Upgrade Your Energy, Optimize Your Supplements
By: Dave Asprey
There are three groups of people when it comes to supplements.
The first group is those who shun all forms of supplementation because “it isn’t natural” or because “cavemen didn’t have supplements.” They often say, “I don’t need supplements because I get all my nutrients from food.”
My reply to that is, “Then you must get all your toxins from nature.”
The second group are those who think supplements can make up for a poor diet, high-stress levels, and pretty much everything else.
The final group is somewhere in between. In my opinion, this is the best place to be.
Supplements are a double edged sword. The wrong ones can do more damage than good, but the right ones can massively improve your health, even if you eat a great diet. In this article, you’re going to get an overview of the problems with generic supplements, how to pick the right supplements, and the list of supplements almost everyone should be taking.
Throw away your multivitamins
With half of the U.S. population taking a multivitamin, many people seem to think multivitamins are the first line of defense against malnutrition and disease. In fact, the opposite is true. Multivitamins can actually do more harm than good. We won’t go into the full details here, but here are two reasons to choose targeted supplements over multivitamins:
1. Imbalance of nutrients
Most multivitamins have too much of some nutrients (like vitamin A or B6) and not enough of others (like magnesium). The result is overdosing and underdosing at the same time. In order to get enough of some vitamins and minerals, you would have to take far more than you should of others. It is a common practice to use very small amounts of expensive nutrients, which allows manufacturers to still list them on the label. Average consumers don’t notice there are meaningless amounts of some nutrients, and they only want to take one pill anyway. There is no way to fit “a complete spectrum” of nutrients in one single pill.
2. Low quality
Nutrients come in different forms that behave differently inside your body. Folate is an essential B vitamin, but folic acid, the kind found in generic multivitamins, increases your risk of cancer. This may be why many studies show no benefit to taking multivitamins (although honestly, that’s more likely because pharmaceutical companies funded those studies…) In fact, much of the research shows an increased risk of mortality. This is assuming you even absorb the ingredients. Many multivitamins are made with fillers and additives which are poorly utilized by the body – to the extent some nursing homes call them “bedpan bullets”. Even if they have the right amount of a nutrient on the label, very little may reach your cells.
In the end, you get what you pay for with supplements. You can delude yourself and buy the generic multivitamins at Costco, or you can spend a little extra and actually do something to improve your health.
How to start supplementing
Before we get into the exact supplements you should take, here are some general criteria for supplementation:
Get the majority of your nutrients from food
You don’t eat nutrients – you eat food. Whole foods behave differently from their individual parts. The nutrients from a piece of meat are more bioavailable than consuming the equivalent nutrients from a pill. Studies have shown that grass-fed meat boosts plasma omega-3 levels far more than what could be explained by the actual omega-3 content of the meat. Antioxidants from food are usually beneficial, but taking mega-doses of some synthetic antioxidants increases your risk of death. The nutrients in food work together in a process known as food synergy. In short, this means food is more powerful than the sum of its parts. The good news is the Bulletproof Diet is the most nutrient packed diet in the world. If you haven’t yet, take the time to read the first article in this series to learn more about the Bulletproof Diet.
Consume supplements in their highest form
Artificial forms of nutrients are not as effective as the real thing. When you do supplement, you should still try to get them from whole food sources. Isolated nutrients often compete for the same absorption pathways. For example, iron and calcium inhibit the absorption of one another, but synthetic nutrients are often damaging. For these reasons, nutrients should be consumed in their most natural form possible.
When in doubt, go without
There is always a risk with supplements. Even the most natural forms can contain high levels of heavy metals, contaminants, and byproducts from processing. Food is not guaranteed to be free from these substances, but it’s far less likely to contain them. In many cases, the biggest downside to taking supplements you don’t need is simply expensive urine, but in other cases it’s better to go without than to take something you shouldn’t have.
The supplements you should take
I take over 40 pills a day, carefully selected for my own needs using testing over the last decade. That’s why this isn’t called “the complete guide to supplementation.” This list does not cover my recommendations for smart drugs or most brain enhancing nutrients. Those topics will come in a later post. These are the basic supplements that most everyone should be taking.
For each nutrient, you will get a:
- Dosage recommendation.
- The correct form it should be taken in.
- The time it should be taken.
- A recommended brand.
In an effort to save time and make it easier/safer for you to take these nutrients in their highest performing form, I have been following cutting-edge research to source and develop some of these nutrients in their most proven/pure form and dose. It takes a lot of effort and resources to develop a truly exceptional supplement. If I haven’t been able to do that yet, I will recommend another product I trust and use. I have no relation or affiliation to those companies.
Here are the ten nutrients (almost) everyone should supplement with:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K2
- Vitamin C
- Krill Oil
- Vitamin A
- Zinc with copper
- Folinic Acid with Methyl B12
Vitamin D isn’t just the most important supplement – it is possibly the most important biohack. 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. It’s no coincidence this is one of the few vitamins humans can make on their own. Without it – we’d be dead. It’s true that you can get adequate vitamin D from sun exposure, but for non-nudist non-equatorial dwellers it’s not enough. If you’re getting adequate vitamin A, it’s almost impossible to overdose on D.
Dose: 1000 IU / 25 pounds of body weight.*
Time taken: Morning
Recommended brand: Jarrow Formulas D3
*People with brown/black skin don’t convert sunlight into vitamin D as quickly as lighter skinned people. If you’re brown skinned, a safe bet is 1500 IU / 25 pounds of body weight, but you should always test your blood levels because individual response to dosage varies.
This is almost as important as vitamin D, and almost as under appreciated. Magnesium is used in over 300 enzymatic processes, including all of those involved in ATP production. It’s also vital for proper transcription of DNA and RNA.
Magnesium deficiency is a serious problem. Symptoms include heart arrhythmias, tachycardia, headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, metabolic syndrome, migraines, and pretty much everything else you don’t want. It’s also associated with cardiovascular disease diabetes, asthma, anxiety disorders, and PMS.
Almost all Americans are deficient in magnesium. The majority of people don’t meet the RDA, which is already too low. Due to soil depletion and poor farming practices, it’s almost impossible to get enough magnesium from your diet. Without a doubt – everyone should supplement with magnesium.
Dose: 600-800mg / day
Forms: Citrate, malate, glycinate, threonate, or orotate
Time taken: before bedtime.
Recommended brand: Life Extension
Unless you grew up eating only grass-fed meat and raw milk – you’re deficient in vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 is a fat soluble vitamin involved in calcium metabolism. Excess calcium is deposited in arteries, leading to calcification and decreased vascular function. This is why vitamin K2 could play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. K2 also has been found to reduce bone loss.
Vitamin K1 is the kind of vitamin K found in leafy vegetables, and vitamin K2 is the kind found in grass-fed animal products. Humans don’t convert vitamin K1 into K2 efficiently. Ruminant animals like cows and sheep convert K1 into K2 in their stomachs. This is another reason you should eat grass-fed animals, because they can only get K1 from grass – not grains.
There are two subsets of vitamin K2: MK-4, and MK-7. MK-4 is the kind shown to produce the most benefit, but MK-7 is still important. You should consume a total of at least 2,000mcg per day of K2, at least 100mcg of which should be the MK-7 form.
Dose: 2,000mcg / day (100mcg MK-7 form)
Forms: MK-4, and MK-7
Time taken: Doesn’t really matter, but it’s best to take this with vitamin D, so morning is best.
Recommended brand: Life Extension
This is one of the safest, most effect supplements you can take. Vitamin C is needed for collagen and connective tissue formation. It’s used to manufacture glutathione, the most powerful antioxidant in the body. Vitamin C can enhance immune function and help quench free radical damage. Studies have shown you can take up to 120 grams of vitamin C a day with no side effects (besides loose stool).
It’s hard to get enough vitamin C from food, which is why 30 percent of the population is deficient.
Some fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin C, but cooking and storage methods can deplete vitamin C content. Supplementation with at least 500mg per day is optimal. You should take a lot more if you are suffering from chronic infections or healing from injury.
Dose: 1-2 grams / day
Forms: Ascorbic acid crystals or time release capsules.
Time taken: Morning and evening, but it’s best not to take it after a workout as isolated antioxidants can negate the insulin sensitivity gained from exercise.
Recommended brand: Solaray
Iodine is crucial for proper thyroid function and metabolism. It also enhances immune function and prevents brain damage. Iodine deficiency is widespread, so supplementation is wise. Physically active people are at especially high risk for deficiency because you lose iodine through sweat. You can get some iodine from seafood, but unless you’re eating it with every meal, you probably won’t get enough.
Dose: 150 mcg to 1000 mcg (1 mg) / day
Forms: Kelp powder or potassium iodide capsules
Time Taken: Once daily, with food
Recommended Brand: Bulletproof Iodine from Icelandic kelp
EPA/DHA (krill oil)
This is a tricky one. Small doses of high-quality fish oil reduce inflammation, improve brain function, and even enhance muscle growth, but poor quality or high doses can cause more problems than they help to solve. Not all fish oil is created equal. Most of the brands you are likely to buy at your local grocery are contaminated, oxidized, and low potency. If you can’t find a good fish oil – you’re much better off avoiding it all together.
That’s why I recommend krill oil over fish oil altogether. Krill is more stable and it is phosphorylated, meaning it’s easier for your brain to use. It also comes with astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant.
There are real benefits to taking EPA and DHA, but most of these are strongest if your diet is deficient in omega-’3s, or too high in omega-6’s. If you’re eating a Bulletproof Diet, this won’t be a problem. Humans only need 350mg of DHA and EPA a day to have optimal brain function. If you’re eating grass-fed meat and wild caught fish, this is easily obtainable. If you can’t find grass-fed meat or wild caught seafood, you should supplement with at least 1000mg of krill oil per day.
Dose: 1000mg / day
Forms: Krill Oil
Time taken: With meals.
Recommended brand: Jarrow Krill oil
In addition to these basic supplements, there are a few others you should also consider taking:
This is essential if you aren’t eating organ meats like beef liver, kidney, and heart (you should). Vitamin A is an important cofactor for numerous metabolic reactions and bodily functions. A quarter of Americans consume less than half the RDA, which is already too low. An important thing to remember is that you can’t get vitamin A from plants. Plants don’t have vitamin A, they have beta-carotene. Beta carotene is poorly converted into vitamin a which is why some populations develop vitamin A deficiency despite consuming far more than they should have required. Sorry vegetarians and vegans, carrots don’t count.
Dose: 10,000-15,000 IU / day.
Forms: Retinol (A good source of vitamin A is cod liver oil, which also has vitamin D)
Time taken: With meals.
Recommended brand: Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil (Arctic Mint flavor)
L-Tyrosine is an amino acid that boosts mood, cognition, physical and mental stress response, and healthy glandular function. It quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier to increase the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. It’s also a building block for thyroid hormone. Your body can make it, but it depletes when you’re stressed, and with modern living, most people’s production can’t keep up. Studies have shown that cadets in combat training supplementing with L-Tyrosine had reduced negative effects from physical and psychosocial stress on mental performance. Take 500mg to 2000mg per day.
Dose: 500-2000mg per day.
Forms: Pure L-Tyrosine
Time Taken: Doesn’t matter
Recommended Brand: Bulletproof L-Tyrosine
Zinc with copper
Zinc alone is a powerful immune-boosting supplement that’s responsible for more than 300 enzymatic processes in your body. It plays an important role in your body’s stress and inflammatory responses and helps balance your hormones and mood. And because your body doesn’t store zinc, it needs to be replenished daily.
Copper is needed for proper vascular and heart function. Most of the U.S. Is woefully deficient in copper, consuming only .8mg per day. This is worrying since less than 1mg per day is enough to cause heart attacks.
But zinc and copper don’t work in your body on their own. In fact, they need each other to do their respective jobs, enzymatically speaking. The two micronutrients work together to develop a crucial antioxidant enzyme called copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (CuZnSOD). Don’t worry about pronouncing it — just know that it’s one of your body’s primary internal defense mechanisms against oxidative stress — one of the main mechanisms of cellular aging.
Maintaining proper levels of both zinc and copper in your system can be a delicate balance — for example, you can actually deplete your copper levels by taking zinc on its own. So consuming both micronutrients together, in scientifically studied amounts, can help ensure you’re getting the maximum benefit without ending up with too much of one or the other.
Zinc and copper occur naturally in a lot of vegetables and proteins, but chances are you’re still not getting enough — even if you’re eating a Bulletproof Diet. Modern farming practices deplete the soil of micronutrients that should be making their way into our food. In fact, compared to a generation or two ago, copper levels in contemporary foods are as much as 75% lower than they used to be. Stress can also deplete your micronutrient stores, making supplementation an easy way to upgrade your performance, especially if you’re chronically stressed or get sick a lot.
Dose: Zinc: 15 mg; copper 1-2 mg
Time taken: Take one capsule daily, preferably with a meal. Zinc on an empty stomach can cause mild stomach upset in some people. Avoid taking with foods/supplements containing iron, calcium, and phytates (grains, legumes, nuts) because these reduce bioavailability and absorption of zinc.
Recommended Brand: Bulletproof Zinc with Copper
B-12 and folinic acid
Most people are deficient in B12. B12 can protect against dementia, increase immune function, maintain nerves, and regenerate cells. B12 lowers homocysteine and protects against atherosclerosis. It’s necessary for maintaining methylation reactions that repair DNA and prevent cancer. One of the most crucial areas for B12 is the brain.
Folate deficiency can also cause mental symptoms, although B12 is more likely to be a problem. Folate and B12 are both required for mental function, and a deficiency in one produces a deficiency in the other, but folate will not correct a B12 deficiency in the brain. Folate also supports a healthy heart and nervous system. If you make the mistake of treating B12 deficiency without folate, you can get permanent brain damage. (hear that, vegans?) Likewise, high amounts of folate without adequate B12 can cause neurological conditions. That’s why I take them together.
Dose: 5mg+ of methylcobalamin or hydroxocobalamin and 800mcg+ of folate (5-MTHF or folinic acid, NOT folic acid)
Forms: Capsule and/or Lozenge
Time taken: Daily with food
Supplementation is something everyone should do, but how much depends on your diet and other lifestyle factors. Athletes need more of some supplements than other people. In general, you should try to get as much nutrition from food as possible. You should consume nutrients in their most natural form. When you do supplement – you get what you pay for. It’s worth it to buy quality supplements. It’ll cost you more to pay health bills in the long term.
Looking for more?
The list above was a small portion of supplements to consider taking. This will provide you with a foundation for further supplementation with things like smart drugs and sleep hacking supplements. And don’t forget the post about calcium-d-glucarate! Sign up for the Bulletproof Newsletter below for more on how to upgrade your biology. Thanks for reading and have a great week!
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