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. Hey all,

    I’ve been trying to find this out, but maybe someone can shed some light. I take a multivitamin from GNC. Just the regular MegaMen. Anyone have some input on whether I should be moving in another direction or are these fine?


    Zackr wrote on January 29th, 2013
  2. Hi Mark,
    Would you be interested in reviewing our main product, IgY Recovery Proteins. It is not the type of protein normally offered. It is helps the immune system work more efficiently. It is Paleo friendly, NSF For Sport Certified (independently tested Safe) and patented. No charge for anything of course.

    FX Marino wrote on February 11th, 2013
  3. Hi,

    Primal man was out in the sun! His naked body absorbed vitamin D3.

    We in the West don’t get the sun for most of the year! We need vitamin D3! “Tons” of it!

    I take 30,000 units a day.

    Pip Power wrote on February 18th, 2013
  4. As a physician with an interest in Neuroscience, I would add one other important supplement. Measure your homocysteine level and if it is above 8, take L-methylfolate as a supplement.

    Folic acid cannot pass through the blood-brain barrier and you need folic acid in your brain to make monoamine neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepineprhine and serotonin. Folic acid has to be converted to L-methylfolate, the only form of the vitamin that can pass into the brain. People with a high homocysteine level don’t produce enough L-methyfolate. The simple work-around is to take L-methylfolate as a supplement. It has even been approved as a treatment for depression under the brand name of Deplin.

    Also, limit your intake of sugar, HFCS, grain based high glycemic carbohydrates and omega 6 fatty acids. These toxic components of processed foods seem to deplet the brain of monoamine neurotransmitters leading to a form of food-induced brain dysfunction called Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain syndrome or CARB syndrome.

    William L. Wilson, M.D. wrote on May 26th, 2013
  5. I realize this is technically a question about the competition, but what do you think of Jigsaw Complete? Primal has more B, more forms of E, K2, and CoQ10. Jigsaw has 3g omega-3, eliminating the need for a separate fish oil. I currently take Jigsaw and CoQ10. My question is, do the extra vitamins make a health significant difference? They come at a much higher cost. Complete/CoQ10 costs $65/month while Primal/fish oil costs $150/month. Normally I wouldn’t ask this, but I’m impressed with how honest Mark is with his customers. I’ve already trusted the Primal Blueprint in completely changing my nutrition/exercise habits, and I haven’t regretted it.

    Johnny wrote on June 17th, 2013
  6. Something else that worries me is that calcium supplements may cause a mass of calcium to suddenly enter the blood stream and cause clots/strokes/heart attacks. Jigsaw always provides calcium in a separate pill you can choose not to take, but its unclear whether Primal does the same.

    Johnny wrote on June 17th, 2013
  7. I agree, there are so many healing properties of food but if a person is not ingesting a large amount of nutrients in a sitting, then supplements can really be beneficial to them. I love my tuna fish oil tablets and fiber supplements. However, I do think people need to make sure they are taking supplements made out of whole foods and botanicals, etc.

    Robyn wrote on August 7th, 2013
  8. Hi Mark,
    What are your thoughts on taking amino acid supplements? I’ve been taking l-tyrosine and 5-htp and they have had a tremendous impact on my mood. Or is your viewpoint to this matter, to just eat food containing those amino acids?

    Anton wrote on September 27th, 2013
  9. I’m a big fan of the Omega 3 supplement’s I got on board after listening to an audio book where they listed off the health benefits and the sense of well being they promoted. Almost like a natural anti depressant :)

    Mark do you have any favorite Omega 3 fish oil brands?

    – Trevor

    Trevor wrote on November 22nd, 2013
  10. Have you heard of or used Commander Go Pack from BMI or BMR? My local radio host has been promoting it all the time. I normally don’t take this kind of supplements just curious. Thanks,

    Ken wrote on January 3rd, 2014
  11. I like the part of the article where you mention : Grok ate dirt”
    I bet most people nowadays don’t like this free alternative anymore!
    Like you I prefer probiotics to support the digestive system :)

    Hertha wrote on December 14th, 2014
  12. I’m not sure I agree with not supplementing. I agree that if we could actually eat like our ancestors with the wide variety of plants, animals and microbes – maybe we wouldn’t need them. But can anyone guarantee me that the food I eat has the required nutrients? Most of it is grown in seriously depleted soils or hydroponically. Even the organic tomato bought at Whole Foods doesn’t look or taste like a garden tomato. I don’t have the time to spend growing my own food so I have to buy it. I try to get organic — but organic doesn’t mean “full spectrum nutrients” it just means no pesticides and chemicals. I take a multi-B, fish oil, minerals (calcium, magnesium and potassium) and Vita-D in the winter.

    Hillman Fawkes wrote on March 22nd, 2015
  13. Good stuff. The antioxidant booster is almost a no-brainer. For instance, why spend $5 on a fancy “Pom/Blu/Acai” juice loaded with sugar when you could get twice the amount of antioxidants in a simple supplement?

    Pawan wrote on March 23rd, 2015
  14. I can definitely get behind the fish oil bit. I rarely eat enough fish in order to be healthy, which makes me definitely need high doses of fish oil every day. Combine that with the fact that most of the American diet is omega-6 heavy and you have a serious problem.

    Another note, sometimes krill oil might be a better idea. Because of the structure of the fatty acids, it is around 33% more well-absorbed. This means 1000 mg DHA / EPA from krill oil is going to have 33% more than a regular fish oil product. Add in the advantage of astaxanthin and you have a pretty good reason to switch over.

    Mansal Denton wrote on April 10th, 2015
  15. Hi,

    I have a question about maltodextrin. I believe it’s one of the ingredients in your primal fuel, but I read somewhere that it’s bad.

    Basically, I have a packet of maltodextrin which I add to my protein shake to give me energy during workouts. I’m I stupidly adding high glycemic index carbs and sabotaging my efforts to be a fat burner as opposed to a carb burner?

    What would be a good replacement for a some energy during working out?


    Warmest regards,

    Mark wrote on April 18th, 2015

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