Thinking About Supplements – 2013 Edition

Last July I posted Thinking About Supplements – 2012 Edition. Although I still fancy myself as someone who is mostly anti-supplements, the evidence suggests otherwise. I do take supplements daily, but what I take changes over time. Someday I fully expect we will have gadgets that alert us to every nutrient deficiency in real time, but in the meantime we guess. I could spend hundreds of dollars on tests to get snapshots, but I’d rather direct that money on a nutrient-dense and diverse diet and then self-monitor as best as I can.

The 2012 post explains why I don’t like fish oil, multi-vitamins, or whey protein powder. Those views have not changed.

Supplements I Lost Faith in Last Year

5-HTP – I was enamored with the brain supplements last year, especially L-Tyrosine. But I learned from Dr. Dan Kalish why L-Tyrosine needed to be balanced out with 5-HTP. See the post Safe Uses of 5-HTP and L-Tyrosine. The problem is that even at the lowest dose, my sleep quality was worse with 5-HTP. Not at first, but I have enough data to confirm that fact now. Without 5-HTP, I cut way back on L-Tyrosine and only use it on days when my caffeine levels are low and my mood is poor.

I also became concerned that using 5-HTP might not be safe and using it to boost serotonin might be unwise. Here are some links to articles that question the conventional understanding of serotonin.

Melatonin – I almost never take melatonin, because I fall asleep effortlessly 99% of the time. However, I have kept melatonin on hand for those rare occasions when I can’t get to sleep. Not anymore. It doesn’t help me fall asleep faster and when I do wake up I feel terrible, If that isn’t enough of a reason not to take it, I learned another yesterday. In the post Thyroid Deficiency & Common Health Problems, Matt Stone and Danny Roddy linked to an audio interview of Ray Peat discussing how melatonin lowers body temperature which can make it more susceptible to infections.

Supplements I am Testing or Considering Testing

Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) – I started taking B5 after Pauline tipped me off that it could help with adrenals. Too soon to tell if it is helping, but it is cheap insurance.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea) – I was taking this as a tea during my caffeine detox period, but I’ve found making the tea too inconvenient, so I am considering using the supplement version. Rhodiola is supposed to help with stress and muscle recovery.

MSMGlenn tipped me off to this supplement for helping with tight shoulders. At a low dose, I felt nothing, but at a high dose, I think it is working. Since going from 1 capsule a day to 6-8 capsules, my shoulders are far less tight. At the time I upped the dose, I didn’t try anything else new, so I’m going to keep using this supplement because it appears to be working. 🙂

Creatine Monohydrate – I stopped taking creatine almost immediately after last year’s post because I wanted to isolate all weight gains to the ice cream experiment. Then I forgot all about it until last night when I listened to SportsCoachRadio’s podcast show Creatine: All About The Go-To Sports Nutrition Supplement (DEC 2021: link broken). Now I understand the supplement more and will resume taking it.

Calcium-D-Glucarate – Dave Asprey recently talked about this supplement in a podcast. I’ve never taken a calcium supplement because I figured I was getting plenty with my higher-than-average dairy intake. However, the problem with dairy is it can be high in estrogen  What is interesting about this article is that this form of calcium is it supposedly removes excess estrogen from the body. To what degree it does it better than other forms of calcium, I am not sure. Because it is cheap, I am considering taking it.

Natrol Calcium D-glucarate 500 mg Tablets, 60-Count

Supplements I Still Take

Mostly the same from the 2012 Edition, which included magnesium, copper, selenium, and Vitamin D3. I also still consume food supplements of gelatin powder and kelp tablets.

I still think whey protein is a rip-off. You are better off eating ice cream or dairy kefir.

How about you? Any new supplements you like? Any you lost faith in?


Add yours

  1. Glenn Whitney

    May 7, 2013 — 1:41 pm

    Very clear and interesting.
    I’ve started taking iodine because it seems to be largely absent from my usual diet. I could eat more sea vegetables but that probably has some negative side-effects, especially if it comes from nuclear explosion contaminated waters… The salt I consume is mostly sea salt and low in iodine. The iodine fortified salts seem to contain other nasty additives…

  2. For what it’s worth, Peat has mentioned that milk contains 1 mcg of estrogen per quart of milk and about 20x more progesterone. It also contains small amounts of thyroid hormone and testosterone. “Low-dose” birth control is around 30 mcg of estrogen.

    I think the protein, sugar, and high calcium content should also be considered, as they are all “anti-estrogenic.”

    Dave Asprey confuses the shit out of me. He recommends supps like calcium-d-glucarate to reduce estrogen, but at the same time said in a video about “mycotoxins” that he takes arimidex—one of the strongest anti-estrogen drugs on the market.

    To be clear, taking drugs is cool, and fun, but maybe he should be clearer about his approach to limiting estrogen, or something?

    Also, the diet that he promotes, the one to become “bullet proof,” is almost certainly estrogenic (e.g., high fat, low carbohydrate, low calcium, high phosphate, fasting, etc.).

    The healthy liver inactivates practically all the estrogen that reaches it, mostly by combining it with the “sugar acid,” glucuronic acid. Burning fat and limiting carbohydrate (and hepatic glycogen, which helps with the conversion of thyroid hormones) sounds like a good way to slow the metabolic rate and increase estrogen.

  3. @Danny – Cool. Sounds like I don’t need the calcium-d-glucarate or need to be concerned about dairy estrogen. Thanks for the info.

  4. Danny I replaced Arimidex years ago with calcium D glucarate. That myco video is older. No evidence that BP eaters have high estrogen…and I don’t on 70% + fat! I’m 40 and DHEA is a bit low now though. Fixing…

    Michael I am in SEA often now and have wanted to meet you for a while. Lets do it! (Danny I want to meet you too but no idea where you live)

    adaptogens like rhodiola rock, so does MSM. Try it topically too.

  5. @Dave – Yeah, I think it would cool to meet you next time you are in Seattle.

    I’ll be picking up some rhodiola. Thanks.

    On the glucose vs fat debate, I follow a cyclical approach, but I’m moving more in the direction of glucose. I’m probably down to 1 low-carb day a week now. One of the reasons is the stress hormone concerns Danny outlines on his blog. I’m wondering with all your tracking, what have you learned about extended use of low-carb / high fat diets have had on your cortisol levels?

  6. Thanks for the clarification, Dave.

    I’m glad you and your readers don’t have high estrogen; that shit sucks.

    I think my point can be summed up in an article you linked me in:

    “As Danny Roddy and Ray Peat have writen, when cells aren’t able to process oxygen efficiently, or don’t have enough oxygen, they switch from oxidation to glycolysis, which is far less efficient. This process also produces lactic acid, which places stress on your liver…” DA

    I think anything that limits the cell’s ability to use oxygen is probably estrogenic, as the production of ‘youthful’ (anti-estrogenic) substances like pregnenolone and progesterone depend on the cell’s ability to consume oxygen and produce energy.

    The largest influence over the cell’s ability to use oxygen seems to be carbon dioxide (i.e., the Bohr-Haldane effect), which is produced under the direction of active thyroid hormone that is predominantly produced in the liver.

    Because carbohydrates are richer in oxygen, burning them generates more carbon dioxide than burning fat.

    Like you mentioned, lactic acid, which opposes carbon dioxide, places a strain on the liver, but it does so by draining the liver of its glycogen to be converted back into glucose.

    Lactic acid also stimulates the breakdown of free fatty acids (increased on a high fat diet) into a prostaglandin that activates aromatase, creating new estrogen. In return, estrogen increases this prostaglandin, establishing a vicious cycle.

    This is probably why a few people I talk to who have HIV and breast cancer (and high levels of estrogen), control their estrogen levels/disease with high doses of aspirin, which is a prostaglandin-inhibitor.

    Is there something I’m not seeing in regards to the BP diet? What’s the mechanism of the BP diet to counter the adaptive “stress” hormones that are needed during “inefficient” respiration (i.e., glucose to lactic acid)?

    I can provide a reference for anything if you would like.

    Also, I live in San Francisco.

  7. MAS,
    Thanks for the update.
    Reading the comments, I was reminded of a financial analyst who mentioned that financial pundits would go on TV shows and tell everyone that they were buying a stock. But, the next week, upon changing news, the pundit would sell his stock, but the TV audience would never hear about that, and would keep holding the stock and lose money.
    Similarly, by viewing older posts and videos, like the one that Danny references above of Dave’s, we readers can be led astray.
    Maybe other bloggers will follow your lead and post annual updates of past recommendations that they are no longer following. Of course, Matt does this with almost every post these days.
    Thanks again.

  8. Thanks for the update. I agree with others, this is really instructive.

    I’ve abandoned 5-HTP and melatonin fairly recently as well, although unlike you they initially did improve my sleep quality. I failed to read the label warnings on 5-HTP and missed that it’s inappropriate for people with digestive problems (definitely me). Duh, no wonder I fell asleep with an upset stomach every night! I eventually developed the same issue with melatonin.

    I pulled back on caffeine in the hope of improving my sleep, and so recently added rhodiola. I take it when I first wake up and mid-morning (100mg, I’m a 125lb lady). It SEEMS to help. I’m definitely perkier within a half hour of taking it, but I’m not sure how to separate this from a placebo effect. B5 seems like another interesting avenue, I’ll be looking more into it.

  9. I have kept creatine and whey/casein because they make a difference in my physical performance and results.

    I also do fish oil and multi-vitamins but, in this case, for no reason (easy to be on the safe side, I guess).

    I have gotten rid off all else.

    I should add that I don’t recommend any form supplementation in general and for younger people in particular.

  10. Some feedback on the B5, I still supplement but since I now drink coffee only with food, I don’t get that big adrenal/cortisol spike so mostly now only take 250g once a day. I have had a bottle of chromium picolinate (200 iu) around in supplement box. I recently read it reduces sugar cravings so I started taking it daily (last 2 weeks). I have noticed a pronounced lessening of craving for sweet things including chocolate. Whether that is psychological or not, I easily say no to chocolate or sweets/puddings/cakes, have just have a small bite or none at all. That is unusual. Magnesium I still supplement up to 500 mg a night and sleep right through, last night my partner woke up wide awake in middle night, realised he’d forgotten to take magnesium, took it and went straight back to sleep. He has also started taking 2 Tablespoons of flaxseed oil, for improved sleep as per Seth Roberts blog. I have advised him to drink less at night (Matt Stone’s advice from Eat for Heat) and that has helped to reduce any night time waking too.

  11. Glenn Whitney

    May 8, 2013 — 6:07 am

    Interesting comments Pauline. Could you link to the Seth Roberts article on flaxseed oil for sleep?

    I forgot to mention my most effective supplement:

    Kick-Ass Cocoa:
    Water: 12 ounces
    Cocoa: four tablespoons (un-dutched, un-sweetened, organic)
    Gelatin: three tablespoons (Great Lakes)

    – Shaken up in a canteen bottle, then poured into a coffee mug and heated for 1 minute in the microwave

    Great for magnesium, mood regulation and muscle and joint repair

  12. I can’t seem to find the comment on sleep and flaxseed oil, I know I read it somewhere on Seth’s blog, but I got interested because Seth and his commenters were saying its good for overall mood and balance, and some people found improvements with teeth and gum issues. Here is one of the links that started me reading more on it, I bought the cold pressed flaxseed oil as that seemed a good place to start, with one tablespoon in the am with breakfast and one tablespoon at night. I am not taking this as we are just doing a trial experiment to see if it works on my partner.

    My other great discovery is oral spray Vit D3 x 3000 its kept all kinds of flu away (started taking in Oct/November last year) and my seasonal allergies are hardly noticeable and we are well in to Spring in the UK. Keep expecting to get a cold or sore throat but i might have something for a few hours but nothing that lasts or continues into next day.

  13. Here is another link about Vit D3 taken in the morning improves sleep for that night, also on Seth’s blog. So this is something we are both doing, but my partner only started doing the Vit D3 about 2 months ago, so its another variable that could impact sleep patterns and improve them:

  14. Glenn Whitney

    May 8, 2013 — 8:19 am

    Thanks for the links Pauline!

  15. I still like Rhodiola, L-carnitine, Alpha GPC, and PS 100. I have found all of these supplements to be particularly helpful with motivation, focus, memory with new learning, and workout performance. I have a bottle of DMAE on the counter that I am toying with taking, but I can’t decide. The only downside to any of these supplements for me is that Rhodiola makes me crabby if I take it more than 3 days in a row, and L-carnitine occasionally give me mild diarrhea, but that’s it for side effects. Over time I have taken a ton of supplements without discernable effects, but the effects from all of these are significant.

  16. @Jim – The trend with bloggers is to minimize or hide the date of the post. They use short “friendly” URLs. This is good for search engines, but I think it is bad for readers that want to know they are reading the most recent information. Because of this, I continue to use dates in the URL even though I know I could get more page views with the dateless links (like Marks Daily Apple). Matt Stone uses dates in his URL, which I respect.

  17. @Pauline – I have noticed recently that pushing my caffeine back later in the day has helped my energy. So I might have 1/2 coffee upon wakening and then have an espresso after lunch. That not only stabilizes my energy, but I sleep better than when I front load all my caffeine before 11 AM.

    @Glenn – Thanks for the cocoa gelatin recipe.

    @Becky – Thanks for the warning about repeated use of Rhodiola. I’ll be monitoring.

  18. Maria Z. Marquez

    May 8, 2013 — 4:41 pm

    When taking 5-HTP supplements to help with anxiety or insomnia, starting with the lowest dose possible three times a day is recommended. This usually means a 50 mg dose half an hour before each meal. If a supplement is larger – 100 mg per pill – splitting the dose is a good idea. If problems persist, a person should raise the daily dose up to the total amount recommended on a daily basis until results are seen.

  19. Interesting about coffee after lunch, may try that. I think the Vit D3 in the am improves my overall mood for the day as well as walking and standing more (also tips from Seth’s blog). I do take one grain of natural dessicated thyroid (Armour) every day around midday and I feel an energy surge from that and notice a slump in energy it if I don’t have it. The Armour is an ongoing experiential journey as I think I could do with taking more but can’t seem to tolerate more than one grain in the middle of the day.

  20. Are you still on the wagon?
    When was the last time you had a beer?

  21. @Ed – Yes. Had 1/3 of a GF beer in 2010. Experimented with 1/2 ounce of rum earlier this year, but felt awful, so I stopped that experiment.

  22. Sir,

    I really like your blog and have been a fan for a couple of years. What are your experiences, or opinions on old school bodybuilding supplements like Beef Liver Tablets, Lecithin, or Bee Pollen? I really would like to hear your take on these old school bodybuilding staples that may have died out many moons ago, but still have some value.



  23. @Jay – I consume beef liver weekly, because many believe it to be the most nutrient dense food on the planet. I’ve never seen the tablet version. And I have no opinion on Lecithin and Bee Pollen.

  24. Hey guys,
    regarding supplements, they do very little. Most of the benefits are obtained through diet, and I am not talking about 100% paleo, quite the opposite. With variety, less nutritionally dense diet is more than enough, and dietary purity is actually self-limiting.
    What works: Well, creatine monohydrate is the only supplement really worthy of taking daily, in my opinion. 5g a day. Also, coffee before workout for caffeine, but again, that’s not a supplement. Then there are few supplements that work if you are defficient – vitamin D, Whey protein, choline, multivitamin, fish oil….but they are not generally needed and won’t have no special effect.
    That’s it. Creatine daily and coffee pre-workout + good diet. Nothing else is proven to be effective to the extent it’s worthy of consideration if your diet is adequate.

  25. John (aka Wish I Were Riding)

    Jul 27, 2013 — 6:13 pm

    This is not meant to be a post or advertisement for this product. I want to know if you have looked at it or not. You can remove this post if you want. But I would love to hear your thoughts on this. I’ll just mention the site and not link to it:

    Based on your previous posts I’m going to assume you don’t think its worth it. But if you could look up a specific health goal or thing you want to improve, that might be useful right?

  26. @John – I have received a copy of the PDF and am an affiliate. I have not gone through it enough to have an opinion. I have a link to it on my Sponsor page.

    Maybe I’ll do a post matching my current supplements with their advice?

  27. John (aka Wish I Were Riding)

    Jul 27, 2013 — 6:33 pm

    An affiliate with no opinion? 😉

    Yes please do a post of some sort ASAP. 🙂

  28. Bodybuilders tend to have far more severe problems than could ever derive from taking creatine. Most particularly, they suffer tremendous catabolic stress from over training.

    Some additional information on creatine is that the substance has been studied extensively now among bodybuilders and weight lifters and it turns out that the one benefit that it does have is that you recover more quickly between sets within a work out. So in other words, if you used to do a couple sets of squats and then maybe go to bench press you tend to recover more quickly after squats and you don’t need to wait so long before you go to the bench press. So it definitely enables you to go through a work out more quickly with less break in between. It has not been shown, however, that it increases strength development or increases muscle mass.

    Interestingly, while creatine is of no significant benefit to a strength training regimen, it is of some benefit to cardiovascular stamina. It has been shown to increase myocardial oxidative potential, and to improve performance on a bicycle ergometer. However, it takes huge doses to achieve these performance benefits.

    The danger from taking creatine is that it is metabolized to methylamine, and then to formaldehyde, which is an extreme toxin. Creatine supplementation can thus lead to cross linking of proteins, DNA damage, vascular damage, nephropathy, extreme oxidative damage and a long list of other pathologies.

  29. @Gary – thanks for the info. I had no idea of the creatine risks.

  30. I suffered from depression and took Efexxor XR for many years until I decided I wanted to wean off it and take something more natural….this was a hellish process but I finally got the Efexxor out of my system ….
    I am looking for some natural alternatives that work….I tried SAMe and Tyrosine and 5 HTP and got nothing but big time headaches….Like, I cannot function headaches…..the Tyrosine and 5HTP combo helped my mood for awhile but I cannot function with the headaches…..any ideas of what I might try?

    Many thanks,

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