A fairly common question that comes up. Are all these supplements even necessary? Do they give anything, do they protect against diseases? If so, which ones?
For starters, an unrelenting statistic. Every second human will develop cancer. One in four will die from the disease. It can be said that this is one of the most serious risks we face. We have a 25% risk of dying in unimaginable agony. And we usually do NOTHING about it! The statistics of heart disease are similarly unfavorable, but here we still have the aspect of age, someone very old has such a weak heart that death from it does not surprise anyone, it is also, it must be written, much less unpleasant than cancer.
In heart disease, diet plays a major role, and here there is no miracle pill that will save us. Arteries become clogged by excess products in the diet, not by deficiency. The situation is somewhat similar with osteoporosis, which is also one of the killers in old age. Here, however, it is not diet, but physical activity that plays a major role, there is a caveat here, it must be such activity that put a heavy stress on a bone. Marathon runners have even weaker bones compared to the average TV watcher, while the strongest bones are those of bodybuilders. In these two cases, supplements will be of marginal importance.
The question sometimes arises, why supplements? Why not simply diet? Yes, diet is arguably much more effective. But also many times more difficult and expensive. Taking a few pills is just unimaginably easier. A long time ago I posted about a study in which supplementation with borage oil literally cured multiple sclerosis, and recently another appeared in which an identical effect was obtained. The scientists involved suggested that the disease was simply the result of eating saturated fats of animal origin, and that a low-fat vegan diet could reverse the disease. And indeed, a study on such a diet showed an unusually strong effect. It concludes that an excess of saturated fat and glucose in the diet, combined with a low supply of plant-based fatty acids, disrupts the balance of prostaglandins in the body, as the synthesis of some of them will be greatly impaired. This can be prevented completely by changing diet and lifestyle, or one can simply provide the raw material for the production of prostaglandins, a raw material that skips the most difficult stages of production for the body.
It is also not true that the human body is a perfect mechanism. Our body has a number of mechanisms that facilitate survival in severe conditions, but literally kill us in mild ones. An example is the appetite for salty and fatty things; in a starvation situation, the strategy of munching on them allows us to survive, but when food is never in short supply, it leads to severe diseases. These types of relationships also exist at the cell level, making the “ideal diet” an unattainable abstraction. Our bodies were also not “designed” by evolution to survive longer than 40, maybe 50 years. Therefore, flooding our body with an excess of some substance can have a salutary effect, for example, cysteine simply stops being used at a certain age, which is one of the mechanisms of the aging process.
Let’s start with borage / evening primrose oil.
In this study, eating borage leaves, which contain the same substance, reduced the risk of stomach cancer by as much as three times! There are many studies in which the oil acted as a cure, including allowing rheumatoid arthritis patients to wean off their medications, and literally curing multiple sclerosis. There are dozens of studies showing its potent anti-cancer effects, and it is even officially already being experimentally used as a direct treatment for… glioma? (can’t remember really), where it is literally injected into the tumor, causing it to atrophy.
Studies on other conditions are lacking, there are only animal trials where it actually gave protection against both heart disease and osteoporosis.
The suggested preventive dose is 3 milliliters (a teaspoon) of borage oil per day, or twice that of evening primrose oil.
The results of studies on glucosamine and chondroitin were surprising. Chondroitin, in particular, was once promoted by one scientist; he published a series of clinical trials in which he demonstrated its extremely potent protective effect in heart disease, literally dozens of times stronger than that demonstrated by contemporary drugs sold to patients. Unfortunately, these trials were never repeated and the substance was most simply forgotten. There is no patent for it, you can’t make money on it… but people started ingesting it as protection against joint disease. Here, nothing stood in the way of testing the effect of such a therapy on the risk of heart disease. And what does it turn out?
Chondroitin supplementation reduced the risk of heart attack twice! It is very possible that this scientist, ridiculed decades ago, was right and chondroitin, in the doses he gave patients, can actually reduce the risk of heart attack several times. By comparison, statins, at best, lower this risk by a mere dozen percent.
Chondroitin also lowers the risk of colon cancer quite markedly.
Here, in turn, glucosamine and chondroitin were associated with a reduced risk of death in general, mainly from cardiovascular disease, but also reduced the risk of cancer, and also had a very strong protective effect with respiratory disease, here the risk was almost halved. In other studies, they reduced the risk of diabetes.
There were a few reports (literally a few people around the world) where these supplements caused inflammatory bowel disease, perhaps due to allergic reactions. Nevertheless, to play safe, it is better to take them with a meal. It’s hard to suggest a dose, but you can guess that a good one will be around 1 gram of glucosamine plus 2 grams of chondroitin.
Vitamin D3 is very popular, but its fame is greatly exaggerated. I have already written about its role in cancer prevention:
At best it will be several percent lower risk, while in some studies no effect was detected at all. As a rule of thumb, the more thorough the study, the more patients there, the less chance there will be any positive effect. While the most thorough study found a similar risk of disease, the disease was milder in those who took the supplements:
The same study found that D3 does not protect against heart disease, nor does it reduce overall mortality by virtually anything:
It also tested omega 3 supplements, in the form of EPA + DHA, the kind most commonly available at the pharmacy. They had no discernible effect on cancer risk or heart disease, although there were visible benefits in a group of people with low fish consumption. Interestingly, the effect of omega 3 was similar to that of statins, but with statins such small differences between the active group and placebo were taken as evidence of efficacy.
There is one major problem with vitamin K2. It is found in those products that also contain other anti-cancer substances, mainly conjugated linoleic acid. This means that any study where it simply analyzed its levels in the diet in relation to cancer risk is, by definition, flawed. I wrote about it a while back, the studies showed almost no differences between the different forms, which means that those expensive MKx are probably just as good as regular K1 costing pennies. Unless one has a rat farm, rat body metabolize vitamins a little differently, and for them perhaps one should buy more expensive supplements. Supplementation seems to have a small effect on a small fraction of cardiovascular diseases, an equally small but detectable effect on osteoporosis processes, and there are suggestions that it may also prevent cancer to some extent.
The bottom line is that yes, it is worth taking, but contrary to what the whackos selling it in their stores write, it is not a magic cure for all diseases.
I have written about vitamin C many times. It has been studied in all sorts of ways, yes, it has a role in several specific diseases, but supplementation has not the slightest effect on either cancer risk or heart disease. The story is similar to what happened with vitamin K2, it is present in generally healthy products, so preliminary studies have shown that people who eat a lot of it, or have high levels in their blood, are healthier. But this was not due to ascorbic acid, but thousands of other substances present in plants. These preliminary studies are being relied on by scammers, selling it to people as a cure-all “because, after all, studies have shown it.” The same is true of vitamin E.
Epidemiological studies from Japan have shown that regions with low concentrations of lithium in drinking water are also real outbreaks of depression or addiction, but also just plain violent crime. Preliminary studies from other countries have produced similar results. Megadose lithium therapy in psychiatry has shown quite positive health-promoting effects. Small doses are arguably one of the best things you can do for your mental health. I’ve written about lithium before, and described how you can make the supplement yourself if you happen to live in a country where such supplements are illegal (yes, there are such countries):
In the prevention of osteoporosis, it’s worth reaching for strontium supplements from time to time, with literally just taking a tablet containing 500 mg once a week being enough to have noticeably higher levels of the element in your bones, which should already have a marked effect on reducing the risk of fractures.
Creatine is one of the few substances that have actually prolonged the lives of laboratory animals. However, it is not entirely certain whether this effect will translate to humans. Quite a few studies suggest that it may even increase the risk of cancer.
A great deal of positive research has been published about beta alanine, a precursor to carnosine. The list of conditions in which it has had positive effects is so large as to be unbelievable. Here is an article with a pretty substantial list of links, but be warned that it is a bit too hurra-optimistic and sometimes jumps to invalid conclusions:
Here, however, one must keep in mind that beta alanine strongly blocks the absorption and utilization of taurine, which can very quickly lead to a deficiency.
Beta alanine itself is best supplemented in a large single dose in the morning, such as two grams, and then many smaller ones repeatedly throughout the day, possibly using slow-release supplements. The idea is to block the enzyme that breaks it down in the beginning, because then its utilization will be much higher. In addition, you can use supplements of histidine, which is essential for its metabolism, but this mainly applies to people on diets similar to vegan.
To avoid taurine deficiency, it is better to use supplementation alternately, for example, 3 weeks of beta alanine, two weeks of taurine in higher doses, even on the order of 1 gram per day. Probably these proportions should look a little different, but so far no one has studied this, scientists only know that there is this problem.
N-acetylcysteine, or NAC. Here the list of positive effects eclipses carnosine. If one were to choose just one supplement to ingest for the rest of one’s life, I would suggest this one. There is one problem, some studies suggest that NAC may accelerate one of the processes responsible for senile memory loss. If this is indeed the case, the acetyl~ part is responsible, so regular cysteine (you can buy it in this form) can be taken without even this risk.
Cysteine is the building block of glutathione, a substance that is probably the most potent antioxidant and, by the way, “fuel” for cells that fight cancer processes. What’s more, it’s one of the few antioxidants showing activity in the central nervous system. That is why it has such a broad spectrum of action. Suggested dosages are about 1 gram per day.
In some countries, we have too low an intake of iodine and selenium. Unfortunately, especially in the case of iodine, we have here not only a benefit, but also a risk. Its supplementation, contrary to the nonsense put out by charlatans, is NOT completely safe, and is associated with the risk of Hashimoto’s disease, as well as thyroid cancer. On the other hand, its deficiency is much more dangerous and will be associated not only with a greater risk of thyroid disease, but also with much more serious consequences, including literally dozens of times more dangerous cancers of other organs. Here I wouldn’t go crazy and just take 100% of the requirement, with the understanding that if someone hasn’t had to deal with iodine for a long time, it’s better to start with even lower doses. With selenium, 50 mcg is completely sufficient, or even a lower dose.
I’m not sure that a healthy person should supplement with coenzyme Q10. This is another substance with strong anti-cancer effects, and it also has a very strong effect in preventing heart disease, but studies have been conducted on sick and elderly people who have reduced production. Supplementation in a young, healthy person will raise levels above normal, which can have negative consequences. Unfortunately, there is a lack of research to definitively resolve this.
Let’s move on to things on the borderline between supplementation and diet. Ground flaxseed contains specific lignans, which are among the most potent anti-cancer substances. Their effect is so powerful that in animal studies, adding them to food produced a therapeutic effect comparable to the strongest varieties of chemotherapy in use today, only that it was completely free of side effects. Here, in a trial to induce melanoma, there were as many as three times fewer tumors in a group of animals with a high intake of ground seeds, and those that did form were much smaller!
Therapeutically in animals, doses equivalent in humans to 1/3, maybe even 1/4 of a 250 ml glass. For prevention, a much lower dose is probably sufficient. You can roast it gently in a pan before grinding, it will not lose its properties if you do not overdo the heat.
People who ate raw cabbage had as much as five times lower risk of stomach cancer; for broccoli sprouts, the effect was even greater. Research suggests that a similar, though perhaps not as strong, effect may occur for other cancers. It is likely that the substance responsible for this effect is sulforaphane, which can be purchased in supplement form. It’s hard to be specific here, however, because it hasn’t been fully studied, we don’t know if this particular substance is involved, and we don’t know the dosage. However, I think it is safe to use the dosage recommended by the manufacturer, after all, we want to prevent, not try to cure an existing disease. Even such small doses should give concentrations close to what people eating raw cabbage or sprouts had in statistical studies.
Fiber. One study after another is appearing in which regulating the composition of intestinal flora not only protected, but even cured diseases of civilization. The simplest thing you can do is to use inulin as a sweetener for coffee or tea. Caution, too high doses will cause very strong gas.
Potassium. A healthy diet will not lack it, but as we have a modern western diet, statistically we lack 1 to 2 grams, 1000 to 2000 milligrams of this element. Similarly, we have a far too high intake of sodium. With potassium alone there will not be a big problem, but it is always in the form of a compound. A few grams of potassium chloride will give us a little too much chloride, and similarly, citrate will give us too much citrate. A good solution is to buy dietary salt, which is a mixture of sodium chloride and potassium chloride, using this instead of the usual kitchen salt will significantly improve the ratio of these two elements in the diet. You can also simply buy potassium chloride and mix it with table salt. The amount of chloride you consume will not change, but you will improve the ratio of sodium to potassium. You can also additionally use citrate supplements, which can be bought for pennies.