5 Obscure Nutrients: Why We Need Them and How Grok Got Them

Inline_Trace_NutrientsEveryone reading this knows about the macronutrients. You’re all eating enough protein, fat, carbs, and the various sub-categories, like fiber, omega-3s, MUFAs, SFAs, linoleic acid, and so on. You know the major micronutrients, like magnesium, calcium, vitamin B12, and most of the minor (but still vital) ones, like plant polyphenols, iodine, and vitamin K2. Today I’ll be talking about the truly obscure nutrients. The ones health food hipsters were super into like, five years ago (“I’m taking beta-1,3-glucan, you probably haven’t heard of it, there’s only one group at Hokkaido University doing any research, you can only get it off the DarkNet using bitcoins”). The ones Grok was super into like, 50,000 years ago.

What are they, what do they do for us, and, if they’re so great, how did Grok obtain them?


Beta-glucans are fibrous carbohydrates that make up the cell walls of certain organisms. They’re found in oats, yeasts, and—most relevant to you—mushrooms. Rather than just provide colonic bulk or prebiotic substrate, what makes beta-glucans so uniquely attractive is their ability to modulate the immune system.

Given to critically-ill patients on enteral feeding, they reduced CRP and improved immune function.

They may improve the immune system’s ability to fight tumors.

According to a recent survey of wild and cultivated mushrooms, both types contain appreciable levels of beta-glucans. Were our hunter-gatherer ancestors eating mushrooms? Almost certainly. Recent research into dental residues found that Neanderthals living in Spain ate gray shag mushrooms. They may even have used mushrooms for their medicinal properties, as gray shag contains an antimicrobial protein.


One of the hardest words in the English language to type, phosphatidylserine is probably my favorite stress-fighter. The body doesn’t make much of it and stress depletes what little we have. PS works on both mental and physical stress, improving mood and blunting cortisol after physical exercise. (And, yes, it’s why I include PS in Primal Calm.) Older folks in particular seem to benefit from PS, enjoying boosts to memory and cognitive function. Kids with ADHD show better attention when given PS, especially paired with fish oil.

After refined soy lecithin, an industrial product Grok never would have had access to, the best source of PS is ruminant brain. If that sounds like an arcane, unrealistic food source, guess again. Before we were top hunters, we scavenged. We ate the stuff the top carnivores couldn’t, like load-bearing bones and heads, both of which we’d shatter with rocks to obtain the marrow and brains inside. After brain, which is no longer available due to Mad Cow disease worries, the best sources are cold water mackerel, herring, and chicken hearts. A 100 gram (3.5 oz) serving of any of them will give you between 400-700 mg of PS, which matches or exceeds the dosages used in the studies.


To give you an idea of inositol’s importance, it used to be called vitamin B8. To give you explicit details of insoitol’s importance, I’ll discuss some research.

High dose inositol can reduce anxiety, even comparing favorably with some pharmaceuticals. It can also reduce insulin resistance and improve fertility in women with PCOS.

If you’ve got the right gut bacteria—and since Grok spent his entire life immersed in a decidedly un-sterile world of dirt and bugs and animal guts, he likely did—you can even convert phytic acid into inositol. Or, rather, they can. That means nuts and seeds effectively become good sources of inositol, provided you train your gut bacteria to make the conversion.


Carnosine is woefully underrated. Found abundantly in meat, it’s a combo of the amino acids beta-alanine and histidine. We can synthesize it in our bodies, but in-house synthesis isn’t always up to par. And if it is, adequate isn’t always optimal.

High levels of carnosine are linked to muscle endurance and it acts as an antioxidant in the brainThere’s something called chicken extract that can enhance mood and reduce anxiety, and speed up recovery from stress-related fatigue, and it’s basically a carnosine supplement.

There’s some evidence that taking beta-alanine as a precursor is more effective at increasing muscle carnosine content than taking carnosine itself. We can absorb carnosine, but it doesn’t seem to increase serum levelsBeta-alanine is one of the fitness supplements with the most support in the literature. If you can get past the pins and needles feeling it provokes, beta-alanine can provide:

Either way, you could just eat meat, the ultimate source of both beta-alanine and pre-formed carnosine. People with a history of athletics have higher muscle carnosine levels than non athletes, and researchers suspect this might be due to the former’s higher meat intakes.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)

ALA is created in the mitochondria (especially liver mitochondria) to assist in the creation of various mitochondrial enzymes and Acetyl-COA, which we need to metabolize fats, protein, and carbohydrates. In short, we use ALA to produce cellular energy and maintain cellular function. It’s extremely important.

Yes, we make it. We can still use some extra, some of us more than others.

Diabetics: ALA has also been shown to prevent the descent from glucose intolerance into full-blown type 2 diabetes and increase insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetics. It may even reduce diabetic neuropathic pain.

Oxidative stress: In patients with metabolic syndrome and endothelial dysfunction, 300 mg/day reduced several markers of inflammation and improved vasodilation. In healthy exercising men, it reduced lipid peroxidation and increased glutathione.

Kidney has between 3-4 mcg of ALA for every gram. Liver, around 1-2 mcg/g and beef heart, about 1 mcg/g. Spinach, tomato, and broccoli are the best sources of ALA in the vegetable kingdom. If you try to get ALA through food, you’re looking at a dose far smaller than you’d get through supplementation, and far smaller than the doses used in research. Then again, the amount of oxidative stress we face as modern humans is unprecedented, whether it’s from the diets we eat, the psychological stress we undergo, the exercise we don’t get, the lack of sleep, the absence of meaning, the loneliness, the disjointed manner in which so many of us lead our lives. Hunter-gatherers by and large didn’t have these problems. They had other problems, more immediate ones. But they weren’t bogged down by the chronic oxidative stress that requires supplementation.

You’ve probably noticed that the research I cite to support the importance of these obscure nutrients almost always uses supplemental doses unachievable through natural sources. Does this mean we can’t benefit from taking them?

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate a wider variety of plants, all wild. Wild plants are exposed to more environmental stressors than domesticated plants. To stay robust and survive, the wild plants produce higher levels of polyphenols. They were effectively consuming superfoods in every bite. Supplements can play that role.

Our ancestors lived lives punctuated by short bouts of extreme stress. If they survived, they were more resistant to future stressors, with less inflammation. We don’t have that. We have chronic stress that breaks us down, makes us more vulnerable to future stressors, with more inflammation. If we want similar stress resistance, we must manufacture it and then make sure we get ample recovery time, all while getting a handle on the chronic stress. Supplements can help with that.

Our ancestors likely didn’t deal with the kind of existential crises and psychosocial stress we embroil ourselves in. They break us down and deplete reserves of critical nutrients required for stress resistance. Supplements can replenish them.

If I’ve done my job, you’ll be rushing out in the next few hours to grab chicken hearts, kidneys, almonds and Brazil nuts from the grocery store and forage for mushrooms out in the woods. Right?

Thanks for reading, everyone.

What are your favorite nutrients that few people know about (or ones you’d like me to write about in the future)? What vitamin, mineral, or phytonutrient were you taking before it was cool? Take care.


TAGS:  Grok, omega 3s

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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50 thoughts on “5 Obscure Nutrients: Why We Need Them and How Grok Got Them”

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  1. I love raw mushrooms, but I have also read that they should only be consumed cooked or they’re too harsh on the insides. Any truth to that?

    1. i think there is enough evidence available easily procured by a google search to convince you raw mushrooms are a risk you should not take. Many varieties that we eat cooked are toxic when raw (i.e. morels). While some people can eat poricinis without intestinal distress, many people are bothered. The rule of thumb is cook all mushrooms 8 minutes to ensure they will not bother. And, the white button mushrooms in the store are probably not that great for you anyways. Go for the crimini and more exotic Chefs Variety (maitake, trumpets, etc.) available in many markets. They cost more but the flavors are more vibrant and you don’t need as many.

      1. It’s a misconception that white button mushrooms are less nutritious than other mushrooms. They are as nutritious as other types of mushrooms.

    2. One thing to remember is that all mushrooms are edible at least once.

  2. Don’t know about current thinking on mushrooms, but in the past I was acquainted with a few Naturopathic physicians who believed that eating mushrooms of any kind was risky because they supposedly contained substances that required extremely high temperatures to get rid of. These substances were said to be carcinogenic. Any current info on this would be helpful, Mark. Thanks

  3. I don’t like organ meats, other than pate occasionally, but I eat a pretty wide variety of everything else that’s out there. I think if a person eats a variety of fresh whole foods and high-quality protein you’re probably getting all those obscure nutrients in your diet.

    A little off-topic, I would be interested in Mark’s take on Tom Brady’s diet, which I was reading about just yesterday. He is very much a health nut, but his diet, although okay for what it is, seems far too limited to me. It’s pretty hard to knock success, but I’d be hesitant to chalk it all up to what he eats. Obviously plenty of exercise is a factor as well as being fortunate enough to avoid career-ending injuries. No doubt plain old good genes are also involved. Some of the so-called experts have labeled his diet as BS, but they say that about Paleo too.

  4. I now want a pill with all this good stuff, got me on a lazy day i guess ?

    1. Me too. There a few foods on that list that I’m not really a fan of. Mark – are there any suggestions for where to get them in supplement form for those of us not super excited about organ meat …

      1. A few of the very comprehensive daily “multi” supplements offer the nutrients I mention. I think they’re important, and I personally take them every day as well as offer them in my own products. The Primal Damage Control supplement offers PS, inositol, carnosine, and Alpha Lipoid Acid. The Primal Master Formula offers higher doses of PS, inositol, and ALA as well as Beta Glucan. Primal Calm includes a higher dose of PS.

        1. Thank you! I appreciate the quick feedback and I think it might be time to switch to your supplements. 🙂

  5. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on TMG any opinions and studies on that?
    I searched the website but didn’t find much information.
    . guduchi (tinospora cordifolia) would be interesting too!

  6. it’s been a while since I had chicken hearts
    will correct that today

  7. what about taking phosphorylated serine? It is PS in the activated form (without the need of the body to covert it like PS) It is cheaper, soy free, and easier to type…

    1. I do take phosphatidylserine, 100mg daily (Sharp-PS Green). I’ll let you know in 20 years if it works Victoria, hopefully it will help in my old age to keep the ol’ synapses firing. 🙂

  8. Unfortunately, I’m allergic to mushrooms. Any options for getting beta-glucans other than via oats or yeasts?

    1. eatinghealthy: Are you allergic to kombucha? I’m pretty sure that the cell walls in the scoby would contain glucans.

  9. I picked up some Sacha Inchi seeds, The label says each serving has 4.8gms of ALA and they are delicious. Have you tried them?

    1. That’s a different “ALA”. The seeds have alpha linoleic acid, not alpha LIPOIC acid.

      1. We need a different acronym for one of them. I’m tired of having to ask people to specify which ALA to which they are referring when we’re having discussions. Maybe we can call alpha linoleic acid “ALA3”?

  10. Glad to hear r about the organ meats, my family loves them… The kids call them “monster hearts & guts” and it feeds their nerdy fantasy life. I, too, would love to hear more about mushrooms. I’ve dug in your archives and found some good info, but the whole raw vs. cooked vs. not-at-all has me a but confused we’re looking to start growing oysters in a couple months, but I would like more variety. Thanks for the great post.

  11. I take inositol daily. I tend to accumulate too much iron in my blood, and inositol is a natura lchelator (made from rice bran, I believe) that binds with iron to reduce oxidative damage. It makes a difference for me.

    1. Me to but isn’t it enough if one eat nuts? I will check it out, although I’m trying to cut back on most supplements. Donating blood will lower you Ferritin levels I usually can’t due to low hemoglobin count

      1. I’m also thinking twice about supplementation, TT; I’d rather get mine though foods as much as possible. Fortunately, I enjoy all the foods mentioned, though I will take fish oil if I’m not having any actual fish that week..

        1. TD, its wise consider most contain undesired additives, or too much active ingredient. Try to stay with wild fish from the bottom of the food chain to avoid contaminate. Krill oil an Norwegian cold liver oil are ok.

          1. Thanks; I do use the Norwegian cod liver oil and try to stick with skipjack tuna (which is supposed to be low in mercury) if I’m having canned fish.

          2. You’re welcome. Selenium by the way contradict mercury. I am partial to skipjack (you know it’s a relative of actual tuna) but eat Spanish sardines, fresh anchovies and calamari when in season and 2/3 oysters if I feeling rich ?

          3. Wow, I hadn’t heard that about Selenium’s effect on mercury–thank you. I also love eating seasonal; something about it just feels right.

          4. Yup. Life is a learning curve 🙂 It also works in synergy with iodine and as I commented earlier (and learned recently) on an old post on iodine, you must have adequate levels of selenium before you can introduce Iodine. But one should start with a very small dose

          5. Then seafood, fish, eggs, etc. will take care of both selenium and iodine in one fell swoop. 🙂

          6. You got it! FYI, fish also contain selenium and oysters are a power house of nutrients, iodine and selenium included. Offal also carry a punch if you are keen on them…just finished eating kidneys fried up in lots of lambs fat, cumin and onions..,nice chatting with you…

          7. Sorry for the late reply; was away for the weekend. It was nice chatting with you, as well…

  12. Been biohacking myself for years with various supplements (after careful research and constant readjustment as new information becomes available) so none of these are obscure to me, they are part of my supplement regimen. As far as ALA goes, some sources indicate the superior form is R-Lipoic Acid, in particular sodium-R-lipoate. Other supplements I would be interested in what Mark has to say about any of: PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline quinone), some of the newer Curcumin formulations, quercetin, EGCC (epigallocatechin-3-gallate), Rhodiola rosea, Ashwagandha.

    1. Pretty sure Mark talked about rhodiola and ashwagandha in a post he wrote a year or two (or three?) ago about calming supplements. Might be helpful.

    2. Ashwagandha Is detrimental to those treated for Hashimoto and hypothyroid, since it increases hormone levels. I bought it based on your recommendation (u r not to blame) but I should have l scrutinized it before purchasing. Lesson learned: always run a search that includes both the ingredient in question and the illness and cross reference.

  13. Nice list. Thanks heaven for animals sourced ALA, as tomatoes, and broccoli are out for those who can’t tolerate cruciferous vegetables and solanine. Beefs brain maybe of the list due to mad come disease (absent in my geographical location), but one can still eat lambs brain. By the way, lambs liver is milder then that from beef.

  14. Free-range cattle and pig, raised without any chemicals – the heart, liver, kidneys of these animals can be purchased directly from the farmer. You will get a lot more (there are a lot bigger) than with chicken, for a reasonable price. Take the time to source your food, and not rely on supplements – which are usually isolated extracts which could not contain the synergistic factors naturally found in the real thing.

  15. Is there a particular reason that only chicken hearts contains Phosphatidylserine? I mean, no other meat heart does?

    1. All animal meat contains PS, and offal in general has more PS than meat. I think that chicken hearts fall on the upper-end of the amount-per-gram spectrum than the hearts of other animals, which is why it was mentioned. Hope that helps!

      1. Thanks! I can only find CAFO chicken hearts here so I’m glad to see that I still can get a little bit while eating meat and liver.

  16. How do you train your gut bacteria for inositol? I assume you just eat nuts and seeds?

    1. The study cited said that Proteobacteria-Bacteroides and coliforms “produced higher amounts of” inositol, and that vegetarians’ microbiota “degraded up to 100% phytate” into inositol. Basically, make sure that your probiotic supplements contains homeostatic soil organisms and not just lactic-acid producing bacteria, and make sure to eat your vegetables.

  17. Would love your thoughts about silica and choline/acetylcholine. Particularly in relation to chronic illness

  18. “Then again, the amount of oxidative stress we face as modern humans is unprecedented, whether it’s from the diets we eat, the psychological stress we undergo, the exercise we don’t get, the lack of sleep, the absence of meaning, the loneliness, the disjointed manner in which so many of us lead our lives.”

    I almost lost my will to live after reading that. Almost. Then I remembered that the Ancestral Health Society is trying to do something to counter this.

  19. What’s all this twaddle about ‘meat-eating ancestors’? Humans are physiologically herbivores: our teeth, our guts, our jaws and being bipedal are all adaptations which are designed for us to eat plants. The human stomach has a pH which rises to almost neutral as soon as it’s full of food. This is why eating raw meat is so dangerous. It’s also the reason why iron overload is such a problem in meat eaters.