Dear Mark: Bad Supplements, Bad; Simple Mitochondrial Biogenesis; and a Big Day Tomorrow

It feels good to get back in the saddle on a Monday morning. I love the contests and the reader response to all the Primal challenges, but with our regularly scheduled Dear Mark sessions, I’m actually responding to real queries from you guys. You reach out to me, and I reach back. In the process, you maybe learn something and I’m forced to think about new intricacies of old subjects (or switch stances altogether, if new evidence demands it). Overall, everyone refines their thinking. And that’s always a good thing.

With that said, let’s get down to the questions. I field one concerning a recent spate of troubling vitamin studies and give my take on the matter. I give a little advice on generating new mitochondria (cause there’s nothing more annoying than old, out-of-date, behind-the-times mitochondria incessantly talking about the good old days and calling you by your brother’s name), and then I talk a little (heavy emphasis on “little”) about tomorrow’s book launch deal.

Hey Mark, in the past week, I’ve seen a couple studies (men, vitamin E and prostate cancer; women, multivitamins, and mortality)  that seem to suggest that vitamin supplementation might not be as beneficial as we thought. What’s the scoop?

Let’s unpack each separately.

The first study seems to suggest that taking a basic vitamin E supplement increases the risk of developing prostate cancer, because that’s exactly what taking vitamin E did: it significantly increased the risk of prostate cancer. So does that mean vitamin E, a well-known antioxidant, is actually bad for you? Not exactly.

A prudent person would almost never choose to take 400 iu of vitamin E as alpha tocopherol by itself (i.e. with no other antioxidants) for long periods of time. Yes, vitamin E is an antioxidant, but when it donates an electron to neutralize a free radical, it becomes a pro-oxidant (temporarily a bad guy). OTOH, if you take vitamin E along with a blend of vitamin C and a host of other antioxidants, the vitamin E will be recycled back to an antioxidant again and everything is copacetic. That’s why I developed my antioxidant formula with a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants – to promote synergies among the micronutrients. That’s also a major reason why in this study the cohort that took selenium along with the E had a lower incidence of prostate cancer. “Interestingly, men who took Vitamin E and Selenium together were not at higher risk, so there must be some interesting biology there yet, but we haven’t figured it out,” said Dr. Eric Klein, Study Researcher with the Cleveland Clinic.

Takeaway? If you’re going to supplement with vitamin E, make sure you’re taking selenium, vitamin C, and a host of other quality antioxidant sources, so you get the synergistic effect. Or, eat food that contains vitamin E (almonds, red palm oil are some of the best sources), because that food will usually contain the necessary co-factors. It’s simply ridiculous that the government would spend $130 million to run a study confirming what most of us in the supplement industry have known for two decades.

The second study found that multivitamin usage was positively associated with mortality in older women. Broken down by specific micronutrients, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, folic acid, copper, and (most strongly) iron were linked to higher mortality, while calcium was not. Sounds horrible, right?

But then you look at this other, recent “multivitamin and mortality” study, which distinguished between “baseline users,” “baseline non-users,” and “never-users.” A baseline user is someone who had been taking supplements before the start of the study. A baseline non-user is someone who had been taking no supplements before the start, but who began taking them during the study. A never-user is someone who took no supplements at all, neither before or during the study. Baseline users had the lowest mortality (both all-cause and from cancer). Never-users had the next lowest mortality, while baseline non-users who began taking supplements during the study were the most likely to die. Who else is most likely to start taking supplements later in life? Sick people. Unhealthy people. Who’s more likely to die? Sick, unhealthy people. In fact, the authors of the study conclude that a “sick user effect” likely explains the results.

In the original multivitamin study, no distinction was made between baseline users and baseline non-users. They were all packaged together, and I suspect the sick user effect is also at play in this one. Furthermore, as the Jaminets point out in a recent post, the authors also failed to adjust for the age of the participants. That older people tend to die more often than younger people is a pretty basic concept and a function of the aging process, so you’d think it would be included in their “multivariate analysis.” The study also showed that older people tended to take more supplements than younger people. And indeed – when you do adjust for age, select supplement usage actually lowered the risk of mortality.

Mark, I’ve been hearing a lot about mitochondrial dysfunction as a cause or complication of obesity lately… do you know of any easy steps that might positively affect our mitochondria? No pills, please. As natural as possible.

Sure – lift heavy things (especially if you’ve been moving frequently at a slow pace) and run really fast for a short amount of time. If that sounds like my stock answer, and you want a bit more justification, read on.

I’m always browsing the exercise literature for new studies, and, since mitochondria is the topic du jour, I’ve been looking for research indicating interesting, simple ways to boost their function. Mitochondria are “cellular power plants,” and mitochondrial biogenesis (or the manufacturing of new mitochondria) is vital for maintaining good health as you age. Two recent studies address this mitochondrial biogenesis stuff head-on. The first looked at how a high-intensity, low-volume bout of interval training affected mitochondrial biogenesis. Participants engaged in four 30-second “all-out” cycling sprints, interspersed with four minutes of rest – plenty of time for full recovery. Afterward, enzymes and proteins associated with the creation of new mitochondria were significantly up-regulated in all subjects.

In the second study, authors examined how a bout of resistance training affected the mitochondrial biogenesis induced by light endurance training. They figured that adding a nice dollop of strength training to the stress of distance cycling would dampen the mitochondrial biogenesis; they were wrong. Cyclists (1 hour at 65% of VO2 max) were pitted against cyclist-lifters (1 hour at 65% VO2 max + heavy leg presses immediately after), and the latter showed evidence of greater mitochondrial adaptation.

This is basic, Primal fitness, folks. Sprinting is an absolute necessity, provided you’re physically able. And it doesn’t have to be all-out sprints on a track. Cycling obviously works, swimming works, Grok crawls probably work. It’s about output and recovery – both must be maximized for a sprint to be most effective at generating new mitochondria. Make your sprinting bouts count, recover completely, and then do it again. And if you’re going to do light cardio, toss in some heavy lifting, too. Emphasis on “light” cardio; don’t do heavy squats and deadlifts after a half marathon.

Sprint once a week, lift two or three times a week, walk every day. It is that easy!

Mark, I heard you are going to be giving away a bunch of free gifts to people that buy your new book on Tuesday. Is it true? Do tell. Any way I can help spread the word?

I can’t give away any specifics until tomorrow, but I will say this: wait until tomorrow to place your orders for the new book. While I’ll welcome any orders I receive anytime, it’s in your best interest to hold off. You’re gonna get some awesome stuff and you’ll help spread the word by contributing to the critical mass of orders. If you weren’t around for the last time we did this (for The Primal Blueprint), it was a lot of fun. We made it all the way to the second overall spot on back then, and I’d like to do better this time. I think we can – with your help.

Here are a few ways you can help get the PB message the exposure it needs to affect real change:

  • I’ll be sending out a newsletter tomorrow morning with all the special offer details. Forward it on to your friends and family. They’ll thank you for cluing them in.
  • Share tomorrow’s blog post on Facebook or Twitter.
  • If you are a blogger, use this contact form to inquire about a special way you can help and I’ll email you all the details.
  • Last, but not least, grab your own copy of the book and collect your free gifts! Stay tuned!

Until tomorrow, dear readers. Thanks for reading!

TAGS:  dear mark

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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