depending on your healthcare provider and your health goals, you may need to seek more comprehensive analysis through a naturopathic or holistic medicine practitioner. For an easy and comprehensive solution, check out Wellness FX. This company provides various packages to allow you to get additional biomarkers checked that are not typically requested by your primary care physician. For a broader approach to preventing deficiencies, below is a list of the most common nutrient deficiencies that occur and general recommendations on how to avoid them.
The most common way we get vitamin D is through sun exposure, however, applying protective sunscreen and the strength of the UV index determine how much (if any) vitamin D will actually be produced. We can get vitamin D in the diet through foods such as eggs and fish, but many of Americans fail to reach optimal levels and a large percentage are vitamin D deficient.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that our bodies do not produce, which is why we must get it through sun exposure, diet, or supplementation. Vitamin D is essential to human survival and plays a critical role in overall health. Vitamin D acts on over 1000 different genes and serves as a substrate for sex hormones like testosterone, human growth hormone, and estrogen. It moderates immune function and inflammation. It assists in calcium metabolism and bone formation.
For moderate supplementation, a 1,000-2,000IU dose of vitamin D3 is sufficient to meet the needs of most of the population. This is the lowest effective dose range. Higher doses, based on body weight, are in the range of 20-80IU/kg daily.
Vitamin D3 supplementation (cholecalciferol) is recommended over D2 supplementation (ergocalciferol), since D3 is used more effectively in the body.
With an estimated 80 percent of Americans deficient, magnesium deficiencies are one of the most common in developed countries, second only to Vitamin D. Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and plays a critical role in many of the body’s biological processes. Simply put, a magnesium deficiency prevents the body from functioning properly and limits our ability to live optimally.
An important role of magnesium is to protect us from heavy metals and toxins that we are regularly exposed to through environment and food. Without adequate levels of magnesium, these toxins will build up in our system over time and wreak havoc by interrupting our normal metabolic and enzymatic processes, including those involved in ATP (energy) production.
The risks of magnesium deficiency can be severe. It has been attributed to increased blood pressure, reduced glucose tolerance, neural excitation, heart arrhythmias, tachycardia, headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, metabolic syndrome, migraines, pretty much an onslaught of detrimental effects on our health. We can get magnesium from green leafy vegetables, nuts & seeds, seaweed, and avocados, however, due to the depleted minerals in our soil and poor farming practices it makes it nearly impossible for us to get the magnesium our bodies require from diet alone.
It would be prudent for everyone to supplement with a standard magnesium dose in the range of 200-400 mg per day. A dosage of 400-800 mg per day may be optimal for athletes and serious fitness enthusiasts due to increased loss of minerals through sweat. For best absorption look for chelated minerals in the form citrate, malate, glycinate, threonate, or orotate.
Vitamin K2 may be just as important for Vitamin D for optimal health. The recommended daily intake (RDI) for Vitamin K is sufficient to support healthy blood coagulation, however, other benefits may be derived from Vitamin K2 supplementation, which we fail to get enough of through our diet.
Optimal levels of vitamin K are associated with improved bone circumference and diameter, tissue growth, and cell renewal. Vitamin K can also protect cardiovascular health by reducing the calcification and stiffening of arteries. Vitamin K works as a transport vehicle in the body to remove calcium from the blood to prevent buildup in the arteries. Vitamin K works synergistically with Vitamin D since the both support bone health, which is why they are often supplemented together.
Vitamin K1, which is primarily responsible for blood clotting, can be found in green leafy vegetables, whereas Vitamin K2 is only present in fermented foods, such as nato and sauerkraut, and can also be found in grass fed animal products. Since it is often difficult to find grass-fed meats and many of us don’t consume a lot of fermented foods, it is important to get K2 through supplementation.
There are two forms of Vitamin K2, MK-4 and MK-7. There is mixed research regarding which form is best. MK-7 is what you would find in whole foods (most commonly fermented from soy) whereas MK-4 although synthetic, is also hypoallergenic. A research study done in Japan demonstrated that,
“MK4 has been shown to decrease fractures, and has even been approved by the Ministry of Health in Japan since 1995 for the treatment of osteoporosis and osteoporosis pain. In contrast MK7 has never been shown to reduce fractures in clinical trials. And the only published clinical trial that evaluated MK7 and its effect on bone health concluded that MK7 does not stop bone loss.”
There is evidence to support benefits and reasons for both MK-4 and MK-7 supplementation, which is why supplementing both is a wise approach. A standard daily dose of Vitamin K supplementation should be in the range of 1500-2000mcg daily, with at least 100mcg coming from MK-7.
When we hear B12, most of us think of energy. B12 is an essential vitamin that plays a vital role in neurological function, energy production, helps make DNA, nerve and blood cells, and is crucial for a healthy brain and immune system.
The types of food we eat and the inability to absorb B12 can lead to a deficiency. Most people have suboptimal levels of B12 because we generally do not consume foods rich in this vitamin. Vegans are especially prone to B12 deficiency since it can only be found in its natural form in animal foods. We can get B12 through our diet by eating beef and beef liver (grass-fed beef is highly preferable to the grain-fed variety), lamb, snapper, venison, salmon, shrimp, scallops, organic-pastured poultry, and eggs.
Anyone eating a plant-based diet would stand to benefit from B12 supplementation. The effects of a deficiency may not present for quite some time, but can lead to brain fog, fatigue, tingling of the extremities, mood swings, muscle weakness and more severe neurological disorders if ignored and untreated. Also important is adequate intake of folate in the form of folinic acid or 5-MTHF. The methylcobalamin form of B12 instead of cyancobalamin has been shown to be more bio-available. An oral dose of around 1,000mcg per day is recommended if at risk for B12 deficiency.
Vitamin A is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that many of us fail to get enough of from diet alone. The best sources of Vitamin A from food are found in organ meats such as beef liver, kidney, and heart from grass-fed cattle, cod liver oil, and raw organic dairy products.
There are 2 types of Vitamin A, retinol and beta-carotene. Retinol is the form that your body can readily use whereas beta-carotene must go through a conversion process in the body before it can fulfill its role in helping to maintain healthy skin, teeth, bones, cell membranes, and vision. Vitamin A, like vitamin D, is also essential for your immune system. It’s a precursor to active hormones that regulate the expression of your genes. Vitamin A and Vitamin D work together, which means being deficient in one will affect the ability of the other to perform properly.
The primary source of beta-carotene in the diet comes from fruits and vegetables such as carrots which must be combined with healthy fats to produce bile and broken down in the gut to be converted. The body is generally a very poor converter of beta-carotene to usable retinol, especially because many of Americans have poor gut health, which is where this conversion takes place. For this reason, Vitamin A supplementation is important for most people, especially for vegans and vegetarians who are not getting retinol from animal sources.
Vitamin A deficiency is extremely common in developing countries and areas of poverty where children do not have access to foods with Vitamin A. Without Vitamin A, children are more susceptible to life-threatening illnesses, which can cause them to get sick, go blind, or die prematurely. The organization Vitamin Angels is helping to mitigate this risk and save lives by providing Vitamin A supplementation to children in need. Click here to find out more about how you can help save lives by supporting their cause.
Iodine is most commonly found in seafood and is especially high in sea vegetables like seaweed, kelp and spirulina. Iodine is crucial for proper thyroid function and metabolism and is found in every organ and tissue. An iodine deficiency can result in improper function of tissues and organs and can lead to lower immunity levels. Many people are deficient or at risk for deficiency, especially vegetarians, vegans, and others who actively avoid processed foods and eat only small amount of fish. Recommendations for daily iodine supplementation to protect against deficiency are in the range of 75-150 mcg per day.
When eating a typical western diet, it is common to consume excessive amounts of Omega-6 fats, which have been clinically shown to increase inflammation in the body, a leading cause of many of the lifestyle diseases we suffer from such as heart disease and obesity. Maintaining a healthy ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats (at least 1:1 or greater) is crucial for optimal health, however, the ratio commonly found when eating a western diet is more like 1:20 or 1:50. This is largely attributed to the high amounts of processed vegetable oils (like high fructose corn syrup) found in most of the processed and packaged products we consume.
To achieve the proper balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats, one should eliminate and avoid fried foods and consume grass-fed (and finished) beef and wild caught fish. Getting these foods may be challenging, which is why supplementation of EPA and DHA may be necessary. Fish-oil and krill oil supplementation is common, however, effectiveness can vary widely due to quality. Deteriorating quality of fisheries and high concentrations of other unwanted heavy metals and minerals like mercury can make finding a quality Omega-3 supplement challenging. Additionally, vegans and vegetarians who avoid fish and animal products require plant-based sources such as flax or chia. The fatty acid in flax and chia are in the form of ALA (alpha linolenic acid) which is not a great converter into EPA. Fortunately, there are non-GMO plant-based sources such as Ahiflower that converts SDA more efficiently to EPA in the body than flax or chia and which is more sustainable than Omega-3’s from fish or krill oil. EPA from algae is also be a good option for quality and sustainability reasons.
When supplementing, most experts agree that a 2:1 ratio of EPA to DHA is ideal with the total recommended dose being between 1,000 and 2,000 mg daily. EPA and DHA are responsible for different mechanisms in the body. EPA is vital for regulating inflammation and immune function, allowing it to positively impact heart health, as well as enhance joint health and improves inflammatory conditions. DHA, on the other hand, can be very beneficial for cognitive and visual development.
The aforementioned deficiencies are the ones typically found to be most common, however, other deficiencies may result depending on dietary and lifestyle factors. Additional deficiencies to be aware of are Vitamin C, selenium, calcium, copper, and iron. For a long time, I assumed that I could get what my body needs on a daily basis through a multivitamin and diet alone, but what I discovered is that many products on the market neglect to provide elevated levels of these key nutrients that help to not only protect from deficiency, but live optimally. As a result, I found myself taking a multivitamin in addition to separate Vitamin D, B12, fish oil, probiotic, zinc, and magnesium supplements. This daily supplement regimen became increasingly difficult to manage, which is why I sought a solution to simplify without sacrificing the health benefits I had gained.
The result of this pain point for me has been a 2 year process in developing a product that would not only protect against deficiencies, but also include optimal levels of key nutrients and targeted therapeutics to allow me to accomplish my daily nutritional needs as simply and effectively as possible. I knew it would be impossible to get EVERYTHING into one formulation, which is why the goal was to create a product that would accomplish 90% of the daily essentials in one, thus eliminating the need to take 5-6 different products. Not only has this provided me with better compliance and convenience for my supplement regimen, it has become much easier to get what I need while traveling and fly through the airport security line with ease.
Living healthy does not have to be difficult. Once we cut through the marketing noise and get down to the science of what has been proven to work it really isn’t very complicated. Eating a plant-based diet consisting of whole fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein will generally lead to good health. However, if your goal is to live optimally, it would be wise to supplement your healthy diet with vitamins, minerals, and therapeutics that will enable you to thrive, giving you the energy and vitality you need to “Live Your Fullest Everyday”.
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