Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast,
where we discuss science
and science-based tools for everyday life.
I’m Andrew Huberman,
and I’m a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology
at Stanford School of Medicine.
Today, we’re discussing supplements,
or more specifically, a rational guide to supplementation.
Now, to be forthright,
I want to tell you that I am not a fan
of the word supplements,
because it stems from this idea
that all supplements are somehow food supplements
or designed to compensate
for what one could otherwise get from food,
and that’s simply not the case.
Many supplements are compounds
that are extremely efficacious,
for instance, for enhancing sleep
or for enhancing hormone function or for enhancing focus,
and many of those compounds are simply not found in food
or are not found in enough abundance in food
to have the desired effect.
Now, that raises the issue
as to whether or not these compounds
are good to take, safe to take,
and whether or not they are actually beneficial for us,
and the short answer is that, like everything else,
supplements can either be good for us or dangerous for us,
depending on dosage, sourcing, et cetera,
but more importantly,
we need to think about supplements
and a rational guide to supplementation
as taking into account a number of different factors,
and we need to set aside the idea
that all non-prescription compounds
that fall under this umbrella term supplements
are simply things that could be extracted from food,
but most people don’t either ingest enough of those foods
or pay enough attention to their diet
in order to obtain them.
In fact, during today’s episode,
I’m going to give you a number of different,
very specific questions that you can answer
in order to decide whether or not
you should be taking any so-called supplements or not,
and whether or not you should be taking
one type of supplement or another type of supplement
more or less than the other.
I’m also going to discuss safety, of course,
and I will discuss cost,
because obviously monetary cost is a serious consideration
for most, if not everybody,
considering the use of supplements.
During today’s episode,
I will also discuss which specific supplements are optimal
for achieving specific endpoints,
such as improved sleep, such as improved focus,
and such as improved hormone function, among other things.
I plan to cover the full range
of what are referred to as supplements,
including so-called foundational supplements
that are designed to act as a sort of insurance policy
against any deficiencies that might exist within your diet,
all the way up to very targeted outcome
supplements and compounds,
that is compounds that are non-prescription
that are designed to achieve very specific endpoints,
such as enhanced focus over the next four to six hours
of physical work or mental work, so on and so forth.
Plan to cover everything in between that as well,
and I promise to cover how supplements interact
with other things such as behavioral tools,
prescription drugs, when supplements
might be a good alternative to prescription drugs,
when they might not be a good alternative
to prescription drugs,
when supplements can serve as an augment
to already excellent nutrition and prescription protocols,
and every feature of supplements
as it relates to mental health,
physical health, and performance.
By the end of today’s episode,
you should be armed with a number of different questions,
as I mentioned before,
that will allow you to develop
the most biologically effective
and cost-effective supplement regimen for you.
And of course, I want to acknowledge that for some people,
the total amount or dosages of a given supplement
or supplements that you might need to take could be zero,
there are such individuals,
but that many people can in fact derive
tremendous benefit from supplements
in a way that can be more cost-effective
than trying to obtain
the same non-prescription nutrients from food.
As we head into today’s conversation,
I want to emphasize something very important,
not just as it relates to supplements,
but as it relates to all aspects of mental health,
physical health, and performance,
and that is I take the stance that behavioral tools,
that is specific actions that we take
and specific actions that we avoid,
form the foundation of mental health,
physical health, and performance.
So things like viewing morning sunlight
and exercise are behavioral tools.
They don’t require the ingestion of anything.
Within the realm of behavioral tools,
there are also some don’ts or do nots
that can greatly enhance our mental health,
physical health, and performance,
such as avoiding bright light exposure to your eyes
between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.,
or avoiding caffeine too late in the afternoon,
because even if you can fall asleep
after ingesting caffeine in the late afternoon,
we know it disrupts the architecture of your sleep
in ways that greatly diminish your mental health,
physical health, and performance the following day,
So behavioral tools form the foundational layer
of all tools for mental health,
physical health, and performance.
Second to that, I would say the next layer
is in fact nutrition.
No amount of supplementation or non-prescription compounds
or prescription compounds, for that matter,
can ever compensate for poor nutrition,
at least not for very long, okay?
So this is a key point.
Even though many supplements are not simply food supplements
because they are not designed to compensate
for anything that you could otherwise get from food,
that is not to say that you can live on supplements.
You know, I suppose you could live on whey protein
and fish oil capsules and vitamin capsules
or tablets for a short while,
but before long, you’d either suffer from boredom
to the extent that you’d want to go back to food
or some other deficiency would show up.
I think it’s the rare individual that tries to survive
entirely on food supplements and things of that sort.
Most everybody, and I would hope everybody,
is paying attention to their nutrition.
So I would place behavioral tools, do’s and do nots,
as layer one, the deepest layer, the bedrock
of all mental health, physical health, and performance.
On top of that, I would place nutrition.
And of course, that’s going to mean different things
to different people, with the understanding
that there’s a huge array of different food choices
and nutritional programs.
Nutrition is fundamentally important for macronutrients,
for storage of energy in the form of glycogen fats
and phosphocreatine stores and so forth,
but also for obtaining basic nutrients,
vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients, okay?
So we’ve got behavioral tools, nutritional tools.
Then on top of that, I would place
what is typically called supplementation,
although today I’m trying to expand that word
to include not just things that compensate
for food deficiencies or that are layered on top of food
as a way to enhance the amount of nutrients
that you could get from food, but as I mentioned before,
compounds that are non-prescription
that can be for a variety of different purposes,
and many of which are not available in food.
So I would place supplementation right on top of nutrition.
Then past that, I would say prescription drugs,
obviously prescribed from a board-certified
MD can serve a very vital purpose in the treatment
or augmentation of mental health, physical health,
and performance goals.
So some people do in fact need prescription antidepressants,
other people do not.
Some people do in fact need prescription drugs
for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
or sleep-related disorders, so on and so forth.
The whole issue of whether or not
there is an over-prescription epidemic or not
is a separate conversation for a separate podcast.
I would argue that many prescription drugs
do in fact save lives.
This includes the category of prescription drugs
related to statins and cardiovascular health,
related to any number of different things,
even sleep disorders and insomnia, narcolepsy, and so forth.
That said, there are many instances
in which people can either reduce their dosages
of prescription compounds
or can replace those prescription compounds
with quality behavioral tools,
nutrition, and supplementation,
but there are many instances in which prescription drugs
are the only route by which people can achieve
the mental health, physical health, and performance goals
that they wish to achieve.
So I would place that as the fourth layer
in this stack of layers directed towards mental health,
physical health, and performance.
So just to list off again,
I fundamentally believe that behaviors, dos, and do nots
form the foundation of mental health,
physical health, performance.
Next in line would be nutrition,
that is the specific foods we eat,
the amount that we eat,
the combinations of foods that we eat in a given sitting,
and the timing in which we eat our food.
Then on top of that, I would place supplementation,
the topic of today’s episode,
and finally, prescription drugs.
And of course, all of these things interact
in important and interesting ways,
many of which interactions we will discuss
during today’s podcast
as we drill into the topic of supplementation,
developing a rational supplementation protocol,
and one that is most biologically and cost-effective.
Before moving further into today’s episode,
I want to emphasize a very important point,
which is that I am not a physician,
that is, I’m not a clinician,
so I do not prescribe anything,
nor am I going to do that today.
I’m a professor, I review the research literature,
I describe tools gleaned from the research literature
and developed from the research literature.
So I profess many things, but I do not prescribe anything,
and I think it’s vitally important
that anytime you are thinking of adding or subtracting
any behavioral protocols, nutritional protocols,
and certainly prescription drug-based protocols,
for whatever purpose,
that you consult a trusted, board-certified physician.
That’s absolutely essential.
I don’t say that merely to protect me,
I mainly say that to protect you.
The most important aspect of today’s episode
is not going to be that you discover
one particular supplement or category of supplements
or blend of supplements
that is going to transform your mental health,
physical health, and performance.
No, the purpose of today’s episode
is for you to understand where you have needs
that can be met by supplementation
better than any other approach,
and most importantly, how to think about supplementation.
That is, how to think about the different categories
of supplements that are out there
and how those interact with your nutrition
and your behaviors so that you can maximize
your immediate and long-term health.
What I mean by this is that we have this word,
supplements or supplementation,
but that means many, many different things.
It means vitamins, it means minerals, it means adaptogens.
Most people probably don’t even know
what an adaptogen really is,
and in fact, many people talking about adaptogens
never actually define what an adaptogen is
or it’s designed for,
or the fact that many adaptogens
are also used for other purposes.
So today’s discussion is really about
you learning how to think about supplementation
the same way you would learn to think about nutrition
or exercise or anything related
to brain and body health for that matter
in a way that lets you navigate this vast space
that we call supplementation
and develop protocols that are optimal for you.
And indeed, it may be the case that the ideal dosage
of a given supplement for you is zero milligrams.
For instance, if I ask you,
are you sleeping deeply and enough each night?
Do you feel rested throughout the day?
Maybe you need a short nap and that’s it,
or maybe you don’t.
And you say, yes, I feel great.
I sleep great.
I wake up feeling great.
I only need a short nap or no nap during the day
to feel rested throughout the day.
Well, then there’s really no discussion
about sleep supplementation to be had between you and me.
However, if you are not sleeping well,
then a big discussion opens up as to what the reasons are.
Is it related to nutrition or when you’re exercising
or ingesting caffeine?
In other words, no discussion about supplementation
can be had in a vacuum.
Rather, discussions about supplementation
need to be considered in a larger context.
So today you’re going to learn how to place the discussion
and thinking about supplementation in a larger context
and think about how specific supplements,
that is specific ingredients and combinations of ingredients
can indeed be used to buffer and support your overall health
and lead you to specific health and performance outcomes.
Before we begin, I’d like to emphasize that this podcast
is separate from my teaching and research roles at Stanford.
It is, however, part of my desire and effort
to bring zero cost to consumer information
about science and science-related tools
to the general public.
In keeping with that theme,
I’d like to thank the sponsors of today’s podcast.
Our first sponsor is Momentus.
Momentus makes supplements of the absolute highest quality.
The Huberman Lab Podcast has decided
to partner with Momentus
because of the extremely high quality
of Momentus supplements
and because they have single ingredient formulations.
As we’ll discuss more on today’s episode,
single ingredient formulations are essential
for most all aspects of developing a rational,
highly efficacious supplement regimen.
And that’s because the ideal supplement regimen
allows you to adjust the dosages of individual ingredients
as well as alternate days
in which specific ingredients are consumed.
It also allows you, for instance,
to assess whether or not one given ingredient works for you
and another ingredient does not.
And it also allows you to assess
whether or not any side effects originate
from a specific component of your supplement protocol.
Another advantage of Momentus supplements
is that they ship anywhere in the world
because we realize that many of you reside
outside of the United States.
If you’d like to try any of the supplements
mentioned in today’s or other episodes
of the Huberman Lab Podcast,
so for instance, things related to sleep augmentation,
hormone augmentation, enhancing focus,
metabolic health, or otherwise,
you can go to livemomentus, spelled O-U-S,
so livemomentus.com slash Huberman,
and you’ll get 20% off any of their products.
Today’s episode is also brought to us by Element.
Element is an electrolyte drink
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That means plenty of sodium, magnesium, and potassium,
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Getting sufficient hydration and electrolytes
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This is especially true of the so-called neurons
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They actually require sufficient amounts
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So when you are dehydrated,
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I’ve been sleeping on a Helix mattress
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For me, it was the Dusk D-U-S-K mattress
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Let’s talk about supplements and supplementation
and how to develop a rational supplementation regimen.
One of the things that’s really emerged
over the last 20 years is that supplements,
and there I’m referring to non-prescription compounds
designed to augment nutrition,
prescription drugs, and behavioral protocols,
have emerged as a mainstay within the health and wellness,
but also the medical communities
that are focused on developing mental health,
physical health, and performance for their patients
and their athletes and for the everyday person.
Essentially what I’m saying is that 20 years ago,
a discussion about supplements would mainly take place
within the niche communities of health food stores
or of particular athletes.
But nowadays, I think almost everyone is familiar
with the fact that yes, indeed,
there are standard vitamin supplements,
but that there are also supplements such as vitamin D3,
which are designed to make sure
that people have certain amounts of hormones
in their bloodstream
because they might not be getting enough sunshine.
Although I’ll be very clear over and over
throughout this episode
that there is no pill replacement for sunshine,
nor is there a pill replacement
or food replacement for that matter
for exercise or for social connection or for sleep
or for simply getting smarter.
Again, there is no pill that’s going to replace
excellent behavioral protocols.
In fact, a physician friend of mine has a great saying
that I think everybody should keep in mind
as we wade into this conversation,
which is that better living through chemistry
still requires better living.
I think that’s a very important phrase to keep in mind
when thinking about the optimal supplementation
or prescription drug protocol for you.
So what is an ideal supplementation protocol?
Well, I think what we need to do
is to take a step back and ask
what are different supplements designed to do?
For instance, there are foundational supplements.
These are supplements
that are designed to establish a foundation
or provide insurance along with your nutritional intake
to ensure that you’re getting all the things that you need
in order to have a basic level of mental health,
physical health, and opportunity for optimal performance.
Now, this is the one category of supplements
for which I think it’s appropriate,
and in fact, advantageous
to have multiple ingredients in a given supplement.
Throughout the rest of today’s discussion,
I’m going to talk about the advantage of mainly focusing
on taking single ingredient formulations
for a variety of reasons.
But when it comes to foundational supplements,
what we’re mainly talking about
are supplements that contain vitamins and minerals
that are designed to compensate
for any deficiencies you might have from diet
or from lack of adequate diet.
How would such a lack of vitamin and mineral intake arise?
Well, for instance,
if you’re somebody that practices intermittent fasting
or other components of fasting,
or if you’re somebody who does not get enough vitamins
and minerals from vegetables and fruits and grains and meats,
well, then taking a supplement
that can act as an insurance policy
against any vitamin and mineral deficiencies
in many ways can be advantageous,
although I will talk about some of the safety concerns
in just a few minutes.
Now, I want to acknowledge that as soon as we talk
about vitamin and mineral supplements,
the skeptics immediately raise their hands and say,
well, all that vitamin and mineral supplements do
is give you very expensive urine.
And there, the skeptics are referring to the fact,
the reality, that when you ingest high levels
of water-soluble vitamins,
so think vitamin C and some of the other vitamins,
that indeed you will excrete them in your urine.
However, it’s also the case that many people
are not getting enough of the water-soluble vitamins
from their foods,
and it’s also the case that many people are.
And it’s also the case that ingesting higher
than needed amounts of most water-soluble vitamins,
provided those levels aren’t exceedingly high,
is, or at least we should say, can be safe.
And again, this is provided that the levels
that they’re ingesting are not exceedingly high.
So the typical vitamin mineral supplement
is indeed going to cover any gaps or deficiencies
that might arise in the water-soluble vitamins
from your food intake.
But the reality is that most people are getting enough
of the water-soluble vitamins from their food
if they are paying attention to a couple of things.
And those things are very simple to lay out,
regardless of whether or not you’re a vegan, a vegetarian,
a more traditional omnivore eating from both animal-based
and plant-based sources, grains, et cetera,
or even if you’re in the pure carnivore or strict,
I guess it’s called the lion diet
where it’s just meat and salt.
Regardless of what type of nutrition you follow,
you will get vitamins and minerals,
but you’ll get more or fewer of them
depending on the nutritional program you follow.
And of course, depending on how often and how much you eat.
That’s just sort of obvious.
Most people who take a vitamin mineral supplement
will indeed excrete a lot of the water-soluble vitamins.
They will retain the fat-soluble vitamins.
And there again, the skeptics will raise their hands
and say, you do not want to take high levels
of fat-soluble vitamins
because they will be stored in your system
potentially to levels that are dangerous.
Again, provided that vitamin mineral supplements
are not taken in excess,
it’s unlikely that you’re going to have such a buildup
of the fat-soluble vitamins in your system
that they’re going to be a problem.
So that raises a very specific question
that you need to ask.
Do you want to take a vitamin mineral supplement?
Well, the answer to that will be highly individual,
but you really just need to address two things.
First of all, is the cost within the range
that you can afford and want to pay, right?
Oftentimes these vitamin mineral supplements
can be quite inexpensive,
but some of them can be quite expensive.
And you can see the full range of ones
that are pennies per day,
all the way up to many dollars or tens of dollars per day
because of what are reported to be variations
in quality and sourcing and so forth.
I’m not aware of any real differences
between the quality of the water-soluble
and fat-soluble vitamins found in the less expensive
versus the more expensive vitamin mineral supplements.
More typically, the cost scales with the dosages
of these different vitamins and minerals.
And as could probably be expected,
the more expensive to obtain and source vitamins
and minerals tend to be in lower quantities
in the less expensive versions
of vitamin mineral supplements.
This is kind of obvious.
So you need to ask yourself,
can you afford it financially?
And then you need to ask yourself,
are you able to regularly ingest enough foods
with enough variety to cover your vitamin mineral needs
just from food?
And for some people,
the answer is going to be an immediate yes.
They are careful to get enough of the foods
that allow them to obtain their vitamin and mineral quota.
And for other individuals, the answer will be no.
I would say for people that are extremely physically
and or mentally active,
and for people that perhaps are following
a intermittent fasting schedule,
so they are not ingesting a lot of food in general
or restricting their food intake to specific times of day,
well, then a vitamin mineral supplement
likely makes sense for them.
However, it’s going to be very important
to ingest that vitamin mineral supplement
with food and ideally early in the day.
So that can set up a little bit of a challenge
for the intermittent fasters
who are restricting their feeding window
to late in the day.
Why do I say this?
Well, many of the water-soluble vitamins,
in particular the B vitamins,
need to be ingested with food
because otherwise they can cause some stomach upset.
And again, there’s a range there.
Some people like myself can take B vitamins
on an empty stomach and feel fine.
Other people feel really lousy when they take B vitamins.
There are a few other things that we’ll talk about later,
namely zinc and coenzyme Q10
that really should also be taken with food.
But the best time to take a vitamin mineral supplement
is with food.
And I believe that if you’re going to take
a vitamin mineral supplement,
that you want to take it with food
and you don’t want to take dosages of vitamins and minerals
from supplements that are exceedingly high
for a couple of reasons.
One is the buildup of fat-soluble vitamins
that we talked about before.
The other reason is that when people tend to take
very high levels of vitamins and minerals from supplements,
they tend to spend less time and focus on making sure
that they’re optimizing their nutrition
or at least trying to get their nutrition right.
What do I mean by getting their nutrition right?
Well, I think regardless of whether or not
you’re keto, omnivore, carnivore, vegan,
or any other nutritional plan,
the key thing is to get most,
that is about 75 to 80% of your foods or more
from non-processed or minimally processed sources.
I think there is agreement across the board
that most people should avoid highly processed foods.
Highly processed foods are going to be foods
with very long ingredient lists
that have very long shelf lives.
So this often includes snack foods.
It does include snack foods like chips, et cetera,
pastries that could sit on the shelf a long time,
but it also includes things like canned soups
and number of different other foods
that have many, many ingredients, preservatives.
Most people would do well to avoid those kinds of foods
and focus most of their intake
on things that are non-processed.
So these would be things like fruits and vegetables.
You’ll notice that the non-processed foods
will tend to have very short shelf life
or require refrigeration in some cases,
such as meat, eggs, et cetera,
or minimally processed foods,
such as rice and oatmeal and pastas,
beans and things of that sort.
Beans oftentimes can be completely unprocessed as well.
Of course, there’s two general categories,
unprocessed and minimally processed
that should make up about 80% or more of your food intake
if your goal is health and obtaining adequate amounts
of vitamins and minerals.
The so-called foundational supplements include, of course,
vitamin and mineral supplements,
but has expanded over the last decade or more
to also include supplements that have vitamins and minerals,
but also things like digestive enzymes.
And again, here we have an example
where indeed you can get digestive enzymes from foods.
For instance, eating a bit of papaya
or even a little bit of pineapple
can assist in the digestion
of certain aspects of macronutrients
because these are naturally occurring enzymes
that help digest things like carbohydrates,
fats, and proteins.
And there are other food-based sources of enzymes.
You’re welcome to look those up online.
If you just put food-based sources of enzymes
and you’ll find those.
But nowadays, a lot of the foundational supplements
will include papain,
or they will include different lipases,
or anytime you hear the word ACE, by the way,
it means an enzyme.
An enzyme is designed to break down
or to catalyze some sort of reaction
in biology and in nutrition in particular.
So you can find foundational supplements
that include vitamins and minerals and digestive enzymes.
And nowadays, more and more,
the quality foundational supplements
are also including things like adaptogens.
And here, the name adaptogens is sort of vague,
and it indeed has no specific operational definition.
This is something really important to understand
about supplementation is that companies
and indeed podcasts can talk about adaptogens
without actually defining what an adaptogen is
in an operational way.
When we say operational,
what we mean is a definition that everyone
in a given arena or space, research for instance,
can agree on so that when we talk about
the adaptogenic effects of a given compound,
we’re all talking about the same things.
Well, foundational supplements nowadays include
vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes,
and the so-called adaptogens.
And the adaptogens, broadly speaking,
are thought to improve the body and brain’s ability
to buffer against various stressors.
So these could be things like herbs, like ashwagandha,
that are designed to reduce cortisol levels.
In that sense, ashwagandha is an adaptogen,
but ashwagandha has other effects related
to hormone augmentation in both the testosterone
and estrogen, and maybe even the thyroid pathways.
We’ll talk about this a little bit later
when we talk about supplements for hormone augmentation.
So foundational supplements has really expanded
to include a lot of different categories
of nutrients and micronutrients,
vitamins and minerals, digestive enzymes,
designed to achieve a broad spectrum of effects.
Again, this is the one category of supplementation
where I think it makes sense
to explore multi-ingredient formulations.
And the other thing that’s often included
in these so-called foundational supplements
are probiotics or prebiotics,
which are designed to augment and support
the so-called gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome is the collection
of trillions of little micro bacteria
that exist in all of us.
They mainly exist in the mucous membrane lined tissues
of the body.
So that would be your nasal passages, your mouth,
the vagina, the urethra, and the gut,
the whole way from your mouth all the way out the other end.
So not just your stomach.
Trillions of bacteria live there.
Trillions of micro bacteria also live on your skin.
In fact, every time you shake someone’s hand,
you’re exchanging micro bacteria.
These micro bacteria often are healthy for us, good for us.
They support a huge number of positive biological functions,
but there are other micro bacteria that live in our gut
and elsewhere on those mucous line tissues
that can be disadvantageous for us,
that can harm our health.
A growing idea these days,
based on a number of different laboratories work,
including the laboratory of my upstairs neighbor
at Stanford, Dr. Justin Sonnenberg,
who’s been a guest on this podcast,
is that having a great diversity, a range of microbiota,
as they’re called microbiome, microbiota,
and these micro bacteria are all essentially referring
to the same thing.
The microbiome is the whole collection
of these micro bacteria,
but having a lot of different so-called species
of these micro bacteria is known to be advantageous
for immune system function, hormone function.
It supports the so-called gut brain axis
that’s important for a number of things,
including mood and motivation.
It actually supports the production of neurotransmitters
in the brain and body that can help keep you motivated,
elevated mood, support the general function of neurons.
Well, not surprisingly,
there are ways to support the gut microbiome
and there are ways to harm the gut microbiome.
I’ll refer to the podcast episode we did
with Justin Sonnenberg.
You can find that at hubermanlab.com
if you want to learn all the different ways
that you can support your gut microbiome.
But for sake of today’s discussion,
I want to emphasize that some of those methods
of supporting the gut microbiome
are through the direct consumption of particular foods.
And there are two categories of foods
that if you’re getting enough of them,
it’s likely that your gut microbiome is diverse
and is going to support all those important functions
I just listed off and other functions as well.
The two sources of gut microbiota supporting foods
are low sugar fermented foods.
So these would be things like sauerkraut, kimchi,
Greek yogurt, again, low sugar Greek yogurt,
kombucha in particular as a drink, things like kefir.
There are a bunch of other varieties of fermented foods,
different cultures at different fermented foods.
So the Japanese natto is another source of ferment
that is very good for the gut microbiome
and work from Justin Sonnenberg’s lab
and close by labs at Stanford School of Medicine
have shown that if people ingest four servings a day
of these low sugar fermented foods,
it greatly improves the function of the gut microbiome
and in particular enhances the function
of the immune system
and it reduces the so-called inflammatome.
It reduces inflammation in the brain and body
in the ways that are helpful and effective
for brain and body, that is mental health,
physical health and performance.
So there are ways to support your gut microbiome
strictly from food, but it should come as no surprise
that most people are not ingesting four servings a day
of fermented foods.
Hopefully they’re getting enough fiber,
especially prebiotic fiber,
which is one other way to support the gut microbiome.
Although the studies from Justin Sonnenberg’s lab
point to the fact that fiber intake itself
was not directly supportive of the gut microbiome
in everybody, it was in some individuals,
but not in others and some had no effect
and in other individuals, it actually made the category
or I should say the array of inflammatome markers worse.
It actually led to more inflammation.
So that’s not to say that fiber is bad.
In fact, in the episode that we did with Dr. Lane Norton,
he discussed the many benefits of getting enough fiber.
There are a lot of reasons why people should get enough fiber
in their diet, but at least for supporting
the gut microbiome, four servings a day
of low sugar fermented foods seems to be the best way
to support the gut microbiome
through the intake of nutrition.
Again, most people are not achieving that
and therefore these foundational supplements
that can be just vitamin and mineral supplements
or it could be vitamin and mineral supplements
plus digestive enzymes or both of those things
plus adaptogens now also tend to include prebiotics
and probiotics that are designed to support
the proliferation and maintenance of enough gut microbiota
in order to support the gut microbiome
and the gut brain axis.
Now, because of the importance of the gut microbiome
and because most people are not getting enough support
for the gut microbiome in the form
of low sugar fermented foods and prebiotic fiber
from their diet, I think perhaps one of the most essential
foundational supplements, irrespective of whether or not
it includes vitamins and minerals, adaptogens
and digestive enzymes is some way to support
the gut microbiome.
Now, this gets into a whole dimension of categories
of prebiotic and probiotic capsules
and one needs to be very careful there.
I do want to say that most of the prebiotic
and probiotic capsules that you can buy,
first of all, are very expensive.
The best ones are going to be refrigerated
or require refrigeration just as do any good
low sugar fermented foods, by the way.
So for instance, pickles are a low sugar fermented food
that can support the gut microbiome
but if you’re buying pickles from the section
of the grocery store where the pickles
are not refrigerated, well then you’re not going
to get the gut microbiome supporting effects
from those pickles.
It’s sort of funny we’re even having this conversation
talking about pickles but the reality is
they can greatly enhance the microbiota
if you are getting the pickles that are
and require refrigeration and include the brine
which is the liquid around them.
The same is true for sauerkraut.
Non-refrigerated sauerkraut is not going to support
your gut microbiome.
It will supply some other things perhaps
but it’s not going to support your gut microbiome.
It has to be the refrigerated versions.
For the reason that most people are not getting enough
food-based support for the gut microbiome
and because of the importance of the gut microbiome,
one of the key categories of foundational supplements
are supplements that create support for the microbiome
through prebiotics or probiotics.
Again, they tend to be the refrigerated varieties
are the ones that are actually going to work.
Those also tend to be very expensive.
And there are some evidence that taking excessive amounts
of prebiotics and probiotics that is typical
of these capsule forms of prebiotics and probiotics,
if they’re taken ongoing, not for short periods of time
but if they’re taken ongoing can lead to some issues
like brain fog.
There’s a nice literature on this
and a growing one at that.
So my suggestion is that if people are going to take
supplements to support the microbiome
that those supplements include low enough levels.
That is small enough amounts of prebiotics and probiotics
that you don’t start to venture into the realm
of brain fog and some of the other issues
that could be associated with taking too much prebiotic
and probiotic in the form of supplements.
I’d like to take a brief break
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The other category of foundational supplements
are those adaptogens that we mentioned earlier.
Adaptogens again, being a very poorly defined category
but these are typically micronutrients, herbs,
sometimes they go into the mushroom category
and these are non-psychedelic mushrooms
that provide either some buffering to the stress system
by reducing cortisol typically,
or that are thought to or known to based on research studies
to enhance things like blood flow to the brain
or to enhance some aspect of cognitive function
by way of enhancing neurotransmitter function.
This category of so-called adaptogens
is an important one.
We’ll get back to this a little bit later.
The reason I mention it now is that it is indeed hard
to get the so-called adaptogens in sufficient concentrations
from food-based sources.
I have to assume that most people aren’t out there
collecting chaga mushroom or the ashwagandha herbs
and then combining them with their salads or their foods.
And so that’s why this adaptogen category
fits into foundational.
Now, this opens up the category of foundational supplements
that are broad spectrum.
That is that include vitamins and minerals
that have digestive enzymes, that have adaptogens,
and that also have prebiotics and probiotics
at the appropriate dosages.
This is one reason why I’m a big fan of supplements
like Athletic Greens, which is, as many of you know,
a sponsor of this podcast and does really nicely cover
all of these categories of foundational nutrition.
But I do want to emphasize that this is not a way
to focus on Athletic Greens specifically.
There are other categories and brands
of excellent foundational nutritional supplements
that cover these categories of vitamins and minerals,
probiotics, prebiotics, digestive enzymes, and adaptogens.
It just so happens that Athletic Greens is the one
that I discovered and that works best for me
and that many people find works really well for them.
So this is why when people approach me and they ask me,
as they often do, very, very often do, I should say,
if I’m only going to take one supplement,
what supplement should I take?
Rather than just give them one specific answer,
I actually ask them three questions.
First question I ask them is,
how well are you sleeping at night?
Are you getting enough sleep?
Are you waking up feeling rested?
Because if they’re not,
that opens up a whole different set of interactions
that we need to have and discussions around
what sorts of things they need to do and possibly take
in order to get their sleep right,
because sleep is the foundation of mental health,
physical health, and performance.
We will have that discussion a little bit later
in this episode.
The second question I ask them is, how’s your nutrition?
That is, are you eating regularly?
Have you found the combination of macronutrients
or which diet is right for you?
Do you think you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals?
How’s your digestion?
We have that conversation.
And then the third thing that I ask,
which is extremely important, is what’s your budget?
Because if somebody has $10 a month total
to spend on supplements versus $1,000 a month
to spend on supplements total,
well, then there’s a different set of conversations
to be had as to which supplements they should take.
Now, once those three questions have been answered,
assuming that somebody is able to spend about $100
or more on supplements per month,
then my recommendation is that they not focus
on any specific supplements directed towards sleep
or toward focus or hormone augmentation,
but rather that they focus on buffering
and enhancing their foundational nutrition,
adaptogens, probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes,
because of the simple fact that if they do that,
they’re going to raise the tide
on all the biological and organ systems
that are going to lead to enhanced mental health,
physical health, and performance, including sleep.
So this is one reason why if people say,
well, if I can only take one supplement, what should I take?
I say, well, what’s your budget?
If they say they can meet that $100 threshold per month,
then my recommendation would be athletic greens
or something like it,
or that they invest the time and energy
to go find the various combinations of vitamins and minerals
and probiotics and prebiotics and adaptogens and so forth
in individual components that they can then take
in combination in order to meet their foundational needs.
But most people are not interested
in doing all that homework and legwork
to figure out exactly what the dosages are.
That’s one reason why, indeed,
I have taken athletic greens since 2012.
I like it, it makes me feel better.
I have more energy, I sleep better.
My digestion is certainly better
and it supports the gut microbiome.
I do that for that reason.
But again, I want to emphasize
that there are other great sources
of all the relevant things within those foundational formulas
that athletic greens contains.
So it’s certainly not the only route
to covering your foundational health needs.
There are other ways to do that.
Now, if somebody has a budget lower than $100 per month
to spend on foundational supplementation,
well, then there are a couple of discussions to be had.
Now, if the amount of money that they have to devote
to foundational supplementation is zero,
of course, respect that.
And then it becomes a discussion about what sorts of foods
and patterns of food intake are going to best support
their mental health, physical health, and performance.
Now, if somebody has somewhere between $0 and $50
to spend on supplementation for sake of this thing
we’re calling foundational health per month,
well, then a different category
of supplement discussion arises.
And we’ll have that in a moment.
But to sort of close the conversation
on foundational supplementation,
again, that means many different things.
It’s vitamins and minerals.
Sometimes that’s one vitamin and mineral supplement.
It means digestive enzymes.
That could be its own supplement
or in combination with vitamins and minerals.
It means often not always adaptogens,
things like ashwagandha,
different plant-based and mushroom-based formulations
that can buffer stress
and provide other brain and body support.
And it often, although not always,
but should I believe include the probiotics and prebiotics
or anything that supports healthy gut microbiome.
Once again, I think a broad spectrum supplement
that has many, many ingredients of high quality
that covers all these bases
is going to be the best route
to ensuring foundational supplementation is covered.
And I do think that should be the starting place
for any and all supplementation regimens.
I’ll say that once again.
I think covering your foundational needs
in the realm of vitamins, minerals, probiotics,
digestive enzymes, and adaptogens
is going to give you the most benefit by cost
and the most benefit across the board
in terms of brain and body systems
that’s going to allow you to feel better overall,
sleep better overall, focus better overall,
and support all the different systems
in your brain and body
that are going to allow you to be at your best
while of course also paying careful attention
to your nutrition
because you simply cannot abandon nutrition.
Again, better living through chemistry
still requires better living.
So now that we’ve had that discussion
about foundational supplementation,
and again, highlighting the fact
that that’s the one category of supplementation
where multi-ingredient formulations make the most sense,
I’d like to now shift our attention
to single ingredient formulation supplements
that are designed to achieve specific endpoints.
And here again, rather than focus on specific ingredients
and supplements to achieve specific endpoints
because we’ve done that already in episodes
related to sleep and focus, et cetera,
I’d like to take a step back
and focus on the larger theme of today’s episode,
which is how to think about supplementation
in a rational, cost-effective,
and biologically effective way
for each of these categories.
And the three categories that I’m going to cover
are sleep, hormone support,
and cognitive enhancement and focus,
cognitive enhancement and focus
being the final third category.
Let’s talk about sleep and the rational approach
to thinking about supplementation for sleep.
As I mentioned earlier in this episode
and on many previous episodes of this podcast,
sleep is the foundation of mental health,
physical health, and performance.
You might be somebody who can do an all-nighter
and feel okay the next day or maybe even great,
but most everybody,
once they start to have minimal sleep
for one or two nights in the form of broken sleep,
poor sleep, not enough sleep,
or sleeping at the wrong time of night,
there is such a thing, or day,
they start to suffer.
Their mood starts to suffer,
their cognitive clarity and performance starts to suffer,
their mental health can suffer severely,
and physical performance definitely suffers,
hormones suffer, everything suffers.
Conversely, when people are sleeping well,
that is deeply and enough,
80% of the nights of their life,
mental health, physical health, and performance all flourish,
and I think most people start to be almost amazed
at how well they’re doing in various domains of life
that previously they might’ve struggled with.
So sleep is fundamental, that’s established.
When thinking about supplementation for sleep,
we need to ask ourselves a number of important questions.
First of all, you should ask yourself how well,
that is how deeply, and how much are you sleeping per night?
Assuming you’re somebody who can fall asleep easily,
stay asleep through the night,
wake up feeling relatively rested, maybe a little groggy,
and then can move about your day
with plenty of energy and focus,
you’re not falling asleep in class or at work
or behind the wheel,
or as a passenger on public transportation,
well, then you’re probably getting enough sleep.
And by the way, it’s perfectly normal
to require anywhere from a 10-minute
to a 90-minute nap in the afternoon for some people.
If you’re not a napper, no big deal.
It’s known that naps can disrupt nighttime sleep,
but provided that they’re early enough in the day,
if you take a nap and you are still able
to fall asleep at night, then naps are fine for you.
If you’re somebody who doesn’t like naps
because you wake up groggy or grumpy,
which often happens to certain people, then don’t nap.
You certainly do not need to nap.
But if you’re feeling energetic throughout the day,
chances are you’re getting enough sleep at night.
But there are people, of course,
who are struggling with sleep,
either falling asleep, staying asleep,
or they’re not feeling alert enough during the day
or all of the above.
And then it makes sense to step back
and take a look at what supplementation can provide.
If you are one of those people who is not sleeping enough
or well enough at night that you are suffering
during the day in whatever way, mild to severe,
there are two questions you should ask yourself.
First of all, are you ingesting caffeine after 2 p.m.?
If the answer is yes,
you want to limit or eliminate caffeine after 2 p.m.,
maybe even push it back to noon or earlier.
I know that can be excruciating for some folks,
but it can really help with your ability
to fall and stay asleep at night.
Second thing is, most people would do well
to avoid food within the two hours prior to bedtime.
But of course, you don’t want to be so hungry
that you can’t fall asleep, all right?
So those are the nutrition and behavioral tools
that everyone needs to consider.
If you are not ingesting caffeine 2 p.m. or onwards,
and you are not eating excessively immediately
prior to bedtime or within the two hours prior to bedtime,
and you’re not hungry when you go to sleep,
well, then there are certain supplements
that can support your sleep.
And we’ve talked about these in the Perfect Sleep episode
and in the episode with our guest expert, Matt Walker,
from University of California, Berkeley,
and in the Master Your Sleep episode.
And we have a toolkit for sleep
that you can access zero cost by going to humanlab.com
and going to the menu, go to the newsletter,
and you can find that toolkit.
You can sign up for other free toolkits like it.
But the point here is not to go systematically
through each of the supplements that is beneficial
or has been shown to be beneficial for sleep,
but rather to address specific aspects of sleep
that can suffer and why and how certain patterns
of supplementation can support
or alleviate those pain points.
If, for instance, you’re somebody
who falls asleep just fine,
but wakes up in the middle of the night,
around two or 3 a.m. or any time for that matter,
and has trouble falling back asleep,
there are two categories of supplements
that you might want to consider.
The first is myoinositol,
typically taken as 900 milligrams of myoinositol.
Myoinositol can help shorten the amount of time
that it takes to fall back asleep
if you wake up in the middle of the night.
Myoinositol has other beneficial uses as well
for mood, et cetera.
If you’d like to see many of the different effects
that have been explored in the scientific literature
for myoinositol, you can go to examine.com.
It’s an excellent site, not just for inositol,
but for all supplements for that matter.
Talks about the human effect matrix,
that is the different effects
of different supplement compounds
on different aspects of hormone, brain, and body health,
where the evidence is strong, where the evidence is weak,
has links to studies, and so on.
Again, it’s examine.com, amazing website,
wonderful website, it’s provided such a rich resource
for me and for many, many other people.
Other people who wake up in the middle of the night
will wake up because their dreams are very intense,
or they were having dreams that were so vivid
that suddenly they were jolted from their dreams.
Those people would do well to avoid certain supplements.
So in a moment, I’ll talk about the value
of a supplement called theanine for falling asleep.
But theanine, which typically is taken in dosages
anywhere from 100 milligrams to 400 milligrams,
depending on body weight and experience
and what you find to be most effective for you,
minimally effective for you.
Well, theanine can be great for many people,
but for people who have excessively vivid dreams,
those excessively vivid dreams can lead to immediate waking
and sometimes a little bit of anxiety
upon waking in the middle of the night.
So some people who wake up in the middle of the night,
so jolted mentally and physically out of sleep
because of their intense dreams
would do well to avoid theanine supplementation.
I’ve talked about this a bit before,
but it’s something that I think a lot of nighttime,
middle of the night wakers might be familiar with
and would want to take into consideration.
Now, for those of you that are not waking up
in the middle of the night
or not having excessively vivid dreams,
but are having trouble falling asleep,
two supplements in particular have been shown
to be effective for shortening the transition time to sleep
and allowing people to ease into sleep more readily.
And those are magnesium threonate,
which is interchangeable with magnesium bisglycinate.
Magnesium bisglycinate and magnesium threonate
both have transporter systems
that allow them to readily cross the blood-brain barrier
and they lead to a mild form of drowsiness,
mild in the sense that it’s not going to prevent you
from operating a motor vehicle
or kind of any conditions under emergency
that might arise in the middle of the night,
or if they did arise during the middle of night,
you’d still be able to function,
so it’s not like a sleeping pill.
But people who take those often find
that their transition time into sleep is much faster
and their sleep is also much deeper.
Incidentally, those supplements are also thought
to be useful for cognitive support and neuroprotection,
although there’s less data on that.
Okay, so that’s for falling asleep.
That’s one category.
Either magnesium, magnesium threonate or bisglycinate
would be interchangeable
for assisting the transition time into sleep.
And then the other supplement is apigenin, A-P-I-G-E-N-I-N,
apigenin, which is a derivative of chamomile.
I’ve talked about this in various podcasts before.
Also acts as a bit of a anxiety-lowering compound,
which is essential prior to sleep
for people to essentially turn off their thinking
or to be able to reduce the amount of ruminating
and problem-solving and future anticipation
that they’re doing,
which is a requirement for falling asleep.
So what’s the rational approach to supplementing
in a way that allows you to fall asleep more quickly
and stay asleep?
Well, would you immediately take magnesium threonate
and apigenin together?
Well, that depends.
If you have the budget
and you just simply want to fall asleep quicker
and you don’t care which of those two ingredients
is going to be more effective for you,
well, then you could try one,
for instance, magnesium threonate,
and try it for perhaps a week
and see how that affects your latency to sleep time.
That is how quickly you fall asleep.
Or you could try apigenin in the first week,
or you could combine them both,
or you could try magnesium threonate for a week,
then switch to only apigenin for a week
and evaluate which one works better for you.
If neither works for you,
I do recommend trying the combination together.
Again, this is just the way that any scientist
would design an experiment
to try and understand which variables,
that is, which ingredients are most effective
for the result that you want,
as opposed to just lumping them together and taking them.
That said, a lot of people want excellent sleep so badly
that they just say, okay,
I’m just going to take magnesium threonate,
I’m going to take apigenin, I’m going to take theanine.
If my dreams are too vivid
and I’m waking up in the middle of the night
from excessively vivid dreams, I’ll drop the theanine.
And many people actually derive great benefit
from that approach.
But because today we’re talking
about the most rational, cost-effective,
and biologically effective approach to supplementation,
if you’re not sleeping as well as you would like to,
or if you want to explore what sleeping even more deeply
might do for your mental health,
physical health, and performance,
well, then it makes sense to think about
the various supplements for falling asleep
versus remaining asleep, what to include,
what not to include, and to do that systematically.
And again, I think one week’s time of taking something,
provided it doesn’t induce any negative effects, right?
If something induces a negative effect,
I recommend ceasing taking it immediately.
But if something does not produce any negative effects,
then I think you want to try a single ingredient formulation
for about a week while not varying anything else,
not changing anything else in your overall protocols
of nutrition or supplementation.
I mean, it’s impossible to clamp everything perfectly
from week to week,
but don’t change anything else dramatically
and just add that supplement for a given week,
see how it benefits your sleep.
Maybe add in a second supplement if you like,
or rather swap and try a different supplement for a week
and then see what works best
and see if the combination works even better.
Now, I acknowledge that what I just described
is exceedingly basic,
but it’s something that I don’t think most people do.
Most people either decide they have the budget
and the interest
in just improving their sleep across the board,
and they don’t care what ingredient
is providing the maximum benefit,
or they simply try something and decide,
oh, well, it didn’t work for me,
and so I’m not going to try anything else.
Supplements don’t work for me,
or magnesium doesn’t work for me,
or I woke up in the middle of the night from vivid dreams,
and that’s because they’re taking
more of a shotgun approach
without teasing out the different variables.
In fact, if there’s an overriding theme
of today’s conversation,
it’s really about learning how to isolate variables
in the realm of supplementation,
because once you do that,
and once you start to develop that intuition
or sensitivity of sorts
to how different ingredients impact you,
it is an enormously powerful stance to have
because you’re going to keep your costs limited.
You’re also going to find the things
that work particularly poorly for you,
and more importantly,
the things that work particularly well for you
toward your goals.
Any discussion about supplementation for sleep?
I feel has to include a discussion about melatonin.
I’ve talked about melatonin before on numerous podcasts,
mine and others,
and I will say once again,
I am not a fan of melatonin for a couple of reasons.
Melatonin is a hormone known to induce sleepiness,
but not keep us asleep,
so oftentimes people will take melatonin,
fall deeply asleep, and then wake up,
and have trouble falling back asleep.
The other reason is that melatonin supplements
almost always include levels of melatonin
or amounts of melatonin that far, far exceed
the normal biological levels
or so-called endogenous levels of melatonin
that we would normally produce.
And yes, it’s true that as we age,
we produce less melatonin,
but melatonin as a hormone also impacts
other hormone systems,
in particular, the reproductive hormone axis,
testosterone, estrogen, et cetera,
which is not to say that if you’ve been taking melatonin
for some period of time
that you’ve disrupted your fertility or those hormone axes,
but it’s possible that you’ve disrupted them somewhat,
and it’s very clear that melatonin can impact
not just sleep, but other systems in the brain and body.
It can be useful for jet lag and for occasional use,
but there also, I want to voice a message of caution.
There have been studies exploring
the dosages of melatonin contained in various supplements
and whether or not what’s listed on the bottle matches
what’s actually contained in those formulations.
And despite those formulations coming from quite reliable,
quote unquote, or thought to be reliable sources,
it was found that these supplements contain
anywhere from 15% of what’s thought to be
or is told to be in those supplements,
or many times more melatonin than is listed on the bottle.
So the dosaging does not seem to be consistent
with what’s often listed on the bottle.
And this is even true
within some of the more reputable brands.
So that’s of real concern.
So we need to highlight melatonin
as perhaps something that’s only used occasionally.
If you want to talk about dosages for melatonin use
for jet lag, et cetera, go to examine.com.
There’s some excellent references to studies there.
Just put melatonin into the search function.
It’ll tell you everything you need to know about melatonin,
but now you know my stance on melatonin.
One question I often get about supplementation for sleep
is does it create a dependency?
That’s an excellent question to ask.
I think most people worry about, even fear,
relying on something so heavily
that if they did not have it for whatever reason
that they couldn’t sleep.
In my experience, there is no problem
falling and staying asleep
in the absence of a supplement for sleep,
even if you’ve been taking that supplement for sleep
consistently, seven days a week for months and months,
maybe even years on end.
I confess that I occasionally fall asleep
having not taken my pre-sleep supplements.
And I happen to take magnesium 3 and 8,
theanine and apigenin.
I also take inositol.
It greatly enhances my sleep.
And there’ve been nights when I’ve fallen asleep
not having taken any of those things and I’ve slept fine.
That said, if I were to explore multiple nights
of trying to sleep without that supplementation,
I find that my sleep is not as good.
I’m still able to fall asleep,
but the depth of my sleep and the duration of my sleep
is not as good as when I’m supplementing.
So I think that’s refreshing news, at least to me,
that there isn’t a dependence on these supplements
in order to be able to fall asleep.
It’s not the same sort of dependence that people experience
from things like sleeping pills.
That said, any compound, any compound
can create a placebo type effect
where we think we need something
in order to achieve a certain effect.
We had a guest on this podcast some time ago,
Dr. Ali Crum, who’s a professor at Stanford
and works on these mindset effects,
belief effects, and placebo effects.
And placebo effects can be very real
and in some sense dovetail
with any conversation about dependency.
Meaning if you are somebody who loves your sleep supplements
and sleeps great with them,
and one night you discover you don’t have them
or you can’t access them for whatever reason,
that can create a little bit of an anxiety
around the idea that, oh, in their absence,
you’re not going to be able to sleep.
And that’s a sort of a placebo effect in reverse,
if you will, because what it suggests is that
there’s a emotional or a cognitive association
with taking these things that allows you to sleep well.
I would highly recommend that people explore this issue
of dependency and placebo effects for sleep supplements
on their own and under conditions
in which there’s nothing pressing the next day.
That is, you don’t have a big presentation, et cetera.
So what I recommend is that every two weeks or so,
maybe every month or so,
take one night off completely from all your sleep supplements
or leave out one sleep supplement.
Try to understand to what extent
you might’ve established a dependency,
either real or placebo-based on these sleep supplements.
And again, I suggest doing this on perhaps a Friday night
so that it’s a weekend the next day
so you don’t have to work if perhaps you don’t sleep well.
I think what you’ll find is what most people find.
And that’s in the absence of taking
your supplement stack for sleep one night,
you’re still going to sleep just fine.
Now, does that mean that these supplements
are not actually working under normal conditions
where you’re taking them each night?
What this means is that many of these things,
magnesiums in particular, can build up in the body
and brain in a way that can be beneficial.
And what probably explains the fact
that you can still sleep if you miss a night of taking them
is that the neural circuits that are involved
in turning off thinking or in not thinking
and in falling asleep,
those neural circuits undergo what’s called plasticity.
In other words, if you get better at falling
and staying asleep over time,
even if you got better at that through the assistance
or with the assistance of some supplement
or combination of supplements,
well, then those circuits are still going to function
just fine, even in the absence
of not taking those supplements just once.
We’ll get back into this conversation a little bit later
when we talk about cognitive enhancement and focus.
It’s the same story there,
where indeed there are things that people can take
in stimulant form and non-stimulant form
that can enhance cognitive ability and focus,
but that does not mean that you become so dependent
on those that you can’t focus unless you take them.
This has been shown multiple times over.
So again, to answer the question,
is there a dependency established
by taking supplements for sleep?
The short answer is no,
with the caveat that placebo effects and belief effects
are always going to be at play,
whether or not you’re talking about supplementation,
or even behavioral protocols for that matter.
I’d like to take a brief break
and acknowledge our sponsor, Athletic Greens.
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The reason I started taking Athletic Greens
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I just feel much better when I’m drinking Athletic Greens.
If you’d like to try Athletic Greens,
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to claim their special offer in the month of January
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The next category of supplementation
that I’d like to talk about is hormone support.
Improving or so-called optimizing your hormones
is a critical aspect of mental health,
physical health, and performance.
We’ve done multiple episodes about hormones,
including testosterone and estrogen
for both men and women and for people of different ages.
We’ve also had episodes on thyroid hormone,
growth hormone, and so on.
You can find all those at hubermanlab.com.
In fact, you can go to the hubermanlab.com website.
There’s a search function
where you can just put in a keyword
and it will take you to all the episodes
and specific time points
where that topic happens to be covered.
Now, hormone health is such an important topic to discuss
in the context of supplementation
because indeed there are compounds
that are non-prescription based, so-called supplements,
that can improve hormone function.
Again, anytime we are discussing a particular aspect
of mental health, physical health, or performance,
we need to start with a mention of the few behavioral tools
and nutrition-based tools,
or at least some top contour coverage of those
in a way that frames up the discussion
about supplementation appropriately.
So in the context of hormone support
and augmentation and optimization,
if you are not getting adequate calories
from high-quality sources,
hormones like testosterone and estrogen will suffer.
This is one of the reasons
why women will stop having their periods
if they’re not ingesting enough calories.
This is one of the reasons
why testosterone levels will drop
if people are not ingesting enough calories.
In fact, on the episode with expert guest
and medical doctor Peter Atiyah,
he described how sex hormone-binding globulin,
this is a protein that’s present in males and females
that binds to testosterone and other hormones
and prevents it from being in its free form,
which is the more active form.
Well, insulin, which of course is going to increase
after the ingestion of carbohydrates in particular,
insulin actually inhibits
or reduces sex hormone-binding globulin.
What this means is that for you intermittent fasters
or people that are ingesting very few carbohydrates
who have very low blood glucose,
or perhaps are taking things like metformin or berberine,
which is a supplement-based approach
to reducing blood glucose,
well, your sex hormone-binding globulin
is going to increase dramatically.
Conversely, if you are eating enough calories
in the form of foods that allow your insulin
to be a bit higher, not excessively high, we hope,
but a bit higher,
well, then sex hormone-binding globulin will go down
and free testosterone will go up.
So the discussion about hormone support and augmentation
has to include some nod toward
or understanding of the fact that nutrition
and the way that nutrition impacts hormones
and the way that hormones such as insulin
impact other hormones such as free testosterone,
that all has to be acknowledged.
That is not the topic of today’s discussion,
but it’s important that I remind everybody
that nutrition matters for general hormone status.
It’s also important to remember
that behaviors matter for hormone status.
Getting morning sunlight increases cortisol levels.
Cortisol levels are very important
to have elevated early in the day for focus and alertness
and for immune function,
and to make sure that cortisol levels are low at night
and thereby levels of growth hormone and testosterone,
which is secreted mainly in the early morning,
can be elevated at night and in the early morning.
So getting morning sunlight,
getting strenuous exercise
in the form of both cardiovascular exercise,
but also relatively short,
meaning an hour or less bouts
of intense resistance training a few times per week
can also dramatically alter hormone profiles.
In fact, in the episode that we did with Dr. Duncan French,
again, you find that episode at hubermanlab.com,
he described a very strenuous,
but still brief two-day-a-week protocol
of using resistance training
specifically to increase testosterone
and free testosterone and growth hormone, and so on.
So nutrition matters, exercise matters
when it comes to increasing, supporting,
or augmenting different hormones,
and that’s just the discussion about testosterone,
free testosterone, and estrogen.
There’s also the vast discussion
about thyroid hormone, et cetera.
Again, we’ve covered all those topics in previous episodes,
but once those behavioral tools are in place,
once you’re doing the right things
and you’re avoiding the wrong things,
doing the right things to support your hormones
and avoiding the things that diminish hormones
in the ways that can be detrimental,
once your nutrition is in place to support your hormones,
then it makes sense to turn and consider
what supplements can support hormones.
But I do believe that you want to get your behaviors
and your nutrition correct
before you start thinking about supplementation for hormones.
Again, I’ll repeat that.
Get your nutrition and your behaviors correct
for sake of hormones and for other health purposes
before you start thinking about supplementation for hormones
and certainly before you start thinking
about prescription-based approaches to improving hormones.
Once all of those other elements are in place,
the supplements that make sense
in terms of augmenting hormones come in two forms.
One are broadband support for multiple hormones,
and then the others are supplements
that are designed to increase,
or in some cases decrease,
specific hormones or hormone pathways.
So let’s consider each of those in tandem.
There are certain supplements,
things like Shilajit, for instance,
something from Ayurvedic medicine,
which mainly has the active ingredient fulvic acid,
which is known to, for instance,
increase things like FSH, follicle-stimulating hormone,
which in women is going to increase
certain aspects of egg growth,
hence the name follicle-stimulating hormone.
It’s going to stimulate certain aspects of fertility.
It’s pro-fertile, and in males can make
for more sperm production or more motile sperm.
FSH is also going to indirectly
increase testosterone in males.
It’s known to increase libido in both males and females.
So things like Shilajit can indeed augment multiple hormones
and support multiple hormone systems,
generally in the direction of pro-fertility, pro-libido,
and increasing estrogen and testosterone.
Now, there are other supplements such as Ashwagandha
that also fall into this category
of affecting multiple hormones.
Ashwagandha is a very potent supplement
in terms of reducing cortisol levels.
It has also been shown to increase testosterone levels,
but probably indirectly,
and that’s because cortisol and testosterone
sort of exist on a seesaw in terms of pathways.
They’re on separate pathways,
but those pathways interact enough
that when cortisol is lowered in general,
testosterone tends to increase.
Now, it is important that with certain hormones
like Ashwagandha that you don’t take them
for more than two weeks at a time at high dosages.
If you want to know more of the specifics around Ashwagandha
and how long to take it, how to cycle it, et cetera,
please see our episode on master stress.
Please also see the examine.com website
and put in Ashwagandha.
It will get into some of that description.
But Shilajit, Ashwagandha,
and things for instance, like L-carnitine,
a supplement that we often discuss in terms of fertility
because it can indeed improve sperm motility
and quality and egg quality.
So it’s a pro-fertile compound,
but it also impacts various mitochondrial pathways.
So it’s having a more indirect effect on hormones.
There are many other compounds present
and available supplements that are purported
to be pro-hormone support, in particular for testosterone,
estrogen, fertility, and libido.
There is a description, for instance,
of things like maca root.
Maca root can increase libido.
It’s found to be particularly effective in women,
but in men as well, and in all people
who are suffering from lowered libido
due to intake of SSRIs,
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors,
for whatever reason.
SSRIs are used to treat OCD.
They’re used to treat depression,
any number of different things.
Maca root can be, in many instances,
effective in increasing libido.
It does that, however,
through augmentation of dopamine-related pathways
and some of the hormone pathways
upstream of testosterone and estrogen.
The reports that maca increases testosterone
are somewhat scant and a little bit weak, to be honest.
So it’s having these indirect effects
that may impact testosterone downstream.
So again, I’d put maca alongside ashwagandha,
alongside shilajit as supplements
that are impacting multiple hormone pathways
toward increased libido, increased fertility,
increased testosterone or estrogen,
likely through indirect pathways.
Okay, now with all that said,
I’d like to provide some examples of supplements
that work more directly on specific hormone pathways
aimed at achieving more specific goals,
such as elevated testosterone
or elevated free testosterone
or elevated growth hormone, for that matter,
and elevated thyroid hormone.
I’d like to talk about growth hormone first
because it’s actually a pretty short discussion.
First of all, the best way to augment growth hormone
is to get quality deep sleep,
especially the sleep that occurs
in the first three or four hours of the night
is when growth hormone is released.
And it’s going to be beneficial to avoid caloric intake
in the two hours preceding sleep.
Again, don’t go to bed so hungry
that you wake up an hour or an hour and a half later
you have trouble falling asleep,
but avoiding food intake in the two hours prior to sleep
and certainly avoiding alcohol and cannabis
is going to facilitate growth hormone release
in the first hours of sleep.
Many people use intermittent fasting
or even longer periods of fasting
to increase growth hormone.
One of the interesting things I learned
from an expert guest, Dr. Kyle Gillette,
who’s a medical doctor on this podcast
is that indeed while lengthier fast or intermittent fasting
can increase growth hormone levels very substantially,
it has indirect effects on the genetic pathways
and the receptors for growth hormone
that actually are detrimental
for the function of growth hormone.
So avoiding food for the two hours prior to bedtime
is a good idea.
If you avoid food for longer,
that’s just going to assist even more,
certainly isn’t going to hurt
in terms of growth hormone release,
but extended fast specifically
for the purpose of increasing growth hormone
are not really logical
when you look at the broader effects of extended fast.
That is not to say that extended fasting
is not appropriate for some people,
it can be in certain instances,
or that intermittent fasted,
so-called time-restricted feeding
is not beneficial for some people, it can be.
Here, I’m only referring to the effects
or in this case, the lack of effects
of intermittent fasting, time-restricted feeding
on growth hormone specifically.
Now, in terms of supplements to increase growth hormone,
there are very few supplements
that have been shown to augment this pathway.
There is some idea that arginine supplementation
prior to bedtime can further elevate
levels of growth hormone, especially when fasted.
That literature is rather weak, to be honest.
I encourage you to go to examine.com
if you want to peruse those particular studies.
Really, the things that increase growth hormone
very potently fall outside the realm of supplementation.
They include exercise.
Again, look at the Duncan French episode
or in the Kyle Gillette episode
on optimizing hormones in males in particular,
but this also pertains to females
that avoiding food two hours prior to bedtime
really can boost growth hormone significantly in sleep
beyond what it would be otherwise.
But it’s really only once you get into the realm
of prescription compounds,
things like peptides like sermorelin,
which increase IGF-1 and growth hormone,
things like growth hormone itself by prescription,
and only if it’s prescribed by a doctor, of course,
and is safe for you.
That’s when you start getting into
really significant increases in growth hormone.
Not a lot of supplements out there
to increase growth hormone potently.
Now, it’s a different story when you start thinking about
and talking about testosterone and free testosterone
and luteinizing hormone.
Luteinizing hormone is released from the pituitary,
which is this gland not far from the roof of your mouth,
and its nearby neighbor, the hypothalamus
is a collection of neurons
that sits above the roof of your mouth
and talks to the pituitary,
talks to it through neural connections
and hormone-based connections.
There is a hormone called GNRH,
that is released from the hypothalamus into the pituitary.
It stimulates the release of luteinizing hormone, or LH,
which then travels in the bloodstream
to impact multiple tissues in the body,
but mainly the ovary in females and the testes in males
to stimulate estrogen production and testosterone production.
There are supplements that can potently increase GNRH
and or luteinizing hormone,
and then indirectly increase testosterone and estrogen.
And I always like to remind people,
testosterone and estrogen are present
in both males and females, okay?
And both are important for things like libido,
muscle growth, and so on.
A lot of people think that, oh, in males,
having very high testosterone and low estrogen
is actually ideal.
It’s actually not ideal if you want to keep your libido.
Anything that lowers your estrogen too far
is going to reduce your libido.
You don’t want estrogen too high,
but you also do not want it too low.
So supplements that can tickle this pathway
or actually can act as a bit more of a directed hammer
on this luteinizing hormone pathway
may also impact GNRH are things like phytogia agrestis.
This is an herb that I’ve talked about before on the podcast
that when taken at dosages of 600 milligrams per day,
many people, not all, report elevated levels of libido,
elevated sperm production, elevated testosterone,
in some cases, elevated estrogen,
a bunch of hormones downstream of luteinizing hormone.
Now, are you going to be a phytogia agrestis responder
or a non-responder?
There’s simply no way to know except by trying it.
If you are going to go down this route,
there are two very important considerations.
First of all, there’s a fairly extensive literature
on the fact that phytogia agrestis can be toxic
to testicular cells and perhaps other cells
when taken at very high dosages.
So obeying the particular dosages of phytogia agrestis
that are recommended on various product labels
and cycling phytogia agrestis can be important.
Some people need to cycle it eight weeks on, two weeks off.
Other people opt for 12 weeks on, a month off.
I know a few people who have taken it continuously
with no issues, but I do want to suggest caution
when taking phytogia agrestis.
The cautionary notes are,
stay within the recommended dosage ranges.
You can go lower, but certainly don’t go higher.
And I think it is wise to cycle every eight weeks or so
to come off it for two weeks and then going back on,
if that’s your choice, if you feel it benefited you,
or taking it for 12 week periods of time
and then cycling off for a full month
before repeating again.
The best way to know whether or not phytogia
or any of these other supplements
is impacting your hormone levels
in the direction that you want
and not impacting your hormone levels
or other aspects of your biology
in ways that you don’t want is from a blood test.
There is simply no better tool to evaluate
whether or not these supplements are working
to support your hormones in the ways that you want
and not causing issues, except to take a blood test.
This podcast has InsideTracker as a sponsor
that can do in-home blood tests and give you blood panels.
There are other sources of blood tests
that are quite good as well, of course.
And in the first episode of the Huberman Lab podcast
that I did with Dr. Kyle Gillette,
again, a medical doctor, expert in hormones, diabetes,
and various other aspects of medicine,
he described, and it is timestamped,
how to stand the best probability
of getting your insurance to cover a blood test,
how to talk to your doctor
about getting a hormone panel, and so on.
So I’ll refer you to that episode for that.
But blood tests are going to be very important.
I recommend taking them before adding in any supplement
to increase hormones of any kind
or decrease hormones of any kind for that matter.
And then again, after about four to eight weeks
of taking that particular supplement
in order to evaluate whether or not it worked
and whether or not it had any negative effects
that you would like to avoid.
I also want to remind people
of the dosage conversation that we had earlier.
Just because there’s a recommended dosage
of phytogeogrestis of say 600 milligrams per day.
First of all, that is not an invitation
to take twice as much and expect twice the positive effects.
That is not a good approach,
especially with something like phytogeogrestis,
which can at high dosages be toxic.
But it’s also important to perhaps consider
taking a lower dosage
and seeing how that affects your hormones.
That approach requires a bit more patience.
I know most people are thinking,
I want the effect and I want it now.
But I think it’s very important when thinking
about exercise or nutrition or supplementation
to really play the long game,
to think about what’s going to work for you
in the immediate end in the longterm
and to ease into any kind of supplement regimen.
For instance, by taking one thing at a time,
varying one supplement out and one supplement in,
starting at minimal effective dose
and build up your protocols over a year or several years,
it really can be beneficial.
I can say for myself,
I started exploring the supplement space
and taking different supplements in different combination
and alone evaluating which ones worked
and did not work for me.
Some were absolutely dreadful for me.
I have tons of stories about supplement fails,
some of which were just kind of innocuous,
meaning they were a waste of money, which isn’t innocuous,
but at least it wasn’t detrimental to my health.
Other supplements, which fortunately don’t exist
on the market anymore,
I think actually were quite dangerous
and I feel lucky that I did not experience
even greater negative effects from them.
Other supplements have been tremendously useful
for me and for other people,
for things like sleep and hormone support,
focus and so on.
So Fidogia aggressis is a good example
of a supplement that is known to have potent effects,
but you need to approach it with the appropriate,
I would say respect for the fact that the dosage ranges
in which it works have to be kept pretty narrow
without causing issues.
It does increase luteinizing hormone
and thereby testosterone and estrogen.
So if you’re somebody who’s already excessively high
in one or the other,
it’s going to be very hard to just direct it
to only testosterone or only estrogen.
Now, the topic of today’s episode
is not about Fidogia aggressis per se.
I highlight it because it is one of the more potent
supplements for sake of hormone augmentation,
but it’s still fairly broadband.
It’s a little more specific than something like Shilajit,
but it’s still fairly broadband
in terms of hitting multiple end point hormones,
testosterone and estrogen,
and maybe some other hormones as well.
There are other supplements in particular Tongat Ali,
which is known to, for instance, increase libido,
whether or not it does that
by way of augmenting dopamine related pathways
or testosterone pathways still isn’t clear.
It is known to increase free testosterone
by reducing sex hormone binding globulin.
Tongat Ali can be beneficial both for men and for women
in dosages anywhere from 200 milligrams
to 600 milligrams per day.
So there, I would say scale according to body size,
although start with the minimum amount
and find the minimal effective dose for you.
Again, blood work is going to be the most effective way
to determine what’s working or not working
at the level of objective numbers,
but subjective experience matters too.
You know, if you take it at 400 milligrams for four weeks
and you don’t notice any effect,
you might try it at 600 milligrams, but not higher.
And if you still don’t see an effect,
well, then it doesn’t appear to have worked for you.
Other people experience dramatic effects
from things like Fidogia and Tongat Ali.
Why would that be the case?
Well, if you look to the scientific literature,
what you find is that the studies
that report the biggest effects of any supplement
usually start with a population
that somehow diminished or back on its heels
in one particular dimension.
So for instance, people that are hypogonadal,
that are not making enough testosterone or free testosterone,
in fact, their levels are very, very low.
They’re subclinical, off range in terms of the charts,
below the normal.
Well, those people, when they take supplements
like Tongat Ali, Fidogia,
tend to experience greater effects
because they’re starting from a lower level
than people who perhaps are close to the optimal levels.
So that’s an important thing to think about.
These are called floor effects and ceiling effects.
Ceiling effects are, for instance,
if an individual already has very high testosterone
and free testosterone,
and they take a supplement to increase it further,
they might not see any increase.
Whereas somebody who sits more in the middle to low range
stands to experience a much greater increase.
In fact, one individual I know who took Tongat Ali,
admittedly on my recommendation,
his testosterone levels were much higher
than he was on my recommendation.
His testosterone was initially very low
and he was having a number of different symptoms.
He did blood work, that’s how he knew it was low.
And he then took Tongat Ali and Fidogia in combination
because he decided he just wanted results.
He didn’t care which thing was going to give him the results.
And he experienced big increases in testosterone.
This would be not free, but total testosterone.
He experienced as much as 600 nanograms per deciliter
increase from where he was before, which is very dramatic.
It was a near tripling of where his testosterone
had started off to where he ended up.
I don’t know if he’s ever done the experiment
of removing Fidogia or Tongat to find out which one it was.
And this is why many people just take them in combination.
And if you have the budget for it
and you are interested in just finding what works,
but not isolating what works
at the level of single ingredients,
that would be the approach I recommend.
However, again, I think most people do well
to figure out which specific ingredients
are going to work best for them
by isolating the variables
the way I’ve described repeatedly throughout this episode.
To my knowledge, Tonga Ali does not need to be cycled,
meaning you don’t have to take periods of time off from it.
I should note that the effects of Tonga Ali
can take a little bit longer to experience.
So perhaps blood work should be done eight to 12 weeks
after initiating the Tonga Ali protocol
as opposed to earlier.
And it does seem to have sort of cumulative effects
And that points to the likelihood
that it’s having some impact on neural pathways
as opposed to hormone pathways.
Hormone pathways can be slow,
but in general neural pathways
are the ones that are going to explain slow rising shifts
in any kind of physical or mental aspect
that then remains stable over time.
So the exact effects of Tonga Ali,
meaning where they arise in the brain and body aren’t known.
I will provide a link to a really beautiful review article
that covers the literature on Tonga Ali.
This came out fairly recently
and that I’ve reviewed with a number of other
MDs and medical or medicine-related podcasters.
It’s a really nice review.
I’ll provide a link to that.
Gives a survey of Tonga Ali,
what people are discovering, what they’re finding,
what they’re not finding and so forth.
As a final note on supplements
for hormone augmentation and supplementation,
I want to make a brief mention
of something specifically related to female health,
which is of course the menstrual cycle.
And across the menstrual cycle,
different hormones are present at different levels.
Follicle stimulating hormone is very high
during the so-called follicular phase, right?
And then you have your luteal phase.
We have an entire episode coming up
about female hormones and hormone health
that will cover this.
We also have covered a little bit of this
in the other episodes on testosterone and estrogen.
But the point I’d like to make now is that for women,
they should fully expect that certain supplements,
not all, but certain supplements,
because of the way they impact different hormones,
would have different effects,
maybe even opposite effects
at different phases of the menstrual cycle.
And for that reason,
I believe it is especially important
to have tight control over dosage
and individual ingredients in your supplement regimen.
So for instance, if you’re somebody who takes Shilajit,
and I know many women who take Shilajit or Tonga Ali,
for instance, or Maca,
and you find that it really serves you well,
that is it provides the mental and physical benefits
that you want and enjoy
at certain phases of your menstrual cycle,
but at other phases of your menstrual cycle,
it feels like too much,
or it actually can start to give you negative
mental or physical effects,
well, then obviously having control
over those specific ingredients
is going to be extremely important
so that you can titrate the dosage
or increase the dosage as the case may be,
or cease taking those things entirely
at certain phases of your menstrual cycle.
Now, that’s not to say that some women
can’t just continuously take these supplements
throughout their menstrual cycle.
Some can, but some find
that that makes them very uncomfortable
or that they would do well
to alter different ingredients
at different phases of their cycle.
So again, this speaks to the critical importance
of single ingredient control, dosage control,
and the ability to cease taking individual
or multiple ingredients
according to the backdrop of your health generally,
and obviously the menstrual cycle is a profound shift
in the hormones and thus the entire biological
and psychological milieu that exist in the body.
And of course, there’s the issue of birth control
and whether or not people
are taking hormone-based birth control.
Certain forms of hormone-based birth control
in women involve tonically elevating,
that means consistently elevating estrogen.
That’s certainly going to reduce the fluctuations
and thus the probability that certain hormones
and hormone pathways will change across the menstrual cycle,
but not eliminate it altogether.
Also, there’s the key issue of fertility
in both males and females.
One important note,
even though this is not an episode about fertility,
we’re going to have one soon,
but the important point about fertility
is that there are supplements,
not just Shelogy,
but there are supplements and supplement protocols
such as L-carnitine, in particular injectable L-carnitine,
which does require a prescription, at least in the US,
but also orally ingested L-carnitine
that can improve sperm health and motility
and egg health and motility, I mentioned that earlier.
But if couples are trying to conceive,
it is important that if you’re going to take something
that is a supplement directed towards sperm
and or egg health,
that you also consider how that interfaces
with some of the other hormone-based compounds,
that is prescription drugs that you may be taking.
This is true for people who are doing IVF
in vitro fertilization or not.
Again, that entire discussion will be handled
in our episode on fertility and on female hormone health.
And we already did the episode with Dr. Kyle Gillette
on male hormone health optimization.
The next category of supplementation
that I’d like to address
is supplements related to cognitive enhancement and focus.
And here there are a number of very useful strategies
that one could take.
I’d like to divide this conversation
into two general categories of supplements
to address cognitive enhancement and focus.
The first category are supplements that increase energy
by way of stimulant properties.
So the most obvious of these is caffeine.
Caffeine is of course,
a molecule that can increase levels of alertness.
It also can increase levels of focus
provided that dosages are in the appropriate range.
The appropriate range in most cases
is going to be one to three milligrams
per kilogram of body weight,
taken 30 minutes or so
before any kind of mental or physical endeavor.
We did an entire episode about caffeine
where you can learn lots of facts about caffeine,
how best to utilize caffeine.
And indeed, I’ll just give you a few of those now.
It turns out that if you’re a regular caffeine user,
you can still derive the cognitive enhancing
and focus enhancing effects of caffeine
if you ingest caffeine every day.
But if you were to take two days off
from caffeine completely,
and right now I hear all the caffeine addicts out there
just kind of cringing at the idea,
and then take caffeine in the 30 minutes
prior to some especially important event,
physical or mental event where you really need to focus
and be able to sustain that focus for long periods of time,
it would have an even greater effect than it normally would.
But since most people are taking caffeine
in a kind of ongoing regular way,
I just want to emphasize
that it still has pro-cognitive and pro-focus effects,
even if it’s taken every day
or even multiple times per day.
Again, a cautionary note,
don’t drink caffeine too late in the day.
Past 2 p.m. it can really start to impede
your sleep at night.
Even if you can fall asleep at night,
the architecture of that sleep is not going to be great
if you’re ingesting caffeine
in the preceding eight to 10 and even 12 hours.
And that actually raises another tangential
but still important point.
So I’m going to make it and then get back to supplements,
which is the best cognitive enhancer
that you will ever take is a really good night’s sleep
of sufficient duration, okay?
So sleep is going to be the bedrock
of your ability to focus and remember things.
In fact, it’s during sleep that neural connections remodel,
It’s actually not when you trigger learning,
but it’s when you consolidate and reinforce learning
and a number of other things
that relate to cognitive enhancement and focus.
The other thing, of course,
is that you’re going to need
to have sufficient levels of nutrition.
So you don’t want to be overly hungry
or it’s going to be hard to focus,
nor do you want to be overloaded with calories
or a volume of food or have your blood glucose to be so high
that it’s going to make you sleepy.
There’s a reason why when discussing stress
and the so-called autonomic nervous system
that the phrase rest and digest comes into play.
Rest and digest, as the name implies,
relates to the fact that when we have
a lot of food in our gut, it tends to make us sleepy.
In other words, it’s hard for us to focus
and it’s hard for us to maintain cognitive attention
and remember things, et cetera.
So there are a bunch of behavioral tools
for enhancing focus.
We did an entire episode on enhancing focus.
It does touch on supplementation.
Again, you can find links to that
in all formats at hubermanlab.com.
We also have a newsletter related to this topic,
also at hubermanlab.com at zero cost.
With all of that said, and in particular,
the highlight about sleep being the best way
to enhance your cognitive abilities and focus,
anytime we’re having a discussion about supplements
for enhancing cognitive ability and focus,
a major category of those supplements
is going to fall into the stimulant category.
And that’s going to include most often caffeine,
although there are other sources of stimulants.
I’m not going to touch on those for the moment.
Just talk about caffeine.
When people hear caffeine, they think,
oh, well, I can just drink coffee.
And indeed, that’s a great source of caffeine.
So is yerba mate.
I would caution people to,
if you’re going to use yerba mate for whatever purpose,
caffeine or otherwise,
that you avoid the smoked versions of yerba mate.
They are carcinogenic.
That is the smoked versions are carcinogenic.
And to consume the non-smoked varieties instead.
The important thing to understand about caffeine
is that while it can be ingested in the form of a drink
or an energy drink, tea or coffee,
it can also be ingested as a pure supplement.
That is, there are caffeine supplements.
And I know a number of people,
including a very, very prominent podcaster,
whose name I won’t mention,
who drinks herbal tea,
but takes a 100 to 300 milligram tablet of caffeine
with the herbal tea.
So in that case, it is no longer herbal tea.
It is caffeinated herbal tea.
When you take caffeine in pill form,
it tends to have a much more potent and long lasting effect
than when you take caffeine in the form of coffee or tea.
It’s actually a world apart in terms of its effects.
And if you haven’t experienced this before,
it might be something that you want to explore.
It might not be something you want to explore.
In particular, if you’re somebody who experiences anxiety
or panic attacks,
be very careful with your intake of caffeine.
Again, see the episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast
all about caffeine for more on that.
But it is the case that even 100 milligrams of caffeine
in tablet form,
I suppose it could be in capsule form as well,
but in its pure form,
leads to much greater enhancement of alertness and focus
than does often the comparable amount
or even twice the amount of caffeine
contained in coffee or tea.
Now, why would that be?
Has a lot to do with the other things
that are in coffee and tea.
So here I’m not encouraging people to become reliant
on caffeine capsules or on caffeine tablets,
but if you want to increase alertness and focus,
caffeine is a potent way to do that.
The other category of stimulant that can work
in terms of enhancing alertness and focus
are going to be things that increase adrenaline
in some other way or epinephrine,
as it’s also called adrenaline, epinephrine, same thing,
in some other way that are going to touch into
or augment the so-called adrenergic and adrenaline systems.
And there are things like johimbine
and different forms of johimbine, like alpha johimbine.
There are multiple forms of these things.
Now, I would go to examine.com
to explore the different forms of johimbine.
About 10, 20 years ago,
johimbine was marketed primarily as a pro-libido
and pro-erectile agent.
Turns out it has very low efficacy for both of those things,
but there are certain forms of johimbine
that act as stimulants that are effective
and are separate from those claims and pathways.
One particular form is called alpha johimbine.
It sometimes goes by the name Rawulsine,
and that’s spelled R-A-U-W-O-L-S-C-I-N-E.
Again, that’s alpha johimbine,
and it’s used as a stimulant often
to also promote fat loss and alertness.
I have to say that it’s a very potent
and somewhat precarious supplement.
Some people experience a lot of anxiety on it.
That could also be because they tend to take it
on either an empty stomach
or in combination with subcaloric diets.
It’s sort of getting out on the edge of things
that for some people can work not so well.
For other people, they might actually find it
to be a very effective stimulant.
In general, in terms of supplement-based approaches
to increase cognitive function and focus,
caffeine either in coffee or tea form
or in tablet or capsule form,
but at lower dosages than you would find in coffee and tea,
I think is actually a reasonable way
to explore stimulant-based approaches
for enhancing cognitive function and focus.
I mention all that not because I think
that you probably already didn’t know
that caffeine can enhance alertness and focus.
Most people already know that, and I acknowledge that,
but rather as a contrast point
for the other supplement-based approach
for increasing cognitive function and focus,
which is to increase certain neurotransmitter pathways
that are not stimulant-based.
So for instance, alpha-GPC,
which is essentially a choline donor,
acts in the pathways related
to the neuromodulator acetylcholine and can enhance focus.
So at dosages of anywhere from 300 to 600 milligrams,
people experience heightened levels of focus
for sake of mental work or physical work.
The half-life of alpha-GPC is about four to six hours,
so it’s relatively short-lasting,
although you wouldn’t necessarily want
to take it right before bed.
I don’t recommend that.
It is not a stimulant.
It tends to enhance focus by augmenting acetylcholine
and acetylcholine pathways specifically.
Now, it does create a little bit
of an increase in alertness.
So some people actually perceive it subjectively
as an increase in overall stimulation,
but it’s different than a caffeine-type stimulant.
So for instance, 300 milligrams to 600 milligrams
of alpha-GPC taken alone will allow people
to be more focused, but doesn’t tend
to make people feel jittery or overstimulated.
Similarly, 500 milligrams to 1,000 milligrams,
or somewhere in between, of something like L-tyrosine,
which is an amino acid precursor to dopamine,
a different neuromodulator, taken alone
or in conjunction with, again,
I believe in separating these things out by product,
but I suppose you could take alpha-GPC
and L-tyrosine together if you had already tried
them separately and decided they worked well for you.
And then you decide to combine them.
What people tend to experience is
that the cholinergic stimulation from alpha-GPC
and the dopaminergic stimulation from L-tyrosine
or simply L-tyrosine alone or alpha-GPC alone
leads to increased levels of focus
without the kind of overall feelings
of stimulant-based alertness
that one would experience with caffeine.
Or I should say, of course, there are products out there
and there are people out there
that combine all three of these things together,
caffeine, alpha-GPC, and L-tyrosine.
And while I’m not suggesting that’s a good or a bad thing,
I would suggest that anytime you start
to explore the cognitive enhancing effects
and the focus enhancing effects of any supplement
that you ask which ones are stimulants,
so for instance, caffeine and alpha-uhimbine,
which ones tend to tap more into neuromodulator systems
like alpha-GPC and L-tyrosine,
and to separate those out conceptually,
because whereas things like alpha-uhimbine and caffeine
will mostly serve the role of increasing levels
of alertness but not tightening your focus,
things like alpha-GPC and L-tyrosine
tend to serve the role of less elevation and alertness
but more tightening of focus.
And this, of course, is why people often stack these
and take them in combination.
So I think it’s a very important distinction
that most people aren’t aware of.
And I’m not here to tell you
that the stimulant-based approach
or the neuromodulator-based approach is better or worse.
They are simply different from one another.
Although I will say that I think it is important
to explore them separately
if indeed you’re going to explore any of them
before you would start to combine them in a single formula.
Again, individual ingredients are going to be the way to go
in terms of figuring out what’s best for you.
If anything, some people may find
that even the slightest bit of caffeine
or even the slightest bit of alpha-GPC or L-tyrosine
just places them into a state of mind and or body
that’s just uncomfortable and not compatible
with the kind of work that they want to do.
Whereas other people, such as myself,
regularly rely on taking 300 milligrams of alpha-GPC.
It turns out more than that kind of doesn’t work for me
or it tends to send my mind down a pathway
that I don’t like to be in for sake of cognitive work,
but I will routinely take 300 milligrams of alpha-GPC
prior to some cognitive work or prior to a workout.
I do often combine that with some caffeine,
not in capsule or pill form,
but rather in the form of a cup of coffee or your bermatae.
And it turns out that for me, just by way of example,
L-tyrosine is something that works very powerfully
to elevate my level of focus,
but that I tend to crash pretty hard afterward.
And so I tend to err away from L-tyrosine,
but some people tolerate it really well
and actually really like it.
I rely on something else for dopamine augmentation,
which is phenolethylamine,
which is a little bit more short lasting.
Again, I arrived at these protocols for myself
by mixing and matching,
but mostly by trying individual ingredients alone
before combining them into any sort of cocktail
before taking them before a workout
or before a cognitive work bout.
And I suggest that you explore them in the same way
because that’s going to deliver you
to the best possible protocols for you,
which only you can determine.
And then of course, there’s the category of supplements
that can support cognitive function and focus,
but that also touch on other general functions
related to brain and body health,
such as metabolic health, mood, et cetera.
And the one that comes to mind here
are the omega-3 fatty acids.
I’ve talked a lot about omega-3 fatty acids
that are available in the form of foods.
So for instance, fatty ocean fish,
and there are certain plant-based sources
for these as well, certain algaes and things of that sort.
Touched on this in the episodes on depression
that I’ve done.
But this topic mainly comes up around the issue of fish oil,
fish oil capsules and liquid.
And this is a discussion I think is worth having.
Early on in the episode,
we talked about foundational nutrition
and supplements that include a bunch
of different ingredients.
We touched on the idea that some people
might have the budget to take one such product
or any number of different products
that combine all those ingredients.
I should say that for those that are interested
in taking a supplement, but have a lower budget
than would allow for taking one of those general categories
of supplements we talked about earlier
for foundational nutrition that combines everything,
vitamins, minerals, probiotics, prebiotics,
adaptogens, digestive enzymes.
I do think that there’s a category of supplements
that can greatly enhance the probability
of offsetting depression and maybe even improve mood
directly or indirectly.
There’s evidence for what I’m about to tell you
within the scientific literature
and or offset the amount of antidepressant medication
that people need to take.
That’s also been demonstrated
and improve metabolic function, cardiovascular function,
and also enhance our ability to do focused work.
And here I’m referring to the so-called
omega-3 essential fatty acids,
in particular the omega-3 form of the essential fatty acids.
There’s now a lot of data showing that ingesting
one to three grams of EPA in particular
in the form of either fish oil capsules or liquid
can be beneficial for a number of different aspects
of brain and body health
and can enhance focus and cognitive ability.
This is especially true in developing brains.
And there’s actually an extensive data out of a laboratory
at University of California, Santa Barbara,
talking about how mothers who supplement omega-3s
in particular the EPAs,
although they also need to get the DHAs,
that leads to greater brain weights and health of offspring.
This is something we will definitely explore
in a future episode, likely with an expert guest
who’s doing that work in that laboratory
at UC Santa Barbara.
The point here is that if somebody has a limited budget
to purchase supplements
and cannot afford a foundational supplement
in the sort that we talked about earlier,
athletic greens are similar,
but they do have a budget that would allow them
to purchase a high quality omega-3 fatty acid fish oil
and to ingest it in quantities sufficient enough
to get above that one gram of EPA per day.
Again, this is really important.
If you look at the product labels,
you’ll often see 1,500 or 1,600 milligrams
of essential fatty acids.
But the key is you get above that one gram of EPA
per day threshold and as high as three grams per day.
We had a guest on this podcast, Dr. Rhonda Patrick,
who takes anywhere from I believe three to four,
maybe even more grams of EPA per day
for a variety of reasons,
including some of the reasons we’re discussing now.
Before we move on to discussing
some of the more global themes related
to developing a rational supplementation protocol,
I do want to touch on this vast category of supplementation
that includes food-based or food mimic type supplements.
So this would be, for instance, whey proteins,
or milk proteins, or egg proteins, or plant proteins.
That’s a discussion that in and of itself
deserves an entire episode.
If you want to understand which types of protein
and source of proteins are going to be the most bioavailable,
the best for protein synthesis,
for recovery from exercise, building muscle, et cetera,
I’d like to refer you to a segment within the episode
that I did with Dr. Lane Norton,
where he talks about total protein needs per day.
It’s about one gram per pound of body weight per day
for most people, although there’s some variation
depending on activity, et cetera.
And the quality of sourcing of those various proteins
is extremely important.
And that of course leads to a discussion
about the quality and type of protein
that would be present in a supplement,
like a whey protein supplement or casein,
which is a milk protein-based supplement.
That discussion is segmented and timestamped
in the episode that I did with him.
You can find it hubermanlab.com.
He actually pointed to some interesting data
on potato protein as perhaps being
a great plant-based substitute
for those that don’t want to take whey-based protein,
but the fact that whey-based proteins can be very useful
for getting to and above a protein threshold
for all sorts of reasons, not just for muscle building,
although it’s great for that,
but for other purposes as well.
And that’s but one category of food-based
or food-mimic type supplements.
There are, for instance, branched-chain amino acids.
There are, for instance, green tea supplements.
There’s a huge landscape of this,
far too much for us to get into
in any kind of reasonable detail,
but I do want to acknowledge that those all exist.
The key thing to understand is that
while they can serve a great role
in providing replacement for meals
that you perhaps couldn’t have consumed otherwise,
and while they often are very convenient
because you can drink as opposed to eat your calories,
I think that most people would agree
that getting some significant fraction of your nutrition
from whole foods is going to be useful
for a variety of reasons,
in particular, the fiber that comes along with it,
the bulk of the food that tends to make us feel sated,
and of course, the fact that a lot of vitamins and minerals
and other things that are contained within foods,
as well as essential fatty acids
in foods like animal-based proteins
are not going to be present in most,
if not all of those kind of food mimic type powders
and replacements for food.
Another point is this question about age-related effects.
So for instance, should kids be taking supplements?
Well, I mentioned earlier that there’s some evidence
that making sure that kids are getting enough
omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial.
They certainly could get those from food-based sources.
Just look up online food-based sources
of omega-3 fatty acids and EPAs,
and you’ll see lists there.
Some people choose to supplement on top of that.
In particular, in kids that are developing very quickly,
regardless of whether or not
they’re consuming enough EPAs from food,
some parents choose to supplement on top of that.
I am personally not a fan of children taking melatonin
for the reason that melatonin
is already chronically elevated in kids,
and there’s a growing body of literature
that melatonin supplementation in kids
can be potentially harmful.
I don’t want to create alarm
among those who have already been taking it
or giving it to their kids
or that gave it to their kids in the past,
but I do think that melatonin in particular
should be approached with a lot of caution,
especially for kids.
And then of course, there’s the issue
of whether or not all these other supplements
that we’ve discussed, whether or not kids
can take them safely.
And again, it’s highly individual.
I would say that for the supplements
that relate to hormone augmentation and support,
unless your physician, a board-certified MD,
specifically recommends them,
I would strongly suggest avoiding intake of those things
until at least after puberty
and probably into the late teens and early 20s,
because the body and brain are still developing
and hormone systems are still active.
Even though puberty may happen between ages 11 and 14
or even 15, puberty can be a long lasting event
with a long taper and tail on it.
So you want to be cautious about augmenting hormones
in young people through the use of supplementation,
unless a physician is working very closely with you
or rather you with them.
And then in ages of say 22 years old, 24 and older,
I don’t see any reason why people who are in their 50s
or 60s would have any different protocols
than people in their 30s and 40s,
except perhaps in the domain of cognitive enhancement
where it might make sense.
Again, might, provided it can be done safely
and with the consult of a physician.
It might be beneficial for people
who are approaching their later years
to consider increasing dosages or the variety of things
and approaches that they take for cognitive enhancement,
because age-related cognitive decline is a reality.
There is no person that escapes that.
The question is whether or not the slope of that decline
is very steep or very shallow.
And of course, this is an opportunity for me to raise
the point that I made much earlier
and that I’ll make over and over again,
because it really is the most important point
to today’s discussion, which is that behaviors
both exercise, sleep,
making sure that your relationship to light,
getting sufficient sunlight early in the day
and throughout the day if you can,
and limiting your viewing of bright artificial light
in the late evening,
and especially between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.,
things of that sort, all the do’s and don’ts.
And of course, cardiovascular exercise
and resistance training exercise,
and maybe even flexibility training exercise,
topics we’ve covered extensively on this podcast
and for which we will soon have a special series
airing with Dr. Andy Galpin that gets into a lot of detail
and protocol development that you can all employ.
All of that needs to be done at every age,
certainly past puberty,
in order to maximize cognitive function,
in order to maximize cardiovascular function,
in order to maximize focus,
and every aspect that we really all stand to
and want to enhance when we think about supplementation.
So again, get your sleep right,
do that by getting your relationship to light right,
get your exercise right,
quality social connection right,
and then of course there’s that landscape of nutrition
that we talked about extensively earlier
and for which we have other episodes that really dive deep,
including that episode, or I should say,
in particular that episode with Dr. Lane Norton,
where we really took a full survey
of the landscape of nutrition,
everything from protein needs, vitamins, minerals, fiber,
microbiome, it’s a deep, deep discussion
with a lot of actionable takeaways.
If you’re curious about nutrition,
and in particular if you’re a vegan or vegetarian
or carnivore based,
but even for the more common omnivores, such as myself,
I found that to be an incredible learning journey
thanks to Dr. Lane Norton,
just so much useful knowledge in that episode,
if you want to learn more about nutrition.
The behavioral tools, the nutritional tools
are really going to serve as the primary two layers
upon which your supplementation protocols are going to rest.
And again, I want to emphasize
that your supplementation protocol may be zero supplements.
It could include no supplements whatsoever,
and that would be perfectly fine
provided that you’re sleeping as well as you want to
and need to, you’re able to focus and work
as well as you want to and need to,
you’re able to perform physically
as well as you want to and need to,
and you feel that your hormones and related functions
are where you want them.
However, for most people
who are doing most everything right,
they want to explore how they can make things
like their sleep, their focus,
their hormone function even better.
And that’s where supplementation makes a lot of sense.
And when I say it makes a lot of sense,
I mean, it makes a lot of sense to explore
in a rational and regimented way.
There are a couple of big themes
that we’ve talked about a few times during today’s podcast
that I’d like to reiterate now
because they are so crucial
to developing a rational supplementation protocol.
The most important of which is,
unless we’re talking about foundational nutritional support,
that is coverage of vitamins, minerals,
digestive enzymes, probiotics, prebiotics, and adaptogens,
we should really be focusing
on single ingredient formulations.
that include all those things I just listed off,
all combined in one supplement are fine.
I simply don’t see any other practical or reasonable way
to get each and every one of those things
through single ingredient formulations.
However, when you want to start thinking about
and actually practically exploring
things like supplementation for sleep or hormone health
or cognitive function,
the single ingredient formulations
are going to give you the most power and control.
They’re going to make sure
that you can find the minimal effective doses,
that you can rule out things that are not effective for you
or that may be detrimental for you in whatever fashion.
And it’s not just about cost-effectiveness,
it’s also about arriving at small kits
or cocktails of supplements
that you can really manage and work with
that you’re not dependent on,
but that you really feel can augment
the various aspects of your health
that are important to you.
So that’s really what today’s episode is about.
Even though we had coverage of specific supplements
and their functions in these different domains
of mental and physical health and performance,
today’s episode was really geared
toward giving you resources and a framework
to think about how to approach supplementation,
how to navigate sticking points
and pain points in supplementation,
how to get the most out of your supplementation regimen
without spending an excessive amount of money
and if you don’t have finances
to allow for a lot of exploration of supplements,
how to narrow in on the most effective supplements
the most quickly and derive all the benefits
that you can from them.
And as a final point that is redundant
with a few of the themes we talked about today,
but that I don’t think I ever really explicitly stated
is that while the word supplement makes it sound like
these compounds are something just to add on top of
or compensate for deficiencies in nutrition
or other areas of your life,
many of them are actually quite potent compounds.
These are potent non-prescription molecules
that really can move the needle
in terms of your ability to think more clearly,
sleep better, support your hormone function.
But as always, they are just one element
within an ecosystem of other factors,
such as your behaviors, which includes do’s and don’ts,
such as your nutrition,
maybe even such as prescription drugs
that you also might happen to be taking
or hoping to be taking less of or removing completely.
Again, that has to be done in discussion with physicians
if you’re going to do it at all.
But the real point here is that what we call supplements
are actually a powerful gear within a larger system
aimed at each and every one of us customizing tools
for our mental, physical health and performance.
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and more importantly, how to develop a rational
and especially effective supplementation protocol for you.
And last, but certainly not least,
thank you for your interest in science.