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.
Turmeric and Curcumin Benefits: What the Science Says
Turmeric and extracts of turmeric (curcumin) have been used for ages for a variety of ails, and especially for conditions rooted in inflammation such as:
- Certain types of arthritis
- Upset stomach
- Respiratory issues
- Skin conditions (used topically)
Years ago, I did a short piece on the anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory effect of turmeric. Turmeric was shown to improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels in rodent models. Mice given the supplement were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and they enjoyed greater body fat losses. Good, promising stuff all around.
Curcumin Supplements and Altzheimer’s and Dementia
A growing body of research shows that curcumin may help alleviate the troubling symptoms of age-related cognitive decline. A sampling of the research…
- Curcumin supplementation has shown promise in improving and preventing Alzheimer’s disease.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15590663‘>2
- Altzheimer’s Disease incidence is lower in regions where turmeric is commonly used in cooking,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9748017‘>4
Curcumin May Protect Against Some Cancers
Curcumin may have anti-cancer effects.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16556014‘>6
Say you wanted a daily intake of 3g of curcumin, obtained through turmeric powder. Assuming you had the strongest stuff, you’d have to take about 3 ounces (conversion reminder: 16 ounces is 1 pound is 454 grams) of turmeric powder on a daily basis. That’s a lot of spice powder. I don’t care how much you love Indian food – it’s not going to be easy. Luckily, curcumin is widely available in capsule form, it’s non-toxic, and doses of up to 12g daily have been safely used. Note, though, that curcumin is a potential anticoagulant, so anyone taking prescription anticoagulants should check with their physician before supplementing.
Despite the focus on extracted curcumin, the epidemiology of cancer in India and other turmeric-using countries suggest that low, regular doses are beneficial, especially in cancer prevention. I love the taste, myself, so I’ll continue to use it regardless. I think you should, too. As with anything, though, you could go overboard, so don’t take too much.
Got any great turmeric recipes? Any success stories after using it as a health supplement? Let us know in the comments.
The post The Health Benefits of Turmeric, and How to Get More of It appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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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?)
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What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals (and some proteins) that carry an electrical charge when dissolved in water. These positively or negatively charged ions play an essential role in a wide variety of metabolic processes. Electrolytes allow nerves to fire and muscles, including the heart, to contract; regulate acid-base balance; support hormone and tissue production; and maintain proper fluid balance within cells, interstitial fluid, and blood plasma.
There are many electrolytes in the human body, but the most important are:
Sodium, chloride, and bicarbonate are highly concentrated in blood plasma and interstitial fluid outside the cells. Potassium, phosphate, magnesium, and, to a smaller degree, calcium are concentrated within cells. The body regulates hydration status and acid-base balance by maintaining the right gradient, or concentration, of electrolytes in different fluid compartments. Water and electrolytes are constantly diffusing through membranes to preserve the delicate balances.
Cells also use active transport to “pump” electrolytes across membranes using ion channels. You may remember learning about the sodium-potassium pump in high school biology class. Active transport of these electrolytes across the cell membrane is how nerve, muscle, and endocrine cells generate impulses and fire.
Most people get all the electrolytes they need through a healthy diet. Some folks—notably those following a ketogenic diet and endurance athletes—may need additional supplementation.
Electrolyte Balance and Imbalance
For the body to function properly, it needs the right amount of each electrolyte, and it needs them in the proper ratios.
In healthy individuals, electrolyte balance is tightly regulated by hormones, especially parathyroid and antidiuretic hormones and aldosterone. The kidneys filter water and electrolytes in the bloodstream, returning what the body needs to circulation, and excreting the rest. To a lesser extent, electrolytes are also excreted in stool, sweat, and respiration.
Electrolyte imbalances can occur with:
- Poor diet
- Improper hydration (too much or too little water)
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Excessive sweating
- Gastrointestinal disorders that interfere with absorption
- Kidney disease
- Some cancers
- Respiratory diseases like COPD
- Certain medications like diuretics, beta-blockers, and corticosteroids
- Trauma, burns, surgery
- Old age
You might not notice any symptoms if you have a mild imbalance. Following a short illness, for example, if you return to eating your typical Primal diet and drinking a reasonable amount of water, your body will likely regulate itself without any major issues.
Signs that you might have a more serious imbalance include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle cramping
- Loss of coordination
- Nausea and vomiting
Specific symptoms depend on which electrolyte(s) are out of balance, and whether you have too little or too much. Very severe imbalances can even lead to seizures, coma, or death. Your doctor can test electrolyte levels with a simple blood test.
What Do Electrolytes Do, How Much Do You Need, and Where Do You Find Them?
Main functions in the body: Along with potassium, regulates the fluid volume in cells, interstitial fluid, and blood plasma. Needed for muscle contraction and generating nerve impulses.
Dietary sources: Most sodium in our diet comes from the salt we add to food. Much smaller amounts naturally occur in foods like beets, carrots, celery, and dairy products, and in drinking water. Someone eating a typical modern diet gets the bulk of their sodium from processed, packaged foods.
Recommended intake: In recent decades, doctors and the folks behind our governmental dietary standards have told us to limit sodium intake, mostly in the name of heart health. However, experts are increasingly challenging that advice. Multiple studies point to a greater risk of negative health outcomes with too little sodiumhttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25119607/‘>2 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23558164/‘>4 and lower all-cause mortality.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537815/’>6 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26039623/‘>8
RELATED POST: A Primal Guide to Blood Pressure
Main functions in the body: Maintaining fluid balance, which is vital for regulating blood pressure and pH of body fluids. Also a primary component of gastric juice in the form of hydrochloric acid.
Dietary sources: Mostly from added salt—sodium chloride and, to a lesser extent, potassium chloride. Seaweed and many vegetables also contain some chloride. You can also get chloride through the skin if you use a magnesium spray, which is usually magnesium chloride.
Recommended intake: 2.3 grams per day for adults up to 50, 2.0 grams per day up to age 70, 1.8 grams per day thereafter.
Main functions in the body: In addition to structural roles (bones and teeth), calcium helps muscles contract and nerves fire. Calcium also has a role in blood clotting.
Dietary sources: Leafy greens, broccoli, nuts and seeds, fish like sardines and anchovies where you eat the bones. Dairy products, if you consume them, are good sources as well despite any controversy about bioavailability.
Recommended intake: For adult females, 1,000 mg per day up to age 50, 1,200 mg per day thereafter. For males, 1,000 mg per day up to age 70, 1,200 mg per day thereafter.
RELATED POST: Dear Mark: Calcium for Women
Main functions in the body: Like calcium, most phosphate is stored in bones and teeth, acting as a mineral reserve. The rest is used by cells for energy production and in cell membranes and DNA.
Dietary sources: Derived from phosphorous, which is found most abundantly in animal products—meat, dairy, eggs.
Recommended intake: 700 mg per day for all adults
Main functions in the body: Crucial for maintaining extracellular acid-base balance. Moves carbon dioxide through the bloodstream.
Dietary sources: We get bicarbonate from baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), but the body also produces bicarbonate endogenously (on its own), so it’s not necessary to target it in the diet.
Recommended intake: Has not been established
RELATED POST: Dear Mark: Does Dietary Acid/Base Balance Matter?
Main functions in the body: Magnesium is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions, including ones that allow nerves to fire and muscles to contract. Maintains regular heartbeat.
Dietary sources: Leafy greens, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds, fish, avocado
Recommended intake: For adult females, 310 mg per day up to age 30, then increases to 320 per day. For males, 400 mg per day up to age 30, increasing to 420 mg per day.
RELATED POST: The Complete Magnesium Manual
Natural Electrolyte Supplements
When people talk about supplementing electrolytes, they generally mean sodium, potassium, and magnesium. For the average healthy person, you can meet your electrolyte needs by eating a varied diet rich in different vegetables, perhaps some fruit, and animal products, especially fish.
However, you may need to supplement if you eat a restricted diet or have certain health conditions such as gastrointestinal issues that interfere with your ability to absorb nutrients, or kidney or liver disease. Because supplements can interact with medications, talk to your doctor before starting any kind of supplement regimen.
Obviously, if you get an electrolyte panel done by your doctor, and it shows a deficiency, that’s another good reason to supplement. Likewise, if you’ve had a bout of vomiting or diarrhea, or if you’re having issues such as brain fog or muscle cramping. Don’t go overboard; it is certainly possible to have too much of any electrolyte. Drinking some salty bone broth or trying a standard dose of a potassium or magnesium supplement should be safe.
I should note, though, that dietary deficiencies in potassium are uncommon. It’s never a bad idea to track your food for a few days using an app like Cronometer. See how much you’re getting from diet so you can tailor your supplementing appropriately. It’s probably much more likely that you’re getting less sodium than you need if you’re eating mostly close-to-nature foods, especially if you’re hewing to conventional wisdom about restricting salt.
What Are the Best Forms of Electrolytes?
For sodium, all you need is good old salt. Different forms of salt contain varying amounts of sodium, so look at the label.
For potassium, I like potassium citrate. You can also use LoSalt or Nu-Salt, which contain potassium chloride. They are found with the table salt at your local grocery store. Some folks make their own electrolyte blend with cream of tartar (yes, the same stuff you bake with), which is potassium bitartrate. Any of these will work, but I think potassium citrate is the superior option.
For magnesium, the most bioavailable are the chelated forms that end in -ate. Different forms of magnesium are thought to have specific benefits, but magnesium malate or glycinate (also called bis-glycinate) are good all-around options. Magnesium L-threonate is particularly touted for cognitive benefits because it crosses the blood-brain barrier.
Is Potassium Supplementation Safe?
Because potassium is closely linked to heart function, there is a concern that supplementing potassium could lead to arrhythmias or even heart attacks. However, a 2016 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found no risk associated with supplementing within normal guidelines in healthy individuals.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5334560/‘>10 I’m not a huge fan of most commercial electrolyte drinks due to their high sugar content, but it’s easy to make your own using one of the many online recipes. You can also use salt pills. It might take some tinkering to dial in the amount you need.
Some athletes also take sodium bicarbonate supplements in an attempt to offset exercise-induced acidosis. (Recall that bicarbonate helps maintain acid-base homeostasis.) Research shows that doses of 200 to 500 mg/kg may reduce lactate concentration and improve aerobic exercise performance and hand-eye coordination.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22150425‘>1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14971434‘>3 That said, I wouldn’t be too quick to discount anecdotal evidence or “iron lore.” A significant-enough portion of the strength training community swears by 1-2 g protein/lb bodyweight that it couldn’t hurt to try if lower amounts aren’t working for you.
Protein Intake During Weight Loss
Weight loss involves a caloric deficit (whether arrived at spontaneously or consciously). Unfortunately, caloric deficits rarely discriminate between lean mass and body fat, while most people are interested in losing fat, not muscle/bone/tendon/sinew/organ. Numerous studies show that increasing your protein intake during weight loss will partially offset the lean mass loss that tends to occur. In obese and pre-obese women, a 750 calorie diet with 30% of calories from protein (about 56 grams) preserved more lean mass during weight loss than an 18% protein diet.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16046715‘>5 Among dieting athletes, 2.3 g protein/kg bodyweight (or a little over 1 g protein/lb bodyweight) was far superior to 1.0 g protein/kg bodyweight in preserving lean mass. And, although specific protein intake recommendations were not stated, a recent meta-analysis concluded that high-protein weight loss diets help preserve lean mass.http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/711879_7‘>7 Children recovering from illness or injury may need up to 2.5 g protein/kg. If you mess this up and undershoot your protein intake during recovery, you will compromise your healing.
Protein Intake for Seniors
The protein metabolism of the average senior citizen is compromised. They need more protein to do the same amount of “work.” The protein RDA is simply not enough for seniors, who lose thigh muscle mass and exhibit lower urinary nitrogen excretion when given the standard 0.8 g protein/kg bodyweight.ref]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11382798[/ref] What’s good for the goose may not be good for the elderly, frail gander. More recent studies indicate that a baseline intake of 1.0-1.3 g protein/kg bodyweight or 0.5-0.6 g protein/lb bodyweight is more suitable for the healthy and frail elderly to ensure nitrogen balance.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22889730[ref][ref]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22889730‘>9https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22770932‘>11
How Much Protein on Keto?
What about another population entirely: ketogenic dieters. We’ve got a lot of those around here, so this is important. If you’re on a keto diet, should you restrict protein? I mean, doesn’t extra protein just convert directly into glucose?
Our livers only convert protein into glucose when we—for whatever reason—need more glucose. It’s demand, not the supply. And since keto-adapted people are running mostly on fat and ketones, they have a lower requirement for glucose and are much less likely to trigger the kind of perceived glucose deficiency that necessitates gluconeogenesis.
Extra protein can however impair ketogenesis by contributing oxaloacetate donors to the Krebs cycle. With oxaloacetate, fatty acids enter the Krebs cycle and are fully oxidized and turned into ATP, the body’s energy currency. Without oxaloacetate, fatty acids can’t enter the Krebs cycle and are instead converted into ketones to generate energy.
If you’re dealing with cognitive decline, elevated inflammation, or any other condition that requires or may improve with deep ketosis, aim for a lower protein content (10-15% of calories). Get those high ketone levels, see how it feels, and see if that’s the protein intake for you. Start low, really revel in those high ketone readings, and stick with them if you’re improving.
If you’re losing weight (or trying to), eat closer to 15-30%. For you, the ketone readings aren’t the biggest focus. How you look, feel, and perform are your main concern. Eating slightly more protein will increase satiety, making “eating less” a spontaneous, inadvertent thing that just happens. It will also stave off at least some portion of the lean mass accretion that occurs during weight loss; you want to lose body fat, not muscle.
If you’re trying to gain large amounts of muscle, eat closer to 20-30%.
Understand, however, that everyone is unique. For some, protein is deeply anti-ketogenic—eating too much protein will knock you out of ketosis almost immediately. For others, protein has little to no effect. Or if it has a momentary nullifying effect, you can quickly slip back into ketosis. Unless deep ketosis is medically necessary, don’t worry about protein too much either way. There are studies of “modified ketogenic diets” where protein goes as high as 30% of calories and subjects still get the benefits.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17622289‘>13 Simply put, more protein tends to enhance fat loss and preserve muscle.
Protein to Increase Energy Expenditure
Metabolizing protein is costlier than metabolizing fat and carbohydrates: it takes extra energy to process protein than it does to process the other macronutrients. This increases the amount of calories you expend, simply by eating more protein. Thus, higher protein diets increase energy expenditure relative to diets lower in protein.
Higher Micronutrient Intake
While we love our fat-soluble vitamins around here—your vitamin Ds, your vitamin K2s, your retinols, your vitamin Es—we musn’t forget about our B-vitamins and minerals. Those latter two groups come bound in the muscle meat. The more whole food-based protein we eat, the more micronutrients we’ll take in.
Protein Foods: Where to Get Your Protein
The best sources of protein for humans are animal foods. Meat, fish, fowl, shellfish, eggs, and dairy all contain the most bioavailable form of protein: animal protein. Makes sense when you consider that we are animals, and we use the protein we eat to build new animal tissues in our own animal bodies. Of course animal protein will be better and more efficient at doing protein-y things than plant protein.
- Following resistance training, soy protein blunts testosterone production in men.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20368372‘>15
- Compared to milk, soy protein results in less hypertrophy following resistance training.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19678968‘>17
We can also confirm this by studying the Biological Value (BV) of a given protein source. The BV describes the proportion of protein in a food that becomes incorporated into the consuming organism’s tissues, with 100 being best.
- Egg protein: 100 BV
- Whey isolate: 100 BV
- Milk protein: 91 BV
- Beef: 80 BV
- Casein: 77 BV
- Soy protein: 74 BV
- Wheat gluten: 64 BV
- Pea protein: 65 BV
Another factor to consider is that animal protein is complete; it contains all essential amino acids—those amino acids which we cannot produce ourselves and must obtain from outside sources. Plant proteins tend to be incomplete. No individual plant protein is complete, except for perhaps potato protein (but the absolute levels of protein in a potato are too low). If you want to go all plant, you have to combine different ones to hit all the amino acids you need.
So in theory you could get your protein from an algorithmically-derived blend of gluten powder, pea protein, rice protein, and fermented free range soy. Or you could just eat 5 eggs for breakfast (30 grams), a Big Ass Salad with a can of oysters (11 grams), some cheese (8 grams), and a can of sardines (24 grams) on top for lunch, and a ribeye for dinner (40-80 grams, depending on size).
I know what I’d choose. I know what’s easier, what’s more delicious.
Collagen protein is the type of protein you get from connective tissue in meats. You can slow-cook tougher cuts of meat until they’re tender, or simmer a batch of bone broth to get your collagen.
Collagen is so important that I consider it the fourth macronutrient. It contains amino acids that aren’t as plentiful in muscle meats and other protein sources, so it helps your body complete the amino acid chains that would otherwise be limited. You get more benefit out of the other protein you eat by eating collagen-rich foods or supplementing with a hydrolyzed collagen protein supplement. You can read more about collagen here.
How about you, folks? How do you get your protein? How much do you eat per day?
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Magnesium is an essential mineral that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. You’d be hard pressed to find any activity in the body that doesn’t use magnesium in some way. It has literally hundreds of functions.
Cellular energy production, protein synthesis, DNA and RNA synthesis, and cell signaling—which controls the secretion of certain hormones, among other things—all depend on magnesium. It plays an important role in ion channels that allow nerves to fire, potassium and sodium to cross cellular membranes, and muscles to contract. Production of ATP, the energy currency of the body, depends on magnesium. Your heart beats rhythmically thanks to magnesium.
Not surprisingly, then, magnesium deficiencies seem to factor into a wide range of health issues. Let me tell you about some of the biggies.
Health Issues Related to Magnesium
Before getting into the details, I want to draw your attention to a few challenges with the research literature. One, which I’ll return to later, is that magnesium levels in the body are tough to measure.
Second, lots of studies try to link dietary magnesium intake to specific health outcomes. Foods that contain magnesium, like leafy greens and fish, also contain a host of other vitamins and minerals, fiber, sometimes amino acids. This makes it hard to isolate the effects of any single nutrient.
The way magnesium intake is measured, usually with the Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) or food diaries, is also fraught with error. I don’t put too much stock in studies that correlate dietary intake with any specific health outcome. Correlation doesn’t prove causation anyway, as you know. I’ll mention them here to give you a complete picture of what researchers are working with. Ideally, though, I like to see randomized controlled trials.
Magnesium and Inflammation
It’s increasingly clear that inflammation is at the heart of many, if not most, chronic disease states. Studies have shown that people who consume less than half the recommended daily allowance of magnesium have higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15920065/’>12 and the NHANES Study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6040119/‘>14
The Link Between Heart Health and Magnesium
There are many well-documented metabolic pathways through which magnesium can affect heart health. Magnesium may reduce heart disease risk by reducing arterial stiffness, improving endothelial functionhttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1418832/‘>16
Several large prospective studies have correlated higher magnesium intake or higher magnesium levels in the blood with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/93/2/253/4597608‘>18 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6692462/‘>20 Magnesium deficiency is considered a risk factor for cardiac arrhythmia and hypertension (high blood pressure).
A recent review of the available evidence concluded that while it’s fair to say that magnesium intake is important for cardiovascular health overall, more randomized controlled trials are needed to understand the particulars better.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28724644/‘>22 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20228010/‘>24
Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Sensitivity
Magnesium affects how cells take up glucose out of the bloodstream, glucose oxidation, and insulin sensitivity.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9589224/‘>26
Diabetes and magnesium deficiency is a vicious cycle. Prospective studies suggest that people with lower magnesium intake are at greater risk for insulin resistancehttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5133122/‘>28. Once they have the disease, they lose more magnesium through urine, making them more susceptible to ongoing magnesium deficiency. This then exacerbates the problems of poor glucose management and insulin resistance, increasing the chances of diabetic complications.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27530471/‘>30 A second meta-analysis found better insulin sensitivity and fasting glucose, particularly when supplementation lasted at least four months.The results of this analysis also indicate that the effects are greatest among people who start out with low magnesium.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3775240/‘>32
In correlational studies, dietary intake is positively associated with bone mineral density in postmenopausal and premenopausal women https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10197575‘>34, and older white, but not Black, folks https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9709941/‘>36 postmenopausal women,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995550/‘>38
Magnesium and Migraines
A fair number of studies find that migraine sufferers have lower magnesium levels than people who don’t get migraines.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12786918/‘>40 and adultshttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25278139/‘>42
The American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society agree that magnesium is probably effective for the treatment of migraines.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22426836/‘>44
Magnesium Could Help with Depression and Anxiety
Magnesium has many complex actions in the brain, including affecting neurotransmitter and hormone release and neuronal firing. Although research provided promising evidence a century ago that magnesium can be used to treat depression, nobody took much notice.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25748766/‘>46 Supplementation may alleviate symptoms of mild-to-moderatehttps://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900716302441‘>48 and major depression.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452159/‘>50
But Wait, There’s More!
More research is needed, but magnesium may be a factor in:
- Restless leg syndromehttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27296515/‘>52
What about Sleep?
Magnesium supplementation is often touted for sleep, but there’s actually not that much direct evidence that it helps. One small study involving 12 elderly participants concluded that magnesium supplementation enhanced sleep quality.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3703169/‘>56 That’s about it.
Still, many sleep aids contain magnesium because it is needed to convert 5-HTP to serotonin, which in turn converts to melatonin. It also blocks NMDA receptors in the brain and promotes GABA, both of which are important for sleep. (These same mechanisms may explain why magnesium helps with depression, by the way. Some scientists have also suggested magnesium’s action on NMDA receptors is why it alleviates migraines.)
Magnesium plays a key role in glucose metabolism and energy production. Since glucose is mobilized during exercise, it makes sense that magnesium would be important. Research in mice shows that giving them magnesium increases the amount of available glucose during exercise. It also delays the accumulation of lactate in the muscles, which may prevent fatigue.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24015935/‘>58 Triathletes likewise improved their swim, bike, and run times.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1299490/‘>60
Even if it doesn’t yield a performance benefit, though, it’s clearly important that athletes make sure their electrolyte intake is sufficient. More on that next week.
Normal Levels and Magnesium Deficiencies
It’s difficult to test magnesium levels. The most common method is a blood test. Normal serum concentrations fall between 0.75 and 0.95 mmol/L.
However, less than 1 percent of total body magnesium is in the bloodstream, and serum level is tightly regulated by the kidneys, as well as bone and intestines. Blood tests are poor indicators of total body magnesium levels. Your doctor may use a combination of blood, saliva, and urine tests if they suspect a severe deficiency. No single method seems to work very well.
Clinical deficiencies in healthy adults are rare, but data from the large NHANES study suggests that perhaps only one-third of Americans hits the recommended daily intake.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9494787/‘>62
How to Choose a Magnesium Supplement
As with any nutrient, it’s best to get magnesium from food. The Food and Nutrition Board of the US Institute of Medicine designates 350 mg/day as the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for supplementing.
When choosing a magnesium supplement, look for a chelated form, the ones ending in -ate. They have the best bioavailability. Magnesium glycinate and malate are both good choices. Magnesium citrate is probably the most common since it is inexpensive and widely studied, but it can have undesirable laxative effects for some people. L-threonate is particularly noted for its cognitive benefits. Avoid magnesium oxide unless you specifically want diarrhea.
Certain pharmaceutical drugs can interact with magnesium. Talk to your doctor, especially if you take medications for osteoporosis or HIV, if you are on a diuretic, or if you are prescribed tetracycline or quinolone antibiotics.
Can You Get Too Much Magnesium?
While magnesium toxicity is possible, it’s very rare. Most forms of magnesium will cause gastrointestinal distress before that point. Stick to recommended doses, though.
Transdermal Magnesium: Epsom Salts Baths and Magnesium Oil
Both epsom salt baths (magnesium sulfate) and magnesium oil sprays (usually magnesium chloride) are touted as alternatives for boosting magnesium levels. However, there is almost no research verifying that it is effectively absorbed through the skin., alzheimer’s disease, ancestors, ancestral health, ancestry, animal fats, animal-source foods, animal-sourced foods, bacon, bestselling author, brain, Brain Health, burn fat, clinial practice, cognitive function, colon health, dementia, dha, diet, diet and nutrition, dietary diversity, dietary propaganda, digestive process, digestive tract, eat real food, emf, emf pollution, Episodes, fake meat, fancis pottenger, fasting, fat burning, fat burning man, Fat-Burning Tips, fat-soluble nutrients, fatigue, Featured, fiber, financial interests, fish oil, game changers, generation, genetic heritage, Genetics, government interests, grass-fed liver, Health, health conferences, health under attack, heritage, how to burn fat, hunter gathere ancestry, Hunter-Gatherer, immune health, immune system robust immune system, indigenous tribes, intermittent fasting, internal wildlife, international bestseller, internet, Interviews, invisible threats, keto, ketogenic, ketosis, liver, living with wild wolves, Longevity, mainstream narrative, microbiome, moderation, muscle meats, national defense authorization act, News, nora, nora gedgaudas, nose to tail, Nutrition, omnivores, optimize health, Paleo, phytochemicals, podcast, Podcasts, political landscape, pottenger's cats, Primal, primal body, primal body primal mind, primal fat burner, primal mind, primalgenic, primalgenics, pro vitamin a, propagandize, protocol, radiation, rethinking fatigue, self-empowered, superfood, Supplements, tangible threats, the fat burning man, The Wild Diet, threats, Thyroid, thyroid issues, top health podcast, vegan, vegan documentary, vegan propaganda, videos, vitamin d, vitamin d3, who, wild diet, wild fish, wild superfoods, wild wolves, wisdom, wolves, world health organization
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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.
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What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3s are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)—“essential” means the body can’t synthesize them. We have to get them from food or supplements.
As Primal folks, you might have an adverse reaction to the word “polyunsaturated.” It’s true that in the ancestral health world, we tend to be wary of PUFAs—or really, oils containing high proportions of PUFAs such as safflower and canola—due to their propensity to become rancid and be pro-inflammatory. However, this is a don’t-throw-the-baby-out-with-the bathwater situation. First, when it comes to overconsumption and inflammation, we are primarily concerned with omega-6 fatty acids, not omega-3s. Second, PUFAs, both omega-3s and even the oft-maligned omega-6s, serve many functions in the human body.
I’ll return to the issue of omega-6s vis-à-vis omega-3s later in this post. For now, I just want you to understand that omega-3s are polyunsaturated, essential, and important.
A Quick Primer on Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Omega-3s and omega-6s are both types of polyunsaturated fatty acids. What does this mean? Fatty acids comprise chains of carbon atoms of differing lengths. Picture each carbon atom having four arms. They “hold hands” to form the chain. With the remaining hand(s), they hold on to one or more hydrogen atoms.
If each carbon atom uses one hand to hold the carbon on its left and one to hold the carbon on its right, that leaves two hands free for hydrogen. When each carbon is attached to two hydrogen atoms, these fatty acids are called saturated.
Sometimes carbons form double bonds, meaning they use two hands two grab a neighboring carbon. This leaves only one hand free for hydrogen. These are unsaturated fatty acids. When fatty acids only have one double bond along the carbon chain, they are called monounsaturated. When they have multiple double bonds, they are polyunsaturated.
The number in the name of the fatty acid tells you where you can find the first double bond. In omega-3s, the first double bond is on the third carbon atom from the omega (methyl) end. In omega-6s, it’s on the sixth carbon atom.
Double bonds form “kinks” in the fatty acid chains, affecting the shape, and ultimately the function, of the fatty acid. It is not inherently bad for a fatty acid to be polyunsaturated, but it does mean that they are especially vulnerable to oxidation. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (along with their less appreciated cousins, the omega-9 fatty acids) are each important in their own way.
The Three Main Types of Omega-3s
There are many forms of omega-3 fatty acids, of which three are particularly noteworthy for humans:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
ALA is the most abundant in the diet. In humans, its main biological function is as a precursor for EPA and DHA. ALA that is not converted to EPA or DHA is used mainly for energy.
Even though ALA is converted into EPA and DHA, the latter two are still considered essential (or “conditionally essential”) because conversion rates are too low to provide all the EPA and DHA needed for optimal functioning. Females are better able to convert ALA thanks to higher estrogen, but both sexes need to get EPA and DHA in their diet and/or from supplements.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23668691/‘>2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29773586‘>4
On the other hand, a Cochrane Review published earlier this year takes a different stance.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30415628‘>14 Multiple studies show a benefit, but at doses higher that you’re likely to take over the counter. To reduce triglycerides, the American Heart Association recommends taking 2 to 4 grams of EPA+DHA under a doctor’s supervision.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26359502‘>16, and individuals diagnosed with depression may have chronically low levels of omega-3s in their cells.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9513745‘>18
Some of the best sources of EPA and DHA are salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring, and oysters. Cod livers are delightfully mild and pack a wallop of vitamins A and D to boot. Primal-friendly sources of ALA include flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. You also get some omega-3s in meat and eggs (chickens are often fed omega-enriched feed). Grass-finished beef and pastured eggshttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26795198/‘>32
The primary omega-6 fatty acid is linoleic acid (LA). LA and the primary omega-3 ALA use the same enzymatic pathways to convert into longer-chain fatty acids: arachidonic acid (AA, in the case of LA) and EPA and DHA (in the case of ALA). High LA levels can crowd out the ALA and make it so that it can’t make the all-important EPA and DHA.
You can directly impact the amount of omega-3s and omega-6s in your tissues by changing your diet.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16387724/‘>34
Although some research suggests that the high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in modern diets puts people at risk for developing certain diseases such as heart disease and cancers,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5093368/‘>36 Depending on whom you ask, modern diets may have a ratio of 1:10, 1:16, 1:20, or more!
I used to bang the drum about hitting the right omega-3:omega-6 ratio in your daily diet. In recent years I’ve backed off that stance somewhat. I still think modern diets like SAD are way too high in omega-6s, but the answer isn’t to pile on heaping servings of omega-3s to balance it and “correct” the ratio. The solution is to reduce consumption of omega-6s (mostly from refined seed and vegetable oils, and products containing those oils) while getting adequate omega-3s.
Should I Supplement With Fish Oil?
It is certainly possible to be deficient in omega-3s. Clinical deficiencies usually manifest as scaly rashes. Severe omega-3 deficiencies are rare in most parts of the world, though. Subclinical low omega-3 levels may manifest as brittle nails and hair, poor sleep, or mood disturbances.
Despite a mountain of evidence that omega-3s are essential for health, there is still no clear guidance about who exactly should supplement and how much. It seems to me that the best practice, and one I follow myself is: aim to get omega-3s from food, and supplement wisely as needed. In practice, this means I select grass-fed meat when I can, and I eat pastured eggs most days, and I eat a couple servings of small-oily fish every week. I take an omega-3 supplement most days, but I’ll skip that on the days when I eat fatty fish. Plus, I eat a lot of ALA-containing vegetables.
The other thing I do, of course, is limit my omega-6 consumption by avoiding refined seed and vegetable oils. I’m not overly concerned with omega-6s found in nuts, which I don’t eat in huge quantities anyway, or other whole foods.
For folks who are already eating a lot of omega-3-rich foods, further supplementation may not offer a ton of benefit.http://charm.cs.uiuc.edu/users/jyelon/lowcarb.med/topic9.html‘>1
But you know my bias is to look at things from the perspective of human evolution and ancestral environments. And there is a ton of collagen on your average land animal. Close to half the weight of a cow is “other stuff”—bones, skin, tendons, cartilage, and other collagenous material. Most meat eaters these days might be throwing that stuff away, if they even encounter it, but humans for hundreds of thousands of years ate every last bit of that animal. Even as recent as your grandmother’s generation, utilizing every last collagenous bit of an animal to make soups, stocks, and stews was standard practice. This was the evolutionary environment of the ancient meat-eating human: rich in collagen.
There is strong evidence that humans are meant to eat the meat and the bones, skin, and sinew. That we function best when we eat the amino acids in muscle meat and the amino acids in collagenous materials. That the more muscle meat we eat, the more collagen we require. That we live longer, live healthier, and look and move better with plenty of collagen in our diets.
First, I’m going to tell you why collagen is so essential.
Then I’m going to tell you how to get it.
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Collagen Benefits: Why It’s Essential
The collagen question is a complicated one. The benefits are both “superficial” and deep. Most people know about its effects on skin and joints, but there are also “deeper” reasons to eat more collagen, including conferring longevity and protection from disease.
Glycine to Link Other Amino Acids
Collagen is the single greatest source of glycine in the human diet. Glycine is an interesting amino acid. It’s conditionally essential, meaning we can make it in-house but certain situations render it essential. What are these conditions and why is glycine so important?
Basic Physiological Requirements
We simply can’t make enough glycine to cover our basic daily needs. The average person needs 10 grams of glycine to cover all the physiological requirements. The average person makes 3 grams every day and gets 1.5-3 grams from their diet, leaving a glycine deficit of 4-5.5 grams per day.2 Collagen is about 1/3 glycine, so a 12 gram serving of collagen—about a heaping scoop of collagen peptides—will give you the glycine you need to fill the gap. Some people will need a bit more, some a bit less. But almost everyone needs some.
Further reading: What is the Difference Between Collagen and Whey Protein?
High Meat Intakes
As I mentioned earlier, meat comes packaged with collagen in natural settings. You kill a deer, you get a lot of meat and a lot of skin, connective tissue, cartilage, tendons, and bones. And you eat all of it. These have different amino acid profiles. Meat contains a lot of methionine. Collagen contains a lot of glycine. Animal studies confirm that the more methionine an animal eats, the shorter their lifespan—unless they balance it out with glycine.3
Human studies suggest this, too.
- In one study, the relationship between red meat and diabetes was abolished after controlling for low-glycine status. People with low glycine levels and high meat intakes were more likely to have diabetes, while people with higher glycine levels could have higher meat intakes without any issues.4
- In another study, low circulating levels of glycine predicted diabetes risk.5
- Meanwhile, high levels of glycine predict normal blood sugar control.6
- In fact, low glycine comes before diabetes onset, suggesting causation.7
- Low glycine levels are also common in patients with chronic kidney disease.8
- High levels of glycine even predict higher physical activity in women.9
These are observational studies and cannot prove causation. But the trend is consistent, with higher levels of glycine being linked to better health and lower levels being linked to worse health across a broad range of conditions.
Meat is incredibly healthy and has been a vital part of the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years, but it’s possible that the way most people eat meat in developed countries—eating chicken breasts over chicken wings and skin, lean steak over oxtails and shanks, muscle meat over bones, skin, and tendons—is unhealthy. Increasing your collagen, then, could balance out the meat intake by providing ample glycine.
Collagen to Support Sleep
A great sleep remedy I’ll incorporate when I really want to knock out fast is a cup of bone broth with extra collagen or gelatin added. About midway through drinking it, I’ll start feeling sleepy. But why? What’s going on?
Once again, glycine is doing the lion’s share of the work here.
- It enhances production of serotonin, a necessary precursor for the sleep hormone melatonin.10
- It drops body temperature when taken at night, which improves sleep quality.11
- It improves subjective sleep quality; people feel like they get a better night’s sleep after taking 3 grams of glycine before bed.
- More importantly, it improves objective sleep quality; people perform better the next day after taking 3 grams of glycine the night before.12
These studies used isolated glycine, but I much prefer using collagen.
Collagen and Skin Elasticity
Your skin is made of collagen. To maintain its elasticity and stave off wrinkling, we must provide the foundational substrates for collagen synthesis and deposition. That’s, well, collagen and two of its most prominent constituent amino acids: glycine and proline.
The beneficial effects of collagen supplementation on skin health are well-documented:
- 2.5 grams of collagen per day for 8 weeks reduced eye wrinkling by 20% and increased skin elastin (a skin protein that does exactly what it sounds like—provides elasticity) by 18%, an effect that persisted for one month following cessation of the supplement.13
- 1 gram of a chicken sternum cartilage collagen extract per day reduced wrinkling by 13% and skin dryness by 76% while increasing collagen deposition by over 6%.14
- 6 months of collagen supplementation even reduced the appearance of cellulite.15
Now, in case you’re thinking skin appearance is a superficial benefit, consider that how old your face appears is one of the better predictors of your overall health.16 The quality of the collagen in your skin is a window to the quality of your internal collagen—your joints, your fascia, your other tissues. Improve one and the rest will follow.
Joints are Comprised of Collagen
Just like skin, your joints are made of collagen. Just like taking collagen can improve your skin, taking collagen can improve your joints—especially if there’s a problem.
In athletes complaining about joint pain, taking collagen hydrolysate supplements reduced pain.17
In osteoarthritis patients, a collagen supplement reduced pain scores and improved walking ability.18
Taking or eating collagen is low-hanging fruit for anyone with joint pain.
Collagen for Performance
Even the old claims about collagen being useless for muscle gain and gym performance are falling apart. Growing evidence shows that collagen can be protein-sparing; by providing extra “non-essential” amino acids, it allows you to utilize the essential amino acids for more important, performance-related processes. For instance, in resistance training seniors, taking collagen supplements (and collagen alone; no whey or anything else) increases the anabolic response to lifting.19
Taken pre-workout along with 50 mg of vitamin C, 15 grams of collagen can actually improve the performance of your tendons by increasing collagen deposition and remodeling. We usually think of building muscle from our training, but with collagen, you can build connective tissue too.20 I actually used this same protocol to heal my own Achilles injury several years ago.
And if you use collagen to improve the quality of your sleep, your mental performance will also improve.
Accelerating Healing with Collagen
Most traumatic injuries involve damage to the connective tissue, skin, or fascia. Since we have good evidence that collagen supplementation speeds up healing time in ulcer patients and topical collagen can improve wound healing when added to dressings, and we know that pre-workout collagen can increase collagen deposition in tendons, it’s a safe bet that taking extra collagen can also speed up the healing time from any wound or trauma that requires the laying down of new collagen.2122
Best Collagen Sources: Foods and Supplements
Although getting hold of and consuming an entire animal is probably the ideal, optimal way to get the collagen you need, supplemental collagen is an easier alternative for most people that’s about as effective.
What are the best sources?
- Gelatinous meats: shanks, necks, feet, cheeks, oxtails, ribs
- Bones and cartilage
- Bone broth
- Powdered gelatin
- Collagen hydrolysate
- Primal Kitchen collagen bars
Eat gelatinous meats. Many meats are low in collagen, but not all. Shanks, necks, feet, cheeks, oxtails, ribs, and all the other cuts that take extra time in the slow cooker to become tender are high in collagen. Favor these meats instead of yet another chicken breast.
Clean your bones. You know those crunchy caps at the end of chicken drumsticks? That’s cartilage, a big whopping dose of concentrated collagen. Eat it. Or those stringy tendons and sinew attached to the ends? Eat those too.
Eat skin. Skin is almost pure collagen. Chicharrones or pork rinds are the most widely available way to eat skin. If you ever get your hands on pork belly with the skin on, this is the way to cook it so that the meat is fall-apart tender and the skin is crunchy and delectable (and full of collagen).
Drink bone broth. Bone broth is trendy right now, and for good reason; it’s a rich source of collagen. Bone broth is simple to make but takes valuable time. If you can’t do it yourself, there’s a budding bone broth industry more than willing to ship frozen or shelf-stable broth to your door.
Use powdered gelatin. I always keep a can around for cooking. My favorite use is a quick 10-minute Thai curry: toast the spices and curry powder in coconut oil, add coconut milk, reduce, and whisk in a couple tablespoons of gelatin powder to obtain the desired texture and mouth feel. Delicious and a huge dose of collagen. You can also add powdered gelatin to pan sauces to replicate the use of demi glace, or even make healthy jello out of herbal/green tea/coffee with non-caloric sweetener.
Use collagen hydrolysate. Several years back, I suffered an injury to my Achilles tendon. I’d already been eating gelatinous meats and drinking broth, but I really wanted to step up my collagen intake. I was moved to create my own collagen powder with 20 grams of collagen protein (more collagen than 2 cups of bone broth) per serving. Eating 20-40 grams of supplemental collagen per day fixed my Achilles right up.
Eat Primal Kitchen bars. Each Primal Kitchen® collagen bar contains 7.5 grams of pure collagen from grass-fed cows (it’s what gives the bar its unctuous chewiness). With collagen being about 33% glycine, that’s almost 2.5 grams of glycine in each one—almost enough to satisfy those 3 grams used to improve sleep quality and reduce joint pain in studies.
Bone broth, chicharrones, tendon stew, gelatin, collagen powder—I don’t care how you get it, just get it. Collagen is non-negotiable.
That’s it for today, folks. How do you get your collagen? How much do you take or eat a day?
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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?
By increasing glutathione stores in the liver. Glutathione binds to the toxic Tylenol metabolite and makes it harmless, but it doesn’t last forever. A big dose of a major toxin like Tylenol is enough to deplete glutathione stores and increase acute glutathione requirements. NAC provides the raw material for glutathione production, allowing it to commence and get to protecting.
Might this have other effects? Does glutathione do anything else?
It reduces reactive oxygen species down to less damaging metabolites.
It is the master detoxifier, a major line of defense against invading mutagenic, carcinogenic, and inflammatory agents.
It defends against glycation.
It controls hundreds of proteins in the body.
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It protects against lung damage and maintains respiratory function, especially in the context of infectious respiratory diseases.1
It regulates glutamate levels in the brain, reducing over-excitation.
In other words, it does a lot. We should probably try to keep our levels up. If we don’t?
Low levels of glutathione have been linked to such disparate conditions as diabetes, tuberculosis, cancer, HIV, and aging.2 Heart failure patients tend to have low glutathione.3 Low glutathione levels are generally associated with elevated markers of inflammation, like CRP.
Okay, so glutathione is important, low levels are linked to many different diseases and health conditions, it’s a good idea to have adequate levels for general health, and NAC is one of the better ways to replenish glutathione.5
NAC helps the liver metabolize alcohol, too, by speeding up the clearance of its most toxic metabolite—acetaldehyde. In rats, NAC even mitigates the hypertensive effect of drinking alcohol, suggesting general detoxification effects.6
Detoxification with NAC
All those “experts” who say detox is a myth and your body is perfectly able to detoxify everything it needs to without fancy supplements and therapies are half-right. The body is able to detoxify a wide range of toxins, provided we give it the substrates it requires. NAC is one such substrate that seems to help us deal with incoming toxins.
In workers with chronic lead exposure, NAC increases antioxidant capacity in red blood cells, reduces oxidative stress, and lowers blood levels of lead.7
In adults with acute pesticide poisoning, NAC (600 mg 3 times per day) reduces inflammatory markers and the need for atropine (a pharmaceutical that treats pesticide poisoning).8
If large doses of NAC can help people deal with serious toxin loads, moderate doses of NAC can probably help people deal with normal loads.
NAC and Lung Health
In bronchitis and Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease (COPD), the lungs lose glutathione and accumulate too much thick mucus, reducing their function and making it harder to breathe. When you take NAC in this situation, it replenishes lung glutathione and thins out the mucus.
The result is that bronchitis patients who take NAC over the course of 3-6 months experience lower rates of “exacerbations” (worsening episodes) and see their symptoms improve.13 Same goes for COPD patients on a year-long course of NAC; they enjoy improved lung capacity.14
One study in older adults had some remarkable results.15 Subjects were randomized to one of two groups. The first group got placebo. The second group got 600 mg of NAC, twice a day, for 6 months. Over the course of the study, they tracked “influenza-like” symptoms, finding that the NAC group had far fewer than the placebo group. Then they tested the subjects for influenza antibodies and found that both groups had equal seroconversion rates. Both groups were equally likely to have gotten the flu over the 6 months, but just 25% of the infected NAC group ever showed symptoms versus 79% of the infected placebo group who showed symptoms.
NAC Reduces Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
The modern world is a stressful place. We have long commutes to jobs we often dislike. We’re stuck indoors when we’d rather be outside in the fresh air and sunlight. We have to closely read labels—or avoid them altogether—to make sure we’re eating healthy fare. The air is polluted, we’re disconnected from nature, we sit too much and move too little. I’m not saying this to be a downer or alarmist—the world remains a beautiful place full of joy and wonder—but a realist. Life is good but our bodies are under constant, chronic low-level assault from evolutionarily novel physiological and psychological stressors.
Increased oxidative stress is the baseline for too many people, and NAC has been shown to be one of the best “all-purpose” supplements for reducing it.16
Mental and Psychological Health
NAC checks off a few important boxes for mental health. It crosses the blood brain barrier, reduces oxidative stress, and regulates glutamate levels in the brain. Now, glutamate isn’t “bad,” but too much glutamate in the wrong places can lead to over-excitation. That’s often what we see in mental and psychological disorders—over-excitation, excessive activity.
NAC smoothes that out. It sticks glutamate where it belongs in the right concentrations. It provides the right amount of inhibition to counter the excitation.17
This is probably why NAC supplementation has shown preliminary promise in treating a number of disorders, including autism, Alzheimer’s disease, cocaine and cannabis addiction, bipolar disorder, depression, trichotillomania, nail biting, skin picking, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and even mild traumatic brain injury.18
NAC and Fertility
Both male and female infertility often come down to elevated oxidative stress. Can NAC reduce stress? Yes. Can NAC improve fertility? Yes.
In men visiting a fertility clinic, an NAC supplement (600 mg/day for 3 months) increased serum antioxidant capacity, reduced oxidative stress, and improved sperm quality, motility, and consistency.19
A combo of selenium and NAC was also able to improve semen quality in men with fertility issues.20
As for women’s fertility, NAC seems to be most effective in women with PCOS already taking clomiphene citrate (a PCOS drug meant to stimulate fertility). A pair of studies found that NAC increased both ovulation and pregnancy rate in women with PCOS who had proven resistant to clomiphene citrate alone.2122
Should Everyone Take NAC?
Not necessarily. Most of its benefits occur in people with depleted glutathione levels and/or elevated inflammatory status.
One paper found that NAC was only helpful in patients with depleted glutathione levels.23 Those with low glutathione saw platelet function improvements, while those patients with normal glutathione levels saw no improvements in their platelet function.
Another paper found similar results with depression. Only those patients with elevated CRP levels at baseline experienced a reduction in depressive symptoms after taking NAC.24
And most of the studied health conditions are quite serious and, relatively speaking, rare. What draws me in is the fact that glutathione is upstream of so many different physiological processes. It’s not some specific compound with very limited application or relevance. It’s a specific compound with broad applications.
You may not have the glutamate over-excitation issues of someone with full-blown schizophrenia or social anxiety disorder, but a little NAC might help you focus or improve your internal self-talk.
You may not have COPD, but making sure your lung glutathione stores are replete isn’t a bad idea.
You’re probably not completely infertile, but reducing oxidative stress and improving sperm or endometrial quality never hurt anyone’s chances.
All that said, NAC is one of the safer supplements available. It probably won’t hurt to try a small dose whether you have elevated inflammation or depleted glutathione or not—and many people do have suboptimal glutathione status without knowing it.
What’s a Good NAC Dosage?
Many of the therapeutic effects used in the studies I referenced today were in the 500-600 mg range. Sometimes higher, but not necessarily.
I included 500 mg of it in my broad-spectrum micronutrient supplement, Primal Master Formula, because that is a well-tolerated, well-attested dose that’s safe to use and quite effective at glutathione maintenance.
I am a very light/moderate drinker these days, but whenever I do have more than usual, I’ll take 500 mg of NAC and 500 mg of vitamin C about an hour before drinking. This dose seems to improve the positive effects and reduce any negative side effects, probably by increasing glutathione, enhancing ethanol metabolism, and clearing acetaldehyde more quickly.
That’s it for NAC, folks. If you have any questions or comments, drop them down below.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2129149/[ref] But does taking a NAC supplement actually improve health?
Let’s look at the evidence.
What areas of health can you expect to benefit from NAC supplementation?
- Liver support
- Lung health
- Flu resistance
- Inflammation and oxidative stress
- Mental and psychological health
NAC and Liver Support
NAC protects the liver against acetaminophen (Tylenol) toxicity, keeping liver enzyme levels down.[ref]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30453788
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