Paleolithic man had no need for supplements, but do you?
The modern environment is profoundly different than that of ancient man. One of the fundamental tenets of the ancestral health movement and the Paleo diet is the understanding that there is a ‘mismatch’ between human evolutions and the current environment in numerous ways:
- On a daily basis modern man is exposed to air pollution and environmental hormone disruptors that cavemen did not have to deal with.
- The food available today is vastly different from eons ago and depleted soil quality has left many of the current options, even the most well-sourced ones, with nutrient deficiencies.
- 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.
A few supplements can enhance your health as long as they are used wisely and against the background of a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet include:
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 3rdrd party testing) that has a wide diversity of strains.
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.
It should also be noted that if you are taking blood thinners, have a bleeding disorder, or are about to undergo surgery, fish oil should be avoided as it can tend to thin out the blood.
Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, heart health, immune function and brain vitality. A large majority of the population are deficient in this nutrient.
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.
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 but can be taken in the morning along with your Vitamin D3 supplement as the two work synergistically.
You can also include more magnesium rich foods such as spinach, Swiss chard, raw almonds, pumpkin seeds, and avocado into your diet.
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. Vitamin K2 also helps to prevent heart disease.
Dietary sources include natto, organ meats (liver), egg yolk, grass-fed beef, raw grass-fed hard cheeses
What about 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, as it is these select few that the majority of the population is lacking. 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.
For some nutrient dense meal options, delivered right to your door, check out Pete’s Paleo weekly menu
Choosing Supplements Wisely
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.
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. Some red flags that could signal a product should be avoided include:
- 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. Avoid those proclaiming the likes of ‘lose 10 pounds in 10 days!’ or ‘cure diabetes naturally!’
Sourcing and purchasing single ingredient supplements is the simplest way 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.
The Paleo is not about avoiding supplements entirely, but rather it is about choosing the ones that are right for you. Supplements are a way to “supplement” a healthy, well-balanced diet to increase vitamin and mineral intake and to reduce inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases.
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.