To Supplement Or Not?

Some say vitamin, mineral, and electrolyte supplements are unnecessary, useless, or even harmful. I’ve been on the fence about this. Our modern diet is so deficient in nutrients. But it is argued that even in the modern world we should be able to get all the nutrients we need from nutrient-dense foods. I’m coming around to this view.

There are specific conditions where supplementation would be necessary. If you get a lot of caffeine, that will dehydrate you and throw off your electrolyte balance and so maybe supplementation could help, but even then it probably would be better to use a natural sea salt and eat seaweed or, better yet, give up caffeine. Another example is that, for those on statins, additional CoQ10 is required beyond what is likely found in the diet. But this shouldn’t apply to anyone who is healthy. There is the rub. Most Americans aren’t healthy.

I might add that nutrient deficiencies are much more common on vegan and vegetarian diets, especially the former. But that is the problem with these diets. We should be able to get all our nutrients from our diet without supplements, as most humans have done for most of evolution, something I’ve long agreed with in theory. Requiring supplements indicates a failure. If we aren’t getting enough nutrients, there is something wrong with either our diet or our food system. This is why food quality is so important. We need to be getting plenty of wild-caught and pasture-raised animal foods, especially organ meats. But how many people have access to and can afford these foods? And how many will go to the effort to procure and prepare them?

My own carnivore experiment only lasted a couple of months, but I did learn from it. I’m still mostly animal-based in my meals, with a few nutrient-dense plant foods (e.g., fermented vegetables). I’ve known about nutrient-density since the late 1990s, back when I first read Sally Fallon Morrell (just Sally Fallon at the time). I have been trying to improve my diet for many years, but not to the degree I’ve been doing over the past year.

The only issue I’ve had is that most foods today are nutritionally deficient. And so I’ve worried about not getting required nutrition without supplementation. I’ve argued in favor of supplementation in the past, for the simple reason most Americans are malnourished. Telling people to eat nutrient-dense foods is easier said than done, as such foods are less common and familiar while being more expensive. I’ve previously come across those who oppose general supplementation for all or most people. But I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Most people are dealing with major deficiencies while struggling to eat even moderately well. Our society isn’t exactly supportive of a healthy diet. Even the official food recommendations and guidelines are making people sick.

One thing that brought me to thinking about this again is a study reported on by the New York Times, Supplements and Diets for Heart Health Show Limited Proof of Benefit by Anahad O’Connor. The evidence on effectiveness is mixed. Maybe the risk to benefit ration is too high in taking an approach of the precautionary principle, considering we don’t have enough good research yet. I’m coming around to the conclusion that modern foods, as long as they are high quality, can or should be enough for optimal health — other than medically diagnosed deficiencies because of health problems.

I’ll experiment with this, maybe after I use up my present supply of multivitamins, and see if I observe any differences or rather observe a lack of a difference. I still don’t know what that will tell me, as some deficiencies like that of vitamin K2 are almost impossible to notice since the effects are mostly indirect. I guess eat the best food possible and hope for the best.

I must admit I still have some reservations. When I look at the people advocating nutrient-density alone can be adequate without supplementation, I notice that these are people putting immense time, effort, and money into their diet and health. They are going to great lengths to ensure high quality food — dairy, eggs, organ meats, brains, caviar, etc from animals that were pasture-raised, wild-caught, or hunted. This is simply not an option for most Americans, for many reasons. The reality is few Americans will be willing to do this, to dedicate their entire lives to this endeavor, even if they could afford it and had the time to do it.

So, I don’t know. But since I have the money and motivation, I’m going to try to do my best in getting as much food-sourced nutrition as possible.

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For no particular reason, I’ll share some videos only from Frank Tufano. He is one of the carnivore advocates who talks about nutrient-density.

As a side note, Tufano got into a snit because he thought that fellow carnivore Paul Saladino stole information from him and didn’t credit him as the source. What he claimed was unjustly taken had to do with nutrient-density from animal foods. He was trying to convince his viewers that he was the first carnivore advocate to ever talk about nutrient-density. That simply is not true.

J.D. Garland has been a carnivore longer than Tufano. Where Garland comes from is specifically a nutritional approach, prior to his going on a carnivore diet. He learned of this from Sally Fallon Morrell who in turn got it from Weston A. Price, the latter having researched this topic long before any of these other people were born. This comes up in an interview with Tristan Haggard. As far as that goes, Haggard has also been going on about this topic for quite a while. It’s pretty much common knowledge at this point.

That was a bit of meaningless drama. But I wanted to set the record straight. Many people have picked up on the knowledge of traditional foods from Price. And it was Morrell who specifically did the most in popularizing his work. Still, Tufano is worth listening to, if not as original as he’d like to believe. Listen to his informative videos and ignore the rest.

Calcium: Nutrient Combination and Ratios

Calcium is centrally important, as most people already know. Not only is it necessary for the health of bones but also for the health of the heart, nerve cells, gut microbiome, hormonal system, skin, etc and will affect such things as grip strength and fatigue. As usual, there is a lot of misinformation out there and newer information that has changed our understanding. Let me clear up the issue to the degree I can. The following represents my present understanding, based on the sources I could find.

We can store calcium when we are younger, but lose this ability as we age. On the other hand, it turns out we don’t need as much calcium as previously assumed. And too much calcium can be harmful, even deadly as can happen with hardening of arteries. In fact, the healthiest societies have lower levels of calcium. It’s not so much about the calcium itself for, as always, context matters. Calcium deficiencies typically are caused by a health condition (kidney condition, alcohol abuse, etc), rather than lack of calcium in the diet. Importantly, other nutrients determine how the body absorbs, processes, utilizes, and deposits calcium. Furthermore, nutritional imbalances involving deficiencies and excesses create a cascade of health problems.

Let me explain the interrelationship of micronutrients. There is a whole series of relationships involved in calcium processing. Vitamin B6 is necessary for absorption of magnesium; and magnesium is necessary for absorption of vitamin D3 — zinc, boron, vitamin A, bile salts, and a healthy guy microbiome are all important as well. Of course, cholesterol and sunlight are needed for the body to produce it’s own vitamin D3, which is why deficiencies in these are also problematic. Statins block cholesterol and sunscreen blocks sun; while stress will block vitamin D3 itself whereas exercise will do the opposite. Then vitamin D3 is necessary for absorption of calcium. But it doesn’t end there. Most important of all, vitamin K2 is necessary for regulating where calcium is deposited in the body, ensuring it ends up in bones and teeth rather than in joints, arteries, brain, kidneys, etc.

About on specific issue, the often cited 2-to-1 ratio of calcium and magnesium is actually on the high end indicating the maximum calcium levels you don’t want to exceed as part of your total calcium intake from both diet and supplementation. So, if you’re getting a 2-to-1 ratio in your supplements combined with high levels of calcium from food, such as a diet with plenty of dairy and/or greens, your calcium levels could be causing you harm. Speaking of magnesium deficiency is a relative assessment, as it depends on calcium levels. The body is rarely depleted of magnesium and so, on a superficial level, your body is never deficient in an absolute sense. Yet the higher your calcium levels go the greater your need of magnesium. Nutrients never act alone, such as how vitamin C requirements increase on a high-carb diet.

Here is another example of nutrient interaction. With more salt in your diet, you’ll need more potassium and magnesium to compensate. And potassium deficiency is associated with magnesium deficiency. But that isn’t to say you want to decrease sodium to increase these others, as research indicates higher salt intake is associated with greater health (Dr. James DiNicolantonio, The Salt Fix) — and I’d recommend getting a good source of salt such as Real Salt (although natural forms of salt lack iodine and so make sure to increase iodine-rich foods like seaweed, that being a good option since seaweed is extremely nutrient-dense). As an interesting side note, calcium helps your muscles contract and magnesium helps your muscles relax, which is why muscle cramps (also spasms, twitches, and restlessness) can be a sign of magnesium deficiency. Plus, excess calcium and insufficient magnesium will increase cortisol, the stress hormone, and so can interfere with sleep. There is yet another dual relationship between these two in the clotting and thinning of blood.

Macronutrients play a role as well. Higher protein ensures optimal levels of magnesium and is strongly linked to increased bone mass and density. Fat intake may also play a role with these minerals, but I couldn’t find much discussion about this. Certainly, fat is necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. If you’re eating pastured (or grass-fed-and-finished) fatty animal foods, you’ll be getting both the protein and the fat-soluble vitamins (A as beta-carotene, D3, E complex, & K2). Even greater, with cultured, fermented and aged foods (whether from animals or plants), you’ll get higher levels of the much needed vitamin K2. Assuming you can stand the taste and texture of it, fermented soy in the form of natto is the highest known source of K2 as the subtype MK7 which remains in the body longer than other subtypes. By the way, some multiple vitamins contain MK7 (e.g., Garden of Life). Vitamin K2 is massively important. Weston A. Price called it Activator X because it controls so much of what the body does, specifically in relationship to other nutrients, including other fat-soluble vitamins. And all of the fat-soluble vitamins are central in relationship to mineral levels.

Another factor to consider is when nutrients are taken and in combination with what. Some minerals will compete with each other for absorption, but this probably is not an issue if you are getting small amounts throughout the day, such as adding a balanced electrolyte mix (with potassium, magnesium, etc) to your water or other drinks. Calcium and magnesium are two that compete and many advise they should be taken separately, but if you take them in smaller amounts competition is not an issue. Some research indicates calcium has a higher absorption rate in the evening, but magnesium can make you sleepy and so might also be taken in the evening — if taking a supplement, maybe take the former with dinner and the latter before bed or you could take the magnesium in the morning and see how it makes you feel. By the way, too much coffee (6 cups or more a day) will cause the body to excrete calcium and salt, and yet coffee is also a good source of potassium and magnesium. Coffee, as with tea, in moderate amounts is good for your health.

As a last thought, here is what you want to avoid for healthy calcium levels: taken with iron supplements, high levels of insoluble fiber, antacids, excessive caffeine. Also, calcium can alter the effects of medications and, in some cases, should be taken two hours apart. Keep in mind that many plant foods can be problematic because of anti-nutrients that bind minerals or interfere with absorption. This is why traditional people spent so much time preparing plant foods (soaking, sprouting, cooking, fermenting, etc) in order to eliminate these anti-nutrients and hence increase nutrient absorption. It is irrelevant the amount of nutrients in a food if you’re body can’t use them. For example, one of the highest concentrations of calcium is found in spinach, but the bioavailability is extremely low. Other foods, including other leafy greens, are a much better source and with any leafy greens always cook them.

This problem is magnified by the decreased nutrient content of most plant foods these days, as the soil itself has become depleted. Supplementation of many micronutrients is maybe necessary for almost everyone at this point, although great caution should be taken with supplementing calcium.

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Sometimes I write posts about diet and health after doing research for my own purposes or simply for the sake of curiosity about a topic. But in many cases, I have family members in mind, as my own health improvements have gone hand in hand with dietary changes my parents also have made, and my brothers are health-conscious as well although with a vegetarian diet quite different than my own. This particular post was written for my mother.

Just the other day she was diagnosed with osteoporosis. She had osteopenia for decades. Now looking back, she realizes that her bone loss began when she started taking fiber and antacids, both of which block calcium. And all the years of calcium supplementation were probably doing her no good because, even to the degree she was absorbing any of the calcium, it wasn’t balanced with other needed nutrients. I gathered this information in order to help her to figure out how to improve her bone health, as her doctor was only moderately informed and her recent appointment was rushed.

This was researched and written on Mother’s Day. I guess it was my gift to my mother. But I hope it is of value to others as well.

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Without Magnesium, Vitamin D Supplementation May Backfire
by Joseph Mercola

Calcium with Magnesium: Do You Need the Calcium?
from Easy Immune System Health

Expert cites risk of calcium—magnesium imbalance
from Nutritional Magnesium Association

Optimum Calcium Magnesium Ratio: The 2-to-1 Calcium-to-Magnesium Ratio
by A. Rosanoff

Nutritional strategies for skeletal and cardiovascular health: hard bones, softarteries, rather than vice versa
by James H O’Keefe, Nathaniel Bergman, Pedro Carrera-Bastos, Maélan Fontes-Villalba, James J DiNicolantonio, Loren Cordain

Why You Need To Take Vitamin K With Calcium Supplements
by Stacy Facko

For Bone Health, Think Magnesium
from Harvest Market Natural Foods

Calcium Deficiency: Are Supplements the Answer?
by Jillian Levy

Calcium to Magnesium: How the Ratio Affects Your Health
from Juvenon Health Journal

How to Correct Your Calcium-to-Magnesium Ratio
by Sandra Ketcham

Calcium & Magnesium: Finding the Right Ratio for Optimal Health
by Dr. Edward Group

Magnesium, NOT Calcium, Is The Key To Healthy Bones
by Jackie Ritz

Calcium Supplements: Things to Consider before Taking One
by Chris Kresser

How to Get Enough Calcium Without Dairy
by Katie Wells

Is The Paleo Diet Deficient In Calcium?
by Michael Ofer

Paleo & Calcium | Friendly Calcium Rich Foods
by Irena Macri

Mineral Primer – The Weston A. Price Foundation
by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig

The science of salt and electrolytes (are we consuming enough?)
by Will Little

13 Signs Of Magnesium Deficiency + How To Finally Get Enough
by Dr. Will Cole

Top 10 Magnesium-Rich Foods
by Rachael Link

Vitamin K2, Vitamin D, and Calcium: A Winning Combo
by Joseph Mercola

Vitamin K2: Everything You Need to Know
by Joe Leech

The Ultimate Vitamin K2 Resource
by Chris Masterjohn

Vitamin K2: Are You Consuming Enough?
by Chris Kresser

Promoting Calcium Balance Health On A Paleo Diet (Easier Than You Think)
by Loren Cordain

Calcium: A Team Sports View of Nutrition
by Loren Cordain

How To Keep Your Bones Healthy On A Paleo Diet
by Chris Kresser

A Food Revolution Worthy of the Name!

“Our success with carbohydrates, however, has had a serious downside: a worldwide plague of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases.”
~Gerald C. Nelson

The conventional view on diet promoted by establishment figures and institutions is based on the idea that all calories are equal. In dieting and fat loss, this has meant promoting a philosophy of calorie-in/calorie-out which translates as calorie counting and calorie restriction. Recent research has brought serious doubt to this largely untested hypothesis that has for so long guided public health recommendations.

There is also a larger background to this issue. The government has spent immense money promoting and subsidizing the high-carb diet. For example, they’ve put decades of funding into research for growing higher yield staples of wheat, corn, and rice. But they have never done anything comparable for healthy foods that are nutrient-dense and low-carb. This promotion of high yield crops with industrialized farming has denatured the soil and the food grown on it. This is problematic since these high-carb staples are low in nutrient-density even when grown on healthy soil.

This mentality of obsessing over food as calories is severely dysfunctional. It ignores the human reality of how our bodies function. And it ignores widespread human experience. Calorie-restricted diets are well known to have one of the lowest rates of compliance and success. It doesn’t matter how many or how few calories one tries to eat, as long as the food one is eating is of such low quality. Your hunger and cravings will drive you in your body’s seeking nutrition.

As I’ve eaten more nutrient-dense foods as part of a diet that is ketogenic and paleo, my hunger decreased and my cravings disappeared. I certainly don’t consume more calories than before and possibly far less, not that I’m counting. I no longer overeat and I find fasting easy. Maybe too many people eat so much making them fat because the food system produces mostly empty calories and processed carbs. It’s what’s available and cheapest, and the food industry is brilliant in making their products as addictive as possible. The average person in our society is endlessly hungry while their body is not getting what it needs. It’s a vicious cycle of decline.

I remember how I was for most of my life until quite recently, with decades as a sugar addict and a junk food junky. I was always hungry and always snacking. Carbs and sugar would keep my blood sugar and serotonin levels on a constant roller coaster ride of highs and lows, and it wrecked my physical and mental health in the process. It wasn’t a happy state. And anyone having told me in my deepest and darkest depressive funk that I should count and restrict my calories would not have been helpful. What I needed was more of the right kinds of calories, those filled with healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins along with so much else. My body was starving from malnourishment even when I was overeating and, despite regular exercise, eventually gaining weight.

We don’t need to grow more food to feed the world but to grow better food to nourish everyone at least to a basic level, considering how many diseases even in rich countries are caused by nutrient deficiencies (e.g., Dr. Terry Wahls reversed multiple sclerosis symptoms in her self, in patients, and in clinical subjects through increasing nutrient-density). The same amount of food produced, if nutrient-dense, could feed many more people. We already have enough food and will continue to have enough food for the foreseeable future. That of equal and fair distribution of food is a separate issue. The problem isn’t producing a greater quantity for what we desperately need is greater quality. But that is difficult because our industrial farming has harmed the health of the soil and denatured our food supply.

The U.S. gov pays some farmers to not grow anything because the market is flooded with too much food. At the same time, U.S. gov pays other farmers to grow more crops like corn, something I know from living in Iowa, the corn capital of the world. Subsidizing the production of processed carbs and high fructose syrup is sickening and killing us, ignoring the problems with ethanol. Just as important, it also wastes limited resources that could be used in better ways.

We have become disconnected in so many ways. Scientific research and government policies disconnected from human health. An entire civilization disconnected from the earth we depend upon. And the modern mind disconnected from our own bodies, to the point of being alienated from what should be the most natural thing in the world, that of eating. When we are driven by cravings, our bodies are seeking something essential and needed. There is a good reason we’re attracted to things that taste sweet, salty, and fatty/oily. In natural whole foods, these flavors indicate something is nutrient-dense. But we fool the body by eating nutrient-deficient processed foods grown on poor soil. And then we create dietary ideologies that tell us this is normal.

What if we could feed more people with less land? And what if we could do so in a way that brought optimal and sustainable health to individuals, society, and the earth? Now that would be a food revolution worthy of the name!

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The global food problem isn’t what you think
by Gerald C. Nelson 

Here’s what we found:

Under even the worst conditions, there will be enough food, if we define “enough” as meaning sufficient calories, on average, for everyone — with 2,000 calories per day as the standard requirement. . . [T]he post-World War II Green Revolution efforts to boost the productivity of staples such as wheat and rice have been so successful that we are now awash in carbohydrates. And because so much has already been invested in improving the productivity of these crops, solid yield gains will likely continue for the next few decades. The productivity enhancements have also made them more affordable relative to other foods that provide more of the other needed nutrients.

Our success with carbohydrates, however, has had a serious downside: a worldwide plague of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases. The World Health Organization reports that in 2014, there were 462 million underweight adults worldwide but more than 600 million who were obese — nearly two-thirds of them in developing countries. And childhood obesity is rising much faster in poorer countries than in richer ones.

Meanwhile, micronutrient shortages such as Vitamin A deficiency are already causing blindness in somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 children a year and killing half of them within 12 months of them losing their sight. Dietary shortages of iron, zinc, iodine and folate all have devastating health effects.

These statistics point to the need for more emphasis on nutrients other than carbohydrates in our diets. And in this area, our findings are not reassuring.