In this article you will learn:
Why supplementation is not an option (but a must) for longterm optimal health
The importance of quality, nutrient relationships and many other factors
How to construct a simple, safe and effective nutritional program for yourself
Lazy Reader's Section:
Food is not what it used to be, nutrients have antagonistic relationships with each other, the world is full of toxins that deplete your body, your genes suck just like everyone else's, anti-nutrients in food limit what you get, the level of stress you have on a daily basis can impact your demand, not all supplements are created equal, your health goals may be different and demand more nutrition and it is impractical to get certain nutrients from food alone.
For the last 15+ years, I've trusted the majority of my supplement decisions to one of the top clinical brands in the US, Optimal Health Systems. Because of my relationship with Optimal, everyone who is part of my community can obtain a 10% off discount using a special promotion code. You can check out my Top Picks and get your code here.
Lazy Author Alert:
This article is based on 16 years of biohacking and nutrition research, if you want you want the full gory details then grab yourself a copy of my book, Dance Your Way Through Life: A No Bullshit Guide to Hacking Your Body, Mind & Soul for Success. It comes with a 30 minute session with yours truly to talk about your goals, 1500+ scientific references, action plans on everything (including supplementation) and a really cool picture of me on the front.
First, we have to clarify something I stated above: that supplementation is not an option for longterm, optimal health. Notice two important words here: "longterm" and "optimal." Can you live a healthy life without supplementing? It's possible. Can you live a long life without supplementing? Absolutely. Can you live a long and healthy life without supplementing? Even this is a yes, but remember that health is a numbers game, and by the end of this article you will realize why even though the answer to this last question is still "yes" - it still may behoove you to include targeted, intelligent nutrition in your life so you can maximize your odds.
In the end it is not about how long you live, but rather the quality of your life. This is your "healthspan" - or how long you live a healthy life. Being free of pain, restriction, disease, dysfunction and suffering are absolutely priceless. To grow old is a gift, because we gain what can only be gained with time - wisdom. Unfortunately, the body has to deal with thousands upon thousands of attacks every day, and that wisdom soon disappears in the shadow of degenerative diseases and aging. Slow down your aging train and become intentional with your nutrition instead, and you will reap the rewards of both wisdom and health.
A note about diet before we jump in:
What you eat is first and foremost the priority. You can supplement all day long, but if you're eating garbage this is a problem. In my book I go over all of the main principles of how to choose healthfully, heal your relationship with food and align your body for optimal health through what you eat. Start there, and then begin creating a nutrition plan based on what you learn here and what is relevant to you.
#1: Food is NOT What it Used to Be
Again, I cite all of the research for what I write in this article in my book (lazy, I know, but you'll enjoy it I promise so go check it out already).
About a century ago, the average person could eat probably around 3-4 vegetables per day and get plenty of nutrition. Today, you and I need about double that number. Why? Because farming practices have degraded the soil and quality of food. Even organic food isn't as rich (on average) as it was 50 or 100 years ago. It's all about the quality of the soil, and as a result everything else (even animal products) suffer downstream. This means that food has less nutrition in it (in general) than it used to.
#2: Nutrient Relationships
Everything operates in a dance with everything else. Some nutrients help each other, like vitamin D and calcium, while others antagonize each other, like zinc with copper. Some interfere with each others' absorption, like calcium with manganese, while others will simply deplete other nutrients over time. This presents us with several problems.
First, a multi-vitamin is relatively useless (even if high quality) because you are popping everything at the same time, meaning that you are ignoring the importance of these relationships and "cancelling out" some of the benefits for the sake of convenience. I take all of my supplements individually (pain in the ass, but it's better this way) so that I can choreograph based on timing and relationships. I teach you how to do this in my book.
Secondly, whether you are supplementing or not, you are likely to have imbalances based on the nutrition you're taking in. These imbalances, over time, will deplete other nutrients that are harder to get (for example, selenium, chromium and manganese are difficult to obtain in the diet), or allow for others to accumulate (a hidden copper toxicity is common in people with poor diets or even vegans, and the body needs several nutrients to balance copper out). Conclusion? You can't "autopilot" all of the dozens of nutrients in your body and hope for the best. Eventually, something will come out of alignment and lead to problems.
The environment is full of 3 primary categories of toxins: mold, environmental and heavy metals. Together, these comprise hundreds of attackers, and what that means is your body has to expend extra resources (nutrients) to neutralize and eliminate them from the body. If you are on medication, realize that every single medication drains nutrients from the body and further pushes you toward disease. For a great list, check this out.
Regardless of how good looking you may be, we all have a shitty hand of genes somewhere, and what that spells is poor utilization of nutrition and (eventual) deficiency. In my case, my VDR (vitamin D) gene requires me to take about 8,000-10,000 per day to get my numbers to move, with anything less than 5,000 coming to a standstill or actually reducing over time. For reference, 10,000 units per day of vitamin D is about 2500% RDI.
Because you have genes that handle every nutrient (there are many), and because nutrients all have relationships with each other, this can become a real journey. The result is that what may seem totally crazy to one person is "normal" for the next, and why knowing the story of your genes is so important.
Don't worry about creating a massive explosion when combining these with regular nutrients, they're just a broad category for several plant-based compounds that are designed as defense mechanisms to impair absorption or harm the digestion of their predators (i.e., us). These are lectins, oxalates, phytates and so on. This area of wellness is not 100% settled, as research has shown that lectins and phytates may play some beneficial roles, and many foods that have them are very healthy, like beans.
Nevertheless, the still pose an extra burden for the body that demands more nutrition. If you don't have nutrition to deal with the damage, the damage adds up and creates inflammation in your colon, which leads to poorer absorption, and the downward spiral begins. I suggest taking a lectin test to learn what lectins to avoid or work around (I can help you with this), and regarding the other two it just means having plenty of minerals in the diet like calcium, magnesium, etc. to counteract their effects.
What you eat on a regular basis and how you manage your stress all determine the level of nutrition that your body needs. If you eat a high fat diet, your demand for calcium will get higher. If you eat a high protein diet, same thing. If you are vegan, you will need more zinc and B12. There is no perfect diet, and when you understand that, then you will understand why supplementing is needed.
How you manage your stress, or the type of stress you encounter on a daily basis, is also of great importance. Part of this is internal, meaning your own mindset and attitudes, and the other part is external. If you work in a stressful environment (or even chemically stressful, like exposure issues) then this will mean your body will burn out faster if you don't give it massive nutrition and take care of yourself. Likewise, if you don't know how to manage your emotions, you will burn through your reserves very quickly. This is why alignment is always about Body, Mind & Soul.
In line with a previous point, you may have inflammation or genetic issues that prevent absorption of a nutrient. You may also be taking a shitty form of a nutrient, which will also hamper its utilization in your body. This is called "bioavailability" in the supplement world, and in general most everything is less than 100% bioavailable, meaning that what you see on the bottle is not what you actually get. This is why I opt for high quality brands like OHS in my Top Picks for nutrition - because they formulate according to the principles shared with you here.
A final point is that even with food, you do not get what is listed on the nutrition facts due to this same principle. Non-heme (plant) iron versus heme (animal) iron is an example, and many grains that are supposedly rich in minerals also come with phytates that cancel those minerals out. Ahh, science.
#8: Health Goals
Principles are timeless, but your particular short and mid-term goals will determine what tactics you use and as a result your demand for nutrition. If you want to fix your thyroid, heal your adrenals from cortisol imbalance, heal your gut, build muscle, whatever. All of these things involve taking in extra nutrition, which all brings me to the final point:
Given all of these above, it is impractical to obtain your nutrition demands from food alone. Two sub-points here.
First, some nutrients just aren't easy to obtain. Examples are selenium, chromium, manganese and vitamin K2 (the more absorbable one, K1 is in plants). Getting the first 3, which are minerals, is practically impossible to get in the diet every day even with good planning. Getting vitamin K2 only comes from specific food sources (like natto), which are often not available or, again, impractical to obtain.
Secondly, you may have a higher demand/absorption problem/whatever from all of the things I discussed above. This means you need more than the average bear. For example, my issue with vitamin D. To give you a reference, I've lived in Phoenix practically my whole life, and when I tested my vitamin D for the first time (even taking 400% or so of the RDI from a supplement for a little while, on top of living in the sun all day) I was actually deficient, around 27. All of which brings me to the third sub-point:
To get what you need from food in these cases would not only be impractical, but probably dangerous. Why? Because food isn't just nutrition, it has macronutrients (like fat) and other components that strain the body. One whole food chewable tablet of my favorite vitamin C product has enough vitamin C (as a food) as 3 oranges do, without the calories, acid or sugar. I take two of those a day, and I can tell you that if I ate 6 oranges per day, I'd probably be crapping myself or ruining my teeth. Practicality.
Some things you just can't get from food, and when you add the other 8 reasons in this article, it becomes very clear why we age and suddenly feel "old". Your body seems fine, and then it doesn't because it runs out of resources. Don't wait until that point and begin learning the story of your genes, constructing a complete nutrition program (start with my Top Picks based on your concern) and developing a practice of health testing that will help you stay on top of yourself.