Humans evolved without taking supplements. Does this mean you can forgo them too?
Evidence shows you cannot get away from the need for nutritional supplementation in the modern world.
Even with a perfect diet, a combination of many factors including depleted soils, the storage and transportation of food, genetic alterations of traditional heirloom species, and the increased stress and nutritional demands resulting from a toxic environment, make it challenging to consume all the vitamins and minerals needed solely from the foods you eat.
Furthermore, on a daily basis you are exposed to air pollution and environmental hormone disruptors that Paleolithic man did not have to deal with. The modern world is filled with artificial light prompting less, and lower quality sleep and electronic entertainment competing for time spent outdoors.
Before turning to the Paleo diet, many followed a Standard Western Diet filled with artificial, processed and food-like products and may still be feeling some effects.
This is where adding a few high-quality supplements can enhance the positive impacts you are experiencing by choosing a Paleo lifestyle and support you in achieving optimal health.
To further enhance your health against the background of a nutrient-dense, whole foods Paleo diet, you might consider including:
Magnesium is a very difficult nutrient to get enough of through diet alone (even when adhering to a Paleo diet). Magnesium helps with blood clotting, energy production, muscle contraction, sleep, and a host of bodily functions including the creation of new cells. It is also beneficial for heart arrhythmia, cramps, headaches and mild constipation.
Magnesium is best taken in the evening and away from your Vitamin D3 supplement as the two compete for absorption.
You can also include more magnesium rich foods such as spinach, Swiss chard, raw almonds, pumpkin seeds, and avocado into your diet.
Humans get Vitamin D from food (primarily fish), and from sunlight. Sunlight is the more important of the two, and can provide more than sufficient amounts of Vitamin D if you actually spend time outdoors in the sun.
If your sun exposure is low, it is challenging to make up for it with food, even with a diet rich in cod liver oil, mackerel or sardines.
It is recommended to get your levels tested before beginning supplementation and to recheck regularly and adjust dosages as needed. Look for a D3 supplement with no artificial or undesirable ingredients.
It should be noted that the benefits of fish oil and Omega-3 supplementation are indecisive. Consuming adequate amounts of well-sourced fish provides other beneficial nutrients and the fat is less likely to have been damaged during processing. Fish oil and Omega 3’s will also not balance excess consumption of Omega-6’s – it is best to simply reduce the overload (which the Paleo diet has emphasized).
Supplementing with a fish oil or a high-quality, esterified Omega-3 may still be beneficial for those who cannot or will not eat fish, but real food is best prioritized.
One can further increase the level of Omega-3s in the diet by avoiding soy, corn, and grain-fed animals, and by eating more grass-fed meats like beef and lamb.
Pre- and Probiotics
These two can benefit the health and diversity of your microbiome, the friendly bacteria that live in your gut.
Prebiotics provide fiber that the gut flora can eat. When following a Paleo diet rich in vegetables which provide ample fiber for the microbiome, there may not be a need for a prebiotic supplement. If you are struggling with overgrowth issues, it is best to avoid prebiotic supplementation entirely.
Probiotics provide an infusion of extra gut flora, featuring species that studies have shown may support and improve health.
You can also get probiotics from probiotic foods rich foods, like naturally fermented sauerkraut.
When choosing a probiotic, unless otherwise indicated, look for a high-quality brand (preferably with 3rd party testing) that has a wide diversity of strains.
Digestive enzymes can be helpful when the body is not able to produce enough, or the right kind of, enzymes to digest food completely. This is often experienced as food sitting in the stomach for extended periods of time. Source a product containing a full spectrum of enzymes, including protease (for digesting protein), amylase (for carbs), and lipase (for fats), in one pill. Be sure to carefully check the ingredient lists for any unwanted additives
Vitamin K2 is essential for directing calcium where it is needed, namely the teeth and bones. A vitamin K deficiency may result in calcium remaining in the bloodstream and being deposited on the arterial walls, leading to calcification.
Dietary sources include natto, organ meats (liver), egg yolk, grass-fed beef, raw grass-fed hard cheeses
Do You Need A Multivitamin?
The majority of people, especially those who are mindful of the type and quality of their nutrition, do not need many of the nutrients that are included in multivitamins. Most multis will either give you more of certain nutrients than you actually need (for example, B6), and not enough of others that are hard to get enough of through diet alone (for example, magnesium).
Most of your nutritional needs can be met by taking a few select vitamins. If you really want to know which vitamins and minerals you need, nutritional testing can provide clearer answers as to your personal deficiencies and requirements.
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Most people simply assume that supplements are a regulated industry and are required to pass some type of quality control and safety testing before going on the market. Sadly, that is not true. There is no federal regulation of supplements before they are sold to consumers. The supplement industry is almost completely unregulated and every year new stories surface about contaminated or completely fraudulent supplements containing strange and sometimes dangerous ingredients and having little to no efficacy or even detrimental side-effects.
The issues you might experience with over-the-counter supplements that you buy at your local drugstore or warehouse store include:
- The form of the nutrient may be cheap and poorly absorbed or used by the body.
- The dosage on the label may not match the dose in the pill.
- The product may be filled with additives, colors, fillers, and allergens.
- The raw materials (especially herbs) may not be tested for toxins, such as mercury or lead, or may not be consistent from batch to batch.
- The factory in which it is produced may not follow good manufacturing standards, leading to inconsistent quality.
In order to avoid fake or contaminated products, you need to do your research on the brand and read your ingredient labels carefully.
Some products are much more likely to be fraudulent than others and a few false claim to look for are:
- The most common fraudulent products often include claims about weight loss, sexual enhancement, bodybuilding, or athletic performance.
- Claims that make the product appear to have an effect similar prescription medications.
- Claims about benefits rather than highlighting the ingredients.
- “Proprietary blend:” if a product does not openly display what ingredients it includes, there is probably a good reason why not!
- Levels of any particular nutrient that are significantly higher than the RDA
- A product that makes claims that sound too good to be true or like an ‘easy fix’, are most likely fraudulent.
Sourcing and purchasing single ingredient supplements are the simplest ways to ensure you are getting the desired product. Pass over the targeted multivitamins and special performance enhancers and choose wisely, and supplement with products that have just one ingredient or a single nutrient.
Think of supplements as part of your diet. You want the best-quality food and the best-quality supplements you can buy. Guidance from a trained professional can be helpful in selecting the products that are right for you.
The Paleo diet is not about avoiding supplements entirely, but rather it is about choosing the ones that are right for you.
The supplements mentioned in this article are those which many are deficient in due to modern diet and lifestyle factors. If you are interested in finding out which nutrients you specifically need, please ask your health care practitioner for a nutrient test.