Category Archives: nutrition

Defining the Best Natural Protein Powder: What Makes It Natural?

Best Natural Protein Powder

One of the hottest trends in the health and wellness product market is “all natural.” But what does this actually mean? Truth is, “all-natural” is often just a marketing ploy to try to capitalize on a consumer’s desire to be healthy. To find the best natural protein powders, it’s important to dig a little deeper beyond the marketing claims to uncover what’s actually in the product. Here are a few things you should watch out for when looking for an all-natural protein powder.

Sugars & Artificial Sweeteners

It’s fantastic when your favorite healthy products taste great. But oftentimes, taste and “healthy” are mutually exclusive. Most so-called healthy natural protein powders that taste great contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners and “natural flavors” that don’t have any nutritional value and may actually do more harm than good.

The best natural protein powders should be lower in added sugar. If you want your protein to taste sweeter, blend it with fruit or add a natural sweetener like monkfruit or stevia. That’s because excess sugar in your diet is one of the leading causes of weight gain, diabetes, higher blood pressure, and a host of other issues.

It’s counterproductive to create a “healthy” and “all natural” protein powder that contains added sugar.

Fillers, Gums, & Other Junk

You’ll also notice the difference between natural protein powders and the less-than-natural powders while you’re mixing them. Thickeners and gums are generally used to even out the powder for a smoother finished shake. Generally, if you can just stir, mix or give your bottle a quick shake to create a smooth drink, the product is using these products. The best natural protein powders don’t use these things because they have zero nutritional value and can cause GI issues like gas, bloating, and diarrhea. If you find a good all natural protein powder that doesn’t contain this junk, use a blender for 5-10 seconds and it’ll mix up just fine.

The Best Natural Protein Powders Generally Have Less Ingredients

Once again, check out the ingredient list. If you see a long list of ingredients and chemicals you can’t pronounce, chances are good that there are some unnecessary things in there, and they probably aren’t all good for you. The best natural protein powders keep things clean and simple with a clear and minimal ingredients list. It’s a protein powder, not a magic potion.

One last thing: if you have questions about a particular product, ask the manufacturer! You’ll get a good sense of how the company operates and what their values are by seeing how they answer your questions.

If you’re getting answers that sound too rehearsed and/or are skirting around the issues you have, it’s probably a red flag to find another product.

The best natural protein powders out there actually want you to be healthy AND enjoy their product.

Visit our website to learn more about Pure Food all natural protein powder.

The Benefits of Plant-Based Protein Powders

Protein Powders Plant Based

If you’re looking to supercharge your workouts and build muscle, then you should consider upping your protein intake with protein powders. Plant-based options today are becoming more and more popular for helping people achieve their nutritional goals. But what exactly are the types of protein powders available? And what are the specific benefits that come with choosing plant-based protein powders? Read on to learn more about these powders and why protein powders from the Pure Food Company might be the right choice for you.

The Benefits of Plant-Based Protein Powders

There are plenty of benefits to enjoying protein powders, plant-based ones in particular. Here are the top four major benefits that come with choosing plant-based powders over the others, and what that means for your health and your lifestyle.

1.  A great source of iron: pea protein is just as effective as red meat for getting iron, so you don’t need to rely on animal protein to get it.

2.  Plant-based proteins have naturally-occurring dietary fiber: unlike many animal-sourced proteins, plant-based proteins tend to be higher in fiber, which is a key nutrient for digestion and overall health and helps you feel fuller for much longer.

3.  Same protein with less calories: overall, plant-based proteins have fewer calories than, and the same amount of protein as, animal-based protein sources, which gives you greater control over your caloric intake.

4.  Less bloating: many protein powders (whey and casein) contain lactose, a milk-based protein which leads to bloating and a gassy feeling for the 2/3 of people who are lactose intolerant. Plant-based proteins avoid this so that you can feel healthier and get the protein you need.

Protein Powders that Meet Your Body’s Needs

Besides the distinct advantages of plant-based protein powders, they also have another important advantage: they are friendlier to more dietary needs and sensitive bodies. As many people discover that some foods don’t sit well with them, more are on the hunt for products that help them feel great while meeting their nutritional needs.

This is one of the reasons why many people turn to plant-based protein powders. Plant-based powders that use all-natural ingredients are easier to digest and easier on our bodies in general, meaning that you can enjoy them without worrying about symptoms that could impact your lifestyle.

Want Effective Protein Powders? Plant-based is the Way to Go

If you’re looking to boost your protein intake with protein powders, plant-based options from Pure Food Company can help you get the nutrition you need to feel healthier and supercharge your workouts.

Our protein powders are made with all-natural ingredients, and our plant-based recipes are designed to fit most dietary needs. No matter your goals—weight loss, muscle gain, better gut health, more energy—our protein powders can help. Be sure to browse our selection to find the that suits your goals and your tastes. Contact us for more details. Protein powder that suits your goals and your tastes.

Vegan Protein Powder – Five Secrets You Need to Know

Best Vegan Protein Powders

Are you considering adding a vegan protein powder to your diet, or are you curious about why so many people are making the switch? Finding the best vegan protein powders can provide you with a host of benefits, so let’s take a dive into the top five secrets you need to know before investing in plant-based protein.

They Contain Lots of Fiber

Unlike animal-based proteins, vegan protein powders actually contain a lot of fiber. Fiber is essential for digestion, but most people don’t get nearly enough. Investing in the best vegan protein powders can be a good way to boost GI health, particularly if you suffer from problems related to digestion. Whey proteins can result in bloating, gas, and other discomforts, but the right plant-based solution can often optimize your gut health when whey doesn’t agree with you.

It’s Easy to Find Natural, Sustainable Brands

It’s not hard to find plant-based protein companies that have a mission for natural, sustainable products. But the best vegan protein powders won’t contain any of the additives, chemicals, sugars, fillers, gums, and other unhealthy products that are commonly found in animal-based proteins and even many plant-based brands as well. You should also keep an eye out for companies that encourage sustainability and give back to their communities.

They’re Super Nutritious

The best vegan protein powders will also give you a lot more than protein. Since plant-based protein powders are made from plants, you get a variety of other nutrients, too. Depending on the protein powder you pick, you could end up with an amazing blend of minerals, antioxidants, vitamins, and probiotics. Just like using superfoods makes for a great salad, using super-powders makes for a nutritious, satisfying morning smoothie.

Safer Than Whey

You should also be aware that plant-based proteins may be safer than whey-based proteins, particularly for those who have trouble digesting dairy. While animal products and their proteins have long been associated with health risks such as heart conditions, fatigue, and digestive issues, vegan protein powders can enhance your health, energy, and mental clarity. One little-known fact is that plenty of athletes use plant-based proteins and lifestyles to promote better athletic performance and reduce inflammation.

Not All Plant Proteins Are Built Alike —The Best Vegan Protein Powders Are Better for a Reason

Don’t be fooled into thinking all plant-based proteins are alike. Many people that haven’t used protein powders before fall into the trap of incomplete protein powders, which won’t provide you with the same benefits as complete proteins. The best vegan protein powders mix a variety of plant-based ingredients and nutrients to give you the full spectrum of proteins you need for proper nourishment.

And they don’t contain added sugar, “flavors”, gums, or other junk … just real foods. If your plant protein tastes like a sugary milkshake, then it’s probably not healthy!

Overall, there are a few things you should keep in mind when it comes to finding the best vegan protein powders. From fiber to types of proteins, the right plant-based protein can transform your health and invigorate your daily routine. It’s no wonder so many people are taking advantage of the mental and physical benefits vegan proteins can offer. Visit our website for more information.

Are Plant-Based Protein Powders Better for Your Health?

protein powders plant based

Are you debating which protein powder to incorporate into your routine? Getting your protein powders from plant based sources instead of whey based can bring a lot of advantages to your health. From nutritional benefits to muscle-building to gut health, let’s take a look at what plant-based protein powders have to offer compared to their animal-based counterparts!

Nutritional Benefits

When you get your protein powders plant based, you’ll get a much greater nutritional diversity than whey-based protein powders offer. This is because plants have a much richer nutrient profile, which your body needs to function well. One of the most important nutrients you find more of in plant proteins is fiber (more on this below).

Where whey does have the edge is in its complete amino acid profile, but this can be addressed with plant based proteins by combining several different sources together..

Most people in America aren’t getting the amount of daily nutrients their bodies need, so a quick addition to your routine with plant-based protein powders is the convenient and smart way to ensure you’re better nourished.

Fiber & Digestion

Another benefit to getting your protein powders plant based is that they are generally much higher in belly-filling fiber than whey-based proteins. Fiber is excellent for your digestion, and this can be essential for those that struggle with digestive issues. Incorporating some plant-based protein powders into your routine can help your digestive system to run more smoothly and keep you more regular.

Improve Blood Flow

A lot of people invest in protein powders because they want to improve their athletic performance. This is why some of the top athletes get their protein powders plant based: because plant proteins help to improve your blood flow, which increases healing time after exercise.

Avoid Health Risks

According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “The adverse effects associated with long-term high protein/high meat intake in humans were (a) disorders of bone and calcium homeostasis, (b) disorders of renal function, (c) increased cancer risk, (d) disorders of liver function, and (e) precipitated progression of coronary artery disease.”source: NCBI).

Getting your protein powders plant based can help you reduce your intake of animal protein.

Lactose Free

Up to 65 percent of people in the U.S are lactose-intolerant, which can mean major gut issues when consuming whey and other dairy-based proteins. That’s why, if you’re lactose-intolerant, it’s good news to know that you can get your protein powders plant based.

Don’t settle for proteins that will make you sick or avoid proteins altogether—get the protein you want without the negative effects on your body.

Overall, plant-based protein is a better choice than whey protein for many people, especially those with GI issues. If you get your protein powders plant based, especially from high quality plant protein sources like Pure Food, you can count on certain benefits, such as higher nutritional density, improved digestion, natural ingredients, better blood flow, avoiding health risks, and a lack of inflammation-promoting lactose. Click here for more details.

Vegan Protein Powder for Bodybuilders, Athletes, and Conscious Eaters

There are many good reasons to seek out the best vegan protein powders if you’re an athlete, bodybuilder, or simply a conscious eater. Protein powders are especially important if you follow a plant-based / vegan diet and you’re an athlete or bodybuilder (it takes lots of protein to obtain/maintain a healthy physique)! We’ll talk about this more below.

In addition to smoothies, vegan protein powder can also be used in other recipes, too. The best vegan protein powders can be used for puddings, breads, cookies, and in protein bar recipes.

If you’re an athlete or body builder looking for the best vegan protein powders, here are a few things to consider to find the “best” one for you!

Types of Vegan Protein Powder

If you are looking for more ways to get vegan proteins into your diet, you obviously don’t want to choose protein powders with whey, egg, milk proteins, collagen, or other obvious animal proteins because, of course, those are not vegan.

Even for non-vegans though, dairy and whey can cause GI problems … especially for bodybuilders and athletes who tend to consume more protein than most folks.

Vegan proteins come from ingredients like brown rice protein, pea protein, hemp protein, pumpkin seed protein, and chia seed protein, which are completely plant-based and easy to digest. Pea and rice protein, in particular, are higher in essential amino acids than other plant-based proteins and are absorbed easily by the body, making them among the best vegan protein powder choices.

Who Needs Protein Powder?

If you’re an athlete or bodybuilder, it’s generally recommended to eat close to 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight each day.

If you can get that much protein from eating whole, plant-based foods, then that’s great! But for 99% of people, that’s a very difficult thing to do.

Vegan protein powders are best for people who aren’t getting their daily protein requirements from whole foods.

Why Vegan Protein?

The best vegan protein powders contain only all-natural, plant-based ingredients that blend well into shakes, smoothies, and other recipes.

Watch out for hidden junk ingredients like gums, “natural flavors,” and sugars / sweeteners.

If you want to sweeten your vegan protein shake, add your own ingredients (like fruit)!

When figuring out the best vegan protein powders for you, it’s important to do your homework. Make sure you’re reading the ingredients lists and nutrition labels, researching the company you’re buying from, and looking beyond price (because you get what you pay for!).

So long story short, the best vegan protein powders are convenient, they’re “clean,” and they’re not made from ingredients that your body does not want. Read more about the ingredients in our vegan protein powders to see if they’re right for you.

How to Select the Perfect Protein Powder for Women

Protein powders are everywhere these days. They’re made with a variety of ingredients, plant- and animal-based, and come in many different flavors. With so many to choose from, it can be hard to figure out which is the best womens protein powder.

In this article, you’ll learn what protein powders are most commonly used for and the criteria we use to evaluate the best protein powder for women.

What Exactly Are Protein Powders and What Are They Used For?

Protein powders are powdered versions of common food proteins (duh).

The most common type of protein powder is made from whey, which is a milk-based protein. The problem with whey protein is that many women and men are lactose intolerant (an estimated 65% of adults!). If you’re lactose intolerant, consuming dairy products can cause issues with inflammation, digestion, immunity, etc.

Collagen protein is a newer source of animal protein made from the hair, skin, and nails of animals like cows, chicken, and fish. The long-term benefits and risks of collagen protein have not been established just yet, but it appears to be safe based on the current data available.

The most popular vegan option is soy protein powder. Unless it’s organic, however, soy protein is made from genetically modified (GMO) soybeans. Other plant-based protein options include pea, rice, hemp, pumpkin, and chia.

But plant proteins can be lacking in certain amino acids and therefore are not synthesized/absorbed quite as well as dairy proteins in the body.

That’s why the consensus among health experts is that the best women’s protein powder is actually a blend of other plant proteins like pea, rice, hemp, pumpkin, and chia. If you blend the right ratio of vegan / vegetarian proteins together, it can result in a perfect PDCAAS (protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score) of 1.0, the same as whey but without the inflammation!

In other words, combining these plant-based protein powders supplies your body with a healthy source of “complete” protein.

Why Use Protein Powder? 

People may want to increase their protein consumption with protein powders for a variety of reasons.

Many people use protein powders to help build muscle or improve body composition, while others use them to recover from sports injuries.

Women and men tend to lose muscle mass as they age, which is why eating a little more protein is recommended for most older adults.

What to Look in a Protein Powder

There are a few things that you should look for when you are shopping for the best women’s protein powder.

Organic – The best protein powders for women and men should have organic ingredients. You don’t want to consume unnecessary chemicals and toxins along with your protein.

• Easily digestible – Some protein powders, especially whey protein, can be hard for many folks to digest. For most women, a plant-based protein blend with pea, rice, hemp, chia, and/or pumpkin seed protein will be easier on the stomach.

• Tastes good (but no sugar) – Choking down a glass of awful tasting protein powder each morning is not fun…but the best women’s protein powders taste good and are good for you … so avoid any protein shakes with added sugar, which is the biggest contributor to weight gain!

• Probiotics –The best women’s protein powders are more than just a source of clean protein. Look for products that also give you added benefits, like probiotics, fiber, and amino acids.

The Best Women’s Protein Powder

One of the best women’s protein powders on the market is Pure Food Plant Based Protein Powder.

It’s made of a blend of organic pea, organic brown rice, and organic hemp proteins, and it is sweetened with all-natural stevia leaf extract. No gums. No “flavors”. No junk.

Each serving of Pure Food Plant Based Protein Powder has 20 grams of protein per serving, 4 grams of branched chain amino acids, and 4 grams of fiber. It also contains 9 essential amino acids, 1 billion CFUs of probiotics, and zero grams of sugar per serving.

Pure Food Plant Based Protein Powder is available in vanilla and raw cacao flavors, and it blends smoothly for a delicious finish. Mix it with your favorite fruits, vegetables, plant milks, and/or nut or seed butter to make a satisfying shake. Try Pure Food Plant Based Protein Powder if you are looking for one of the best women’s protein powders. Click here to find out more.

How to Improve Gut Health Naturally

microbiome git health

Your microbiome, the community of around 100 trillion bacteria, viruses, and fungi inhabiting your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, plays a pivotal role in health and disease

The microbiome has been implicated in multiple chronic conditions ranging from inflammatory bowel disease, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease to colorectal cancer.

Your microbiome has a direct impact on how you think, feel, and act too. 

We know that the gut microbiota undergo significant fluctuations over the course of one’s lifetime … and these modifications are frequently associated with undesirable effects on your health. 

But, these fluctuations are influenced by several controllable factors, such as lifestyle, stress, nutrition, and antibiotic use. A 2021 study showed “how little of the microbiome is predetermined by our genes and therefore how much is modifiable by diet,” according to researcher Sarah Berry. 

In this guide, we will cover four proven strategies for improving your gut health. We will talk about some exciting research that will show you how to 1.) breathe, 2.) move, 3.) exercise, and 4.) sleep better to create long-term, sustainable changes to your microbiome and in turn, your overall health and wellness. 

Let’s get started … 

Download the PDF Version of This Gut Health Guide Here

Breathing

deep breathing for gut healthYou know that feeling you get when you’re stuck in traffic and late for a meeting? Or somebody cuts you off then has the audacity to honk at you? 

These types of stressful events cause emotional responses like anger or fear, which prompt an immediate physical reaction within your body: your heart beats faster, your breathing gets quicker, and your stomach tenses up. 

This “fight or flight” response causes blood to move from your gut to the larger muscles, which hampers digestion, weakens your immune system, and increases inflammation.

The changes may not last long, and in the short term they aren’t harmful and may even be helpful in certain situations. But when they happen repeatedly, over time they can cause dysbiosis (when your gut bacteria are out of whack). 

The good news is, you can learn to recognize and turn off these automatic responses through deep breathing.

Before you dispel this as New Age mumbo jumbo, here’s some science to quell your skepticism.

According to the University of Michigan Health System

For those suffering from GI symptoms, diaphragmatic breathing offers specific benefits: Activating the diaphragm creates a gentle massaging action felt by internal organs like the intestines and stomach, which can reduce abdominal pain, urgency, bloating and constipation. While diaphragmatic breathing, you are facilitating the activation of the parasympathetic system, which can be thought of as the relaxation response of the body or the “rest and digest” state. 

Deep breathing has additional benefits, including:

Action Steps: 

  1. Read this primer on how to breathe better
  2. Practice deep breathing each day. Start with just 1-5 minutes then work your way up from there (I personally aim for 10-30 minutes each day, spread out over 2-3 sessions depending on the day). There are many different deep breathing techniques (progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, repetitive prayer, guided imagery, the Wim Hoff Method, to name a few).

Eating

foods to improve gut health naturally

Eating for better gut health is a highly individual affair. 

In this section, we’ll cover some different dietary approaches that may be beneficial for those GI issues. 

First, it’s important to talk to a specialist if you’re having digestive issues to make sure it’s not something more serious. I also highly recommend getting tested for food allergies and getting a gut intelligence test. These two tests will tell you exactly what foods you should and shouldn’t be eating, based on your unique physiology. 

Now let’s unpack a few dietary approaches that may (or may not) help improve your gut health. 

The FODMAP Diet

FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols) are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut, which can trigger symptoms in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other gut disorders. 

These substances include lactose, fructose, fructans, galactans, and polyalcohols (sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, xylitol, and isomalt). 

Clinical trials suggest that most patients with IBS report a reduction in symptoms from following a low-FODMAP diet. 

Also, people with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) seem to benefit from a low-FODMAPs diet and often experience a reduction in gastrointestinal symptoms.

But despite the demonstrated beneficial effects, low-FODMAPs diet have generated some concerns, namely: 

  • IBS patients have been shown to have a dysbiotic microbiota, which might predispose them to additional pathological dysbiosis (a gut that’s out of balance that can lead to other health issues). 
  • In one clinical trial, microbiota of IBS patients submitted to 4-week dietary intervention was compared with that of an IBS patient with a habitual diet. The authors demonstrated a reduction in concentration and proportion of Bifidobacteria after the carbohydrate restriction. 
  • Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) patients on the low FODMAP diet experienced a reduction of beneficial Bifidobacteriaceae and an increase of disease-promoting Lachnospiraceae were observed in their gut microbiota. 

Taking probiotics might help offset some of this. According to this 2019 study

Supplementation of the diet with probiotics could help in maintaining the beneficial component of gut microbiota, especially considering the inverse correlation between Bifidobacteria and the symptomatology of IBS. 

The Impact of Ketogenic Diets on Gut Health

Low carbohydrate diets like keto, Paleo, and Atkins focus on drastically reduced carbohydrate intake in favor of fats and protein. 

More research is needed on the long-term effects of these diets on gut health. Here’s what we know so far, based the current body of evidence

  1. A few human and animal studies have shown different results demonstrating positive effects on reshaping bacterial architecture and gut biological functions, while others reporting negative effects as a lowered diversity and an increased amount of pro-inflammatory bacteria. 
  2. According to several different studies, better strategies are needed to maximize the benefit of ketogenic diets. Here’s what they recommend: 
    1. Introduce the use of whey and plant proteins (i.e., pea protein).
    2. Reduce the intake of animal protein.
    3. Implement fermented food and beverages (yogurt, water and milk kefir, kimchi, fermented vegetables). 
    4. Introduce prebiotics and probiotics. 
    5. Reduce omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids ratio (increase omega 3 while decreasing omega 6).
    6. Introduce an accurate quantity and quality of unsaturated fatty acids. 
    7. Avoid artificial sweeteners and processed foods.
    8. Test your microbiome if needed (analysis of 16S rRNA to identify biodiversity and richness).

Gluten Free Diets and Gut Health: What We Know So Far

What about a gluten free diet? It’s a low-carb world, and many people are pushing grains off their plate in an effort to control their waistline and improve GI symptoms. 

Gluten-free diets are essential for people with celiac disease and other medical conditions that are negatively affected by gluten. 

But for most people, gluten is unjustifiably vilified. 

A 2019 meta analysis published in the scientific journal Nutrients reported that in patients with cardiovascular disease, after two years on a gluten-free diet, the “imbalance of duodenal mucosal microbiota were not completely restored with a worsening in the reduction of bacterial richness.”

And while some potentially pathogenic bacteria such as E coli and Staphylococcus may decrease on a gluten free diet, levels of beneficial species as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus also remain low. 

Anti-nutrients: Good or Bad? 

Anti-nutrients are natural substances found in certain plant- and animal-based foods that can block the absorption of nutrients. A common refrain you hear from people who swear off grains is that anti-nutrients are terrible for you and cause all types of issues.  

That may not be the case though. 

According to the Harvard School of Public Health

  • The pros and cons of anti-nutrients on long-term human health is an area of active research. 
  • Though certain foods may contain residual amounts of anti-nutrients after processing and cooking, the health benefits of eating these foods outweigh any potential negative nutritional effects. 
  • Eating a variety of nutritious foods daily and avoiding eating large amounts of a single food at one meal can help to offset minor losses in nutrient absorption caused by anti-nutrients.
  • Many anti-nutrients have antioxidant and anticancer actions, so avoiding them entirely is not recommended.

Why Most People Should Not Give Up Grains

Based on the current body of evidence, whole grains have some unique digestive health properties that make them a valuable addition to the diet for most people. The pros outweigh the cons. 

Teresa Fung, adjunct professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, saysThe main benefit of whole cereal grains, such as wheat, oats, and barley, is in the fiber. Cereal fiber is different from vegetable fiber or bean fiber.”

A reduced risk of colon cancer has been linked to fiber from grains, but not necessarily fiber from other sources, such as fruits and vegetables, she says. 

Whole grains have other health benefits as well. They lower cholesterol levels and reduce chronic inflammation, which has been linked to cancer and heart disease. Reducing chronic inflammation inside the body may also help to control blood pressure.

A 2016 study published in the journal Circulation found that people who ate at least four servings of whole grains each day had a 22% lower risk of death from any cause during the study period, compared with people who didn’t eat as much. The study’s authors also found a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer associated with diets rich in whole grains.

How Whole Grains Affect Your Microbiome

Whole grains break down slowly during digestion, which helps to keep blood sugar levels on an even keel. Similarly, some studies have linked whole grains with a lower risk of getting diabetes.

The fiber in whole grains acts as a prebiotic, which is a substance that helps to feed, grow, and sustain healthy bacteria in your intestines. 

One study found that “whole grains, including oats, constitute important sources of nutrients for the gut microbiota and contribute to a healthy gut microbiome.”

Another study published in 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition showed “Increasing cereal fiber consumption should be encouraged for overall good health and for gut microbiota diversity.

Action Steps: 

Cleveland Clinic Gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD, shares six tips to improve your gut health and digestion naturally.

  1. Eat five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Fill your plate with the colors of the rainbow, from red to dark green. Stock up on canned and frozen veggies for convenience, but also be sure to include lots of fresh produce into your meals. Try to add a few veggies with each meal. 
  2. Choose whole grains more often. Look for and choose packages that say “whole grains” more often than white or processed bread or other grains. Then also check the amount of fiber the product contains. Try to choose items with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving for the most benefit.
  3. If you eat meat, limit the amount of beef, pork, lamb and processed meats you eat. Choose poultry or fish more frequently than red meat and limit all processed meats, like salami, bacon and hotdogs. Smaller portions of meat (1-4 oz.), consumed less often, are also beneficial. Most people don’t need to consume more than 6-8 ounces of meat every day. Try replacing meat with some beans or other plant-based protein for more fiber. One half cup of beans provides the same amount of protein as in 1 ounce of meat.
  4. Experiment with healthier cooking options. Opt for steaming, poaching, stewing, microwaving, braising and boiling over grilling and frying. And don’t forget – it’s important to make sure your meat gets cooked thoroughly before eating it to reduce other digestive health risks, such as salmonella (author’s note: I spent a day in the hospital after getting salmonella … trust me when I say you don’t want to experience it). 
  5. Consume foods with probiotics. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help fight off the bad bacteria in your gut. They also produce healthy substances that provide nourishment for your gut. Good sources of probiotics include fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchee, raw apple cider vinegar, onion, garlic and sauerkraut. If those foods don’t suit your fancy, then a probiotic supplement may help. 
  6. Limit foods that have added sugars and animal fats. These foods can produce harmful chemicals in your GI tract and cause major damage over time. Read ingredient labels for sources of added sugars – they can be tricky! 

Sleeping

microbiome supplementsThere’s a direct link between sleep disturbances and gut health. 

Just as you can influence your waking routine, scientists have determined poor night-time practices and an unhealthy diet can change your gut flora and impact your risk of insomnia

There are several theories on how your gut microbes might affect sleep: 

  1.     The Gut-Brain Axis

The connection between our brain and our digestive system is a complex system connected by the vagus nerve. Key signals can be passed between these two, such as when we’re hungry, stressed, or even our emotional state.

If your gut microbiome shows signs of gut dysbiosis, leading to leaky gut syndrome, it’s possible neuroinflammatory metabolites may be traveling up the vagus nerve and penetrating the brain. These metabolites have been shown to influence our stress response, impacting our heart rate and disrupting sleep structure patterns.

  1.     Hormone Regulation:

Many microbes within our gut microbiome produce serotonin, a key biochemical that regulates our mood. Serotonin is also a precursor for melatonin, another hormone essential to our light-dark cycle that eases us to sleep. If the gut microbiome isn’t producing it’s fair share of serotonin, this hormone flow may cease to a trickle and change standard sleep patterns.

This theory has also been supported by the number of people suffering from mood disorders like depression who also report additional issues with sleep. Researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Japan said, “Changing which microbes are in the gut by altering diet has the potential to help those who have trouble sleeping.”

  1.     Immune System:

Scientists say our gut houses upwards of 70% of our immune system. When we’re at our optimal health, this “immune organ” works in peak performance like an efficient fighting machine. However, when our body is under long-term assault from toxic substances, invading bacteria, or injury, our immune system can interrupt normal processes and change how well we regulate our sleep cycle.

When the gut ecosystem becomes imbalanced, it can cause an immune reaction that permeates through the digestive lining and penetrates peripheral tissues. If this immune response reaches organs such as the lungs, the inflammatory response can impact breathing at night and increase the likelihood of disorders like sleep apnea.

Action Steps: 

  1. Improve your diet by following the Action Steps in the Eating section above.  
  2. Try a prebiotic / probiotic / digestive enzyme supplement
  3. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Try going to bed 20-30 minutes earlier than normal each night. Dr. Meeta Singh, a sleep disorder expert at Henry Ford Sleep Disorders Center says “If you increase your time in bed by even 15 – 20 minutes, you will notice a difference.”
  4. Don’t eat or drink caffeine in the afternoon. Caffeine can disrupt your sleep. Cut it out after 3 p.m.
  5. Don’t drink too much alcohol. 1 or 2 drinks a night should be your limit. Any more and your sleep will suffer.
  6. Keep your room as dark and quiet as possible. I have two young kids, so I know “quiet” is relative for many of us. But a room darkening shade and/or a sleep mask is a great investment if you don’t have them. And to drown out those loud kids, pets, partners, use ear plugs.
  7. Invest in a white noise machine and ear plugs if needed (check out the links for the ones I use). The Lectrofan white noise machine is the loudest and best white noise machine I’ve used … we have four of them in our house!
  8. Cut out screen time while in bed. Watch TV, check your phone, or dabble on your tablet outside of the bedroom. Studies show technology in the bedroom negatively impacts sleep.
  9. Spend 15-30 minutes winding down. Read, do yoga, stretch, foam roll, or meditate to wind down before bed. People who do sleep better.
  10. Invest in a good pillow and mattress. Think about how much time you spend in bed. A good mattress will probably set you back $1000+, but upgrading your pillow is a super easy sleep hack. I recommend the Coop Home Goods Pillow and body pillow. They’re highly rated on Amazon, hypoallergenic, and you can adjust the amount of memory foam inside to your liking.
  11. Use a sleep tracker. There are many sleep tracking products on the market now. I have used both the FitBit Charge 2 and Charge 3 with success, as well as the Withings Sleep Mat. All are $150 or less. I’ve heard good things about the Oura Ring too, but it’s a bit more expensive. 

Moving 

Studies suggest that exercise can:

  • Enhance the number of beneficial microbial species
  • Enrich the microflora diversity
  • Improve the development of commensal bacteria. 

Microflora diversity is indispensable to homeostasis and normal gut physiology and contributes to efficient signaling along the aforementioned brain-gut axis.

Exercise also improves the Bacteroidetes-Firmicutes ratio, which may contribute to reducing weight and gastrointestinal disorders, stimulate the proliferation of bacteria which can modulate mucosal immunity and improve barrier functions, and stimulate bacteria capable of producing substances that protect against gastrointestinal disorders and colon cancer. 

Here are some tips to improve your gut health with exercise …

Action Steps: 

  1. Schedule a little exercise every day. Add a recurring event on your calendar for 5-15 minutes of exercise every day. 5 minutes may not seem like enough, but you will often find that you want to do more when you have the time. And even if you only have time for 5 minutes, it’ll help you create a habit, which is imperative to long-term success. 
  2. Find some types of exercise you don’t hate. You’ll be more likely to stick with something you enjoy. So try different types of workouts until you find a couple you like doing. 
  3. Switch things up for best results. You need to constantly push your body outside of its comfort zone to create adaptation. The point of diminishing returns happens when you do the same thing for too long and it yields less and less desirable results relative to the work put in. Constantly seek out and try new ways of moving. 
  4. Don’t sit for more than 20 minutes at a time. If you spend a lot of time sitting, changing that habit is one of the best things you can do for your overall health (and particularly your gut health). Stand up and go for a 5-minute walk around your house, stretch, dance, do a few yoga poses. Try “walking meetings” whenever possible. Here are a few of my favorite exercises I do in between my daily tasks. 

Download the PDF Version of This Gut Health Guide Here

18 of the Best Health Supplements That Actually Work

Article Summary:

  • Most nutritional supplements are just marketing hype.
  • Some supplements, however, are backed by multiple research studies. You’ll learn about 15 with solid efficacy/safety evidence below.
  • You’ll also find out which ones, specifically, may help with these health challenges: Energy / Focus, Gut Health, Immunity, Pain / Inflammation, Fat Loss / Lean Muscle Gain, Relaxation / Anxiety

Download Our FREE Gut Health Guide Here

Do nutritional supplements work?

While it’s true that most dietary supplements are complete junk that don’t do much of anything, saying all supplements have no benefit is just plain absurd.

Because there are a handful of health and wellness supplements that have very promising health benefits.

In this article, you’ll learn about 15 of the best supplements that help address some of the most common health challenges (losing weight, easing digestive issues, increasing energy, boosting immunity, alleviating pain, and decreasing anxiety).

Each of the supplements you will learn about has multiple peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled research that support its efficacy and safety.

I’m confident you’ll find something in here that can help you.

Click the links below to jump around or scroll down to get started.

Energy/Focus

Rhodiola

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginseng

Gut Health

Probiotics / Digestive Enzymes

Turmeric / Curcumin

Fiber

Immunity

Zinc

Vitamin D

Pain / Inflammation

Glucosamine / Chondroitin

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Pine Bark Extract (Pycnogenol)

Muscle Gain / Weight Loss

Protein Powder

Creatine

Beta Alanine

Stress / Anxiety / Sleep

Ashwagandha

Lemon Balm

Reishi Mushroom

CBD

 

The Best Supplements for Energy / Focus

There’s no shortage of supplements touted for their ability to help you improve energy and focus.

Unfortunately, most don’t work.

Here are three that do:

Rhodiola

Rhodiola rosea health benefits research

Rhodiola rosea is an herb that’s native to the arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and Alaska. It has a long history of use as a medicinal plant in Iceland, Sweden, France, Russia, and Greece.

Rhodiola is a popular adaptogen, a class of plants can help your body combat physical, chemical or biological stressors.

It’s most researched benefits are as-follows:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Reduce Fatigue
2. Improve Cognition

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11081987
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19170145
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12725561
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10839209
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15256690
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036578
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22228617
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0108416
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17990195

Preliminary evidence has also looked at neuroprotection and lowering symptoms of depression, among other possible benefits (although more research is needed on these).

Is Rhodiola Safe?

Rhodiola is generally recognized as safe but might cause dizziness, dry mouth, or excessive saliva production for some people. Here are some other information safety considerations:

  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There isn’t enough reliable information about the safety of taking Rhodiola if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Rhodiola might simulate the immune system, which may impact people with autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and others.
  • Diabetes: Rhodiola might reduce blood sugar levels, so should be used with caution in patients taking insulin or other diabetes medications.
  • Low blood pressure: Rhodiola might lower blood pressure, so should be used with caution in patients taking blood pressure meds.

If you’re on any medications or have pre-existing conditions, talk to your doctor before taking any nutritional supplement.

Ginkgo Biloba

ginkgo biloba supplement

Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest living tree species. Most ginkgo supplements are made with extract prepared from its fan-shaped leaves.

The most helpful components of ginkgo are believed to be flavonoids, which have powerful antioxidant qualities, and terpenoids, which help improve circulation by dilating blood vessels.

These are the biggest benefits of taking a ginkgo supplement, based on the body of evidence available today:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Reduce cognitive decline (particularly in people who have dementia).
2. Improve short term memory.*
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22459264
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23196025
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8741021
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/hup.470020305
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22086747
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10890330
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21802920
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22700031
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12404671

*Note: Ginkgo’s effect on memory enhancement has had conflicting results. While some evidence suggests that ginkgo extract might modestly improve memory in healthy adults, most studies indicate that ginkgo doesn’t improve memory, attention or brain function.

Is Ginkgo Biloba Safe?

When used orally in moderate amounts, ginkgo appears to be safe for most healthy adults. Here are some important safety considerations when taking this supplement though:

  • In certain people, ginkgo can cause headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, upset stomach, constipation, and allergic skin reactions.
    • If you are epileptic or prone to seizures, avoid ginkgo.
    • If you are older, have a bleeding disorder or are pregnant, don’t take ginkgo because it might increase your risk of bleeding.
    • Ginkgo might interfere with the management of diabetes.
  • Don’t eat raw or roasted ginkgo seeds, which can be poisonous.
  • Possible interactions include: Alprazolam (Xanax), Anticoagulants and anti-platelet drugs, herbs and supplements, Anticonvulsants, Antidepressants, Certain statins, Diabetes drugs, Ibuprofen

Ginseng

Ginseng root supplement for

The herbal remedies collectively referred to as “ginseng” are derived from the roots of several different plants. One of the most commonly used and researched of the ginseng plants is Panax ginseng, also called Asian or Korean ginseng.

The main active components of Panax ginseng are ginsenosides, which have been shown to have a variety of beneficial effects, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer effects.

Results of clinical research studies demonstrate that Panax ginseng may improve psychologic function, immune function, and conditions associated with diabetes.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Improve cognition and focus.
2. Reduce blood sugar.
3. Boost happiness and well being.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15982990
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20737519
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16401645
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8721940
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11895046

Is Ginseng Safe?

  • Overall, Panax ginseng appears to be well tolerated, although caution is advised about combining it with some pharmaceuticals, such as warfarin, oral hypoglycemic agents, insulin, and phenelzine.
  • Because ginseng may affect blood sugar levels, people taking drugs for diabetes should not use ginseng without talking to their doctor first. Ginseng can interact with warfarin and with some medicines for depression. Do not take ginseng without consulting your doctor if you take any medications. Caffeine may amplify ginseng’s stimulant effects.
  • Given the lack of evidence about its safety, ginseng is not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The Best Supplements for Gut Health

GI issues plague so many of us these days. 

Here are some supplements that can offer relief:

Probiotics

best probiotic supplements

I wrote about probiotics in my article Do Probiotics Work? Here’s What Science Really Says.

Here are the biggest takeaways from that piece:

  1. Many foods claiming probiotic content don’t contain strains that can survive the harsh conditions of your stomach. 
  2. Eating fermented foods is good … but not the same as taking probiotics.
  3. More strains doesn’t always means better. What’s more important is finding a product/strain that has been studied to treat the health condition you’re looking to improve.
  4. Talk to your doctor (preferably a gastroenterologist) about which probiotics you should be taking for specific health conditions.
  5. Diet and lifestyle are still the most important determining factors of gut microbial composition.

With that in mind, here are some strains that do appear to work for GI health:

BenefitsEvidence
1. L. acidophilus produces a number of powerful antimicrobial compounds in the gut that can inhibit the growth and toxin producing capabilities of some 23 known disease-causing pathogens.

2. Bifidobacteria consume old fecal matter, have the ability to remove cancer-forming enzymes, and protect against the formation of liver, colon, and mammary gland tumors.

3. L. salivarius helps digest foods for a healthy intestinal tract and makes vital nutrients more assimilable.

4. L. plantarum has the ability to eliminate thousands of species of pathogenic bacteria (such as E. coli).

5. B. coagulans appears to help alleviate abdominal pain and diarrhea in IBS patients, decrease gas, and improve bowel movements.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3700768/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3539293/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4908950/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5031164/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29409331
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30141154
https://bmcgastroenterol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-230X-9-85
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09168451.2014.972331

Are Probiotics Safe?

Probiotics are mostly unregulated, which is a problem. Certain studies have reported probiotic-related deaths and others have shown adverse events

That’s why’s it’s so important to make sure the strain(s) you’re taking have been studied for safety and efficacy in peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

Personally, I take two capsules of Pure Food DIGEST (Digestive Enzymes + Probiotics + Prebiotics) every day–one capsule with breakfast and one with dinner–and it has made a huge difference in how I feel. 

Turmeric / Curcumin

turmeric curcumin health benefits

Turmeric is a spice that’s a member of the ginger family. It’s commonly used in several types of Asian cuisine. Turmeric roots contains a yellow-colored compound called curcumin that has some pretty impressive health properties.

In addition to the digestive benefits below, there is strong evidence that shows turmeric is high in anti-oxidants, which help protect your cells from damage and can help reduce inflammation, pain, anxiety and even symptoms of depression.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Relieve IBS
2. Aid digestion
3. Ease heartburn
4. Reduce gas and bloating
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3882399/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5553098/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664031/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3731878/

Is Turmeric Safe?

According to JECFA (The Joint United Nations and World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives) and EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) reports, the Allowable Daily Intake (ADI) value of curcumin is 0–3 mg/kg body weight.

Despite this well-established safety profile, some negative side effects have been reported. A small percentage of people in several clinical studies reported nausea and diarrhea.

Fiber

foods high in fiber

Dietary fiber is a plant-derived nutrient that can’t be digested by your body. This is a good thing because fiber helps move material through your digestive system.

Problem is, most Americans still aren’t getting enough of it from their diet, especially if you follow a low carb or ketogenic diets.

The recommended daily intake of fiber is at least 25-30 grams. Most people get around 15.

A 2019 meta analysis of studies and clinical trials conducted over nearly 40 years showed that the health benefits of eating at least 25g or more of dietary fiber a day included:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, many types of cancers.
2. Improve digestive health.
3. Live longer.
https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.l159
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3399949/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25552267

If you’re struggling to get enough fiber from whole foods in your diet, then a supplement containing a little extra fiber may help. In rare cases, eating more fiber can lead to side effects. Here are some specific examples:

Is Fiber Safe?

  • Fiber supplements may decrease the absorption of some medications. Therefore, you should not take supplements within 2 hours of taking other medications.
  • When using fiber supplements or increasing dietary fiber intake, you should gradually increase your intake over a few weeks to avoid or reduce adverse effects such as intestinal flatulence, bloating, diarrhea, and cramping.
  • If you have a preexisting medical conditions, and especially one in which you need to restrict fluid intake (e.g., renal dysfunction or congestive heart failure), or if you’re currently taking any medications you should discuss the use of fiber supplements with your primary health care provider.
  • If you have intestinal ulcerations, stenosis, or disabling adhesions you should avoid fiber supplements because of the possibility of fecal impaction or intestinal obstruction.

The Best Supplements for Immunity

Zinc

is zinc good for immunity

Zinc is an essential trace mineral and the second most abundant metal in humans. Since the human body does not store excess zinc, it must be consumed regularly as part of the diet. Zinc deficiency in humans is quite prevalent, affecting over two billion people

Here are some proven benefits of taking a zinc supplement:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Boost your immune system.
2. Treating common cold and recurrent ear infections, the flu, upper respiratory tract infections.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2277319/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636409/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5748737/

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Zinc

AgeMaleFemalePregnancyLactation
0–6 months2 mg2 mg  
7–12 months3 mg3 mg  
1–3 years3 mg3 mg  
4–8 years5 mg5 mg  
9–13 years8 mg8 mg  
14–18 years11 mg9 mg12 mg13 mg
19+ years11 mg8 mg11 mg12 mg

Source: Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc

Is Zinc Safe?

  • Zinc is likely safe for most adults when applied to the skin, or when taken by mouth in amounts not larger than 40 mg daily.
  • In some people, zinc might cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, metallic taste, kidney and stomach damage, and other side effects. Using zinc on broken skin may cause burning, stinging, itching, and tingling.
  • Zinc should not be inhaled through the nose, as it might cause permanent loss of smell. Avoid using nose sprays containing zinc.
  • Taking more than 100 mg of supplemental zinc daily or taking supplemental zinc for 10 or more years doubles the risk of developing prostate cancer. There is also concern that taking large amounts of a multivitamin plus a separate zinc supplement increases the chance of dying from prostate cancer.
  • Taking 450 mg or more of zinc daily can cause problems with blood iron. Single doses of 10-30 grams of zinc can be fatal.

Vitamin D

vitamin d immunity benefits

Vitamin D is a nutrient your body needs to keep your bones healthy. Our bodies can only absorb calcium, the main part of bones, when vitamin D is present. 

Vitamin D is not naturally present in most foods … but you will often find it in fortified milk, cereal, and fatty fish such as salmon.

Our bodies can also make vitamin D from sunlight. 

The amount of vitamin D your skin makes from sunlight depends on several factors, including the time of day, season, latitude and your skin pigmentation. Depending on where you live and your lifestyle, vitamin D production might decrease or be completely absent during the winter months. Sunscreen, while important for preventing skin cancer, also can decrease vitamin D production.

Many older adults, in particular, don’t get regular exposure to sunlight and have trouble absorbing vitamin D. 

If your doctor suspects you’re not getting enough vitamin D, a simple blood test can check the levels of this vitamin in your blood.

Taking a multivitamin with vitamin D may help improve bone health. The recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 400 international units (IU) for children up to age 12 months, 600 IU for people ages 1 to 70 years, and 800 IU for people over 70 years.

BenefitsEvidence

1. Decrease risks or falls and fractures in the elderly. 
2. Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
3. Lowering risk of colorectal cancer.
4. May improve inflammation and clinical symptoms in COVID-19 patients.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17302660/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19307517/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17296473/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32871238/

 

Is Vitamin D Safe?

  • Taken in appropriate doses, vitamin D is generally considered safe.

  • However, taking too much vitamin D in the form of supplements can be harmful. Children age 9 years and older, adults, and pregnant and breastfeeding women who take more than 4,000 IU a day of vitamin D might experience:

    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Poor appetite and weight loss
    • Constipation
    • Weakness
    • Confusion and disorientation
    • Heart rhythm problems
    • Kidney stones and kidney damage
  • Possible drug interactions include:
    • Aluminum. Taking vitamin D and aluminum-containing phosphate binders, which may be used to treat high serum phosphate levels in people with chronic kidney disease, might cause harmful levels of aluminum in people with kidney failure in the long term.
    • Anticonvulsants. The anticonvulsants phenobarbital and phenytoin (Dilantin, Phenytek) increase the breakdown of vitamin D and reduce calcium absorption.
    • Atorvastatin (Lipitor). Taking vitamin D might affect the way your body processes this cholesterol drug.
    • Calcipotriene (Dovonex, Sorilux). Don’t take vitamin D with this psoriasis drug. The combination might increase the risk of too much calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia).
    • Cholestyramine (Prevalite). Taking vitamin D with this cholesterol-lowering drug can reduce your absorption of vitamin D.
    • Cytochrome P-450 3A4 (CYP3A4) substrates. Use vitamin D cautiously if you’re taking drugs processed by these enzymes.
    • Digoxin (Lanoxin). Avoid taking high doses of vitamin D with this heart medication. High doses of vitamin D can cause hypercalcemia, which increases the risk of fatal heart problems with digoxin.
    • Diltiazem (Cardizem, Tiazac, others). Avoid taking high doses of vitamin D with this blood pressure drug. High doses of vitamin D can cause hypercalcemia, which might reduce the drug’s effectiveness.
    • Orlistat (Xenical, Alli). Taking this weight-loss drug can reduce your absorption of vitamin D.
    • Thiazide diuretics. Taking these blood pressure drugs with vitamin D increases your risk of hypercalcemia.
    • Steroids. Taking steroid mediations such as prednisone can reduce calcium absorption and impair your body’s processing of vitamin D.
    • Stimulant laxatives. Long-term use of high doses of stimulant laxatives can reduce vitamin D and calcium absorption.
    • Verapamil (Verelan, Calan SR). Taking high doses of vitamin D with this blood pressure drug can cause hypercalcemia, and might also reduce the effectiveness of verapamil.

The Best Supplements for Pain / Inflammation

Almost a third of Americans suffer from chronic pain–nearly 100 million people.

Prescription pain medications like opoids have become a major problem though.

Here are some supplements that can help relieve pain naturally, without the use of prescription meds:

Glucosamine / Chondroitin

glucosamine chondroiton for joint pain

Glucosamine is a supplement derived from shellfish that may provide minor pain relief and help people who suffer from arthritis (particularly of the knee).

Chondroitin is a supplement frequently paired with glucosamine as a combination therapy to help with joint pain and stiffness, and other symptoms of osteoarthritis.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Decrease pain.
2. Lessen arthritis symptoms.
3. Reduce collagen degradation.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11279782
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17265490
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12860572
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12374520
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19724889
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29980200

Are Glucosamine / Chondroitin Safe?

  • No serious side effects have been reported in large, well-conducted studies of people taking glucosamine, chondroitin, or both for up to 3 years.
  • However, glucosamine or chondroitin may interact with the anticoagulant (blood-thinning) drug warfarin (Coumadin).
  • A study in rats showed that long-term use of moderately large doses of glucosamine might damage the kidneys. Although results from animal studies don’t always apply to people, this study does raise concern.
  • Glucosamine might affect the way your body handles sugar, especially if you have diabetes or other blood sugar problems, such as insulin resistance or impaired glucose tolerance.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

omega 3 fatty acid supplement health

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fats—your body can’t make them from scratch and therefore must get them from food. Foods high in Omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts, flax seeds, and leafy vegetables.

Omega-3 fats are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and help regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation.

There are three main omega-3s:

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) come mainly from fish, so they are sometimes called marine omega-3s.
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the most common omega-3 fatty acid in most Western diets, is found in vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds and flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables, and some animal fat, especially in grass-fed animals.

Omega-3 fats have been shown to help with a variety of health conditions …

BenefitsEvidence
1. Prevent heart disease and stroke by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.
2. Control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis.
3. Play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.
4. Reduce symptoms of depression.
5. Reduce arthritis-related joint pain.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21975919
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150191/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21903025
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5295086/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26387397
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16531187

I personally use Krill Oil, and highly recommend it.

Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Safe?

  • Side effects of omega-3 supplements are usually mild. They include unpleasant taste, bad breath, bad-smelling sweat, headache, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea.
  • Several large studies have linked higher blood levels of long-chain omega-3s with higher risks of prostate cancer. However, other research has shown that men who frequently eat seafood have lower prostate cancer death rates and that dietary intakes of long-chain omega-3s aren’t associated with prostate cancer risk. The reason for these apparently conflicting findings is unclear. 
  • Omega-3 supplements may interact with drugs that affect blood clotting.
  • It’s uncertain whether people with seafood allergies can safely take fish oil supplements.

Pine Bark Extract (Pycnogenol

Pine Bark Extract Pycnogenol

Pycnogenol, also known as “French Maritime Pine Bark Extract,” contains catechins similar to those found in green tea, grape seed extract and cocoa polyphenols. 

Pcynogenol does appear to possess dual anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and its benefits include increased blood flow and improved blood glucose control.

BenefitsEvidence

1. Promotes healthy aging. 
2. Improves symptoms of knee pain for patients with osteoarthritis.
3. Shows anti-inflammatory effects.
4.Increases antioxidant capability. 
5. Improved endothelial function in hypertensive patients.

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30215292
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18570266 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3203267/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12530550
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14659974

Side Effects

  • One study showed unwanted effects of a “mild and transient nature,” such as gastrointestinal problems, vertigo, headache and nausea. 

The Best (Legal) Supplements for Building Muscle and Losing Fat

Protein Powder

protein powder plant

Proteins are organic molecules made up of amino acids (the building blocks of life). Protein helps build, maintain, and replace the tissues in your body. Your muscles, organs, and immune system are made up mostly of protein.

It’s well known that eating an adequate amount of protein is necessary if you’re trying to alter your body composition (gain muscle, lose fat, etc.).

Many folks, particularly those who follow a plant-based diet, struggle to get adequate protein from food alone though.

That’s where taking a protein powder supplement may help.

Here are some known benefits:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Build lean body mass (muscle).
2. Reduce body fat.
3. Maintain a healthy weight.
4. Strengthen bones as you age.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25926512
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3777747/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25628520
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905294/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907525/

Protein Powder Side Effects

  • Since protein powders are dietary supplements, the FDA leaves it up to manufacturers to evaluate the safety and labeling of products.
  • Some proteins, particularly dairy-based ones, may cause digestive distress. People with dairy allergies or trouble digesting lactose can experience gastrointestinal discomfort if they use a milk-based protein powder.
  • Protein powders often have gut-disrupting gums and fillers, as well as added sugars or artificial sweeteners, many of which are carcinogenic.

Find out how to pick the best protein powder for you with this free guide.


Creatine

does creatine build muscle

Creatine is an amino acid found in your body’s muscles and in your brain. Though it can be made synthetically, most people get creatine through seafood and red meat. The body’s liver, pancreas and kidneys also make creatine.

Creatine is one of the best supplements for building lean body mass and increasing athletic performance.

Here’s proof …

BenefitsEvidence
1. Increase power and anaerobic running capacity.
2. Build lean mass.
3. Decrease fatigue.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12945830
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14636102
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11677005
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19387386
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17194255

Is Creatine Safe?

  • When used orally at appropriate doses, creatine is likely safe to take for up to five years. However, there is concern that creatine taken in high doses is possibly unsafe and could damage the liver, kidneys or heart.
  • Creatine can cause: Muscle cramping, Nausea, Diarrhea, Dizziness, Gastrointestinal pain, Dehydration, Weight gain, Water retention, Heat intolerance, Fever
  • Don’t take creatine if you have a history of kidney disease or you have conditions such as diabetes that increase the risk of kidney problems. There also is some concern that creatine might increase mania in people who have bipolar disorder.
  • Many drugs might interact with creatine and increase the risk of kidney damage. Possible drug interactions include: Nephrotoxic drugs, Caffeine and Ephedra. Combining caffeine with creatine might decrease the efficacy of creatine. Combining caffeine with creatine and the supplement ephedra might increase the risk of serious side effects, such as stroke.

Beta Alanine

Beta alanine muscle growth

Betaalanine is a non-essential amino acid that is produced naturally in the body. 

While beta alanine hasn’t been studied as much as creatine, there’s some compelling evidence about the effects of beta-alanine on body composition:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Improve exercise performance (particularly HIIT).
2. Stimulate lean body mass growth.
https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19210788
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3313163/

Is Beta Alanine Safe?

  • Beta-alanine may interact with some heart medications and with drugs for erectile dysfunction.
  • Its safety has not been established for children, people with particular diseases or conditions, or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Err on the safe side and talk to your doctor before you take beta-alanine.

The Best Supplements for Anxiety, Relaxation, and Sleep

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha benefits

Ashwagandha is a plant that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.

It’s one of the most effective adaptogens and may also provide neuroprotection and enhance athletic performance.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Reduce anxiety and stress levels.
2. Increase power output.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19718255
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21170205
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26609282

Is Ashwagandha Safe?

  • Ashwagandha is probably safe when taken by mouth short-term. The long-term safety of ashwagandha is not known. Large doses of ashwagandha might cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and vomiting.
  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Do not use ashwagandha if you are pregnant. There is some evidence that ashwagandha might cause miscarriages. Not enough is known about the use of ashwagandha during breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
  • Diabetes: Ashwagandha might lower blood sugar levels. This could interfere with medications used for diabetes and cause blood sugar levels to go to low.
  • High or low blood pressure: Ashwagandha might decrease blood pressure. This could cause blood pressure to go to low in people with low blood pressure; or interfere with medications used to treat high blood pressure.
  • Stomach ulcers: Ashwagandha can irritate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Don’t use ashwagandha if you have a stomach ulcer.
  • “Auto-immune diseases” such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Ashwagandha might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using ashwagandha.
  • Surgery: Ashwagandha may slow down the central nervous system. Healthcare providers worry that anesthesia and other medications during and after surgery might increase this effect. Stop taking ashwagandha at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
  • Thyroid disorders: Ashwagandha might increase thyroid hormone levels. Ashwagandha should be used cautiously or avoided if you have a thyroid condition or take thyroid hormone medications.
  • Possible Drug Interactions
    • Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants).
    • Sedative medications (Benzodiazepines).
    • Sedative medications (CNS depressants).

The following haven’t been studied as much as ashwagandha but preliminary evidence suggests these can also help ease anxiety:

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm anxiety

Lemon balm is a perennial herb from the mint family. The leaves, which have a mild lemon aroma, are used to make medicine. 

According to several small studies, it does appear effective at inducing calmness and reducing anxiety:

BenefitsEvidence
1. Reduce anxiety.
2. Increase sense of calm.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12062586
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15272110
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22207903
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4245564/

Is Lemon Balm Safe?

Lemon balm is likely safe for most people. When taken by mouth, lemon balm can cause some side effects including increased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, and wheezing.

When applied to the skin, lemon balm may cause skin irritation and increased cold sore symptoms.

Special precautions should be taken for the following conditions:

  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of lemon balm during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
  • Diabetes. Lemon balm might lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Watch for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and monitor your blood sugar carefully if you have diabetes and use lemon balm.
  • Surgery: Lemon balm might cause too much drowsiness if combined with medications used during and after surgery. Stop using lemon balm at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
  • Thyroid disease: Don’t use lemon balm. There is a concern that lemon balm may change thyroid function, reduce thyroid hormone levels, and interfere with thyroid hormone-replacement therapy.
  • Possible Drug Interactions: Sedative Medications (CNS depressants). Lemon balm might cause sleepiness and drowsiness.

Reishi Mushroom

reishi mushroom supplement facts

Reishi, also known as ganoderma lucidum or lingzi mushroom, is frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine. Its popularity extends to Japanese and Korean medicine, and it has been making its way west.

Reishi has anti-oxidative/anti-stress effects and also has a therapeutic effect on insulin resistance, reduces the risk of prostate cancer, and can help treat a variety of conditions associated with metabolic syndrome.

On top of that, the lingzi mushroom is well known for its anti-cancer effects. It is able to activate natural killer cells, increasing their activity and the body’s ability to fight tumors, and reduces the chances of metastasis, which is when cancer spreads to another part of the body, in certain types of cancers.

BenefitsEvidence
1. Reduce anxiety and stress levels.
2. Improve subjective well being.
3. Reduce fatigue.
4. Slows development of certain types of cancer.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15857210
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22203880
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20518254

Is Reishi Safe?

Reishi mushroom may cause side effects including dryness of the mouth, throat, and nasal area along with itchiness and rash, stomach upset and diarrhea, dizziness and headache, nosebleed, and bloody stools.

Special precautions should be taken for the following conditions:

  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking reishi mushroom if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
  • Bleeding disorder: High doses of reishi mushroom might increase the risk of bleeding in some people with certain bleeding disorders.
  • Low blood pressure: Reishi mushroom might lower blood pressure. There is a concern that it might make low blood pressure worse. If your blood pressure is too low, it is best to avoid reishi mushroom.
  • A clotting disorder called thrombocytopenia: High doses of reishi mushroom might increase the risk of bleeding in people with thrombocytopenia. If you have this condition, do not use reishi mushroom.
  • Surgery: High doses of reishi mushroom might increase the risk of bleeding in some people if used before or during surgery. Stop using reishi mushroom at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Possible Drug Interactions

  • Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs). Reishi mushroom might decrease blood sugar.
  • Medications for high blood pressure (Antihypertensive drugs. Reishi mushroom might decrease blood pressure in some people. Taking reishi mushroom along with medications for high blood pressure might cause your blood pressure to go too low.
  • Medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs). High doses of reishi mushroom might slow blood clotting. Taking reishi mushroom along with medications that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.

CBD

I felt compelled to give an honorable nod to CBD because everybody’s talking about it.

CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is a compound derived mainly from hemp plants (which are cousins of the marijuana plant–so it does not cause a “high” like THC found in marijuana).

With the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, as long as CBD is extracted from hemp and grown by licensed farmers in accordance with state and federal regulations, it is now legal to purchase.

And according to the World Health Organization, it’s safe:

In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.

World Health Organization

Although research is preliminary, it appears CBD has some legit benefits, the strongest scientific evidence being for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruelest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which typically don’t respond to antiseizure medications.

More recently, CBD is quickly becoming the treatment of choice for people who suffer from anxietyinsomnia, and chronic pain.

A study from the European Journal of Pain showed showed that CBD applied on the skin could help lower pain and inflammation due to arthritis. Another study demonstrated the mechanism by which CBD inhibits inflammatory and neuropathic pain, two of the most difficult types of chronic pain to treat.

More study in humans is needed in this area to substantiate the claims but its effects appear to be very promising.

The Bottom Line About Supplements

1. Do your homework. Make sure whatever supplement you’re thinking about taking has been studied for safety and efficacy. Examine.com and Pubmed are good sources.

2. Talk to your doctor before taking any new supplement. Especially if you have pre-existing health conditions.

3. Listen to your body. If a supplement makes you feel better, keep taking it. If it doesn’t, stop taking it.

Do Probiotics Work? Here’s What Science Really Says

Do probiotics work? If you’ve been reading the headlines lately, the media clearly thinks they don’t:

  • Probiotics Are Mostly Useless and Can Actually Hurt You
  • Do You Buy Probiotics? New Study Says They May Not Work For You And May Even Be Harmful
  • Unexpected Findings Cause Scientists to Rethink Probiotics
  • Probiotics Found To Be Ineffective For Easing Symptoms Of Kids’ Stomach Bugs

In light of all these news stories, I’ve received many emails asking if you should avoid probiotics altogether.

So in this article, I’m going to explain what these studies really mean (based on the latest and greatest research) and clear up some confusion around probiotics in general. After reading this, I’m confident you’ll feel a little more confident about your knowledge of probiotics.

Download Our FREE Gut Health Guide Here

Probiotics: What They Are and How They Work

Probiotics are microorganisms that may provide certain health benefits when ingested.

How probiotics work inside your body is still a bit of a mystery to scientists. Evidence suggest that probiotics communicate with your body through “toll-like” pattern recognition receptors … but more research is needed to understand their specific mechanism of action in humans.

Why Should You Care About Probiotics?

You have around 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body at any given moment (compared to around 30 trillion human cells).

Many of these bacterial organisms live in your gut, or “microbiome”. Your microbiome is now considered an organ that serves many important functions:

  • Stimulating the immune system
  • Breaking down potentially toxic food compounds
  • Synthesizing certain vitamins and amino acids
  • Providing protection from pathogenic organisms that enter the body
  • Controlling and/or producing neurotransmitters like serotonin (your body’s chemical messengers that contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness)

The exciting part is, we’re in the very early stages of research about the microbiome and its potential impact on your health. The evidence as a whole is promising but of course there are exceptions …

Which Probiotics May Not Work, According to Research Studies

Let’s look at some published studies that show which probiotics don’t appear to work for specific conditions:


Strain

A commercially available formulation containing 11 strains.*

Conclusion

Many people’s digestive tracts prevent certain probiotics from successfully colonizing them.

Discussion

Gregor Reid, a microbiologist at the University of Western Ontario who did not participate in the studies, questions the results and urges caution in interpreting data from just 15 people.



A commercially available formulation containing 11 strains.*


Many people can’t successfully colonize standard probiotics in their gut. The probiotic strains tested may not be helpful and actually may harm the gut microbiome following a course of antibiotics.

Lactobacillus strains, in particular, appeared to inhibit the “normal” commensal microbiota. However, several studies suggest that using certain strains of probiotics during antibiotic treatment does confer some benefit.

Brain fogginess, gas and bloating: a link between SIBO, probiotics and metabolic acidosis



Lactobacillus and/or bifidobacterium species

The use of probiotics could lead to a build-up of bacteria in the gut causing brain fogginess. 



“Brain fogginess is very subjective, and different criteria are used to assess this. I don’t believe that SIBO has any relationship to what they are calling brain fogginess.” –Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine at UCLA. 



Lactobacillus rhammosus


There was no meaningful difference in how long parents said their kids’ vomiting and diarrhea lasted.


This was a well-designed study that seems to show the probiotic strain Lactobacillus rhammosus (commercially sold as Culturelle) does not help with acute gastroenteritis (specifically, symptoms of stomach flu) in children.

My Interpretation of These Study Results

What you see above is just a small sampling of studies done recently. “Probiotics” are mentioned nearly 20,000 times on PubMed. There’s been a lot of research done showing the benefits (or lack thereof) of many probiotic strains.

If you’re considering a probiotic supplement, it’s up to you to do your own research and talk to your doctor about the effectiveness and safety of the strain you’re considering for your condition.

While probiotics are largely unregulated and definitely controversial, there are now hundreds of peer-reviewed, randomized, placebo-controlled trials that have demonstrated the safety and efficacy of a variety of probiotic strains.

You can find a decent list of peer-reviewed studies done on probiotics in this article or this one.

Probiotics are not, in the words of the BBC, “useless.” This is the age of sensationalist journalism, folks. Don’t believe every headline you read!

Let’s clear up a few more misconceptions while we’re at it …

Just Because One Study Found One or More Strains Don’t Work Doesn’t Mean ALL Probiotics Don’t Work

Remember, hundreds of human clinical trials have shown that probiotics can help you if you suffer from conditions like IBS, skin disorders, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and more.

Probiotics May Not Always Colonize In Your Gut, But That Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Work

Some studies suggest that probiotic strains that are able to survive the harsh conditions in your stomach and make it into your intestinal tract are the ones that convey the most benefit.

However, even when probiotics do not colonize in your gut, they still may have an impact on your gut and immune health.

Are Fermented Foods the Same as Probiotics?

No. I personally love fermented foods. I use sauerkraut, drink kombucha, and make my own pickles. And those foods are definitely good for you. But they’re not the same as probiotics. Here’s how the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics explains it:

do probiotics really work

More Strains Is Not Always Better

What’s more important is the type of strains, and making sure you’re choosing products with the correct amount of probiotic strains. Unfortunately, “50 billion CFUs” doesn’t mean anything if the strains haven’t been studied for safety and efficacy at that dose (most supplements have not).

This 2017 study found that the amount of probiotic bacteria contained in foods is often much lower than the effective dose shown in studies.

Probiotics Can Be Dangerous

Probiotics are mostly unregulated, which is a problem. Certain studies have reported probiotic-related deaths and others have shown adverse events may be underreported in clinical trials.

That’s why’s it’s so important to choose make sure the strain(s) you’re taking has been studied for safety and efficacy in peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

There is likely a huge difference between the probiotic strains tested and validated in human clinical trials and the ones found on the average grocery store shelf.

Lucy Mailing, an MD/PhD student at the University of Illinois and a staff research associate for Kresser Institute.

Probiotics Are NOT a Replacement for a Nutrient-dense Diet

What we eat is still the primary determinant of a diverse microbiota composition, which has been shown to be a key factor in people with “healthy” microbiomes.

Exercise may also promote healthy gut flora.

Key Takeaways

To recap:

  1. Many foods claiming probiotic content don’t contain enough for health benefit.
  2. Eating fermented foods is good … but not the same as taking probiotics.
  3. More strains doesn’t always means better.
    • What’s more important is finding a product/strain that has been studied to treat the health condition you’re looking to improve (IBS, IBD, skin conditions, anxiety, depression, to name a few.
    • Taking probiotics that haven’t been studied for safety can do more harm than good.
  4. Talk to your doctor (preferably a gastroenterologist) about which probiotics you should be taking for specific health conditions.
    • Do your homework: make sure the strains have been studied for safety and efficacy too.
  5. Diet and lifestyle are still the most important determining factors of gut microbial composition.

And if you’re going to use a probiotic supplement, here’s another resource that may help you:

The Best Probiotics, According to Science

 

*The 11 strains listed in studies #1 and 2 above were Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus casei subsp. paracasei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis, Lactococcus lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus

Want to Learn How to Improve Your Gut Health Naturally? Download Our FREE Gut Health Guide Here

Heavy Metals in Plant Protein Powder: Mostly Hype or Cause for Concern?

At some point, if you use a plant protein powder supplement, you’ll probably hear that it’s “contaminated” with heavy metals and other potential toxins.

You may have seen headlines like this:

“Clean Label Project Finds Hidden Toxins in Protein Powders” 

“Your Protein Powder Might Be Contaminated with Toxins, Says Consumer’s Reports”

“Study Finds Some Protein Powders Are Toxic To Your Health”

I can tell you with conviction that after poring over dozens of research studies, speaking to actual nutrition scientists, and reading all the hoopla about this topic online, there’s a lot of misinformation out there right now! 

That’s why in this article, I want to separate the facts from myths regarding heavy metals in your plant protein powder and other foods. 

This analysis is based on scientific data from peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled research studies (the gold standard of scientific research). All claims you see have a source, and you will see a list of all these sources at the end of the piece.

My objective when compiling research for this article was simple:

Find out what levels of heavy metals in foods/drinks are considered toxic / safe, according to the latest research.

Below you’ll find a summary of topics we’ll cover. This is a beast of an article at 3,000+ words, so click/tap on the topic you’re interested in if you want to to skip around.

What Are Heavy Metals?

Why Are Heavy Metals in Plant Protein Powders and Other Foods?

What Is the Clean Label Project?

What Is Prop 65?

Safety and Toxicity Levels of Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic, and Mercury

Summing It All Up

What Are Heavy Metals?

Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements that have a high atomic weight and a density at least 5 times greater than water.

Some heavy metals (zinc, copper, and iron, for example) are considered trace minerals that are essential for biological function in animals. But absorbing high amounts of certain metals in your bloodstream may cause serious health issues (you’ll learn what those are in a minute).[1]

Why Are Heavy Metals in Plant Protein Powders?

Heavy metals are naturally present in water and soil, which means there are trace amounts in most fruits, vegetables, and tap water. They are not added to protein powders and other foods; rather, they’re absorbed from the soil by the plant.

Crops grown in heavily polluted soils in industrial areas (China is an infamous example) contain higher levels of metals.

What Is the Clean Label Project?

The Clean Label Project, according to its website, is “a nonprofit focused on health and transparency in consumer product labeling.” 

It’s ironic that they market themselves as such, for several reasons:

  1. They won’t disclose who they’re funded by.
  2. The methodology of their star rating system has come under heavy scrutiny for its subjectivity (more on this in a second).
  3. They conveniently offer certification services along with an online marketplace:

clean label project scam

In its recent analysis of plant-based protein powders, the Clean Label Project assigned each product a score based on four criteria: heavy metals, pesticides, contaminants like BPA, and nutrition. Then it calculated an overall score.

The heavy metal levels accounted for 60 percent of the overall score. Why, exactly? There’s no scientific rationale. 

The five products that received the poorest overall scores were:

  • Garden of Life Organic Shake & Meal Replacement Chocolate Raw Organic Meal
  • Nature’s Best Isopure Creamy Vanilla Zero Carb
  • Quest Chocolate Milkshake Protein Powder
  • 360Cut Performance Supplements 360PRO Whey Chocolate Silk Premium Whey Protein
  • Vega Sport Plant-Based Vanilla Performance Protein

I don’t like any of these products, personally. 

However, the amount of heavy metals in most protein supplements reviewed by The Clean Label Project are well below the “at-risk” levels. (See “Safety and Toxicity Levels of Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic, and Mercury“).

Do I think there’s value in knowing if BPA, pesticides, and unsafe levels of heavy metals are in your protein powder?

Of course.

But here’s the bottom line: the Clean Label Project stands to make a handsome profit by convincing you that heavy metals are more dangerous than chemical pesticides and BPA (and added sugar, for that matter). 

The Clean Label Project “study” is a brilliant piece of marketing, no doubt … it just doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny …

As a scientist, I’m deeply troubled by the methods the Clean Label Project used in its study and report. I trust that the organization and its leaders have good intentions, but their eagerness to warn consumers about contaminants may have caused them to overlook some basic scientific principles.

Lori Bestervelt, Ph.D.

What Is Prop 65?

“Prop 65”, or Proposition 65, is a law specific to the State of California that requires products sold in California to carry warnings about potential exposure to a list of 900 substances “known to the state” to cause a potential threat to health.

California’s daily limit for lead, in particular, is 0.5 mcg (or ppm), which is 20-50x more stringent than acceptable levels established by the World Health Organization, National Science Foundation, and EPA. See “Safety and Toxicity Levels of Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic, and Mercury“.

Whether the soil is certified organic or conventional, and regardless of whether the plant is organic or genetically modified, lead is naturally found in a single serving of many fruits and vegetables at levels that commonly exceed the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 mcg.

For example, a serving of turnips, apples, artichokes, carrots, cucumbers, green beans, spinach, brown rice, almonds and other nuts contain measurable amounts considerably higher than the artificial limits established in Prop 65.

Yet these food products don’t have to carry the warning label because they’re not classified as supplements.

Doesn’t matter where the proteins were grown either …

When the State of California conducted a soil-lead-uptake analysis of its own soil, from 70 different locations, they found that most vegetables averaged four times the Prop 65 lead limits. [1]

In the last 10 years, the issue of Proposition 65 warnings with respect to foods has become an increasingly hot topic of debate and litigation.

Legal proceedings to enforce Prop 65 against manufacturers are instituted by the State of California, private attorneys, or private citizen “bounty hunters”, who collect tens of millions of dollars every year. It’s spawned an industry of opportunists hoping to make a quick buck.

Read more about Prop 65 on The Center for Accountability in Science website.

Safety and Toxicity Levels of Heavy Metals

Toxicity levels of heavy metals depend on several factors, including:

  1. Dose
  2. Route of exposure and chemical species
  3. Age, gender, genetics, and nutritional status of exposed individuals

The heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and nickel are classified as Group 1 human carcinogens (known or probable) according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. [2]

However, in this article we will focus on the four heavy metals most commonly found in protein powders: arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.

Let’s break down the important facts, starting with arsenic:

Arsenic

  • Arsenic is found in small doses in many foods and in drinking water and plays a role in some biological processes in humans.
  • The WHO recommended maximum intake of arsenic per day from drinking water is 10 ug (or parts per billion, or “ppb”).
  • The highest total arsenic levels have been measured in the following foods: fish and seafood, products or supplements based on algae, and cereal and cereal products, with particularly high concentrations in rice grains and rice-based products and bran and germ.
  • Contaminated water used for drinking, food preparation and irrigation of food crops poses the greatest threat to public health from arsenic.

What Is Arsenic?

Arsenic is found in small doses in many foods and in drinking water. Arsenic has a role in the metabolism of the amino acid methionine and in gene silencing, which means it’s a mineral your body actually needs.

But nonetheless, elevated levels of this mineral are highly toxic and very dangerous, particularly in its “inorganic” form (more on this in a minute).

How Arsenic Can Impact Your Health

Long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking-water and food can cause cancer and skin lesions. It has also been associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In utero and early childhood exposure has been linked to negative impacts on cognitive development and increased deaths in young adults. [3]

Contaminated water used for drinking, food preparation and irrigation of food crops poses the greatest threat to human health from arsenic, according to the World Health Organization. [3]

The WHO also says that preventing further exposure to arsenic by avoiding water with high levels of arsenic is the most important action affected communities can take. [3]

Inorganic Vs Organic Arsenic

Inorganic arsenic compounds (such as those found in water) are highly toxic while organic arsenic compounds (such as those found in seafood) are less harmful to health. That’s because ingested organic arsenic compounds are much less extensively metabolized and more rapidly eliminated in urine than inorganic arsenic in both laboratory animals and humans. [4]

Arsenic Food and Drink Daily Limits

Current World Health Organization daily limits of arsenic in drinking water are 10 μg/L (or parts per billion). [2] Arsenic can cause a number of human health effects at levels higher than this. [5, 6] 

A 2010 research review published by the European Food Safety Authority found that the dose of inorganic arsenic consumed from food or drinks that would produce a 1% increased risk of developing cancers of the skin, urinary bladder and lung, ranged from 0.3 to 8 μg/kg of bodyweight. [7]  That’s 20 – 544 ug/day for a 150-pound person.

Based on its testing, in 2016 the FDA proposed an action level, or limit, of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. This level, which is based on the FDA’s assessment of a large body of scientific information, seeks to reduce infant exposure to inorganic arsenic. [8]

The proposed limit stems from extensive testing of rice and non-rice products, a 2016 FDA risk assessment that analyzed scientific studies showing an association between adverse pregnancy outcomes and neurological effects in early life with inorganic arsenic exposure, and an evaluation of the feasibility of reducing inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal. [8]

Cadmium

  • Cadmium (Cd) is an element found in the environment from natural occurrence and contamination.
  • Cadmium is also present in trace amounts in certain foods such as leafy vegetables, potatoes, cereals, grains and seeds, liver, and crustaceans and mollusks.
  • A small amount of the cadmium in food and water (about 1-10%) will enter your body through the digestive tract. If you do not have enough iron or other nutrients in your diet, you are likely to take up more cadmium from your food than usual.
  • Cadmium contamination can cause kidney failure and bone demineralization.
  • Safe daily levels of Cd for adults should be kept below 24-30 ug per person per day or < 2.5 mcg per kg of bodyweight. 
  • FDA recommends <10 ppb of Cadmium in drinking water 
  • Smokers have the highest exposure to cadmium with food being the highest source of cadmium for the non-smoking population.

What Is Cadmium?

Cadmium (Cd) is a soft, silver-white metal found commonly in the environment from natural bioaccumulation and contamination. [9] Cadmium is also present in trace amounts in certain foods such as leafy vegetables, potatoes, cereals, grains and seeds, liver, and crustaceans and mollusks [4]

A small amount of the cadmium in food and water (about 1-10%) will enter your body through the digestive tract. [9] If you do not have enough iron or other nutrients in your diet, you are likely to take up more cadmium from your food than usual. [9]

How Cadmium Can Impact Your Health

Cadmium contamination is of concern because it can cause kidney failure and bone demineralization. [10] It can also cause respiratory and cardiovascular effects, skeletal lesions, and developmental issues in pregnant women, according to animal studies. [11]

Cadmium Food and Drink Daily Limits

Safe daily levels of Cd intake should be kept below 30 ug per person per day, according to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition. [12] The European Food Safety Authority’s Panel says that a tolerable weekly intake for cadmium should be 2.5 micrograms per kilogram of body weight or less, or 24 ug/day for a 150-lb person. [13]

Individual variations in Cd absorption and sensitivity to toxicity predicts that a dietary Cd intake of 30 mcg/d may result in a slight renal dysfunction in about 1% of the adult population. [12]

Smokers have the highest exposure to cadmium with food being the highest source of cadmium for the non-smoking population. [9]

Due to their high consumption of cereals, nuts, oilseeds and pulses, vegetarians can have a higher dietary exposure. [14]

Lead

  • Lead is a cumulative toxin that affects multiple body systems and may be particularly harmful to young children.
  • Lead in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney and bones. It is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Human exposure is usually assessed through the measurement of lead in blood.
  • People can become exposed to lead through occupational and environmental sources.
  • Experts currently use a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with blood lead levels that are much higher than most children’s levels. 
  • Lead absorption for adults is normally in the range of 5-10% of dietary lead. Children absorb 4-5 times more than adults.
  • If you eat foods high in calcium, iron, and Vitamin C, your body will absorb less lead from food and drinks
  • FDA recommends < 5 ppb of lead in drinking water and consuming <12.5 mcg / day total from food for adults.

What Is Lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in the Earth’s crust. Its widespread use has resulted in extensive environmental contamination, human exposure and significant public health problems in many parts of the world, particularly in developing countries and cities that still use lead pipes to transport drinking water.

How Lead Can Impact Your Health

At high doses, lead has been shown to hinder neuronal development, particularly in infants.

Today, the largest source of lead poisoning in children comes from dust and chips from deteriorating lead paint on interior surfaces.

Lead Food and Drink Daily Limits

Here’s what we know about lead, based on the latest research

  • The National Toxicology Program says that there is sufficient evidence for adverse health effects in children and adults at BLL <5 μg/dL. At doses higher than this, lead has been shown to hinder neuronal development, particularly in infants. [15].
  • The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) says that 5 micrograms per deciliter (5 μg/dL) is a blood lead level higher than 97.5% of children and no safe level has been established for children … so parents would be wise to avoid dietary exposure to lead in their young children whenever possible [16].

Keep in mind these are blood lead levels. Just because you eat a serving of Brussel’s sprouts (or sweet potatoes, spinach or protein powder), doesn’t mean your body will absorb the entire 7.9 mcg in one serving … 

Lead absorption for adults is normally in the range of 5-10% of dietary lead. Children absorb more than adults …exactly how much more is unknown. [17]

Here are some examples of common foods that contain high amounts of lead:

Sources: [18,19] 

If your dinner this week contains just one of the foods above, you’re ingesting more lead than you would in a serving of plant protein powder.

If you eat foods high in calcium, iron, and Vitamin C, your body will absorb less lead from food and drinks. [20]

It should go without saying, but if you have concerns about your (or your child’s) blood levels, ask your doctor for a blood test.

Mercury

Mercury poses risks to the development children in utero and in early life. [21]

Mercury is not detected in the overwhelming majority of protein powders, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it. 

The highest observed reading in the Clean Label Project analysis was 26.6 μg/kg, or approx. 0.8 μg per serving.

A tolerable amount has been set by the World Health Organization of 1.6 μg/kg bodyweight, per week, or around 17 μg per day for an average weight woman. [22] The amount per serving in the highest detectable level of mercury is around 4% of this tolerable daily amount.

Most people have mercury levels in their bodies below the level associated with possible health effects. Mercury settles into bodies of water like lakes and streams, or onto land, where it can be washed into water. That’s why fish and shellfish are most commonly associated with high mercury levels. If your mercury levels are high, eat less large fish like tuna, swordfish, and grouper.  [23]

So What Doses of Heavy Metals Are Safe / Toxic for Most Adults?

This part is a bit confusing because different global scientific authorities have different recommendations and different units of measurements. On top of that, heavy metal information currently available online from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), World Health Organization (WHO), and National Science Foundation (NSF) is dated (in most cases, more than 10 years old).

For that reason, we are using recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who seem to be the most active in publishing new research and content about heavy metals. You can also see a list of sources at the end of this article that informed all of the findings presented here.

Lead: 

<3 mcg / day in children

<5 ppb in drinking water

<12.5 mcg / day in adults

Arsenic: 

<10 ppb in drinking water

<100 ppb in any food

*Note: FDA doesn’t provide a daily limit

Cadmium: 

<10 ppb for water

<2.5 mcg / kg of body weight

Mercury:

<1 ppm in any food

*Note: FDA doesn’t provide a daily limit

The Bottom Line on Heavy Metals in Protein Powders

 

The presence of a heavy metal does not equate to toxicity in the body or harm resulting from it. Like any vitamin or mineral, the frequency, dose, and exposure defines the poison–remember that most vitamins and vitamins are toxic in excessive amounts.

In the words of Cliff Harvey, Ph.D., nutritionist, author, and research scientist:

Don’t freak out….the heavy metal levels in proteins tested were low and similar to what you’d get from foods in your normal, daily diet. 

With that said, overexposure to heavy metal contaminants is a major public health concern, particularly in the developing world. While we need to be vigilant to ensure that our food and the supplements we use are not exposing us to risk, the heavy metal hysteria and the way it has been interpreted and reported in the mainstream media appears to be mostly fear-mongering.

Pure Food, like all plant-based protein powders, contains trace amounts of heavy metals. The amount you’ll find in our protein powder is much less than you’d get eating a serving of spinach, a handful of nuts, or a glass of wine.

Our products have all been 3rd party tested to monitor heavy metal levels, pesticides, and BPA (we don’t have detectable levels of the latter two). Our ingredients far surpass standard levels set by organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), US FDA, EPA, National Science Foundation, European Union, and Canadian Natural Health Products Directorate. Those test results are all published on our FAQ page, by the way.

I still recommend choosing proteins that are sourced in the U.S. and Canada because the soil in places like China tends to be more heavily polluted.

As a parent of two young children, one of whom my wife is still breastfeeding, I do think it’s important to limit dietary exposure to lead and other heavy metals … the evidence suggests that moms who are pregnant or nursing should not be guzzling protein shakes and eating tuna every day. 

Like anything else, moderation is key. 

If heavy metals concern you, go get your (or your kids’) blood tested by your doctor. This will tell you if you have elevated levels. Personal note: I got lead blood levels tested because I use 1-2 servings per day of Pure Food and they were completely normal. 

If you have questions or comments, feel free to leave it below. Here’s a graphic that sums up the main points of this article: 

heavy metals in plant protein powders