521’s Guide To Health Supplements


Guide To Supplements

Welcome to our Supplements Guide Page. Below we’ll try to outline what you need to know to make an informed choice when it comes to adding health supplements to your diet (or whether you need them at all. Seriously, not all supplements companies are trying scam you… just kidding). For us, Health Supplements are somewhat akin to ALCHEMY. The fact that you can improve your health in a tangible way (if you have good ingredients and combine them in the right way) seems nothing short of magic as far as we are concerned. Health Supplements are (quite literally supplemental) not a replacement for a healthy diet and are not some kind of panacea, but they can make a real difference! If you’re stuck for time, take a look at our “Recommendations” section below and come back when you get a chance to finish reading.

 

Recommendations

These are our broad guidelines for deciding what to take, and how to take supplements.

¤  Supplements can ONLY address “needs”, not “wants”. If a supplement says it can help with sleep problems and you want more sleep, that doesn’t mean you have sleep problems or, if you do have sleep problems, that this supplement will address your underlying problem! Try to think “does this address a specific issue”? Also, many times supplements can be VERY useful for helping correct an underlying deficit, but won’t allow for a huge degree of “supercompensation” (as the body’s very smart and likes balance). This is true of things like DAA (D-Aspartic Acid) which is reasonably potent at increasing testosterone levels, the HOLY GRAIL of natural supplements… Oh, did we forget to mention it only works for people with low testosterone. If your levels are already normal, the effects are minimal at best.

¤  Don’t under-dose, and don’t take things once every other day. If you’re not going to take it, don’t buy it. One of the biggest reasons supplements don’t have the impact they should is that they aren’t taken. This is PARTICULARLY true of more expensive supplements where companies will under-dose so it looks like you’re getting more value for money. Take it for at least 2 weeks before writing anything off (unless it’s making you feel unwell, of course). 

¤  Price is not an indication of quality. Brand is NOT an indication of quality. If you want to know how good a product is, you should ask pertinent questions. How is this processed? What part of the plant is used? Do you know the levels of the active ingredients? IS THE RECOMMENDED DOSAGE IN LINE WITH THE STUDIES THEY ARE BASING THE PRODUCT CLAIMS ON? (i.e. if you but a “one a day” – 500mg – Chlorella tablet that lists all the wonderful benefits of Chlorella, you should be asking if ANY of those benefits were seen with just 500mg a day???)

¤ If you are supplementing to deal with a chronic issue or condition (i.e. hypothyroidism, weight problems, or even cancer), keep in mind that you could be trying to reverse YEARS of damage(!!!)… Or at least that’s the “health guru” line you’ll be given. Your body is incredibly complex, and healing it is a process of figuring out the problem and then addressing it. It might take minutes, it might take years, it might not be curable. The most important thing is to take your health seriously and be responsible. Don’t dismiss the doctors advice just because it involves pharmaceuticals and don’t blindly follow some health guru’s advice because they’re selling what you want to buy into. The same is true the other way around. 

¤ Ask yourself “should this supplement be used as part of a bigger strategy?“. It is incredible the number of people who think (or believe because it suits them) that taking a pill will result in: instant weight-loss (think Garcinia – lie), instant increase in intelligence (think fish oils – lie), or a substantial increase in testosterone (think T-Boosters – lie). There is NO MAGIC PILL! (and people who market them should be prosecuted). This is true of all “miracle cures”. Some things really can work, but not to the extent that you can just take a pill and (a) ignore your diet, (b) maintain piss-poor sleep habits, (c) ignore your stress levels / mental health, or (d) NEVER exercise (or move in general)! You still have to diet, exercise, and eat/sleep right. The same is true of weight-gain formulas, AND of miracle detox pills/plans. How can any of these things work if the environment is wrong (gaining weight without exercise is a disaster, and trying to “detox” while still eating/drinking crap will fix nothing).

 

What Are Health Supplements

 

While this may seem like an easy question, there are really a few answers for this.

1. The first, and most obvious, is that you can replace any missing nutrients in your diet with a supplement pill. You don’t have to worry about cooking it, about storing it, about it going off after a day or two, or even about eating the right amount (as it should come with a clearly marked dosage). These are actually quite important for some people (especially a multivitamin) who don’t get a balanced diet or who eat a lot of processed food (which lacks micro-nutrients).

2. The second reason has come form the idea that more of a good thing is always better. For example, a specific vitamin helps with cognitive function. The RDA is 250mcg, but scientists know that the level for toxicity is MUCH higher, so supplement companies start to produce capsules that are 10 times the RDA claiming that you’ll get boosted cognitive function. This, on occasion, can be true but in the vast majority of situations due diligence has not been performed and it’s a case of profits taking precedence. While there are many cases of this not working, people must remember that many RDA’s are set at the absolute minimum to avoid illness and the VAST majority of RDA’s are not set at ideal quantities (nor do they factor in for purity, or compound variants – think vitamins and minerals – affecting bioavailability). In many cases, consuming higher levels than the RDA recommends is beneficial to health (but never do so without the supervision of your health care provider).

3. The third reason is that of new(ish) compounds and/or extractions, concentrations, concoctions, decoctions etc.  to increase purity and potency of said compounds. Examples of this are herbal remedies that are non-native to your part of the world, such as Ashwagandha. This is a HIGHLY healthful plant that has been used for thousands of years, but has in the last decade or two become mainstream in its availability. Another example is Turmeric, which while always quite prevalent and understood to be healthful, but it’s only in recent years that things like Curcumin extracts or the addition of Piperine (which increases absorption) have become available and affordable (relatively speaking). This type of health supplements is one of the most difficult to assess, and will be discussed in more detail elsewhere. 

This third type of supplement can be taken a step further to things like Nootropics and high potency molecules. Things of this sort are generally pretty easy to substantiate as the effects are quite acute and very noticeable, BUT they are also some of the most unethically advertised (as in complete BS) along with performance enhancing supplements.

4. The fourth type of health supplement is the performance enhancement molecules (not steroids). These include specific amino acids, fats, carbohydrates, and a long list of molecules that have shown (or we’ve been led to believe have shown) significant improvements in a bodily functions/performance. These range from Agmatine to Theobromine, from AstaXanthin to ZeaXanthin and are (almost) all found in nature, but are isolated (or synthetically created in a lab) to give just one single molecule. These can be VERY potent, but can also be very IMPOTENT (excuse our choice of words). Some of these molecules need their original counterparts (or even other polyphenols, vitamins, etc) to become biologically available. Some of these molecules do all that they say and more. Some of these molecules are hyped based on erroneous studies (or are based on correct studies but the data is intentionally misrepresentedand it’s also very hard to verify potency (e.g. many protein supplements are actually spiked with cheap amino acids to artificially increase protein content) 

At the end of this, the point has to be made: people like to think categorically. This supplement works, or it doesn’t. This exercise is “good” or it’s “bad”. This information is “right” or it’s “wrong” (based on an article that was based on a study… that was actually testing for something else). The reality is generally more nuanced. A supplement might work for you, it might not. It might just be a poor quality supplement, or it might just be that environmental factors are negating any possible benefit. The question of supplements shouldn’t be whether or not they work (this is somewhat of a red herring – clearly some work very well and others don’t) but what will work for you!

 

Expectations With Health Supplements

 

The prevalent idea when taking a supplement is that it will fix everything, IMMEDIATELY. When taking medicine, it is reasonable to expect it to take effect rather quickly. That’s because it generally works by blanket killing lots of stuff (a sure fire way to get results, a la antibiotics) or by blocking biological pathways (think PPI’s etc.). This generally isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the case with health supplements. The whole idea is to bolster your body’s natural defenses and address deficiencies.

Firstly, let’s address the hierarchy of health:

1. Am I moving enough / getting enough exercise?

• You should be doing a combined 2-3 hours of physical activity a week, MINIMUM.
• Try to find something that suits your schedule or interests.
• Give it time (at least 1 month)

2. Am I eating a reasonably healthy diet?

• If your diet is crap, you will feel like crap and crave crap
• Switching to healthier choices can be relatively pain free if you get the hang of sauces and spices
• If you want to lose weight, you need a caloric deficit. Not magic pills.

3. Am I getting enough sleep?

• Usually measured by time spent in bed, though it’s better measured with the “do I feel tired all the time” index
• Try to put together a night-time routine, and switch off all devices an hour or two before bed
• Sleep quality and sleep quantity are not the same thing (see example below).

4. Do I hate my job and wish my life was different?

• This one doesn’t have to be in here, but if you do feel “run down” all the time it might not be a lack of adaptogens in your diet. It might just be time for a change.
• There are plenty of amazing books and courses that help to deal with these things, but they only work to the extent that you actually apply them. Change is not easy, neither is self-reflection without the ifs and buts.

5. Do I spend time doing things I love?

• You want more energy? Do something that energizes you! You should have AT LEAST 1 hobby you love and are actively involved in.
• It’s painfully easy to not have time for these things (that seem like a luxury), but somehow have enough time to veg on the couch watching tv or staring vacantly at a laptop.  Make time. It’s worth it.

 

With these things addressed, we can start to look at supplements. When taking a health supplement, the question to start with is “where am I deficient”? For example, you are eating a diet lacking in healthy fats. If you address this, you will (within 2 weeks) feel an incredible difference in your energy levels, your skin and hair, and even your mood. An easy place to start is to look in your fridge (as this will give a good indication of what you eat during the week). If there’s anything clearly missing (like greens,  cruciferous vegetables, plenty of colour, protein sources, healthy fats, etc.), then start there. That said, it’s not always easy to spot and a good diet tracking app will help! (it’s free)

 

Example Approach - Low Energy Levels / Feeling Run Down

Let’s take an example! These days many people have low energy levels, though this can be caused by a number of things. So a simple approach would be to assess diet, then exercise, then sleep, then hormonal (thyroid/adrenal) issues, and then metabolic issues. Obviously lifestyle factors could play a part too, so try to keep an open mind.

Diet: Are you on any restrictive diet plan? If you are vegetarian are you getting enough protein, B-vitamins, absorbable Iron, and other things that is more abundant in meat. If you’re on a low fat diet (you shouldn’t be), you could supplement with a good oil blend (like Udo’s oils, do not go and grab some cheap fish oil as most of them are highly processed). If you’re cutting carb’s to any meaningful degree, you’ll feel pretty run-down. Things like MCT’s, BCAA’s, Carb-Cycling, or something to improve mood (Damiana, Rhodiola, Baicalin, etc.) can help, though the best approach is to download diet tracking software which will give you specific data on you diet. Input 3-5 days of eating/drinking (EVERYTHING) and see what it tells you!

Exercise: If you are sedentary for most of the week, it can take it’s toll on your body. It sounds counter-intuitive, but not exercising can actually cause you to be more lethargic, have less focus, and leave you feeling slightly depressed. If you enjoy working-out, head straight to the gym, though ideally you’ll have an opportunity to do some form of team sport. Also, if you aren’t getting out enough, a good Vitamin D supplement will help.

Sleep: We have an article that talks about sleep, but basically you want to assess whether your problem is falling asleep or staying asleep. With regards falling asleep, a good evening routine can be very useful, as can getting to bed at the same time every night. For staying asleep, there are a few supplements that can help. We recommend taking a good Zinc & Magnesium because deficiency in Magnesium is very common and both are vital (regardless of sleep). You can also take 5-HTP, a metabolite of Tryptophan, which can help with sleep issues. We generally don’t recommend going “Full Melatonin” as this can be overkill and can exacerbate the problem when you stop taking it. Again, sleep tracking software for your phone can help a lot with this, and there are some free ones available!

Hormonal Issues: This is where it gets more difficult. Self-diagnosing hormonal imbalances can be very hit and miss (i.e. complete guesswork), so ideally at this point you’ll see a doctor or someone qualified to diagnose these issues. With some guidance from them, there are lots of things you can do. For example, with thyroid issues there are plenty of natural supplements you can take that will help a lot (though with thyroid problems, in particular, you need proper testing done to get to the root of the problem. Being told you’re “hypo-thyroid” is a bit like being told “you have a problem”. Without knowing if it’s Hashimotos, a form of autoimmune disease, or your T3, T4, TSH, etc. levels it can be difficult to discern the best course of action). This is also true of type 2 diabetes and “pre-diabetes”, as well as a host of other developed health issues that can be treated naturally.

Metabolic Issues: This is a very interesting topic though maybe a bit much to take on now. Suffice to say, it’s a tricky one. Speeding up the metabolism can help with a whole host of issues (including energy levels), though it may come with a cost initially (in the form of weight gain). Increasing metabolic rate will generally involve a combination of exercise, healthy eating with a slight caloric surplus, some supplements where necessary, and lots of sleep. There should be a noticeable increase in body temperature and energy levels.

At the end of all this, you will have a list of things that will work for you! The point we’re making is that though not every supplement will work for you, that DOESN’T mean you can’t dramatically improve your health with the RIGHT approach that can include supplements.

The same is the case for sports performance, weight gain, weight loss, general health issues, women’s health, men’s health, etc. If you aren’t happy with an aspect of your health, there’s always something that can be done. It’s really a question of assessing the problem, and then verifying the advice you’re getting before you buy into any products/protocols! If you have ANY questions (even if it’s just to help find studies), get in touch!

 

Common Complaints With Health Supplements

 

Ok, we threw this in at the end so as not to sour the mood too much, but we do need to take a look at some genuine grievances many people have with the “health industry”.

Profits before Products: These days, much of what is sold is HIGHLY processed and about as healthy as saw dust. Slapping an organic label on the front of something just means it shouldn’t have any “non-organic” chemicals in it (whatever that means!?). It does not mean that it’s top quality, premium grade, highly potent produce. Many times we find ourselves in the curious situation of wondering how suppliers can sell organic products for less than their non-organic counterparts, and generally speaking the answer is quality (in terms of potency). This DOESN’T MEAN that a product doesn’t work, but you’re not going to get much benefit from taking plant leaves when most of the active components are in the root etc.

Fabricated Reviews: While we could never claim to be leading the field in terms of reviews (we’re up to 4… ish), honest reviews from customers is essential in decision making, lends credibility to the product (and company), and helps prospective buyers learn of any possible issues with the product. These days fake reviews abound, and seeing as they can be bought in bulk for but a few hundred Euro’s, it doesn’t seem like this is going to go away soon. Add on top of this Amazon’s insistence to allow companies to give “free samples” of products in return for “honest feedback” and it becomes very hard to know what you’re buying. We’re wonderful though : )

The Science of Marketing: These days, it’s not worth your while selling anything if you can’t back it up with a ridiculous number of miracle-like benefits, and OBVIOUSLY they have the studies to prove it. What they don’t mention is that miracle fat burning compound was only slightly more effective than placebo, or that there were only 7 people in the study, or that the study was done by the doctor who owns the company selling this product, blah blah blah.

 

PLEASE BE CLEAR, THOUGH, NOT ALL RESEARCH IS BAD! BAD RESEARCH IS BAD! 

These issues can be avoided if you make the effort to contact the seller and probe a little further. It IS a pain in the ass, but it means you know what you’re getting! 

 

Top 5 To Try 

These are our top 5 supplements for those who’d like to try supplement their diet! These should be of benefit to a very broad spectrum of people, and worth experimenting with. Just pick 1 and start with that. If it helps, maybe you can adjust your diet to increase whatever it is you’re supplementing. Also, try not to overlap too much, so if you’re buying an Intra-workout you don’t have to get the Pre-workout just yet.

Supplements

 

General Health

1. Z&M: a good Zinc & Magnesium Supplement can really help with energy levels, as well as sleep and metabolism. Zinc is important in an incredible number of processes, and (as was mentioned before) Magnesium deficiency is very common.

2. Greens Mix: This, like a multivitamin, is a kind of safe-guard against an incomplete diet. A good quality one can provide an exceptional array of nutrients and polyphenols (just don’t under-dose), as well as a means of ensuring you’re getting all of your basic greens

3. Multi-Vitamin: A staple in most people’s health regimen these days, good quality multi-vitamins can be useful to plug nutritional holes as well as providing additional nutrients (usually in the form of phyto-nutrients or probiotics)

4. Protein Blend: Protein consumption can be an issue as most processed foods will give taste/texture via their carb/fat blend, with protein as an afterthought. Also, as people push towards a “healthier” lifestyle, it seems to involve cutting out much of their protein sources. In this case, a good protein powder will be invaluable.

5. Rhodiola Plus: Rhodiola is an incredible herb that can help with a host of general health issues. We couple it with Grape Seed Extract and L-Theanine, as both are also rather wonderful.

 

Über Health

1. Balance Adaptogen Blend: Adaptogens have been shown to help reduce stress, balance energy levels, and help with cognitive function, though this is subject to the law of addressing deficiencies. Includes Ashwagandha (standardized to 2.5% Withanolides), Gynostemma (which has many similar properties of Ginseng), Eleutherococcus, Burdock Root, Ginkgo Biloba, and Gotu Kola.

2. 521- Aceso: This is a combination of High Strength Green Tea extract, Curcumin, as well as Quercetin and Piperine for increased absorption, this is made using high strength extracts for those who are interested in plant extracts for health.

3. Greens Mix: Again, a wonderful way of getting lots of good polyphenols into your diet, especially if you don’t spend much time preparing food and don’t have enough leafy greens or cruciferous vegetables in your day. These are generally 1:5 (in terms of the powder weight to vegetable used weight), so you still need a good 20 grams a day to really see a difference.

4. Recovery Max: This is a great all-round recovery drink. Good protein, plenty of anti-inflammatory nutrients, and plenty of healthy polyphenols.

5. Rhodiola Active: This is a wonderful combination of Rhodiola, Schizandra, Schisandrol A, Eleutherococcus, and L-Tyrosine. It can help improve energy levels and help with cognitive function. 

 

Sports

1. PWE: Ok, from the word go we have to be up front and say we don’t think there’s anything like our sports supplements available. Studies have now shown your Pre-Workout to be as important as your Post-Workout in terms of recovery and muscle building. That said, Pre-workouts are optional and if in a pinch can be replaced with caffeine.

2. Bulldozer: Incredibly effective, incredibly potent, incredibly high quality, but only for those who are training at a very high level of intensity. This is for horrible days at the gym… otherwise Tank will more than suffice for day to day crushing of metal!

3. PWC: An all-round high quality Post Workout. It will help feed your muscles, help with recovery, help reduce catabolism! It also includes some extras such as beetroot powder, rhubarb root powder, curcumin, green tea extract, piperine, and even proteolytic enzymes.

4. Pre-Bed: In terms of helping reduce DOMS, we’ve found very little else that competes with a good slow release protein before bed! We’ve added in a few extras to help with sleep and some extra proteins to ensure you’re getting the best possible blend.

5. Mjölner: This is our proprietary “BIG GAINZ” blend! : P Take a look at the ingredients and decide for yourself!

 

Non-Supplement

 

Here’s our list of non-supplement based health tips! These, again, should be of use to a broad spectrum of people and won’t break the bank to try! In fact, most of them are free!! The General Health tips are designed to help people get out more, to interact more, to relax more, and to really just allow people “unwind” (a perfect word for what we really need these days). The Sports tips are based around recovery and improving recovery capacity, but their also quite relaxing (except for the hot/cold showers…). The last part is Über Health, which is a step beyond general health and is centered around the concept of “zoning” (effectively, to become so absorbed in what you’re doing, you forget yourself. Very important!) It also allows for expression of self, which is vitally important for health, as well as a social aspect (Volunteering) which is medicine for the soul and Intermittent Fasting which has shown to be incredibly beneficial for cellular health.

 

General Health

1. Team Sports: This will get you outside, interacting with people, get you out of your own head (where all the stress lives), and get you moving!

2. Massage: This isn’t essential, but it can be very therapeutic! A good massage can reduce stress, increase feelings of well-being, and help relieve muscle tension

3. Evening Course/ Distance Learning: This is incredible for your health. There is nothing like learning to stimulate and bring about development in your life, not to mention the excitement of learning about something you love.

4. Meditation: An easy entry as there’s nothing that can have such a profound impact on your health. Finding 15 minutes (or more!) of headspace a day will dramatically help with stress, emotional/psychological distress, physical health, and even brain health!

5. Walking: This is another easy win. Getting out into nature for a 30 minute should be doable (even in a busy schedule) and will bring with it some amazing benefits. Just make sure it’s somewhere reasonably quiet and natureful!

 

Über Health

1. Competitive Sports: Ok, it doesn’t have to be crazy competitive, but something that will ensure increased focus and a challenge that will help you push other things out of your mind. You don’t have to be competitive to compete (or enjoy competing) as many sports (including running, powerlifting, crossfit, cycling, rock climbing, etc.) will allow for “self-competition” and a sense achievement measured in personal progress, as opposed to measured by winning.

2. Hiking: Some times the best medicine in the world is a tough hike! Great air, beautiful scenery, real silence, a lack of clearly marked trails, everything you need to clear your head and get some perspective.

3. Volunteering: Helping others can be the most rewarding of experiences, especially when done for the sake of helping others. This will also help to put things in perspective and help to remove mental barriers, as at the end of the day EVERYONE wants the same things and has the same worries. 

4. Music/Creating/Expression: Apart from being wonderful for your mental health, being creative (music, painting, singing, dancing, etc.) is also incredibly good for your cognitive health! 

5. Intermittent Fasting: This one is covered in some detail in the Green Tea Diet plan, but suffice to say it can be very beneficial for your health if done right!

 

Sports

1. Foam Rolling/Mobility: Foam Rolling is effectively self massage. “Myo-fascial release” as it is also known, is a great way to work knots out of tight muscles and when coupled with mobility work can minimize imbalances / improper movement patterns due to a-symmetries

2. GPP Days: GPP is extremely important and can help develop recovery capacity as well as work capacity. For intermediate athletes, adding some GPP days can make a big difference to general training.

3. Sports Massage: The next level up from foam rolling, sports/deep tissue massage is a great way to work knots out of muscles and help minimize residual (unwanted) tightness in muscles that can lead to imbalances

4. Hot/Cold Shower & Bath Salts: In theory, these should work quite well, but anecdotal evidence is mixed. Hot/cold showers work on the premise that changing the external temperature will cause the blood to flow in to / out of the muscles to regulate body temperature. Bath salts work by either helping remove toxins from the muscles (usually with epsom salts or baking soda) or by using other compounds to sooth the muscles (essential oils, etc.)

5. Muscle Rub: Sometimes a good muscle cream can work wonders. There are now many available (heat rubs, tiger balms, cooling rubs, etc.) creams and gels, each designed to provide relief for a specific issue BUT just be careful of the extra ingredients/chemicals not always labelled on the front of the box. Try to buy all natural where possible