When it comes to essential nutrients, it doesn’t get much more essential than magnesium. At the most basic level, mitochondria can’t make ATP—the body’s energy currency—without magnesium. No ATP, no life. Magnesium regulates the electrical activity of the heart, helps maintain healthy vitamin D levels, and allows nerves to fire and muscles to contract. Low magnesium is associated with everything from PCOS to type 2 diabetes, depression, migraines, and cataracts, to name just a few.
This is just a snippet of magnesium’s impressive resume, which is why it’s such a popular supplement. Foods like leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and dark chocolate all contain magnesium, and drinking water actually provides magnesium, too. However, large epidemiological studies suggest that the majority of adults don’t hit the recommended daily intake of 310 to 320 mg for females and 400 to 420 mg for males. Heavy alcohol use and certain pharmaceuticals (notably diuretics and proton pump inhibitors like Nexium and Prevacid) also increase the risk of magnesium deficiency. So do gastrointestinal disorders like Chron’s and celiac disease, which interfere with nutrient absorption.
Magnesium supplements can be safe and effective for closing the gaps. Perusing the magnesium section of your local health food store is intimidating, though, to say the least. So many different types and formulations. How do you pick?
“You should take probiotics.” “I heard probiotics are good for you.” “Oh, probiotics are so, so important.” Yes, yes. These are all true statements. But they are broad. Which probiotics? Which strains for what purpose? Simply saying “probiotics” tells us very little about what we’re supposed to be taking. It’s like saying “You should eat food.” Technically accurate yet operationally useless. Today I’m going to rectify that. I’m going to describe the best probiotic strains for each desired purpose, because there is no single strain to rule them all. The probiotic strain that’s best for anxiety may not be the best probiotic strain for allergies, and so on. Of course, these aren’t the final word. What follows is the best available evidence as it exists today. That may change tomorrow. And it will certainly change based on your individual makeup. With all that in mind, let’s get right down to it. Instantly download your Guide to Gut Health Best Probiotic for Anxiety The existence of the gut-brain axis — that mysterious thoroughfare running from the gut to the brain and back again — and the presence and even production of neurotransmitters along the gut suggests that “gut feelings” describe real phenomena. Mental and gut health are strongly linked, and it’s most likely a bi-directional relationship where each affect the other. You know this already, though, don’t you? We’ve all felt fear or discomfort in our guts. We’ve all had instinctual responses to certain people that seemed to manifest in our stomachs (and later be proven). These are real. They aren’t figments of our imagination. For instance, we know that some strains of gut bacteria can produce GABA, the “chill-out” neurotransmitter responsible for sleep and relaxation. We know that feeding prebiotics (bacteria food) to people can lower their cortisol and induce them to focus on positive stimuli instead of negative stimuli. We know that the greater the intake of fermented food like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, or sauerkraut, the lower the incidence of social anxiety. The best candidate for anxiety is Lactobacillus rhamnosus. Although no human anxiety studies for this strain exist (yet), there are plenty of animal studies that support it. One notable paper found that dosing mice with L. rhamnosus increased cortical expression of GABA genes and reduced cortisol and anxiety-like behaviors. Best Probiotic for IBS Irritable bowel syndrome is, well, irritating. Even more irritating is the fact that it describes a confluence of symptoms rather than a specific disease; two people, each with “IBS,” can have disorders with completely different etiologies. This complicates the probiotic you choose. In one study, IBS patients who took a combo of Saccharomyces boulardii, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus plantarum saw a 73% improvement in symptoms—but only if they also had small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). IBS patients without SIBO only had a 10% improvement. (Side note: since gastro-esophageal reflux disease, or GERD, usually presents with SIBO, there’s a good chance that this lineup of strains could also help there) Another paper, a meta-analysis from … Continue reading “What Are the Best Probiotic Strains?”
When a person goes looking for information on “collagen” supplements, they often come out more confused than they went in. There are seemingly dozens of different varieties. There’s gelatin. There’s animal collagen. There’s marine collagen. Hydrolysate and peptides. And then there are all the “types” of collagen: type I, type II, type III, type IV, type V, and on down the line, each with unique properties and applications. Everyone seems to say something different. What are you supposed to believe? How does a person make sense of it all? What are differences between them? Let’s do that right now. Gelatin Gelatin is heat-treated collagenous animal tissue. Whether you’re a food manufacturer turning raw skin and bones into powdered gelatin for use in jello or a home cook slowly simmering beef knuckles in a pot on the stove to make rich bone broth that gelatinizes when cold, you are using heat to convert collagenous tissue into gelatin. Gelatin is partially soluble in water. While its chemical structure prevents it from dissolving in cold or room temperature water, it does dissolve in hot water. The health benefits of gelatin are equal to collagen. They have the same amino acid profile — lots of glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, alanine, lysine, and others. Inside the body, they’re all broken down into those same amino acids and utilized. Gelatin is fantastic to have in the kitchen. While you can’t just mix it into cold drinks or throw it in a smoothie like you can collagen hydrolysate, you can use it to thicken pan sauces, enrich store bought stock and broth, and make healthy jello treats or luxurious gelatinous desserts. Whenever I make a curry with coconut milk, as one of the final steps I whisk in a tablespoon or two of gelatin to thicken it up and give the curry that syrupy mouth feel. This is a game-changer, folks. Try it and you’ll see. This is also works in spaghetti sauce, soup, pretty much anything that includes liquid. Frying up a burger? Add some water to the pan, scrape up the fond (brown bits attached to the pan that are full of flavor), whisk in some gelatin, and reduce until it’s a thick sauce. Instantly download your Guide to a Healthy Gut Collagen Hydrolysate and Peptides Collagen hydrolysate and peptides both mix readily into hot and cold liquids, and they give your body what it needs to assemble its own collagen. Hydrolysis is the process, peptides are the end product. Collagen hydrolysate refers to the process of using enzymes to break the peptide bonds to produce collagen peptides. Animal Collagen All collagen you see is animal collagen because there is no collagen that comes from non-animal sources. Plants do not contain collagen. I’m sure some startup is hard at work on producing lab-grown collagen, which ironically might be far less problematic than lab-grown steaks, but it isn’t available for purchase yet. It’s all animals. What most people mean by “animal collagen” is land animal collagen—by far … Continue reading “What are the Five Different Types of Collagen? How to Choose the Best One for You”
As soon as the sun sets on the last day of summer, the world seems to explode with warm fall spices. We start to see cinnamon candles, baked goods, and bundles of cinnamon sticks as decor. While pumpkin spice takes center stage, it’s not actually the pumpkin you’re after – it’s the cinnamon with other warm spices that make your chilly nights extra cozy. You may think of it as a flavor enhancer, but the health benefits of cinnamon are worth a second look,.
For most of human history, spices like cinnamon were also prized for their medicinal qualities. Turmeric was used in food and to address digestive disorders and inflammation. Chili peppers were used for pain management. Ancient healers reached for ginger for nausea and diarrhea.
These aren’t just exaggerated cases of “folk medicine” or “old wives’ tales,” either. Current research has confirmed that many common spices do indeed have medicinal properties. Cinnamon, one of the most beneficial spices is also found in nearly everyone’s kitchen.
The liver is incredible. Most people think of it as a filter, but filters are physical barriers that accumulate junk and have to be cleaned. The liver isn’t a filter. It’s a chemical processing plant. Rather than sit there, passively receiving, filtering out, and storing undesirable compounds, the liver encounters toxic chemicals and attempts to metabolize them into less-toxic metabolites that we can handle.
It oxidizes the toxins, preparing them for further modification
It converts the toxins to a less-toxic, water-soluble version that’s easier to excrete
It excretes the toxins through feces or urine
Bam. It’s an elegant process, provided everything is working well back there. And it’s not the only process it controls.
People often ask me why I use supplements. After all, our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t take them. Our ancient ancestors didn’t take them, nor did our medieval ones or our pre-industrial ones. In fact, nutritional supplementation is one of the most modern inputs you can imagine and, in a perfect world while eating a perfect diet, it should be unnecessary. But the world is not perfect. We don’t have the same foods available to us that our ancestors ate during the formative years of our evolution, and even if we did, modern farming practices altered mineral levels in the soil. Supplementation can restore some semblance of a “natural” food environment. Overcoming the stressors of modernity, however, is harder, because it’s not a matter of avoiding the wrong foods and eating the right ones then smoothing out the rough patches with smart supplements. Modern stressors are mostly unavoidable. You have to deal with them. Endure them. And that’s where supplements can really help. Like L-theanine. What is L-Theanine? One of my favorite anti-stress supplements is L-theanine. It’s an amino acid found in green and white tea that is structurally similar to glutamine, GABA, and glutamate. It crosses the blood-brain barrier after oral dosing, appearing in the hippocampus and increasing alpha-waves in the brain in less than an hour. It’s clearly “doing stuff” up there. But what are the benefits? L-Theanine Benefits The majority of L-theanine’s benefits revolve around our response to stress and anxiety. L-theanine takes the edge of things. More specifically and in addition, L-theanine: Reduces stress Lowers anxiety Improves performance Smoothes out the effect of caffeine Improves sleep Restores immune function Protects against alcoholic liver damage L-Theanine as a Stress Reducer When you meditate, your brain is pumping alpha waves. When you’re having a restful morning with . not much to do but hang around and quietly enjoy your time, you’re alpha wave-dominant. When you’re sitting on the beach listening to the waves lap the shore, a brain scan would reveal a ton of alpha wave activity. And when you take 50 mg of L-theanine, your alpha brainwaves kick in after about an hour. L-Theanine as an Anxiety Buster L-theanine isn’t a benzodiazepine. It won’t brute force your brain into an overwhelming state of supreme chill. For L-theanine to reduce your anxiety, you must actually be anxious. Now, much anxiety is hidden, even to ourselves. We may not know that we’re anxious about something. We may not recognize it. So theanine can really help, as long as there’s something for it to help against. The downside is that it’s subtler than taking a pharmaceutical anti-anxiety med; you don’t “feel it” as much as taking something like xanax. The upside is that it doesn’t make you drowsy and it’s non-addictive. In fact, most people tolerate theanine so well that researchers have been unable to identify a toxic dose. I’m not suggesting you take an entire bottle, of course. There may be a toxic dose, somewhere, somehow. But subjects have taken 400 … Continue reading “Why You Need to Be Taking L-Theanine”
It may not share cinnamon’s popularity, but turmeric is another spice with powerful culinary and medicinal qualities that deserves our attention. Turmeric, known officially as curcuma longa and historically as Indian saffron, is a rhizome (root) of the ginger family. Its horizontal root system is dug up, baked, and ground into a bright orange powder, which then goes into any number of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Southeast Asian dishes. Pretty much every curry you come across anywhere, for example, includes a generous portion of turmeric. Common yellow mustard also includes turmeric, mostly as a food colorant. Recently, the health benefits of turmeric have come to light, and people are looking for more ways to get more turmeric into their diets.
Turmeric imparts a unique flavor: slightly bitter and a bit spicy, with a mustard-like scent. Upon tasting a dab of turmeric powder by itself for the first time, one is reminded of curries and other Asian stews. It’s a bit of an “Aha!” moment – when you taste it, you can finally put your finger on the earthy flavor that’s so common in your favorite dishes from around the world. Turmeric itself is actually fairly mild and unassuming, so using it as a solitary spice won’t turn every dish into a curry bonanza – in case you were worried.
In this article, I’ll cover the health benefits of turmeric, the science behind it, and how to get more of it.
When I say “electrolytes,” what do you think of? Maybe rowdy professional athletes dumping a cooler of some neon-colored sports drink over their coach’s head after winning the championship. Electrolytes have a much bigger role in winning than just soaking the coach. What do electrolytes do?
If you’re an endurance athlete or a keto dieter, you might already supplement electrolytes as part of your daily routine. But do you know why? What are electrolytes anyway, and why do you need them? Does everyone need electrolytes, and are you missing out if you aren’t taking electrolyte pills?
In fact, electrolytes are unsung heroes that allow your body to run smoothly. Too much or too little, and your health is seriously impacted. Thankfully, the body’s delicate system of checks and balances usually keeps everything operating as it should. Still, you need to be mindful of your electrolyte intake if you want to maintain optimal health. (And isn’t that what we all want?)
As a health-minded individual, you’ve no doubt gotten the memo that omega-3 fatty acids are important. You may dutifully eat your weekly servings of small, oily fish. Perhaps a fish oil pill is even part of your daily supplement routine. But do you know why?
Looking back, I used to write about omega-3s a lot in the early days of Mark’s Daily Apple (more than a decade ago, geez!). Since then, I’ve covered the topic here and there, but I thought it was time for a refresher. Today I’m going to focus on giving you a broad overview of their function and an update on the state of the research literature.
It would be impossible to cover all the reasons that omega-3s are important for health in a single post, nor all the areas of ongoing research. I’ll try to hit the big ones here. Let me know in the comments what else you’d like me to cover in future posts.
Our understanding of how antioxidant supplementation works has changed in the last decade. Rather than act directly as antioxidants, most of these compounds stimulate the body’s own production of endogenous antioxidants. That’s right—most of the popular and beneficial “antioxidant” supplements work by provoking a mild hormetic stress response that activates our own antioxidant defenses.
But homegrown antioxidants aren’t made out of thin air. They are material substances that require physical building-blocks. Probably the most important antioxidant is glutathione, and its most important building block is NAC.
What is NAC?
N-acetyl-cysteine, or NAC, is the stable, supplement form of the amino acid cysteine. Cysteine provides one of the most crucial backbones undergirding the body’s premier antioxidant: Glutathione.
In the conventional medical world, NAC is mainly used to rescue people from acetaminophen toxicity. If you overdose on Tylenol and get to a doctor within 8 hours, they’ll give you a big dose of NAC to save your liver and your life. But how does it work? How does NAC beat Tylenol toxicity?