Last updated on December 3rd, 2018
Humans have changed, a lot. Lifestyle, culture, diet, habits, hedonism, sex, life expectancy…you name it.
We have changed, and continue to change, as a species.
But our bodies don’t really know that. Our endocrine system hasn’t changed too much since we were sleeping in caves and hunting all day for food. Our muscles and bones haven’t re-shaped themselves for office jobs.
Your vital organs don’t get why they are being asked to work for 80 years now, instead of the good old days of 25.
I could go on.
The truth is, our intelligence as humans is paradoxical.
It’s the very reason we have gotten where we have since those days of sleeping with one eye open in case a bear came to eat us, to now, where we live in high rise buildings of metal and glass, and scroll through memes on tablets of, oh wait, more metal and glass.
However, it’s also the reason a lot of us are unhealthy, and unfulfilled. We have so much more because of intelligence, but in many ways, we are less for it.
Given that supplements are one of the products of our cleverness, it stands to reason that we might need one or two to help us be healthier and happier. It’s ironic that some of them are extracts of the natural world that have surrounded us since pre-history.
Reason 1: We Live Longer
More contradiction here: we live longer in part due to medical science and knowledge, and in part due to components of our modern diets – healthy oils, vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, spices and herbs.
Those same ingredients can be supplemented in more concentrated form, to get more concentrated benefits.
It’s weird then that we might live longer thanks to them, but that we also need them more and more because we live longer.
That’s because adding years to our life is one thing, but adding life to our years is another. If we live longer, we should live healthier so that we can enjoy our time.
Our cavemen didn’t care about saving for retirement. He was concerned with getting through the night, let alone the next 50 years.
He certainly wasn’t refining extracts of Vitamin D3.
Even people 100 years ago didn’t have access to the supplements we do today. Now that we do, we can use them to live healthier for longer.
Reason 2: Diet
You’ll see a lot of comparison with our ancestral counterparts in this article, because it’s good to remind ourselves that although human behaviour has changed, our bodies really haven’t.
And our bodies need some things, and could do without others.
Pastries, donuts, pizzas, fries, pop-tarts and coke, to name but a few of the wonderful refined carbohydrates our big brains have dreamt up.
As our diets deteriorate, and I’m talking with little side-glances to the west here, our need for extra-dietary supplementation has grown.
That’s not to say we should mitigate poor diets by taking supplements. No. It’s that even if we eat ultra healthily, we are still going to have some processed carbs, or fast sugars.
It’s virtually unavoidable
And our bodies still don’t understand this stuff very well. It’s a bit like giving it a geometry exam, when it’s only learned trigonometry so far. It’ll give it a good crack, but there’ll be lots of sideways glances and sweating.
However, that’s not even really the main point here. For this specific diet section, it’s less about what you’re putting into your body, than what you aren’t.
It’s bizarre to think anyone in our modern world could suffer from insufficiencies in any of the major vitamins and minerals, much less deficiencies. Alas, it’s true. There are still those of us who don’t get enough of one thing or another.
Vitamin D3 insufficiency is a huge problem. We don’t get enough sunlight to synthesize much and it’s not one you can satisfy from diet alone.
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) together with Magnesium are usually the first supplements I recommend to anyone, whether or not they consider themselves healthy.
Reason 3: Sugar
Sugar gets its own dedicated section, even though it fits snugly into the subject of diet as well.
I’m focusing on refined sugar here, aka fast sugar. “Fast” because it slams into your blood stream like a freight train, causes your insulin response to go haywire and damages its sensitivity. And “refined” because it’s been separated from anything remotely regarded as healthy to create a purified weapon of mass destruction.
If you think I’m being dramatic then consider this: sugar is the ultimate manslaughter case. No-one’s pronounced dead from sugar, but it’s the poison that ultimately leads to one of the west’s most notorious mass-killers – heart disease.
Refined sugar makes you fatter than fat does.
It turns your pancreas into an anxious, quivering shadow of its former self; firing insulin out en masse to any and all blood sugar with a single objective: just store it all in fat cells, and make it quick.
A better diet and regular exercise are number 1 and 2 on your list of life saving things to start today, but supplements can help you along the way.
Even the most divisive products like fat burners, and appetite suppressants – provided they contain quality ingredients – can help someone start to turn the tables on woeful dietary habits.
To clarify, I’m in no way suggesting that you supplement in lieu of exercise and healthier dietary habits, but in addition to them.
The very word, ‘supplement’ implies it is an additional measure, and that’s exactly how I see them.
I suggest you read the first article to help understand what motivated me to write this. Below are a couple more reasons why the modern human being might need to hit their supplement store.
Reason 4: Time Spent Indoors
As a species, we spend a lot more time in indoor environments than our bodies are geared for.
Lack of sunlight is the biggest danger to health when it comes to our sheltered lives. In fact, it’s probably one of the most widespread of them all.
Everybody knows too much sun exposure can be bad for you, but there’s less hooplah made about the opposite problem.
Too little sun means your Vitamin D3 synthesis drops, and you can start making insufficient amounts, even flirting with a deficiency.
When babies don’t get enough, they can suffer from rickets, or bowed legs. That’s due to Vitamin D being vital for the formation of strong bones.
Now, the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of most government health authorities is between 400 and 800 IU (International Units. 1000 IU = 25 mcg).
The problem here is that there’s a lot more to Vitamin D and its health benefits than the simple avoidance of rickets! You can read about those in our Vitamin D article, but suffice it to say it has a hand in everything ranging from strength, to happiness and from testosterone function to healthy blood pressure.
Modern scientific research appears to be telling us that 2000 to 4000 IU per day is more like the dosage we should be getting. Not 400 !!
A lot of this comes back to the sun, and how most of us don’t see enough of it. People north of the 37th parallel line of latitude don’t get enough exposure to sunlight in 3 out of the 4 seasons a year, due to the weather. And even in summer, if they cover up or spend time indoors, it’s more or less the same result.
Even those living nearer the equator don’t get enough if they don’t spend time topless in the sun for a good portion of the day.
…and then there’s that nagging problem of skin cancer.
Turn to your dietary intake of Vitamin D and you’ll be disappointed. It’s very hard to make up the difference, even if you slug fortified milk all day.
And there’s another thing: sunlight makes us happy. It has to do with serotonin release, with melatonin production being the sleep hormone we make when it goes dark.
If you live and work inside a lot, your mood can be affected. That’s why some clever soul invented those lights for office junkies to stare at when they started feeling the blues.
There’re supplements for that too, but I’ll cover that in the next part because they are related, and I need another Reason Why…
Reason 5: Stress, Anxiety, Depression and Life
Money, lack of money, work, kids, traffic, the weather, food, booze, sex, lack of sex, getting old, getting fat…life, man!
It all just builds up and forms this big ball of chronic, soul squeezing pressure…I mean I read, somewhere that that can happen!
The point is, no-one can avoid stress completely, and I defy anyone with children to say they don’t experience a good whack of it on a daily basis.
You only have to look at stats related to prescribed medications for anxiety, depression and stress to see that we are a drugged up society, and it’s all down to how our brains and nervous system handle the colossal input of daily life.
Luckily, I have some stuff for that, and they won’t start hurting your liver like most prescription medications. I mean, at least read more about the supplements that can help before passing judgement.
L-Theanine can be used to take the edge off stimulants while simultaneously improving their cognitive effects, but it can also be used as a non-sedative calming supplement in its own right.
Gingko Biloba, Maca Root, Bacopa Monnieri, Yamabushitake, myo-Inositol and more are all available for you to peruse for your anxiolytic needs.
I’m highlighting the reasons for, and benefits of, using supplements to help with modern day health problems.
Humanity’s behaviour, technology, lifestyle and culture has changed dramatically in the mere spit of time that we have inhabited this planet, but our bodies really haven’t.
If anything, our big brains have been the main catalyst of both our success and our failures as a race.
Technology and innovation has stretched our lifespans, but it also hinders our health, and in some ways has made those longer lives feel less fulfilling as a result.
Don’t worry, I’m not going all Unabomber on you, but the fact that many of us sit in front of a computer screen for the best portion of the day, every day, only to sit in traffic, inching our way home, is probably proof enough that we are victims of our own Darwinian success.
Supplements can’t solve all of your problems. Mostly, your health, happiness, and fulfillment are products of nutrition, exercise, social life, sleep and hard work.
However, they can certainly help. Some of them can anyway – the supplement industry is broken, and you need to know your stuff before dabbling with it (which I’m here to help with) – and there are those which can make a real difference.
So far, we’ve looked at the ever increasing life expectancy of people, poor diets, the prevalence of refined sugar, stress, anxiety and the negative effects of hiding from the sun.
In an effort to put more of a positive spin on this idea, let’s look at a couple of very good reasons for using supplements.
Reason 6: Working Out and Bodybuilding
Social media is full – FULL – of selfies. And a lot – A LOT – of them are of stunning people with ridiculously good bodies.
The gym has become a place of mirror-hogging, superhuman perfectionists in some cities. If you haven’t already, just spend ten minutes on Instagram searching through the accounts of literally anybody from California.
Eight out of ten people will look like Thor
It’s a good thing. These people care about their bodies from an aesthetic point of view, of course, but they also really care about their health, especially “natural bodybuilders” who do the lot without so much as a whiff of anabolic steroids.
If you’re considering a physique transformation, or you just want to keep fit, then you will at some point be looking into supplements.
There’s no doubt in my mind that there are some guys and girls who have bodies like Greek deities without touching supplements, but they are the exception, and miles away from the rule.
Sports supplements, or training supplements (whatever you want to call them) are not all overblown hype. There are some which have been proven again and again, through strict scientific study, to be ergogenic.
Ergogenic = enhances physical performance, whether through improved power, growth, recovery, endurance, stamina or other mechanism.
Ergogenic supplements come in different shapes and sizes, from huge tubs of whey protein, to bottles of tiny capsules.
It’s probably the most interesting area of supplement research, but it’s also the deepest rabbit hole. Educate yourself, and you’ll come away stronger.
Reason 7: Boost You Brain
Have you heard the term “nootropic”? What about “smart drug”? My guess is that you have. Movies and TV series like “Limitless” and some clever marketing have put these products on the map.
Some supplement manufacturers are adding nootropic ingredients to pre-workouts, fat burners and diet pills in order to add a mood lifting component to their products.
Nootropic compounds should technically comply with a strict set of characteristics that were laid out by their inventor decades ago. Amongst other things, they must improve cognitive function, should always protect the brain from damage, and have zero negative side effects.
Anything that boosts mental function in any way tends to get lumped into the nootropic category, falsely or not.
All of this has led to them being included in other supplements, yes, but also to them taking a corner of the supplement market all to themselves.
Some super cool geeks would call it hacking the brain when using a herb or other compound that in some way boosts cognitive abilities.
In my research I have found some excellent ingredients, and some that aren’t worth the hype they get at all.
Others increase acetylcholine levels in your brain and nervous system. Acetylcholine is a principal neurotransmitter, and boosting it can improve both mental performance and physical power. It is involved in transmitting brain signals to the muscles and can therefore increase muscle contraction force when levels are high.
Compounds that increase acetylcholine are called cholinergics, and they include Alpha-GPC, Citicholine and CDP-Choline.
Some cholinergics can influence levels of the catecholamines, aka Dopamine, Adrenaline (epinephrine) and Noradrenaline (Norepinephrine).
Most of the time, these ingredients help with more than one aspect of cognitive function. For example Bacopa Monnieri is excellent for improving working memory as well as reducing anxiety.
These products are often ridiculed for being unnecessary, over-hyped, scams, expensive pee, and other similar remarks.
In reality, the supplement market is like any other – the bad products tarnish the reputation of the good – it’s just that there’s additional scrutiny involved when manufacturers claim to be offering something healthy or physically enhancing in exchange for money.
I understand the skeptic’s point of view, especially when some of the marketing material (I’m looking at you sports supplement makers) is so outrageously inflated. A tablet a day can’t grow you a six pack magically, or burn 14 pounds of fat in a day, but it might help.
“It might help” doesn’t sell supplements though, and so we have to live with the images of super-people on every supplement commercial.
Forget marketing and money for a minute, there are some terrible diseases that plague humanity on a grand scale. Various cancers and cardio-vascular diseases wipe out millions of us every year. If we survive everything else and live long enough, it seems inevitable that one of the two will get us in the end.
It’s just the nature of things.
Medical science still can’t cure everything, but there are signs that nature can, if we know where to look.
Our eastern brothers and sisters have been using alternative medicine for a lot longer. In fact, they don’t really call it “alternative” at all.
Reason 8: Cancer, Heart Disease and Others
In western medicine there is definite process followed when someone is diagnosed with cancer. Obviously the steps vary slightly depending on the type of cancer and the severity, but you can bet there will be some combination of surgery, drugs, chemotherapy and radiation.
Immunotherapy, hormone therapy and stem cell transplants are involved too but they could probably fit in the drugs and surgery categories.
Some people will turn to alternative treatments, either as a last resort, or as an adjunct therapy to what they are already undertaking.
Some of those alternative therapies are basically supplements. Sometimes it’s a very specific diet, but the purpose is basically the same – to get certain ingredients into the body.
Our eastern brothers and sisters have been using alternative medicine for a lot longer. In fact, they don’t really call it “alternative” at all.
A few compounds found in nature show remarkably potent anti-cancer effects.
It’s one case study, and it needs a lot more research, but if I ever get a brain tumour you can bet your backside I’m going to be taking the same dose of Boswellia as that woman did.
Mediterranean people bang on about olive oil as if the stuff makes you immortal, but there’s something to be said for its ability to prevent heart disease.
Olive leaf extract, which can be concentrated and crammed into capsules is one way of supplementing it, and it’s showing real promise as an auxiliary therapy for coronary heart disease.
Take a look at our General Health category to find more ingredient that can fight or prevent difference diseases and conditions.
Reason 9: Pollution and Environmental Effects
Even the air we breathe and the water we drink can give us health issues. More pollutants in the air and water mean more toxins in our blood and a higher frequency of free radical exchange and heavy metal accumulation.
It’s only since the industrial revolution that we’ve even had to be concerned about this, but levels of poison in general circulation is cause for a lot of grief.
Aside from the fact that we are wrecking our one and only home, our bodies are under attack on a minute by minute basis. People are even walking around wearing face masks in some cities because of the photochemical smog the have to live with.
Recently there’s been some noise on the grapevine that too many antioxidants in your diet is a bad thing because they can sweep up all the free radicals, leaving your body no reason to manufacture its own antioxidant enzymes.
Also, an overdose of antioxidants can actually become harmfully reactive – the very thing we are trying to prevent from oxidants.
Add high dose antioxidant supplementation to that and you might have a real problem.
This does not mean, however, that they should be dropped altogether (people tend to be extreme and all-or-nothing about these things) but that moderation is the key.
Exercise is a great way to train our bodies to make their own antioxidants after it increases oxidative stress. It’s the reason exercise is good for your health as opposed to bad.
With this in mind, it is not a good idea to take a lot of antioxidants, especially of one kind, after exercise as you would reduce your body’s own capabilities of doing so.
So, variety being the spice of life, mix up your diet and include a lot of different sources of antioxidants without gorging on anything in particular.
Reason 10: Traditional Eastern Medicine
I mentioned this in the previous article but traditional eastern medicine deserves its own chapter.
Ayurveda and Chinese medical practices have been used in Asia long before there was even such a thing as “The West”.
Western countries, especially America, and developed ‘westernized’ countries like to think they have everything figured out, including medical science and technology.
It’s only relatively recently that medical practices of ancient eastern origin are being looked at in a different light, other than some kind of voodoo nonsense.
Scientific research in the last 50 years has shown us time and time again that those crazy Indian and Chinese herbal doctors might be on to something after all.
It stands to reason, given that these ancient cultures prospered for many centuries before the arrival of capitalist driven ingenuity.
We’re still not sure about it all though. There’s not enough research dollars being pumped into traditional, or “alternative” medicine, because the big pharmaceutical companies that like to make synthetic drugs have their fingers in the budgets.
Nevertheless, there is progress being made, and a lot of people in western cultures are already taking ownership of their own health.
The health and dietary supplement industry is still a bit of an uncontrolled beast, and perhaps it’s best if it stays that way, lest everything becomes wrapped up and controlled by the corporations who can really make us feel the burn of profit margins.
Personally, I’m the kind of person who likes to get the best of both worlds, when it comes to health. Even more so being a relatively new parent.
And for now at least it seems to be how a lot of people are approaching it: drugs, surgery and other intervention where necessary. Supplements, herbal remedies, other prevention where it makes sense.
I can’t help but think how many people could have been helped through serious illness or disease, or even cured of them, if the two medical schools of thought had been married decades ago.
There are so many ways to tackle cancer, depression, heart disease and cognitive decline from both a western and traditional eastern angle. It’s all out there for the taking.
Reason 11: Alcohol, Drugs, Addiction and Late Nights Partying
While we’re young, the hedonistic lifestyle doesn’t seem too damaging to our health, especially if we look after ourselves when the hangover goes away. But damage is damage, and eating well and exercising while getting enough sleep will go a long way to restore balance.
Most adults still drink too much for the rest of their lives, according to health statistic websites in various countries. And the obesity problem in America is proof enough that a lot of people never really do restore the balance.
Junk food is almost like the drug of choice in western culture, and you can bet it takes more lives than the controlled substances combined.
For a lot of people, poor health, poor diet and addictive tendencies are a dank pit that they may have dug for themselves in their young, wild and free days, but then never quite climbed out of.
Change can be difficult, particularly when it involves stopping something your body and mind have become dependant on. Diet and exercise are two rather daunting mountains to look at when you’re already below ground level.
Quality health and dietary supplements can go along way in helping here.
There are supplements that can get you amped up for a workout, boost your output during it, and help you recover afterwards. See the articles related to Strength and Fitness.
There’s even legitimate products to help with your performance in the bedroom, and any activity in that department is good for the soul. You’ll find some interesting compounds in the Adult Health area.
More and more people are starting to take responsibility for their health, but few people treat their body like a temple 100% of the time. Once the major things have been looked at, finding some quality supplements are a great addition to your arsenal of well-being.
Reason 12: The Giant Petri Dish
Take the kids to daycare, buy coffee, get on the metro/subway/bus/train/plane, shake some dude’s hand, go to the toilet and open ten doors, all while breathing, rubbing your eyes and biting your finger nails.
And it’s not even 8:30 am yet.
It’s a miracle any of us live a day without being sick. Between getting up and going to bed we come into contact with more germs than you could count in a lifetime.
Your immune system blocks a lot of it because it’s hardened itself to them over years and years of bombardment.
Daycare is another thing altogether. In the first year of your first child going to daycare or nursery you will be sick more than ever before because all the kids are sick with different things from different families, who have had contact with yet more people and more germs. It goes on.
Boosting your natural defences with supplements is the way to go. If you live in a country that has distinctively cold winters, you take public transport, you have children, or you breathe air, you will benefit from some decent immune system boosting supplements.
Reason 13: Supplements Work
Last, but not least, I wanted to write this section at the end because it’s a sort of conclusion to all the other reasons for supplementing, but it’s also the most blatant and honest one of them all.
Scientific research has shown us that many of the supplements on store shelves and internet sites are worthy of our attention, and some are downright amazing.
Creatine, for example, is spectacular. There is so much evidence out there for creatine that it makes no sense why anybody could doubt it. It’s safe, and builds muscle effectively. If I was a world leader I’d try and make it a mandatory daily requirement.
Ashwagandha looks so good both on paper and from user feedback that it should be prescribed by doctors for anxiety and subjective well-being before anything else.
Ecdysteroids – plant steroids – are so interesting because they boost protein synthesis but without the negative side effects of anabolic steroids. They could be the legal, safe, bodybuilding supplement of the future if some more studies were carried out.
Empirical evidence and feedback is as valuable as science in some cases. The problem is that it can be difficult to dissect the truth from the nonsense, and the online haters and trolls just spread doubt and misinformation.
Not all supplements are great, and in fact it’s by far the minority that are worth using, but those ones that have some evidence behind them are a million miles from the confidence trick a lot of people seem to think they are.
Above all else, your health and happiness rely on a hierarchy of factors when it comes to how you treat your body on a daily basis. In descending order of importance: