Oct 09

The No Bullshit Guide to Vitamins: 8 Supplements You Actually Need

We don’t want to be healthy.

We want to be SUPER healthy.

We don’t just want to score well on our medical tests, we want to be the best the doctors have ever measured.

Good enough just isn’t good enough anymore.

We all want to be OPTIMAL.

This need to be optimal is just a fancy repackaging of our innate desire to be good at the things we try. We’ve always been this way. What’s changed are the things we’re trying to be good at.

There was a time when you just went to bed, woke up, and you either had a good nights sleep or you didn’t. Now, with an iPhone app, you can measure the movements you make in your sleep and get a ‘Sleep Quality Score’ at the end.

I thought I was good at sleeping until I used that app. When I woke up with a 60% sleep quality score that soon changed.

The media makes things worse by constantly reminding us, like a smug personal trainer, of all the new ways we could be more optimal. New ways to prevent cancer, new ways to improve heart health, new ways of realising how stupid we are.

“Fish oil causes brain power.”

“Fish oil causes heart health.”

“Fish oil causes prostate cancer.”

The only thing fish oil causes is confusion.

That was a joke, fish oil is actually amazing. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

When I first started studying nutrition and physiology, like most of the general public, I found it really confusing. There is so much contradictory information — even coming from the same sources.

I used to buy health magazines. One week a particular food was said to be good for losing weight, the next gaining weight. I had to keep buying those magazines because I felt terrified that my current diet would suddenly be proven unhealthy.

It might not surprise you that confusion is actually a classic technique used by hypnotists. When we’re confused we’re more suggestible to incoming influences.

“In all my techniques, almost all, there is a confusion.” – Milton H. Erickson, Hypnotherapist

The strange thing about the companies who provide products to try and help us feel more optimal is that they depend on us feeling sub-optimal to sell them.

Acne is a problem insofar as it tends to negatively affect self-esteem. Yet the companies that manufacture face washes to improve your self-esteem, market them in such a way that actually destroys it.

The classic example is that where popular YouTube prankster, VitalyZDTV, puts fake acne on his face and fails to pickup a girl. Then later on removes the fake acne and gets her phone number. At the end of the video a Clearsil Ultra sponsored link is shown, indicating Clearsil’s invested interest in making acne sufferers feel unattractive to women.

Friends or foes?

Now, I’ve got to clear a few things up myself (excuse the pun). There is nothing wrong with wanting to be optimal. High Existence is all about being more optimal. Truth be told, I love tracking my sleep and nutrition and finding novel ways to improve all aspects of my life. Like I said, the desire to be optimal is really just the healthy drive to be competent at what we do.

All I’m concerned about is how we go about doing it…

There are countless horror stories of people ruining their health and appearance because of misinformed supplement information. We know that the vitamin and supplement industry has a financial interest in us buying their products. We know they use psychological ploys to confuse us and push our buying buttons.

So in knowing this, how can we make good decisions to be more optimal with our vitamin supplementation?

Before we ask: which vitamins should I take?

The first question should be: who can I trust when it comes to supplement information?

Optimalism Re-Examined & The Multivitamin Myth

There is really only one answer to that question: Examine.com

Examine.com doesn’t just scientifically break down supplement evidence into easy to understand tables and summaries. It tells you the effectiveness of a supplement, how to take it, what to combine it with for extra effect, how reliable the evidence is, what health goals it can help you achieve, and basically everything else you’d ever need to know.

Fitness expert and NYT Bestselling author, Adam Bornstein, says:

“In many ways, the fitness industry is broken. And among the many people trying to fix the biggest issues, examine.com is a big part of the solution. They provide no-nonsense, accurate information that can help a beginner as much as it can someone who has been living a fit lifestyle for years. Their accuracy and credibility makes them invaluable.”

So now that we have our trusted un-biased source of supplement information let’s ask that question…

What vitamins should I take?

There are lots of conflicting opinions on this question. Adverts have us think we need them for optimum health, scholarly articles like ‘Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements‘ have us think they actually cause us harm, and passionate rebuttals to these anti-vitamin articles by biology experts like Dr. Rhonda Patrick have us scratching our heads over who to believe.

Thankfully, Examine.com sums it up the evidence pretty succinctly for us:

“The idea of taking a pill that contains all of the vitamins and minerals to better one’s health does not appear to be supported by the literature. However, it does not appear to be significantly harmful either.”

This is a really diplomatic was of saying, “Multivitamins do nothing. Spend your hard earned cash on things that work”.

Examine, in their 1,200 page and growing, Supplement Goals Reference Guide, explain the four main reasons multivitamins are useless:

  1. The RDA (recommended daily allowance) isn’t always optimal. In fact, it’s usually just the minim to avoid ill health.
  2. Foods are already fortified with vitamins and minerals — taking an unspecified multivitamin on top can lead to overdose.
  3. Trying to get everything you need in one pill per day is like trying to get all your food for the day on one plate.
  4. There are many healthy compounds that aren’t vitamins and would be missing from a multivitamin.

Examine.com don’t say vitamins and minerals are bad. They’re saying the lazy one-size-fits-all approach to supplementation is flawed.

We need vitamins, but not multivitamins. 

So with that in mind I’m now going to list a set of recommendations for what vitamins you might want to take. I’ve split them up into The Essentials, The Context Dependents and The Smart Investments.

It should go without saying that this information is only useful if you have some semblance of a balanced diet. If all you eat, all day, everyday, is table sugar, or for that matter spinach, and nothing else, you’re clearly going to have deficiencies. But, outside the world of My Strange Addiction, most people shouldn’t have this problem.

The Essentials: Vitamin D & Vitamin K

These are vitamins everyone should be taking regardless of their health goals.

Vitamin D

Examine.com definition: Vitamin D is an essential vitamin known as the sunlight vitamin, since it is synthesised in the skin when exposed to the sun’s radiation. It provides benefits for bone structure support, mood state, and much more.

Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia by 125%, half the chances of getting colorectal cancer, significantly improve functionality in the elderly and is solely responsible for over 1000 functions in the human body.



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