Are Healthy Supplements Killing you?

I am not the first and I most definitely will not be the last to ask this question, it had occurred to me previously that the level of trust we have in the supplement industry far outstrips the trust we have in professional health care, I mean after all when was the last time that you were prescribed tablets and just took them without a seconds thought, or indeed a lengthy talk from the medical professional with regard to possible side effects and dosage levels?

Yet we stream through the doors and surf the websites of health food shops daily spending millions on vitamin tablets, protein supplements and mineral compositions that are sold to us as a healthy alternative to medicine at best and at worst a cure for our ills.

I have recently been experimenting with varying supplementation and have had some mixed results, and some fairly disturbing ones, this has prompted me to write this article to get people thinking about the sheer amount of “supplements” we take and for what reason.

First A Word About the Industry

The UK vitamin industry according to https://www.hfma.co.uk/media-events/industry-facts/ was worth, in 2016 £421 million, and the market in the USA is worth an estimated $37 Billion, this encompasses sports supplementation and vitamins, minerals and general health supplement sales over the counter, this means that no matter what the tagline of an advert, you can be fairly sure there is a lot of money behind advertising it, additionally and more alarming from a consumer point of view is the amount of white label supplement companies that will allow you to design and package your own supplements and sell these on Amazon or Ebay or even at the local market, you can tailor the product essentially to meet the amount of profit you wish to receive from the sale and after the company has made the supplement packaged it and then labelled it for you I would imagine that the temptation to drop the more expensive ingredients down is quite strong.

This has another issue though, given the wide spread and cheap entry into the industry through this route, one can only imagine that the amount of actually different supplements on the market is quite small, and this means that we are making choices about which products to buy based on the quality of the label of which person is representing the product to us.

However we can still rely on the big chain companies can’t we ? well I guess from a quality control point of view yes we probably can, after all they will have the buying power to provide the best ingredients at a reasonable price, if they do or not depends on the integrity of the company I guess, but shoudl we even be taking them in first place?

Health food store checkup ?

The health food store shopping experience is a varying animal, occasionally you will encounter somebody who has done some training or is an enthusiast themselves, but ordinarily you are dealing with nothing more than a shop assistant, while they may be very good at serving people and very attentive while you are in the store this does not mean that their advice will extend much past the company line, partially because they probably don’t know better and partially because essentially they are employed to sell stuff for profit.

I made several purchases from my local Health store and was never once asked if I was deficient in what I was buying, or if I had any reason to suggest that I required a higher dosage than I would be receiving from my diet, or what my diet was for that matter, my purchases were simply rung up and I was sent on my way.

I feel that this is the first hurdle to be honest, this is really where there should be some interception and questions asked, for instance take a firm favourite of the health food store vitamin C, this little firm favourite is water soluble and can neither be manufactured nor stored by the body, it is consumed and used and flushed out taking free radical cells with it , it plays a fundamental role in the absorption of iron and has been shown to assist the immune system and has links to helping to prevent some forms of cancer, this is all good news, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is definately something we can benefit from, but at what dosage ?

When walking into a store there are many options, 500mg, 1000mg, 2000mg, buffered, non buffered, tablets, soluble literally the list goes on.

The recommended average daily intake for a healthy women is 75mg and 120mg if pregnant or breastfeeding, already we are way over that stated dose, so it is unclear why they should then go on to sell the higher dosages when 75mg would get the job done and that is the recommended intake, so at that we have not even considered dietary vitamin C (vitamin content present in our daily food intake).

The dosages however do start to have a sense of reason, albeit a little sinister when you consider the tolerable upper limit for adults is 2000mg or 2 grams a day, beyond this the concentration of vitamin C can lead to some pretty unpleasant effects to name a few, diarrhoea, nausea, headache and at the worse end gout, kidney and liver complications.

An accepted amount that is beneficial is around 500mg, this has been found to assist in certain situations on of which was a study on macular degeneration, during an age related eye disease study it was show when used with other vitamins and minerals to slow the progression of the disease.

There is vitamin C in the vast majority of food we eat, and it is added to a lot of breakfast cereals and especially for children as their diets tend to lack whole foods and therefore require supplementation to maintain the balance.

My Experience

Ok so onto the reason why I felt I needed to look further into this, I started looking around for ways to make myself stronger, healthier and more mentally agile, as a result I ended up following a course of the below supplements.

  • Fenugreek – A natural herb linked to the production of testosterone, as a man now in my mid forties, my testosterone levels have been steadily dropping for the last 10 to 15 years, and I wanted to find a way to halt this, fenugreek has been shown to increase levels of free testosterone in males when supplemented at 500mg a day, it does this through its constituent Protodioscin a saponin that may support the production of testosterone.
  • Tribulus Terrestris – Essentially added as it has been marketed as a testosterone booster by itself, it is considered to increase the potency of Fenugreek when taken along side, it is used widely for the treatment of many things but one of it’s reported effects is to increase certain hormones, testosterone is one, although you don’t have to dig to far into the research to see that the evidence is pretty weak.
  • Vitamin B complex – this was both to help with cognitive function as wel as the role that vitamin B plays in energy utilisation and in the muscle building process, by helping with the production of red blood cells directly helps provide more oxygen to muscles, allowing them to work harder and recover quicker.
  • Vitamin C – for recovery and immune assistance
  • Alpha-GPC – A nootropic compound that has been shown to increase brain activity and in fact is used in the medical profession to help treat Alzheimer’s and further studies have shown that when taken before an intense workout can increase growth hormone output post workout by significant amounts.
  • Fish Oil – for the EPA DHEA content again for cognitive function also it does contain omega-3 fats which are absolutely essential and were lacking in my diet as I was trying to cut down on my bodyfat quite drastically and was eating next to no fat at all.

Now that may seem like a long list, and I suppose actually that it is, if my calculations were correct I should have been a quick thinking, strong quick recovering masterpiece of an individual, instead the opposite was actually true, I was becoming tired, and I mean falling asleep at the steering wheel tired, on several occasions I had to pull over and literally have a quick nap before continuing my journey home from work, I had headaches, really big ones, not stress headaches these were different, as if my blood pressure were elevated during a big deadlift or some kind of heavy compound exercise like that, my balance was of and I had to bail out of several workouts due to fatigue and generally feeling unwell, I had become confused as well at work easy repetitive tasks needed concentration more than before, the answer took a while but it was fairly obvious I needed to stop the tablets !

I stopped taking them on a Monday, and immediately the headache that I would develop while driving to work did not materialise, it took about a week for my imbalance to stop and go back to normal and my workouts took around 3 weeks to stabilise and only now (some 5 weeks from stopping ) am I able to truly push myself at the gym again.

Conclusion

I feel that I got out just in time, the detrimental effect that all the tablets was having was becoming intrusive it had affected my home life, my work and my training, I even took some time away from this website as a result of struggling to concentrate, but all the time I was convinced that these things were safe to take, why? because they are sold that way, the shops are bright and on the high street, websites are not seedy http affairs that you need a special browser for and pay only in bitcoin, so you think that all will be well, but the truth is that anything we put into our bodies is a balancing act, it can be hugely beneficial in small doses and poisonous in large, or it can be wholly ineffective in a small does and only worth taking more than is recommended, the supplement / health food industry is vast and does help billions of people make better choices, get healthier and live longer, but we have to remember that it is an industry, and it is going to make profit as and where it can see it, unfortunately that means that if they can sell something that won’t harm you unless you take a lot more than they recommend then they will because you will be a repeat customer, in exactly the same way as a supplement company will sell you a weight gainer loaded with sugar instead of protein because it is cheap and you will feel great when you start using it because you muscles will fill out with the extra calories and you will have boundless energy, at no point will they inform you that you could have got the same effect from eating a large quantity of doughnuts.

I am definitely not saying that we should not buy supplements, simply that we should use the intelligence that I lacked when I embarked on my rampage and dose ourselves accordingly, remember that you are putting extra something in your body, and in the case of vitamins and minerals the irony is that the majority of people that consider taking these things will also give consideration to their diets and as such probably are not deficient in the vast majority of the products they buy, they just don’t notice any side effects because they stay within a limit set to avoid any detrimental feeling.

The supplement industry is not evil or malicious, it is just profit driven, and anything profit driven has the potential to weigh potential for comeback against the profit made by selling the product in the first place, and that is where the consumer misses out if they don’t stop and clarify the claim of the companies on their products and also their own individual requirements.

Before embarking on any supplementation regime you should always look at your diet first, and make the adjustments there where you can, the clue is in the name supplement, the human body is an amazing thing and it knows what it needs from food and drink to help us to grown and thrive doing the tasks that we choose, it will adapt and grow or shrink as required, you will get faster or stronger through repetition and all through the bodies own devices, majority of supplement advice is to take that delicate system of hormones and proteins and hit it with a sledgehammer, if you imagine trying to fit a square peg in around hole, using a lathe to turn the peg and make it fit will take time and patience but the end result will be perfect, the peg can however be made to fit with a large hammer and enough brute force, but it will be ugly and weak broken and unreliable, life is a marathon not a sprint.

5 Pillars of Nutrition

I despair about the training supplement industry, it isn’t necessarily that I think it is overtly evil or malicious, but I do feel that it is shallow and does take advantage of usually younger people trying to live up to their sporting idols and the ever increasing pressures of augmented social media profiles, it is as an industry worth billions on both sides of the Atlantic and it show no sign of stopping.

So I set out below my top five foodstuffs to help achieve fitness goals without spending fortunes on supplements, remember to use supplements for convenience not as a replacement for real food.

1 Water

A bit of an obvious one this one but, it is so often overlooked, people tend to drink a lot more water in the gym or during a hot summers day but not so much at other times, the fact is that the body is very good at drawing water out of the food we eat to keep us hydrated but it is still recommended to drink around 2 litres a day, the human body is approx 60% water so it makes sense to top it up, adequate hydration supports mental cognition, metabolism, and if you click the title link you will see how it has been linked to actually increasing calorie expenditure, drinking good clean water is absolutely essential not only for any fitness regimen but for life itself.

2 Protein

And I don’t mean the latest Protein Powder from the local supplement shop, although protein powders can be a good source of protein if you are running late or if you are struggling to take in six meals a day they should not be relied on, too often I see people with shakers in the morning and at lunch time, clearly substituting real food with a protein shake, these are normally laden with sugar or worse Aspartame to sweeten them and depending on the manufacturer (not always the price) can use low quality dairy protein that is no better than drinking a large quantity of milk, but of course the milk would be a lot cheaper, recommendations for strength athletes is around 1.4 to 1.8 grams per Kg of bodyweight and 1.2 to 1.4 grams per Kg of bodyweight for endurance athletes.

3 Carbohydrate

The recommended intake for Carbohydrate is roughly 45 to 65 percent of you daily calorie intake, that seems like a very ambiguous statement if you ask me and I also know that Carbohydrate is probably one of the most misunderstood forms of nutrition second only to the last pillar FAT, so there are low Carb diets and no Carb diets, low Carb would drop you down to the 25 to 45 percent range and then as you move lower you would start to work your way toward Keto type diets, and you would start to trigger Ketosis at a Carb intake of around 20 grams a day, the trick with Carbs is to select them based on what you are doing, there is no point taking in a large amount of complex Carbohydrate just before going for a run or too the gym, similarly loading up on simple Carbs just before sitting down for 8 hrs at work is also counter intuitive, one thing that is certain is that we need to take great care over the quantity of Carbohydrate as it is easy to over consume without realising it, especially as sugar is often added to fast foods or pre-packaged foods to make them more appealing.

4 Fibre

Fibre is essentially broken down into two types Soluble and Insoluble otherwise known as roughage, soluble fibre can be digested by the body and assists with lowering cholesterol and constipation, examples of soluble fibre are beans, bananas, and oats, whereas roughage cannot be digested and assists with bowel health and has been linked to reducing the risk of bowel cancer, this type of fibre can be found in wholegrains, cereals and of course bran, our recommended fibre intake increases with age from around 15 grams a day for 2 to 5 year olds up to adulthood at around 30 grams a day, also foods higher in fibre tend to help keep hunger at bay for longer meaning that you may end up snacking less and ultimately reducing calorie intake over the course of a day.

5 Fat

As stated above I believe fat is one of the most misunderstood of all the components of nutrition, until recent years it has also been the first thing that was cut out whenever anybody went on a “Diet” but as time has gone on we have started to learn more about fat and how it works in the body, consumption of the right fat is not only desirable but essential, the first type is Saturated fat, this is really pretty much all bad, it leads to an increase in LDL cholesterol which is linked to heart disease and strokes and most health organisations agree that if it cannot be avoided it should be limited to at most 30 grams per day for men and 25 grams for women, children’s levels should be lower, Unsaturated and Monounstaturated fats are responsible for an increase of HDL Cholesterol and lowering of the amount of LDL in our bloodstreams and lowering the risk of heart disease, these are much more preferable, but not simply a free for all and is recommended that in a typical diet they should be restricted to between 40 to 77 grams based on a percentage of calorific intake at around 20 percent, Omega-3 and 6 cannot be produced by the body and have been linked to a wide range of benefits to the body, everything from eye health, cancer risk reduction to helping prevent vascular diseases, and it is recommended that we take these fats in in the form of fish such as Mackerel, Salmon or Trout, or to use a supplement like cod liver oil, the last on the list is Trans-fats these are found in convenience foods, margarine and it is added to food to increase it’s shelf life, this Should be avoided at all costs it literally increases LDL and reduces HDL and as such no research I did managed to find an organisation that would put a “safe” or “recommended” level of intake on this, it is not avoidable completely in everyday life but make sure you read through the macros and avoid it where possible as well as partially hydrogenated fats, it is also worth considering that fat provides 9 calories per gram as opposed to Carbs or Protein at 4 calories per gram.

When used with thought and planned out correctly the above is all you need to build muscle, or reduce fat or both, bodybuilders are often revered for their ability to increase muscle mass while still reducing bodyfat levels and regardless of any chemical assistance this is largely due to the fact that the top bodybuilders study nutrition requirement and balance their diet accordingly, it is simple mathematics and with a little bit of time spent adding stuff up and thinking through what we take in we can all achieve great changes.

Main Photo by Clem Onojeghuo from Pexels

Bodybuilder Photo by Sabel Blanco from Pexels

Fat Burner V’s Bio Hacking

A healthy cynicism is required today as more and more people vy for your time and your Dollar, this is no more evident anywhere than in my two chosen points of focus currently,

Both the weightloss industry, or fitness industry as it also known and the financial freedom industry are absolutely overrun with what would have been referred to as “snake oil salesmen” back in the wild west.

And it is not difficult to see why as the fitness and weightloss industry is worth and estimated $18 Billion in the US and $5 Billion in the UK (which I personally struggle with because most UK gyms are, shall we say, lacking a little) and that kind of money attracts a lot of people just looking to turn a quick buck.

It isn’t necessarily just the odd cynical individual either big companies and businesses are doing the same thing, most Fat burners on the market today contain the same ingredients in greater or lesser amounts and there are food producers as well as dedicated supplement producers that will, for a price provide you with a white label, protein powder, or fat burner or vitamin supplement as well as all the other plethora of products available to buy.

But, should you use these products? and indeed should I ever advocate them? well the latter is easy to answer, I will never advocate anything that I have not tried and found to be of benefit, and of course the former is what this site / blog is all about.

In my experience there has been a few Fat Burners over the years that have felt like they are working, but this is because (and solely because) of the stimulant effect we assume that because we are warm it is thermogenisis and because we are feeling a bit frantic and like we cannot sit still that we have lots of energy and that this is coming from fat, but sadly this is more likely to be coming from the high dosage of caffeine than anything else.

You are much better off leaving the fat burners on the shelf in my opinion, or at the very least understand why a certain one should or should not work, in the book I read recently there was a parallel drawn between a VCR manual and life, the point being that anybody can buy a VCR and play videos, maybe record the odd thing or two, but only somebody who has read the manual and has digested it thoroughly can record a series at will, or have the TV turning over to the right channel when you switch the thing on, your VCR becomes much more powerful, and when you move onto DVD or Digital Recorders you are able to adapt almost immediately because you understand the nature of the thing.

Bio Hacking gives you the opportunity to do this, to look deep into your body and it’s chemistry, start to put on muscle at will and lose fat when you desire it rather than sitting wishing, and through that knowledge of how things work you can and will start picking supplements that you require.

Take the time to get to know yourself before blindly handing over money to somebody offering you the world in a minute, social media has given us all the impression that success and change is achievable overnight and people have pushed this message in order to turn a profit, it is rubbish, but you learn how the system works, any system and once you know it inside and out you can make it sing and dance to your tune.

Just to indicate that this was not merely a rant for the sake of a post, I did try taking a fat burner from one of the big supplement companies, one that manages to get it’s name in front of millions of people everyday, and after following the directions for 4 weeks exactly as directed with no deviation the results looked like this.

Fat BurnerIntermittent Fasting
Week 1 -0 -4
Week 2 -4 -3
Week 3 -1 -4
Week 4 -0Not yet weighed

It is important to know that my eating did not change other then to fast of course between the two and there was not a significant increase in exercise, simply a greater understanding of what to do in order to make my body respond how I wanted it too.