There are a lot of misconceptions about supplements.
Perhaps the biggest misconception is that you don’t need supplements “when you eat healthy.”
Unfortunately, that’s not true.
Even if you eat healthy, it’s very difficult to consume sufficient levels of important nutrients to achieve your optimal lifespan potential. Let us explain why.
Even a healthy diet is often not sufficient
Take magnesium for example. Even if you eat a healthy diet, it’s very difficult to get sufficient amounts of magnesium, which would ideally come down to around 400-500 mg per day. You would really have to eat A LOT of vegetables, nuts and legumes to reach that high amount of magnesium.
The same for potassium, an important mineral of which you ideally need several grams per day.
Or take iodine, which is found in very, very small quantities in most foods. Unless you eat seaweed regularly (seaweed contains lots of iodine). Yes, iodized salt also contains iodine, but most packaged foods don’t use iodized salt, and iodine begins evaporating from iodized salt after the package has been opened. If you use sea salt, it does not contain any iodine.
Vitamin D is another example. Even if you eat a healthy diet it’s almost impossible to get enough vitamin D via your food. Vitamin D is found in only very low amounts in foods (mushrooms or salmon contain a tiny bit of vitamin D).
But can’t you get your vitamin D from the sun? Most people in Western countries reside too far from the equator, making the sunlight too weak to form enough vitamin D, even in the summer. Also, when the skin is covered by clothing, or as a result of aging, the skin is unable to use sunlight to produce sufficient amounts of vitamin D.
So as you can see, in most cases even a healthy diet does not provide sufficient levels of vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients.
But wait, what levels?
Most officially recommended daily doses are too low
You should know that the official recommended dietary allowances of vitamins and minerals, as defined by governments, are often just the bare minimum you need to take in to not become sick. They do not tell you what are the best amounts for a long, optimal, healthy life.
Most of these official recommendations are also based on old studies in which volunteers were deprived of a specific vitamin or mineral. Scientists then waited a while until people became sick, and then determined the minimum dose you would need to prevent this.
So these recommended daily intakes are what you need to take on a daily basis in order not to become sick after a number of months (the duration of the study). They do not tell you the ideal amounts you need to stay healthy and slow down aging for decades to come.
Take for example vitamin B12. The recommended dietary allowance is around 2.4 mcg in many countries. But that’s in fact the “minimum” amount you need to not become sick after a few months or years, getting serious complications, like anemia, fatigue or cognitive problems. This doesn’t mean this is the optimal amount for a long, healthy life.
For example, we see in studies that you need at least 20 mcg of vitamin B12 to optimally protect the DNA against DNA strand breaks – more than 8 times greater than the recommendation!
Also, many people do not take up vitamin B12 well, especially as we get older. For example, atrophic gastritis affects at least 10 to 30 percent of people older than 60, leading to malabsorption of vitamin B12. So, they would need far more vitamin B12 than advised by governments.
In fact, The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University recommends that all people older than 50 take at least 100 to 400 ug/day of supplemental vitamin B12 (R). That’s considerably more than the 2.4 mcg many governments advise.
It’s interesting to see that many foods rich in vitamin B12 (clams, mussels, crab, and fish like mackerel and salmon) are water-borne foods. Scientists speculate that people evolved for tens of thousands of years living close to shorelines and rivers and lakes and consumed high amounts of sea food and thus vitamin B12 (R), probably reaching daily intake levels far more than a meagre 2.4 mcg per day.
These are just a few examples demonstrating that yes, we need to take supplements for optimal aging, and often in higher doses than officially recommended. And this for the rest of our lives, and even more when we are older and suffer from age-related malabsorption issues and changes that hinder us to properly use these important vitamins and minerals.
So what are some vitamins, minerals and micronutrients everyone should take?
1. A sufficiently high dosed vitamin B complex
B vitamins play a very important role in metabolism, brain health, nerve health, and immune system health.
In fact, B vitamins are involved in most of the important cellular processes, like making sure the Krebs cycle runs smoothly, which fuels all life, or creating DNA or maintaining the epigenome.
A vitamin B complex contains all B vitamins, like vitamin B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12. Make sure the amount of B vitamins is at least a few times the daily recommended dose. Note that you can oftentimes find these B vitamins in a high quality vitamin B complex multivitamin.
2. Magnesium – not capsules, but powder
Magnesium is a very important mineral involved in hundreds of different enzymes and chemical reactions, is paramount for proper muscle contractions (including your beating heart), nerve conduction and stabilizes DNA.
Sufficient magnesium intake is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, dementia and type 2 diabetes.
Ideally, people need to take at least 400 to 500 mg of magnesium per day.
Unfortunately, most magnesium supplements contain magnesium oxide. A far superior form of magnesium is magnesium malate, for several reasons, one being that malate is also an important substrate for the Krebs cycle and can extend lifespan.
One would need to take magnesium malate in powder form because capsules are just too little to contain sufficiently high daily doses. So one can take magnesium malate powder, adding about one fourth of a teaspoon (about 2-2.5 grams of magnesium malate accounting for at least 300 mg of pure magnesium) into a glass of water.
Or you can just take NOVOS Core, which contains this amount of magnesium malate.
3. Vitamin D3 – sufficiently highly dosed
Vitamin D can extend lifespan. Higher levels of vitamin D are associated with less risk of heart disease, auto-immune diseases, improved brain health and a better functioning immune system.
Many governments advise 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D per day, while many vitamin D researchers claim you need at least 2000 to 4000 units per day.
We would recommend to take at least 2000 units per day. The risk of excess accumulation of vitamin D is negligible with this amount. Make sure it’s vitamin D3, and not vitamin D2 – the vitamin D3 variant works better.
4. Vitamin K – as a vitamin K2 complex
If you take vitamin D, you also need vitamin K.
Vitamin K is an important vitamin for bone health, but also for skin and metabolism in general.
Vitamin K can even reduce wrinkles. Often, people with vitamin K deficiency have a more wrinkly skin (and greater risk of osteoporosis).
You need to take vitamin K together with vitamin D. Vitamin D ensures proper uptake of calcium, while vitamin K makes sure that the calcium ends up in the right place: in your bones and not in your arteries, which would contribute to vascular calcification.
A recommended vitamin K dose is at least 180 ug per day, ideally vitamin K2 (not vitamin K1), and as different vitamin K2 variants, like vitamin K2-M7, vitamin K2-M6, vitamin K2-M9, etc.
5. Calcium – without the milk
We are not big fans of animal milk. Milk accelerates aging in a myriad of ways (we will explain this in a future post).
Put very simply: nature made milk for calves to grow fast, and thus milk contains many substances that induce growth pathways, which are also strong aging pathways (like insulin, IGF and mTOR pathways).
But if you don’t drink milk, and also don’t consume that much cheese (after all, cheese is still an animal product, and many people cannot tolerate cheese, knowingly or unknowingly), you are at an increased risk of not taking in enough calcium.
Calcium is not only important for your bones but also for nerve conduction, brain health and innumerable other processes in the body.
Therefore, one can take calcium supplements, around 1,000 mg per day, divided over two doses, given taking too much calcium in one time can create a high calcium peak in the blood that might accelerate calcification of the blood vessels.
6. Iodine – ideally together with selenium, in the proper form
Many people consume too little iodine. That’s not good given iodine plays an important role in metabolism, immune system health and brain health. Too little iodine increases the risk of thyroid problems, metabolic problems and even the risk of breast cancer.
That’s why governments make it mandatory to put iodine in bread. However, even this measure is not enough to get optimal iodine levels. Also, more and more people eat less bread (rightfully so) because it causes high sugar peaks, contributing to aging and aging-related diseases. So these people are especially vulnerable to iodine deficiency.
Therefore, you can supplement with around 150 ug (microgram) of iodine per day, ideally as droplets.
However, some MDs recommend taking substantially higher doses of iodine, given often people feel a significant difference when they take around 1000 ug of iodine per day, while not experiencing any improvements when taking only 150 ug of iodine per day. In some regions in Japan, the iodine intake is between 1000 and 3000 ug per day. We explain more about how to properly supplement with iodine here.
Iodine works together with selenium. Selenium intake has been associated with a reduced risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. However, this was found in studies that used selenium yeast and not selenium methionine – the selenium yeast supplements contain different forms of selenium.
So we would advise to take selenium yeast supplements, around 100 micrograms per day, along with your iodine.
7. Omega-3 fatty acids – with low TOTOX values
We currently have a pandemic of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, contributing to an increased risk of heart disease, depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, and macular degeneration (a very prevalent aging-related eye disease).
Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, enable the immune system to carry out its tasks, and help the brain and eyes to function properly.
Many governments recommend eating omega-3 containing fatty fish, two times per week. But that is often not enough. Ideally, people would need to eat fatty fish four times per week, while also supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, at least 1,000 mg of pure omega-3 (DHA and EPA) per day.
Make sure you buy high-quality omega-3 fatty acid supplements, meaning that the omega-3 fatty acids are pure and have not oxidized much (having low “TOTOX” value).
8. Vitamin A – the retinoid form
Vitamin A is important for skin health, metabolism, our bones, and even for stem cell maintenance.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the need of supplemental vitamin A.
Let us start with explaining there are two forms of vitamin A: vegetable “vitamin A”, called carotenoids, found in vegetables like carrots, pumpkin and kale.
The other form is animal vitamin A, called retinoids, found in animal products like liver.
Carotenes are converted in our body into retinoids, which carry out the many functions of vitamin A.
Some people claim that you do not need to take retinoids (animal vitamin A) because you can just eat lots of carrots, pumpkin and kale and the carotenoids will be converted into retinoids, the active vitamin A.
It’s not that simple. Studies have shown that administering very high levels of carotenoids do not easily increase levels of retinoids. Also, carotenoid supplements have been associated with an increased risk of cancer (often because they only contain one or a few versions of carotenoids, inhibiting the absorption of other carotenoids), so we don’t advise you take these.
Therefore, we would recommend taking a maximum of 2,500 units of vitamin A, in the form of retinyl palmitate.
Why a maximum of 2,500 units of vitamin A? Studies have shown that too much vitamin A can increase the risk of osteoporosis. But don’t fret: in these cases, we’re talking about at least 10,000 units of vitamin A per day. Also, vitamin D was not provided, which is needed to balance vitamin A metabolism.
9. Choline – an often misunderstood, forgotten supplement
Choline is often called the “forgotten, fat-soluble B vitamin”. There are proponents and detractors of choline. Let us explain why.
Choline is a very important nutrient for the brain: it serves as a building block for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, and as a building block for parts of brain cell membranes.
But choline is also very important for epigenetic maintenance. The epigenome determines which genes are active or not, and the older we get, the more the epigenome becomes dysregulated (it’s one of the reasons why we age).
Choline is also needed to prevent DNA damage. In fact, deficiencies in choline increase DNA strand breaks.
The important role of choline in DNA and epigenetic maintenance explains why choline is the only nutrient that quickly causes liver cancer when animals are given choline deficient diets (while also causing fatty liver disease or NASH, something many people suffer from in modern society).
However, some studies show that a higher choline intake is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Choline is converted by specific gut bacteria into TMAO, which is an atherosclerotic substance.
But it’s not that simple. For example, not all studies show that choline intake is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Also, given choline is found in animal products (liver and meat) it’s difficult to disentangle the effects of choline from other substances in animal products that can increase heart disease risk.
To make a long and complex story short: too little choline (as many people have) is far worse for your health (e.g. for DNA and epigenetic stability and maintenance, fatty liver disease and brain function ) than the potential increased risk of heart disease.
We would recommend to take in at least 550 mg of choline per day. If you are worried about choline, you can take half of that as choline (around 250 mg per day) and take phosphatidylcholine (around 1200 mg per day). Phosphatidylcholine would not increase TMAO like choline could do. Instead of choline you can also take trimethylglycine (aka “TMG” or “betaine”), which is also a methyl donor needed for proper epigenetic functioning. However, some people get gastro-intestinal issues or sleep problems from TMG; therefore we recommend using phosphatidylcholine, which also has other beneficial effects, like improved cognition.
Most choline supplements are choline bitartrate. However, some people do not tolerate choline bitartrate supplements well; for example, they may become tired when taking them. One explanation for this can be that bitartrate can have a negative impact on the gut microbiome (e.g., fueling growth of specific unhealthy yeast). In that case, one can take choline chloride or choline citrate.
10. Zinc – not too much, not too little
Zinc is an important mineral for proper immune system function, brain health and skin health, among many other effects. Ideally, one takes 10 to 15 mg of zinc per day.
Be careful, too much zinc can have negative effects so it’s important to stay in this range.
Also, if you take zinc supplements, make sure you take copper, given zinc inhibits the uptake of copper.
11. Copper – the sh(in)y friend of zinc
Copper is a somewhat underestimated nutrient, relegated to the back seat in the movie theater of minerals that play an important role in health.
However, more and more studies show the importance of copper to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Copper also plays an important role in collagen production, skin health and skin appearance.
Ideally, one takes 2 mg of copper per day. Taking sufficient copper is especially important when you also take zinc supplements, given zinc inhibits the absorption of copper. People often take zinc, but they forget about copper.
Health supplements versus longevity (“anti-aging”) supplements
The supplements mentioned above are “healthy lifespan supplements”. These nutrients are needed by our bodies to function properly, and enable us to achieve a healthy lifespan. Deficiencies in these nutrients increase the risk of various diseases and can accelerate aging.
They can increase median lifespan, given deficiencies can shorten lifespan.
However, there are also “longevity supplements”. These supplements go one step further than the healthy lifespan supplements, in the sense that they can extend maximum lifespan and slow down aging at its roots. These are ingredients like fisetin, alpha ketoglutarate, pterostilbene, NMN (nicotinamide riboside) and others. We explain their role in aging elsewhere.