Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
25 Nov

Grok Didn’t Take Supplements So Why Should I?

Grok with Fast Food

The Definitive Guide to Primal Supplementation

Disclaimer: I derive most of my income from selling supplements. We don’t talk too much about it here on MDA, but I get enough questions on this topic, that I felt it was time to explain exactly why I choose to manufacture and take certain supplements.

The main objective of following the Primal Blueprint is to extract the healthiest, happiest, longest and most productive life possible from our bodies – and to look and feel good in the process. Our 10,000-year-old Primal genes expect us to emulate the way our ancestors ate and moved; and the Primal Blueprint says we should do exactly as they expect. While there are many things we can do (or eat) today that very closely approximate what Grok did to trigger positive gene expression, there are also a number of obstacles that can thwart our attempts to be as Primal as possible. Artificial light prompts us to stay up too late and sleep too little. Electronic entertainment competes for our time when we should be out walking and basking in sunlight. We don’t always have access to ideal foods. We shower too much in water that’s too hot. We use medicines to mask our symptoms instead of allowing our bodies to deal directly with the problem. You get my point. It’s tough going full Primal today.

One of my tasks is to find the shortcuts – the easy ways to get the same genetic expression benefits Grok got – but by using 21st century technology or just plain old common sense. Working out in Vibram Fivefingers to simulate going barefoot is an example. Or learning how to spend time in the sun without sunscreen AND without burning. Getting more from a 20-minute full-body exercise routine than from a 3-hour cardio workout is yet another example. And given the lack of certain critical nutrients in even the healthiest diets, finding the best supplements is another.

I agree that the supplement industry does have its share of shady characters. Many – if not most – of the products you see on store shelves are probably harmless, and also probably useless. Thousands of these products have more smoke, mirrors and hype behind them than research to back them up. But there are a few categories of supplements (and manufacturers) that have shown great promise and that I wouldn’t be without in my own regimen. Here are a few of the best categories of supplements I can recommend to just about everyone:

1. Antioxidant Booster

I’ve done posts on free radicals and oxidative damage here before, so I don’t need to go into detail when I suggest that we want to do everything we can to reduce oxidative damage to our cells (and particularly inside our mitochondria). Eating right, avoiding stress and exercising appropriately (i.e. not too much high-end cardio) are always the first lines of defense. Of course, we also have our three main internal “onboard” antioxidant systems that take care of most of the normal oxidative damage when we are healthy, unstressed and eating well (catalase, superoxide dismutase and glutathione). But these systems can come up short when we are under stress (who isn’t), eating too many sugars and other carbs, trans and hydrogenated fats, or drinking alcohol, or when we are exercising inappropriately. Theoretically, that still ought to be no problem, because our bodies were designed to get additional antioxidant support from the foods we eat.

Grok handled this easily by avoiding the kinds of chronic “made-up” stress we have today and by consuming foods rich in antioxidants like carotenoids, catechins, flavones, and anthocyanidins. Our problem in the 21st century is two-fold. First, we layer far too much stress on ourselves with our workloads, our worrying, our medicines, our lack of sunshine, and our less-than-optimum diets.  This means that our stress “load” is far greater and puts a greater burden on all these natural systems. When these antioxidant systems fail us, we can get sick and even age faster. Secondly, many of our historically healthy sources of dietary antioxidants have all but disappeared or have been rendered impotent by today’s aggressive factory farming techniques. In the fruit industry, for example, obtaining the highest possible sugar content has replaced antioxidants as the focus.

The most popular measure of a food’s – or supplement’s – antioxidant power is the ORAC score (for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). The USDA recommends we get between 3,000 and 5,000 ORAC units per day, but I believe that number is way too low and that we should look to get at least double that. That’s one of the reasons that high ORAC fruits and vegetables are at the base of the Primal Pyramid even though it’s a low-carb program (that fact distinguishes it from Atkins perhaps more than anything else). But I believe that we also need a broad mix of different antioxidants on a daily basis, since different antioxidants work in different ways and in different parts of the cell. That means taking a supplement to obtain hard-to-get nutrients like full spectrum vitamin E (not just alpha tocopherol), mixed carotenoids (not just beta carotene), tocotrienols, NAC, alpha lipoic acid, curcumin, resveratrol, milk thistle, CoQ10 and quercetin to name a few.  In fact, too much of any one single antioxidant (in the absence of others) has been shown to have potentially negative effects, as a few recent “vitamin E-only” studies have demonstrated. Conversely, when you take a good broad-spectrum antioxidant formula, all these antioxidants can work synergistically to mitigate oxidative damage and then help each other recycle back to their potent antioxidant form after donating an electron to the antioxidant effort. For that reason, I take a high-potency multi-vitamin loaded with extra antioxidants every day.

2. Probiotics

Grok ate dirt. All day, every day. Hey, when you never wash your hands or your food (or anything for that matter) you pretty much can’t avoid it. But with all that soil came billions of soil-based organisms (mostly bacteria and yeast) that entered his mouth daily and populated his gut. Most were “friendly” bacteria that actually helped him better digest food and ward off infections. In fact, much of Grok’s (and our) immune system evolved to depend on these healthy “flora” living in us symbiotically. Grok also ate the occasional “unfriendly” organisms that had the potential to cause illness, but as long as the healthy flora well-outnumbered the bad guys, all was well. Several trillion bacteria live symbiotically in our gut today – some good and some bad. Much of your health depends on which of the two is winning the flora war.

The problem today is that we don’t eat dirt; we wash everything. Of course, given the crap that’s in and on the dirt around us, it’s probably best that we do wash it all. But in the process we never get a chance to ingest the healthy bacteria that our genes expect us to. In most healthy people this doesn’t usually present a problem. As long as there are some healthy gut bacteria present, as long as we don’t get too stressed out (stress hormones can kill off healthy flora), too sick (diarrhea and vomiting are ways the body purges bad bacteria – but it purges good bacteria with them), or take antibiotics (antibiotics tend to kill most bacteria – that’s their job), and as long as we are eating well, those healthy bacteria can flourish and keep us well. Unfortunately, we live in a time when stress is everywhere, where we do tend to get sick or take antibiotics, where certain processed foods support the growth of unhealthy bacteria and yeast forms while choking out the healthy flora. Many people whose diets include daily doses of yogurt or acidophilus are able to maintain healthy gut flora, but these sources aren’t always reliable (pasteurizing and added sugars can reduce their effectiveness), and not everyone can tolerate dairy that well. For that reason, I think it’s wise to take probiotic supplements on occasion. Not necessarily every day, since once these “seeds” have been planted in a healthy gut, they tend to multiply and flourish easily on their own. I’d certainly take extra probiotics under times of great stress or when you’ve been sick or are taking (or have just taken) a course of antibiotics. The reversal of fortune from a few days of taking probiotics can be dramatic. Better than eating dirt, I always say.

3. Fish Oil

In Grok’s day, virtually every animal he consumed was a decent source of vital Omega 3 fatty acids. The fish he caught had eaten algae to produce Omega 3 fatty acids rich in EPA and DHA (which helped build the larger human brain over a few hundred thousand years). The animals he hunted grazed on plants that generated high levels of Omega 3 in these meats. Even the vegetation Grok consumed provided higher levels Omega 3s than today’s vegetables. In Grok’s diet, the ratio of pro-inflammatory (bad) Omega 6 to anti-inflammatory (good and healthful) Omega 3 was close to 1:1. Unfortunately, most of us with a typical American diet today get way too much Omega 6 and way too little Omega 3, and that unhealthy ratio tends to keep many of us in a constant state of systemic inflammation. Since Omega 3 oils are found in fewer and fewer modern foods (fish being one of the few, but fresh fish also being impractical to eat regularly due to heavy-metal content) the single easiest way to overcome this serious deficit and rebalance your Omegas is to take highly purified Omega 3 fish oil supplements. The research on fish oils is extraordinary, showing benefits across the board from decreased risk for heart disease and cancer to lowering triglycerides, improving joint mobility, decreasing insulin resistance and improving brain function and mood. The drug companies are even starting to recognize the power of this “natural” medicine and have begun promoting prescription fish oil (at four times the normal price, of course!). As healthy as my own diet is, I never go a day without taking a few grams of an Omega 3 Fish Oil supplement.

4. Protein Powders

Eating low carb often means being at a loss as to what to have for a snack or a small meal. We are so used to reaching for the bagel, a few pieces of fruit or something sweet as a snack. On the other hand, there are also times when we just don’t feel like fixing a full meal or we are strapped for time. In those instances, I like to look to protein powders to take up the slack. Today’s protein powder/meal replacements can combine the best of 21st century technology with a true Primal intent: get me a fast, good-tasting source of protein without too many carbs or unhealthy fats. I generally look for products that have whey protein as the major source of protein, and that taste great when mixed only with water (so I don’t have to add sugary juices of milk just to choke them down). That way I can always throw in a piece of fruit (or not) for added calories or flavor. If I’m in a hurry and want a quick, high-protein start to my day, my morning protein shake takes less than a minute to make and covers the bases I need covered.

There are other supplements I might use if I had particular health “issues,” (e.g. phosphatidyl serine for memory loss) and I might go into those in detail sometime in the future.

I hope this post opens up the conversation to a topic I feel quite strongly about. If you have any questions or comments please drop me a line in the comment boards.

Further Reading:

Definitive Guides to:

The Primal Eating Plan

The Primal Blueprint




Insulin, Blood Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes

Stress, Cortisol and the Adrenals

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You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Sugar actually prevents optimal absorption of all nutrients. Sugar should be kept minimal at best. Think of sugar as a glorified poison.

    mary titus wrote on April 25th, 2011
    • Apparently the science behind it is the insulin spike makes absorption easier. I don’t touch sugars otherwise (except for fruits).

      Robert wrote on April 26th, 2011
  2. Sugar takes up room in the body’s cells. The sugar takes up so much room that the cells can’t absorb nothing else. You want to be able to keep your insulin levels as stable as possible. If you were to monitor your blood glucose after consuming sugar, you might be shocked at how high insuline levels can climb just so that it can “push” sugar into your cells. Eventually your cells will become defiant or more commonly resistant.

    mary titus wrote on April 27th, 2011
  3. Mark: More questions! Any opinion on whey vs. casein? Casein protein is touted to stay in the system longer, I believe, but I don’t see any mention of it here.

    tburke wrote on July 10th, 2011
  4. I have always taken supplements but just became serious about them within the past 2-4 years. As I learn about deficiecies and symptoms I am better able to figure out what I really need to be taking. I don’t want to guess with how much to take or what are the ideal companies. I want to encourage everyone to realize that if a supplement doesn’t perform the way you expected check on the type. For example, don’t expect magnesium oxide to perform as you expect, unless you need a laxative. Ionic magnesium ( liquid form ) has worked best for me with helping to maintain stable blood glucose levels. Taking vitamin D has been amazing at stopping seasonal allergies and is most beneficial when taken with magnesium, K2, zinc and vitamin A.I have not started taking vitamin A yet because I am not sure how much to take. I would appreciat any comments or observations, thanks.

    Mary Titus wrote on July 10th, 2011
  5. I always said “If you don’t eat a pound of dirt by the time you’re 10 you just aren’t right.”

    Lazerguppie wrote on August 9th, 2011
  6. I have a question about potassium. Every time I fill in my daily foods on FitDay, I always seem to fall way short on potassium.

    I eat lots of vegetables, but it just doesn’t seem enough. It’s the only mineral that doesn’t even come close to 100% RDA (usually about 40-50%). I don’t eat a lot of fruits, and no real starchy veg, like potatoes, since I still have a lot of weight to lose and I’d like to keep my carb intake around 50 grams.

    Can anyone help with this? Should I supplement?

    Anna, Fair Flavors wrote on September 6th, 2011
  7. I’ve been taking the “Damage Control Master Formula” for a few months now, and I’ve noticed that my urine is a very yellow color and has a distinct smell to it. Is this unusual?

    Michele Shimizu wrote on September 11th, 2011
    • That’s probably just all the money you spent on vitamins that your body already had enough of.

      Violet wrote on September 22nd, 2011
  8. That could be it!

    Michele Shimizu wrote on October 2nd, 2011
  9. Exceptional post however I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Many thanks!

    yoursurprise-bellatio-3 wrote on December 11th, 2011
  10. Thanks for your comment. I asked the people at MDA directly,and was told that it is the reaction Vitamin B has on the body. It is not unusual nor is it something to be concerned about. Does that answer your question?

    Michele Shimizu wrote on December 12th, 2011
  11. Just wondering if Mark or anyone has any tips on where i can get good supplements in Australia? I would love to order Mark’s all the time but the postage cost is a bit of a bummer. (Although i love the primal fuel- it’s delicious!)A name of a good multi and fish oil would be of great help thanks :)

    Reedy wrote on December 15th, 2011
  12. Krill Oil is great. Use Dr. Mercola’s and his probiotics.

    michele wrote on January 6th, 2012
  13. Hello Mark and Everyone else,

    I loved this article, but I am having a hard time trying to find affordable good quality supplements.

    I also have been experiencing some tingly hands and feet and some random muscle twitches and thought it may be because I have some sort of vitamin deficiency. Do you think this could be a possibility Mark?

    I would like to get on a vitamin regimend but don’t know which exact ones to take for my problems or what brands to buy in the store.

    Thank you for your post!

    DBauchle wrote on January 15th, 2012
  14. Similar to some of the above posts – do any UK PBers have a recommendation of a good broad spectrum antioxidant available in UK?

    I have been using Dr L Wilson’s adrenal supplement range with some success for Chronic Fatigue – but they pack a hefty price tag.

    Half an hour on google has given me a couple that might work but I’m going cross eyed trying to compare all the ingredient lists. Part of the problem with CFS is the brain fog doesn’t let me deal with large amounts of data any more – Mark’s supplements aren’t available (that I can find) in the UK – and shipping from US tips them out of my reach unfortunately.

    whalo wrote on January 20th, 2012
  15. It’s interesting to me that Omega 3 fights inflammation. I have an inflammation based autoimmune disorder (ITP) and was wondering if there are any other supplements I could take to reduce the symptoms (low platelets) or, ideally, put me in remission?

    Ryan wrote on February 8th, 2012
  16. And don’t forget Gork also went hungry too. Which puts less stress on our bodies. And health supplements can’t replace a good diet.

    Jack wrote on February 20th, 2012
  17. I would love to take supplements but I have a hard time swallowing them. Horse pills are way to big for me. They get stuck. Are there any supplements smaller or chewable?

    Amanda wrote on February 23rd, 2012
  18. Good call on the Banksy photo

    Chuck Dennis wrote on March 9th, 2012
  19. I believe that for most people supplements are nonsense. If you focus on eating real food, you’re going to get everything you need. Most people in the world don’t take any supplements and they’re healthier than Americans taking 10 magic pills a day. It’s because it’s all about diet and exercise, not about supplementing crap with stuff that is supposed to magically improve your health.

    Gonzalo wrote on April 4th, 2012
  20. Mark,
    What is your opinion on hydro whey peptides? I’ve recently been reading your book and getting into the world of the PB diet. You mention in your book that isolate whey protein is your preference. I am currently taking 100% gold standard whey (it includes both whey protein isolates and hydro whey peptides). I’m not sure on the difference and What is your opinion?

    Jose wrote on June 20th, 2012
  21. Isn’t a high protein intake linked with high IGF-1 levels, and isn’t this known to be a disease driver in breast, prostate, and other common age-related cancers? And is it not true that protein restriction rather than supplementation is linked to longevity in animal and human studies (e.g. Okinawans)? Atkins got this wrong and paid the price. He also did untold damage to the environment. Read The China Study or Dr McDougall’s The Starch Solution to get the facts about modern nutritional science.

    Colin wrote on June 23rd, 2012
  22. I’m definitely into probiotics and have been drinking this since my teens. It helps with mild stomach discomfort caused by eating all sorts of junk food! And as I got older, probiotics helped with controlling yeast infection. So this is great advise and will look into the other supplements on your list. Thanks!

    Helen wrote on July 9th, 2012
  23. Hi Mark,

    I used to supplement with whey but after I learned about paleo/primal living I thought it would be best to avoid it (as a dairy product) and switched to egg protein. Now I found that you make a whey protein and I am confused. Can you elaborate some more on why whey is not a problem for primal living?

    Furthermore I would like to know the best way to obtain your products in Europe!


    kLee wrote on July 19th, 2012

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