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nootropic supplements

Introduction: What Are Nootropics?

One of the fastest growing categories of supplements in the market today, both sports nutrition and general use is that of nootropics. ‘Brain boosters’, if you will, nootropics is an umbrella term used to classify a wide category of chemicals, both natural and synthetic, that provide positive cognitive benefits to the human brain. The term was coined by a Roman psychologist, Dr. Corneliu E. Guirgea, who is considered the father of nootropics and godfather of brain pharmacology. The word nootropics originates from the Greek word noos (mind) and tropein (towards) (1).

His formal description of the category states that “Nootropics are drugs which ameliorate the functional “plasticity” of the central nervous system. The nootropic drug acts at the telencephalic level through a series of bioenergetic, hemorheological, microcirculatory and neurochemical mechanisms. As to this, recent data show a facilitation by piracetam, of the efficiency of the central cholinergic system.” (2) He is most famous for being the first to synthesize what is considered the first man-made nootropic, Piracetam in 1964 (3). To summarize Dr. Guirgea’s definition of what classifies a substance as a nootropic, it must meet the following criteria:

  1. Possess little to no side-effects and be non-toxic
  2. Protect the brain from chemical and physical assaults
  3. Increase the efficacy and efficiency of neuronal firing control mechanisms
  4. Enhance memory and the ability to learn
  5. Help the brain function under disruptive conditions

While the above list is a pretty stringent classification standard for any substance, the term nootropic has been used more loosely in today’s world, often describing any substance that offers a cognitive benefit. These more loosely defined substances are ones that do such things as improve concentration, increase processing speed and improve memory.

Legality: Who Regulates Nootropics?

As you can imagine, both natural and synthetic nootropics have gained popularity and for good reason. There are some that are perfectly fine for over the counter sale and use, while some aren’t allowed to be sold as dietary supplements. This is often considered a gray area as there is no single governing body that holds an identical definition of what a constitutes an approved nootropic. A vast majority of governing bodies consider nootropics dietary supplements.

The fine line comes when they are synthetically produced at which point you must consider: Is the nootropic controlled which requires a prescription or age restriction for purchase, or is it scheduled which means it is ranked by its risk for abuse. Like most drugs, the schedule of a drug influences the control very closely: The higher the risk, the more control there is over the substance.

With this article, we will examine herbal extract, dietary supplement nootropics, and synthetic/semi-synthetic nootropics and see what the research says.

Synthetic Nootropics

When we are referring to synthetic nootropics, we are talking about a category known as racetams which is a category of nootropic that works by prevents the degradation and increases production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Some racetams work to improve the functionality of acetylcholine receptors while other variations adjust the production to scale up or lastly can prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine. This is important as acetylcholine is vital for everything including decision making, focus, memory, and other cognitive based effects (4). Unfortunately, many of these are considered to be drugs and therefore cannot be purchased OTC or as supplements. However, in some markets they can be purchased as research chemicals.

Piracetam

Regarded as the first nootropic drug to be invented by Dr. Guirgea, Piracetam continues to be a very popular choice for those that utilize nootropics and is often viewed as a ‘beginner’ nootropic for those new to experimenting with such a drug. Also known as Nootropyl or UCB6215, it works via stimulation of acetylcholine receptors, increasing their production. Research has also revealed that it increases glucose and oxygen consumption in the brain which precedes cognitive improvement (4).

One of the most thoroughly studied racetams, Piracetam has been shown that in young and otherwise healthy adults to provide cognitive enhancement, though the benefits are greater and more pronounced in populations which may have cognitive impairment such as aging (5). Also promising is that research seems indicative that Piracetam can help improve cognitive function in those with degenerative cognitive function (6). As a whole, with the real-world trials and research available, Piracetam is considered to generally be more of a preventative mechanism for reducing cognitive aging vs. a short-term agent for improving immediate cognitive enhancement. The recommended daily dosage is 800mg, three times a day. The half-life is approximately 5 hours following oral on intravenous administration with the half-life in cerebrospinal fluid lasting around 8.5 hours (7).

Pramiracetam

Synthesized from the parent nootropic Piracetam, this compound has modifications within the similar structure. First synthesized in 1984, the primary purpose would be best suited for anti-amnesiac properties. There isn’t a large body of evidence available for its efficacy, especially in humans, however, the potential reported benefits include improved cognitive ability for those with brain trauma and improvement in memory formation in elderly populations (8). The ideal scenario for dosing is 400mg three times a day or 600mg twice a day.

Phenylpiracetam

Perhaps the most closely related member of the racetam family to Piracetam, Phenylpiracetam is Piracetam with an additional phenyl group added to its structure. Also known as Phenotropil and Carphedon, this synthetic nootropic is rapidly and well absorbed via its enhanced lipophilicity. Compared to the parent drug Piracetam, it has an enhanced anti-amnesiac and neuroprotective effect (9).

Like something out of the 1980’s Rocky IV movie, there is a relatively large body of research on Phenylpiracetam in Russia, but unfortunately most of it isn’t published online for use outside of the country. From these studies, it is said that there is strong evidence for attenuating and treating cognitive decline. Aside from the neuroprotective effects, there is published data for Phenylpiracetam having an apparent anti-depression mechanism as well as psychostimulatory properties that inhibit sleep (10) (11). General dosing guidelines suggest that 100mg a day are adequate as it is relatively conservative in the dosing needed. Users can increase usage with experience.

Aniracetam

A fat-soluble nootropic that needs to be ingested with fatty acids, Aniracetam is a cholergenic compound. Yet another stemming from Piracetam, it is the Piracetam molecule with an amine replaced with a methylated phenyl group. Its mechanism of action is that of a positive modulator of AMPA receptors (12). It has a prolonged, yet controlled effect of neurological stimulation and can decrease the rate of receptor desensitization. It is considered to be 5 times stronger than the parent Piracetam, however it takes significantly longer to break down completely in the body with the tradeoff of being longer lasting in effect.

There appears to be a neuroprotective effect from Aniracetam as research has shown it can help alleviate memory and learning impairment caused by damage such as blunt trauma and cerebral ischemia (13). Regarding learning in general, there has also been a specific effect in receptor desensitization, translating to potential benefit in memory formation (14). There is also a notable increase in judgment due to a significant increase in dopamine and serotonin which also doubles as an anti-depressant (15). Typical recommended dosage is 750mg up to three times a day. It has a short half-life of around 2 hours so it is ideally consumed on an evenly spaced basis (16).

Oxiracetam

Last but not least, stemming also from Piracetam is Oxiracetam. It is structurally similar to Piracetam featuring the same structure with the inclusion of a single hydroxyl group (17). Oxiracetam is known as a GABA analog that supports phospholipid metabolism as well as influencing a positive modulation of AMPA receptors and helps influence neurotransmitter release, very similar but markedly more potently than its parent compound Piracetam (18).

Oxiracetam is similar to the effect of Aniracetam in that it appears to increase long-term potentiation of acetylcholine release while not modifying the resting acetylcholine concentrations in the brain (19) (20). When it comes to memory formation, the data is positive but considered unreliable, however, it has a more pronounced effect in regard to having anti-amnesiac properties (21) (22). Psychostimulatory properties have been noted with Oxiracetam use, however to a small degree and there is no negative impact on sleep quality, though it can increase the time required to fall asleep (23).

In summation, there is an apparent implication for increasing memory in otherwise healthy subjects, though it appears there is a 5-day loading period required for maximum efficacy (24). Perhaps the wisest range of recommended dosing, the range can go from 700mg a day all the way to 2,400mg, taken at 6-hour intervals. It is best dosed approximately an hour before desired effects. The half-life is approximately 8 hours in healthy individuals with a huge range of 10-68 hours in individuals with renal dysfunction (25).

Which Synthetic Nootropic is Best?

There are potential benefits to each of the racetams listed above. Each is good in its own respect, so the best approach is to evaluate what you are trying to achieve and use trial an error with the given dosage guidelines to see what works for you. As with any substance, everyone has a unique biochemistry, so there is no cookie-cutter approach for which is ‘best’.

Dietary Supplement/Herbal Nootropics

Now that we’ve covered the various synthetic versions of nootropics, let’s examine the more natural side of things that are available over the counter for use as a dietary supplement. As with the synthetic nootropics we just discussed, you should select natural nootropics based on what you are trying to achieve, and the best method is to try them out and see what works best for your individual biochemistry. With that being said, let’s examine some of the most popular ‘nootropic’ supplements:

Huperzine A

A compound found naturally in plants such as Club Moss, Huperzine A is a very common nootropic. Commonly altered to create the nootropic form, it has been regarded as a premier cognitive enhancer due to the high purity of the substance it produces. It is known for its action as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (26). It also has properties for neuroprotection and can block NMDA receptor without the negative side effects of other such compounds (27). In a simple summary of effects, it inhibits enzymes that degrade neurotransmitters and is being researched as a potential compound for reducing cognitive decline in elderly populations. Standard dosing is 50-200mcg per day and has a half-life of 10-14 hours (28).

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Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa leaf extract, also commonly listed as Bacopa monnieri is a creeping marsh plant and regarded as an Ayurvedic herb that has been used primarily for neurological regeneration, memory enhancement and anxiety (29). It has also been used in traditional medicine for depression, learning, various neuropharmacological disorders (30). Bacopa monnieri also possesses properties of anti-inflammatory, antipyretic and acts as an astringent (31). There appear to be up to 14 compounds found within this extract with them being generally referred to simply as Bacoside A & B at up to 8% of the dry leaf content (32).

Bacopa monnieri has a variety of promising applications supported in literature, and one of the main mechanisms of action being the interaction with dopamine and serotonergic systems and neuron communication via the increased growth of dendrites (33). Supplementation has shown to improve overall mental cognition in subjects by way of reduced anxiety and is often used for nootropic purposes (34). In regard to dosage, the standard dosage in literature is 300mg with an assumed bacoside content of 55% or higher and it should be consumed with a lipoid transporter as it is fat soluble (35).

Alpha GPC

A naturally occurring cholinergic compound alpha-glycerphosphocholine, known as Alpha-GPC for short. Classified as a choline-containing phospholipid and an intermediate of lecithin metabolism or simply a lecithin molecule with two less fatty acids, it’s a choline pro-drug, and is known to be a precursor to acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine in the body following ingestion (36). Alpha-GPC is as a naturally occurring constituent of red meat and organ tissue for dietary sources, but for the most part is scarce in appreciable amounts in naturally occurring sources (37). Supplemental Alpha-GPC is typically made synthetically through enzymatic creation via egg or soy lecithin (38).

Alpha-GPC has been shown in research studies to have a variety of positive effects. Brain detoxification is one potential benefit as various studies have supported this with improvement in cognitive deficits (39), decreases in mental fatigue and reduction in metabolic stress of exercise (40). Alpha-GPC has also been shown to support healthy brain aging as various studies have supported findings that deterioration was less in groups supplemented with Alpha-GPC (41), therapeutic benefits in recovery from stroke (42), and significant improvements in most neuropsychological parameters tested (43). Lastly from a performance perspective, Alpha-GPC has the potential to increase growth hormone output, however there is currently only a single study so this area of research interest is considered ongoing (44). Recommended dosage is 600mg at bare minimum with the research supporting cognitive benefits coming at 1200mg.

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Choline Bitartrate

Choline Bitartrate is the salt form of choline with bitartrate being added to stabilize and help with absorption and contains approximately 41% choline by molecular weight (45). Choline is a direct precursor of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and plays a vital role in the body with aiding in nerve signaling, cell membrane maintenance, triglyceride transportation from the liver as the primary sports nutrition purpose of a neurotransmitter vital to nerve and muscle function and normal liver metabolism (46). Though there is no conclusive evidence for supplementation of choline bitartrate as research is still being conducted, there has been a wide array of potential benefits hypothesized from supplementation, stemming from having additional choline available to act as a neurotransmitter.

Lion’s Mane

Known formally as Yamabushitake, Lion’s Mane is a dietary mushroom that has recently emerged as a nootropic supplement. This particular mushroom grows in Japan and China from old or dead broadleaf trees. Ingestion of Lion’s Mane appears to increase nerve growth factor (NGF) levels and secretion (47). An analogue contained within, 3-hydroxyhericenone, has been shown to prevent neuron death induced by stress and to enhance myelination of neurons as well (48). One specific study using 98% pure Lions Mane powder showed significant improvements on a rating scale in individuals with dementia and cognitive decline by increasing cognition relative to control (49). Additionally, there has been noted decreases in anxiety and depressive symptoms with supplementation (50). Based on research, the ‘optimal’ dosage of Lion’s Mane isn’t known, however the studies referenced for cognitive improvements used 1,000mg taken three times per day.

Phosphatidylserine

A fat-soluble amino acid, phosphatidylserine is a naturally occurring phospholipid that exists in all species, and comprises a portion of the phospholipid pool. Specifically, it is particularly concentrated in the human brain (15%), lungs (7.4%), testes (6.4%), kidneys (5.7%), liver (3.8%), skeletal muscle (3.3%), heart (3.2%) and blood plasma (0.2%) (51). Phosphatidylserine can be found in soy lecithin, bovine brain, Atlantic mackerel, chicken heart, Atlantic herring and in smaller amounts in chicken leg and liver (52). The first supplemental form of phosphatidylserine was from the bovine cortex, and while this form appears to be superior in the effects of proposed cortisol reduction compared to soy-based supplementation, the source from bovine brain is no longer used due to concerns over Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (53).

Phosphatidylserine has been shown in research to possess a variety of positive benefits when supplemented. One of the primary positive benefits of phosphatidylserine supplementation is improved mental cognition as well as prevention of cognitive decline with such supporting studies specifically finding that supplementation has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. These studies also supported a positive increase in global glucose utilization in the brain of up to 14.8% (54). There has also been a documented decrease in exercise-induced cortisol with phosphatidylserine supplementation, though the efficacy of the form derived from soy doesn’t appear to have the same supporting data as the bovine source (55). Dosage is a standard 100mg divided in 3 total doses for the day for preventing cognitive decline.

N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine

N-Acetyl Tyrosine is a modified version of the amino acid L-tyrosine. It has the active compound acetic acid added to enhance the bioavailability and absorption as a whole and in theory, increase the supporting functions of tyrosine within the body (56). Tyrosine is an amino acid that is used to produce the catecholamines noradrenaline through the catecholamine pathway. Tyrosine undergoes a series of conversions with the rate-limiting step in the overall process being the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (57). Supplementation with tyrosine appears to have anti-stress mechanisms for acute stressors and may also preserve stress-induced memory deficits (58).

Research has shown tyrosine supplementation to effectively improve cognition as well as cause a reduction in blood pressure during acute stress situations (59) (60). There are also marked increases in subjective well-being and improvements in working memory, though the data is inconclusive and research is ongoing for the latter (59) (61).

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L-Theanine

L-Theanine, known by the technical name r-glutamylethylamide is a nondietary amino acid derived primarily from the natural source of Camellia sinesis. The theanine content of these leaves is approximately 0.9-3.1% of the dry weight of the leaves and said to range from 25-60mg per 200mL serving of tea (2.5g of dried tea leaves) (62). It is structurally similar to glutamine and is known as a relaxation agent without sedation with the proposed mechanism being a reduced perception of stress and slight improvements in attention (63).

Regarded as a relaxation agent without sedation and appears to act via blocking the effects of glutamate in the brain as well as stimulating the production of the inhibitory, relaxing neurotransmitter GABA (64). There is also a marked increase in alpha waves in the frontal and occipital lobes of the brain (65) and has research support in reducing stress perception and improvements in attention (66). Interestingly, there also appears to be a protective measure from theanine supplementation when taken before stressful situations in preventing the elevation of stress hormones and oxidative damage (67). Also of interest is that theanine has been shown in studies to significantly improve nitric oxide production in endothelial cells (68). L-theanine is generally taken in the dosage of 100-200mg per day and is commonly paired with caffeine.

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Wrapping Up

As you can see, there are quite a few ‘natural’ nootropics on the market that have benefits aside from just cognitive enhancement. If you are looking for a cognitive advantage without negative sides you have plenty to pick from and the cool part is there are some other positive effects that can come with their use. On the natural side, this makes it especially true that if you are looking to try a nootropic, don’t just look at the cognitive side, but the other potential benefits.

Suppz Recommended Nootropic Supplements

At Suppz we carry a great selection of Nootropics. We have focus nootropic blends as well as sleep & anxiety nootropics and basic nootropic compounds. Our top recommended products are listed below.

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References

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  68. L-theanine promotes nitric oxide production in endothelial cells through eNOS phosphorylation. Siamwala, J. 3, 2013, J Nutr Biochem, Vol. 24, pp. 595-605.

 

Joint Support Supplements

As a young adult, I’m sure you heard elders complain about stiff, aching joints or even worse, heard from your grandparents just how awful the onset of arthritis can be. With young, healthy and functioning joints, it’s often easy to forget just how much we move on a daily basis and how an imperfection in joint function can be a painful hassle. From long-term use, injury, joint repair via surgery or simply growing older, our joints break down over time and with that comes discomfort, pain and eventually restrictions in mobility due to pain and inflammation.

Now, while most only think of Senior citizens when it comes to joint support, as a healthy, active individual, it is important to take care of some of the most crucial elements in our body that allow us to be active. Intense, heavy training and repetitive usage can put wear and tear on the body beyond what it is designed for. Inflammation, longer recovery time and an overall feeling of being more ‘broken down’ can result sooner rather than later if we aren’t careful. With proper joint support supplementation, we can address this issue head on. With proper joint supplementation should address chronic inflammation and joint lubrication to provide the best possible scenario for improving joint function and comfort. To better address this, we first must understand what the popular ingredients in today’s joint support actually do and if they have the research back their effectiveness.

Joint Supplements: The Ingredients

There are so many different joint supplements on the market today, so the most logical way of approaching this subject is to take a closer look at the ingredients that make up joint supplements, covering the most popular ones as well as some of the latest and cutting-edge ones.

Glucosamine

Classified as an aminosugar that is naturally occurring and extracted from shellfish, glucosamine is found in most of the tissues of the body with it being specifically high in joints and cartilage. It is possibly the most widely used supplement for joint support with a staggering 59% of those that take supplements for osteoarthritis reporting use of this ingredient (1). Interestingly, the most popular form of glucosamine is Glucosamine Hydrochloride, however when it comes to clinical data it appears to exert no benefit compared to supplementation with Glucosamine Sulfate (2).

Despite popular use, glucosamine has recently been shot down in many circles in its efficacy as a joint support supplement. The reason it became popular to begin with was that in vitro, it was thought to act as a substrate of collagen synthesis. However, in further research, serum levels detected that it realistically contributes to less than 2% of total synthesis in cartilage, making it less plausible that it has a benefit (3).

The bottom line when it comes to glucosamine is that there is a large division between results in research studies.  Independent studies tend to show less promising results while some that have positive benefits are regarded as having a conflict of interest when it comes to the source in regard to providing joint support for existing conditions. The biggest benefits with glucosamine supplementation (specifically glucosamine sulfate) is that it appears to delay the progression of hip/kneed osteoarthritis and provide analgesic effects, though to what degree is debatable. That means that if you have a pre-existing condition, glucosamine sulfate can prevent it from getting worse, but it isn’t promising in helping alleviate or improve symptoms.

Chondroitin

A major constituent of cartilage and connective tissues, chondroitin is a glycosaminoglycan. It is also found in the gastrointestinal tract in moderate amounts and functions to help add lubrication by retaining water. In supplemental form, it is either derived from animal cartilage or synthetically engineered. The synthetic version is the sulfate form and has mineral salts bonded to it that improve absorption (4).

Purported to help increase joint performance and reduce joint pain via increased joint lubrication, it is often found paired with glucosamine. Despite its popularity, like glucosamine, it is often regarded in modern scientific circles to have a large degree of uncertainty as to whether or not it exerts any real-world benefit. When studied independent of other compounds, results indicate that it there isn’t any significant data for improvement. Most studies reporting a benefit suffer from subpar study design or inadequate sample size to provide accurate data (5).

MSM

Methylsulfonylmethane, known commonly as MSM is an oxidized form of dimethyl sulfoxide that is naturally occurring in a variety of green vegetables and animal products. It has been shown in vitro to have anti-inflammatory properties by inhibiting cytokine secretion and in rat studies to reduce arthritic symptoms and markers of damage (6). In human trials, the results are less promising, showing results that resemble that of glucosamine in having a wide degree of variability regarding effect size with even less substantial evidence (7). In general, it can be used as a mild anti-inflammatory product or for anti-oxidant properties, but the magnitude as a joint health supplement isn’t statistically significant.

Curcumin

Known formally as diferuloylmethane, curcumin is the main active ingredient and predominant curcuminoid compound found in the well-known Indian spice Turmeric. By itself, it is poorly absorbed with it being noted in literature that up to 8,000mg can fail to significantly raise serum levels, so it is important that it is consumed with black pepper extract (piperidine specifically) to make it bioavailable (8).

Curcumin has been used for a long time when it comes to pain relief and appears to have acute analgesic (pain relieving) properties comparable even to 1,000mg of acetaminophen in a lecithinized form (9). It also holds promise for being used as a post-operative pain management element comparable to some reference drugs impressively (10).

Now, when it comes to improving joint health, the primary and most thoroughly studied mechanism is that of managing inflammation via cytokine modulation and suppression of macrophage activation and recruitment to inflammation sites (11). There are many inflammatory signals associated with arthritis and joint inflammation and it has been shown that it can be just as potent as indomethacin at treatment (12). It has also been demonstrated in research to reduce total symptoms of knee osteoarthritis as much as 41% compared to baseline values with improvements in pain, stiffness and overall function (13). Lastly aside from the general anti-inflammatory properties exhibited by curcumin it shines as an anti-oxidant with research indicating the markers SOD, glutathione and catalase all increased to a large degree with use (14).

Ashwagandha

The informal name of Withania somnifera is a traditional Ayurvedic herb that is further classified as rasayana due to its general use as a tonic and classification as an adaptogen (15). The active components are steroidal lactones (withanolides and withaferins) known as withanolide structures along with a variety of bioactive polysaccharides and alkaloids (isopelletierine, anaferine, cuseohygrine, anahygrine) (16). It has been traditionally used for applications including but not limited to analgesic, astringent, antispasmodic, and immunostimulant. Additionally, it has seen expanded use for applications in reducing inflammation, anxiety, stress fatigue and cardiovascular contraindications (17). 

Ashwagandha has been shown in academic research to support a wide variety of beneficial applications because of its hypothesized healing properties as an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant catalyst (18). As an adaptogenic herb, it has demonstrated a strong efficacy in stabilizing the body’s natural stress response in both chronic and acute situations in both animal and human models (19). It has also been shown to offer pain reduction and rheumatoid arthritis for clinical populations, which has been an emphasis in studies the last few years (20). Ashwagandha has shown promise in helping treat Type II diabetes (21), reduce fatigue (22), and there is even potential evidence that it supports cancer treatment, though this is ongoing areas of research with more data on human subjects needed (23).

Cissus Quadrangularis

A traditional Ayurvedic herb used in a wide range of locations around the world, Cissus is used in a variety of applications including menopause, increasing bone mass, accelerating fracture healing, anti-ulcer and analgesia. Interestingly, there is also data indicating that there may be a sedative effect along with muscle relaxation at high doses (24).

Specifically, when looking at research indicative of joint and bone health, quite frankly the studies are limited and anecdotal but promising. One study found that there is an increase in the function of the joints that appears to occur alongside reductions in perceived pain and soreness when Cissus treats athletic joint pain. Note that while the magnitude is not remarkable (respectable compared to other supplements) the fact remains that it seems to be one of the few validated in athletes with nonpathological joint pain (25).

Calcium Fructoborate

One of the newer ingredients to gain popularity in the realm of joint health is calcium fructoborate, a sugar-borate ester that is found in abundance in fresh fruits and vegetables and is a source of soluble boron. It includes three forms of borate: diester, monoester and boric acid with all three being biologically active. It is considered to be superior to boric acid and borate alone as it has a protective effect against the body’s natural inflammatory response (26).

They have been shown to provide support against the discomfort and lack of flexibility associated with arthritis and joint degeneration, and improves Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis (WOMAC) and McGill indexes (27). In addition, orally administered calcium fructoborate is effective in relieving symptoms of physiological response to stress, including inflammation of the mucous membranes, discomfort associated with osteoarthritis disorders, and bone loss, and also for supporting cardiovascular health (28).

Type II Collagen – Hydrolyzed & Undenatured (including UC-II)

Popular in today’s supplement word in the way of joint support, as well as hair skin and nail health, is collagen. There are two forms available to consumers and they include undenatured and hydrolyzed collagen.

When examining each, we’ll start with hydrolyzed collagen (also known as collagen peptides). This collagen has been processed via hydrolysis and is rich in amino acids with research supporting its efficacy for promoting the health of connective tissues by supporting strength and elasticity (29). Further research has supported hydrolyzed collagen for the increase in size and strength of the collagen fibrils in the Achilles tendon, further supporting the idea of improving connective tissue health (30). Regarding joint support, the data isn’t a strong with this collagen form, however.

Undenatured collagen such as the branded UC-II is a particular type of collagen prevalent in humans and is specifically supplemented for reduction of joint pain and arthritis (31). Sources rich in this type of collagen include shark and chicken sternum (specific to UC-II). It can also be derived from bovine articular cartilage but this is a frowned upon source due to concerns with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (known commonly as Mad Cow Disease). It exerts anti-inflammatory effects in the body via the immune cells in the intestines. Through these receptors, it triggers a change in T-Cells to take on an anti-inflammatory form, resulting in less inflammatory cytokine activity (32). This also exerts an analgesic effect, specifically on joint related inflammatory pain (33).

Summarizing, between the two, if the goal is to improve joint comfort and manage symptoms of inflammation, undenatured collagen is the sounder route specifically for this purpose.

Boswellia

Yet another Ayurvedic herb used in traditional Chinese medicine, Boswellia Serrata (known simply as Boswellia by most), is a potent anti-inflammatory. The inflammation inhibition is thought to be accomplished through the enzyme 5-Lipoxygenase (34). Impressively, Boswellia has been shown to suppress pain and improve mobility associated with osteoarthritis in as little as a week (35). Used in supplemental form, Boswellia has some of the most impressive capabilities and has seen a spike in usage in recent years for the purpose of anti-inflammatory properties

What to Look for in A Joint Support Formula/What to Expect?

When it comes to selecting a joint supplement, there are a lot of variables that can come into play. Keeping it simple, however, your best bet is to select one with research-backed ingredients that address both inflammation and joint lubrication. Below we’ve included a summary based on ingredients we discussed earlier along with their branded ingredient names.

Now, no matter what joint support supplement you choose, there are a few things to keep in mind when you start using it. First and foremost is that even the most potent of the bunch take time to work. If you are in a constant state of inflammation, the body needs time to reduce that inflammation and thus have the resulting effect in alleviating joint discomfort caused by it. Typically, the longer you use the joint support supplement, the better it works and will continue to work as a byproduct of inflammation management.

The other thing to consider is that a supplement can only do so much. Joints are a high-wear area of the body and it is natural for them to break down as we age, with injury and with heavy usage. No matter how good a joint supplement is, there is the likelihood that a joint will never be 100% again. However, with supplementation and realistic expectations, joint supplements can and will help make those achy joints more comfortable and reduce the pain and stiffness associated with such conditions.

nutrabio-extreme-joint-careSuppz Recommended Joint Product

NutraBio Extreme Joint Care

This product is #1 on our list and for good reason. It contains 6 of the joint compounds that we discussed in the above article in effective dosages. NutraBio is one of our top trusted brands and has a reputation for quality and transparency like no other company. All NutraBio supplements are 3rd party tested for quality and purity, and you can view the results of each batch at checkmysupps.com.

Shop Joint Supplements

Bibliography

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  2. Is there any scientific evidence for the use of glucosamine in the management of human osteoarthritis? Henrotin, Y.1, 2012, Athritis Res Ther, Vol. 14.
  3. Low levels of human serum glucosamine after ingestion of glucosamine sulphate relative to capability for peripheral effectiveness. Biggee, B.2, February 2006, Ann Rheum Dis, Vol. 65, pp. 222-6.
  4. Biochemical and pharmacokinetic aspects of oral treatment with chondroitin sulfate. Conte, A.8, August 1995, Arzneimittelforschung, Vol. 45, pp. 918-25.
  5. Glucosamine and chondroitin for treatment of osteoarthritis: a systematic quality assessment and meta-analysis. McAlindon, T.11, March 2000, JAMA, Vol. 283, p. 1469.
  6. Involvement of reactive oxygen intermediates in cyclooxygenase-2 expression induced by interleukin-1, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and lipopolysaccharide. Feng, L.4, April 1995, J Clin Invest, Vol. 95, pp. 1669-75.
  7. Efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane supplementation on osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled study. Debbi, E.50, June 2011, BMC Complement Altern Med, Vol. 11.
  8. Dose escalation of a curcuminoid formulation. Lao, CD.10, March 2006, BMC Complement Altern Med, Vol. 6.
  9. Comparative evaluation of the pain-relieving properties of a lecithinized formulation of curcumin (Meriva(®)), nimesulide, and acetaminophen. Di Pierro, F.March 8, 2013, Vol. 6, pp. 201-5.
  10. Efficacy of turmeric (curcumin) in pain and postoperative fatigue after laparoscopic cholecystectomy: a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study. Agarwal, K.12, 2011, Surg Endosc, Vol. 25.
  11. Critical need for clinical trials: an example of a pilot human intervention trial of a mixture of natural agents protecting lymphocytes against TNF-alpha induced activation of NF-kappaB. Dominiak, K.6, 2010, Pharm Res, Vol. 27.
  12. Anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties of Curcuma longa (turmeric) versus Zingiber officinale (ginger) rhizomes in rat adjuvant-induced arthritis. Ramadan, G.4, August 2011, Inflammation, Vol. 34, pp. 391-301.
  13. Efficacy and safety of Meriva®, a curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex, during extended administration in osteoarthritis patients. Belcaro, G.4, 2010, Altern Med Res, Vol. 15, pp. 337-44.
  14. Diverse effects of a low dose supplement of lipidated curcumin in healthy middle aged people. DiSilvestro, R.79, September 26, 2012, Nutr J, Vol. 11.
  15. Withania somnifera: an Indian ginseng. Kulkarni, S.5, July 2008, Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry, Vol. 35, pp. 1093-105.
  16. Withanolides from Withania somnifera roots. Misra, L.4, February 2008, Phytochemistry, Vol. 69, pp. 1000-4.
  17. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Chandrasekhar, K.3, July 2012, Indian J Psychol Med, Vol. 34, pp. 255-62.
  18. Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Mishra, LC.4, August 2000, Altern Med Rev, Vol. 5, pp. 334-46.
  19. Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974. Cooley, K.8, August 2009, PLoS One, Vol. 4, p. e6628.
  20. A randomized, double blind placebo controlled study of efficacy and tolerability of Withaina somnifera extracts in knee joint pain. Ramakanth, G.3, July-Sep 2016, J Ayurveda Integ Med, Vol. 7, pp. 151-7.
  21. Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root. Andallu, B.6, June 2000, Indian J Exp Biol, Vol. 38, pp. 607-9.
  22. Effect of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on the development of chemotherapy-induced fatigue and quality of life in breast cancer patients. Biswal, B.4, July 2013, Integr Cancer Ther, Vol. 12, pp. 312-22.
  23. Selective killing of cancer cells by leaf extract of Ashwagandha: identification of a tumor-inhibitory factor and the first molecular insights to its effect. Widodo, N.7, s.l. : April, April 2007, Clin Cancer Res, Vol. 13, pp. 2298-306.
  24. The anticonvulsant and sedative properties of stems of Cissus quadrangularis in mice. Bum, N.3, May 2008, African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, Vol. 2, pp. 42-7.
  25. Cissus quadrangularis reduces joint pain in exercise-trained men: a pilot study. Bloomer, R.3, September 2013, Phys Sportsmed, Vol. 41, pp. 29-35.
  26. Calcium Fructoborate for Bone and Cardiovascular Health. Mogosanu, G.December 2016, Biol Trace Elem Res, Vol. 172, pp. 277-81.
  27. Short-term Intake of Calcium Fructoborate Improves WOMAC and McGill Scores and Beneficially Modulates Biomarkers Associated with Knee Osteoarthritis: A Pilot Clinical Double-blinded Placebo-Controlled Study. Reyes-Izquierdo, T.October 2011, American Journal of Biomedical Sciences, Vol. 4, pp. 111-22.
  28. Oral resveratrol and calcium fructoborate supplementation in subjects with stable angina pectoris: effects on lipid profiles, inflammation markers, and quality of life. Militaru, C.1, January 2013, Nutrition, Vol. 29, pp. 178-83.
  29. Lodish, H.Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix. Molecular Biology. New York : W. H. Freeman, 2000.
  30. Effects of ingestion of collagen peptide on collagen fibrils and glycosaminoglycans in Achilles tendon. Minaguchi, J.3, Tokyo : s.n., June 2005, J Nutr Sci Vitaminol, Vol. 51, pp. 169-74.
  31. Effects of orally administered undenatured type II collagen against arthritic inflammatory diseases: a mechanistic exploration. Bagchi, D.3-4, 2002, Int J Clin Pharmacol Res, Vol. 22, pp. 101-10.
  32. Undenatured type II collagen (UC-II®) for joint support: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in healthy volunteers. Lugo, J.48, 2013, J Int Soc Sports Nutr, Vol. 10.
  33. Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with oral type II collagen. Results of a multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Barnett, M.2, February 1998, Arthritis Rheum, Vol. 41, pp. 290-7.
  34. A double blind, randomized, placebo controlled study of the efficacy and safety of 5-Loxin for treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee. Sengupta, K.4, 2008, Arthritis Res Ther, Vol. 10.
  35. Comparative efficacy and tolerability of 5-Loxin and AflapinAgainst osteoarthritis of the knee: a double blind, randomized, placebo controlled clinical study. Sengupta, K.6, November 2010, Int J Med Sci, Vol. 7, pp. 366-77.

 

 

multi vitamin definitive guide

If you are like me who grew up as a kid in 90’s America, you remember every morning waking up, going downstairs and chewing down a Flinstone’s multivitamin and it was the first highlight of your day. Looking back in hindsight and if you were to taste those same multivitamins these days, you would chalk another item up to nostalgia tasting better than reality. Point being, from a young age, we are programmed to make sure to get all our vitamins in and often times that means taking a daily multivitamin.

What is a multi-vitamin supposed to be exactly aside from the “thing you know you’re supposed to take”. By definition, a multivitamin (also known as a multimineral) is a prepared combination of vitamins and minerals blended into a single tablet or capsule to serve unique and complementary roles in the human body. Most on the market today are formulated and intended for the consumer to take them once a day and contain all or most vitamins and minerals across the board, with what is generally close to the daily recommended value (RV%). The recommended daily value for vitamins and minerals may vary on a variety of factors such as gender and age and known as the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) and Absolute Intake (AI).

You will also find or have already seen that many multivitamins have even been customized for a specific purpose. Take the well-known brand One A Day for example; you’ll see that within that brand alone they have over 10 variations ranging from a special formula for kids to men wanting to improve metabolism to seniors and everything in between. This is just the general ‘normal’ populations multivitamins too…when you dive into the world of multivitamins for sports nutrition it’s a whole new ballgame with specific formulas developed for more specific purposes such as athletic performance, joint health, etc. As you can imagine, with the sea of products available these days, it’s not hard to get lost in the mix.

What are Vitamins?

First and foremost, it’s important to understand vitamins and what they actually do. They are defined as any of a group of organic compounds that are essential for normal growth and nutrition and are required in small quantities in the diet because they cannot be synthesized by the body. Humans, as well as many other living organisms, require them and as you can imagine, each has different requirements. For example dogs unlike humans don’t need to ingest vitamin C because it can be synthesized at adequate levels in their body. In all, there are 13 recognized vitamins and classified by either water or fat soluble. A quick reference guide:

Water Soluble – Vitamin C and all B Vitamins are classified as water soluble. These vitamins don’t typically stay in the body for long and cannot be stored internally so they must be replenished more often than fat soluble ones.

Fat Soluble – These include the Vitamins A, D, E and K and can be stored in the fatty tissues of the body as well as the liver. They can stay in the body in reserves for months at a time.  They require lipids to aid in absorption through the intestinal tract.

Water Soluble

  • Vitamin B (Thiamine)-Helps convert food to energy; Aids in muscle contraction
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) –Aids in breakdown and utilization of carbohydrates, fats and proteins
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin/Niacinimide)-Aids in digestive health, skin and nerve function
  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)-Aids breakdown of fats and carbs; Crucial for hormones
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine/Prydoxamine/Pyrodoxal)-Aids in metabolizing of amino acids
  • Vitamin B7 (Biotin)-Supports healthy skin, hair and nails
  • Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid/Folinic Acid)-Large role in fetal health; Fosters growth of red blood cells
  • Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin/Hydroxocobalamin/Methylcobalamin)-Aids in nervous system health
  • Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)- Powerful anti-oxidant; Aids in formation of connective tissue, blood vessels and skin

Fat Soluble

  • Vitamin D (Ergocalciferol/Choecalciferol)-Aids in absorption of calcium; Used in variety of body functions
  • Vitamin E (Tocopherols/Tocotrienols)-Protects cells from free radical damage; Vital for proper function of many organs and enzymatic activities
  • Vitamin K (Phylloquinone/Menaquinones– Regulates normal blood clotting; Aids in bone health

What are Minerals?

On a related note, minerals are the other critical component that are required on a daily basis for the body to function. Defined as a chemical element required as an essential nutrient by organisms to perform functions necessary for life. Minerals originate in the earth and cannot be made by living organisms and therefore must be obtained through diet. In the body, bacteria and fungi play a crucial role in the breakdown of primary elements in nature, allowing them to be released for consumption by other species in the ecological food chain. Within the human body, minerals are either categorized as essential or trace elements.

Essential Minerals

  • Calcium– Needed for muscle, heart and digestive health; Builds bone; supports synthesis of blood cells
  • Magnesium– Essential for ATP production and bone growth
  • Potassium– Systemic electrolyte; Critical interaction with sodium for ATP regulation
  • Sodium– Systemic electrolyte; Critical interaction with potassium for ATP regulation
  • Phosphorus-Component of bones, energy processing, DNA and ATP functions

Trace Minerals

  • Iron-Required for a variety of enzymes and proteins
  • Chlorine-Essential for production of hydrochloric acid in stomach
  • Sulfur-Component of two essential amino acids; Aids in protein synthesis and enzyme reaction
  • Cobalt- Essential for red blood cell production; Maintains nervous system
  • Copper-Required for proper working of redox enzymes
  • Zinc- Required for several enzymes to function properly
  • Manganese-Crucial cofactor in enzymatic functions
  • Molybdenum-The oxidases xanthine oxidase, aldehyde oxidase, and sulfite oxidase
  • Iodine-Used in synthesis of thyroid hormones: Prevents goiter
  • Selenium-Essential for activity of antioxidant enzymes

Multi Vitamin Differences

When it comes to a multivitamin, there isn’t a one size fits all approach that necessarily fits. While a basic multivitamin can cover a variety of scenarios and act as a basic ‘safety net’ to ensure that Recommended Value is being met, factors can come into play that make some choices more suited for certain individuals than others. One of the first things to consider is gender as male and female bodies have their particular needs on a physiological basis. Selecting a multivitamin based on these factors is a good place to start when selecting a multivitamin:

Men – Male oriented multivitamins often contain added elements for promotion of prostate health first and foremost with ingredients such as extra selenium or saw palmetto. There are often also ingredients that support healthy testosterone production with such ingredients including DHEA, tribulus and others depending on the brand. One small note is that generally men’s multivitamins won’t contain iron as it is not needed for a majority of males with those that have certain dietary restrictions being the exception.

Women – Female multivitamin formulas are often time more geared towards addressing variations such as added iron for menstrual considerations or may address other aspects of healthy hormone regulation. Other major, common areas of emphasis for female multivitamins include items such as added collagen or biotin for promotion of healthy hair, skin and nails. Certain formulas can also be geared towards expecting mothers with pre-natal formulas.

Children/Teens For children and even teenagers, special considerations are taken. Such include generally lower amounts as the Daily Values are often lower compared to adults for certain nutrients. Often times, they will be higher in items for healthy development such as things for healthy bone growth, brain development, etc.

Multivitamins vs. Whole Food & Whole Food Supplements

While many think that regardless of a diet if they take a multivitamin that has all of the necessary vitamins and minerals in it via pill form, they are good to go. This is sadly not even close to being the case as whole food not only has the vitamin and minerals needed but also contain beneficial plant derived phytochemicals. These are critical as they interact with the various vitamins and minerals and ensure adequate absorption and utilization. As a rule of thumb, the greater the food variety, the greater amount of varied interactions will take place and in theory, the more beneficial they become.

Directly related, if one is to choose the supplemental form of getting in vitamins and minerals, try and opt for what is known as ‘whole food’ supplements. These vitamins have been cultured into yeast and then processed to form the supplement rather than synthesizing them artificially. This is an advantage as the whole food supplement variety are cultured and therefore more bioavailable than the synthetic version. The increased bioavailability also tends to have a higher potency than synthetic as they are closer to the natural form. Another step is whole food concentrates which are concentrated forms of whole foods. They are superior as they have all the natural cofactors that make them more absorbable.

Furthering the issue with synthetic vitamins is that they lack the aforementioned cofactors that the naturally occurring sources have. This is a problem as without the complimentary cofactors, the body has to deplete its cofactors to absorb them. High potency vitamins from synthetic sources can start working against you as without cofactors, they can start placing stress on organs without the cofactors to properly process them. To tell the difference, look at the label for clues. If it is synthetic, it will list it simply as possible. For example, if it is synthetic Vitamin C it will say ‘Ascorbic Acid’ while the natural version wouldn’t have such a denotation. The amount is a giveaway too, and putting this in perspective an average orange has 50mg of Vitamin C. Considering if a tablet has 1000mg of Vitamin C do you think the naturally occurring sources would be the equivalent of 20 oranges?

Special Considerations…

As a general rule, it is a great idea to concentrate of consuming as many of the daily required nutrients from whole foods as you possibly can, however, sometimes there are holes even in the most structured of diets. Oddly, the bodybuilding style of diet with its traditional staples can be one that has voids in it. Think of it this way…if you stick to the same ‘clean’ food such as chicken, broccoli, sweet potato, rice, etc. you’re always eating the same thing, meaning you’re eating the same nutrients (and possibly missing the same nutrients) on a daily basis. This would be a good situation where even with a strict diet, food alone can fall short. Those who are physically active generally have higher nutrient needs compared to those who aren’t as active, and a performance multivitamin may make sense for them to ensure optimal performance and prevent deficiencies.

In general, the main reasons that one would consider using a multivitamin supplement is firstly to increase daily nutrient intake. For those such as the aforementioned bodybuilding diet would be a good example of someone that may benefit from taking such product. Other considerations for use such as those with certain health conditions can benefit. Such would include formulas geared towards preventing age related disorders such as macular degeneration, bone health etc. Other demographics that may benefit from using a multivitamin on a daily basis would be those on low-calorie diets, have poor appetite, have food avoidance or omit categories of food such as vegans and vegetarians.

Regarding the research surrounding multivitamin use for general population health, this is a bit of a hot button issue among those in the health community. Currently, there isn’t substantial evidence that multivitamin use can prevent disease such as cancer diabetes or heart disease and overall there isn’t enough evidence for or against the use of a multivitamin. The main reason for lack of substantial and conclusive guidelines is that when researching there is an extremely difficult if not impossible way of studying the effects due to so many variations in multivitamin formulas to establish patterns to study. Point being, if you don’t fall under the demographics with the afore mentioned criteria, multivitamins may or may not be of benefit for you.

Don’t be discouraged, though! For those in performance sports, there is some potential for seeing increases in the outcome. In theory, underlying the use of each vitamin depends upon its specific metabolic function in relation to sport. Vitamin A functions to maintain night vision; thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid are all involved in muscle cell energy metabolism. Niacin may also block free fatty acid release while pyridoxine is involved in the synthesis of hemoglobin and other oxygen transfer proteins. Folic acid and vitamin B12 are integrally involved in red blood cell (RBC) development and vitamin D may be involved in muscle cell energetics through its influence on calcium. These are just a few examples of how vitamins can help serve a metabolic function and research has indicated that deficiencies to in fact impair performance.

How do I pick a Multivitamin?

Now that we are familiar with what the components of multivitamins are, let’s cover what to look for. Generally, it is best to look for a multivitamin supplement that provides you at least 100% of the DV% for most of the vitamins and minerals, including: vitamin A (should be mainly from beta-carotene), vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, biotin, folate, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, and selenium, and take it with one of your morning meals.

While you definitely need calcium and zinc as an athlete since these are two of the most crucial ones for athletic performance, it is wise to find one with the least amount of zinc in the multivitamin and supplement it separately. This is because calcium can interfere with the absorption of zinc, iron and magnesium. To avoid this, take your multi and calcium in the morning and then take the zinc and magnesium (commonly sold as ZMA) before bed.

One piece of advice is to also consider choosing a multivitamin designed for your age, sex, and other factors (like pregnancy). With so many variations, it only makes sense to take a multivitamin that is geared towards your needs to have the greatest possible benefit. Honestly, your best bet is to  just pick a multivitamin off the shelf and see how it works. Another option is to work with a medical professional to help you identify exactly which vitamins and minerals you may lack.

Lastly, let’s note that too much of a good thing can be the case with a multivitamin. While water soluble vitamins (B Vitamins and Vitamin C) aren’t stored and expelled, too many can cause nerve issues or digestive distress such as diarrhea. The real issue is with fat soluble vitamins as since these can be stored, overconsumption of these can cause toxic buildup over time. Don’t let it scare you, but just be sensible with the amounts you are supplementing.

While there is no one size fits all multivitamin, with the above information you now have an idea of the rationale for supplementing. There are many variables that can come into play, but as always, the more informed you are, the better decisions you can make.

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omega 3 science

In the world of nutrition, there are certain elements that stand head and shoulders above the rest in regards to how crucial and beneficial when it comes to the cardiovascular system, metabolism, cells and overall health, and in this case, omega-3 fatty acids are one of them. Often considered to be a ‘super’ fat, if used properly, omega-3s can greatly improve cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation both chronic and acute, improve insulin sensitivity, increase cognitive function and aid in overall metabolism. This article will cover what omega-3s are, where you can get them, the benefits they provide and discuss fatty acid dietary intake balance and their impact on daily health.

Omega-3s – The Overview

By definition, omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids (known as PUFAs for short) and while there are numerous omega-3 fatty acids, the three that are utilized in the human physiology are eicosapentaenoic (EPA), docosahexaenoic (DHA) and a-linolenic (ALA) acid (1). All three of these are critical for the normal function of the human body, and it is important to note that the body is unable to synthesize the longer chain omega-3s (DHA & EPA) so the must be obtained through diet. However, interestingly, these longer chain omega-3s can be formed from ingestion of the shorter chain ALA through diet (2).

The first of the three, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) primarily acts as a prostaglandin (fatty acid compounds that modulate healthy inflammation response) precursor and is obtained through diet from sources such as the flesh of cold-water fish such as mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, salmon, cod liver and is additionally found in human breast milk. In addition to these sources, it can also be sourced from ALA if there is an adequate supply available, and furthermore, EPA itself can act as a precursor to the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (3).

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is one of the main structural components of critical areas in the human body including the brain, skin, cerebral cortex, retina, testicles and sperm production. Like EPA, it can be obtained through the consumption of cold-water fish, algae or human breast milk or be created from adequate ingestion of the fatty acid ALA (4). Most notably, DHA is essential for the growth and functional development of the brain in infants and for maintenance of normal brain function in adults (5).

α-Linolenic acid (ALA) is one of the two essential fatty acids as it is crucial for health and cannot be synthesized in the body and furthermore, is a precursor for the two longer chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA & DHA) and is an isomer of the polyunsaturated fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) (6). Primary sources of ALA include chia seeds, flax seeds, canola oil, pumpkin seeds, perilla seed oil, walnuts, and tofu.

For the consumption of EPA and DHA, the ratio of which you should consume each is dependent on what the individual’s specific goals/health focus is. The general ratio recommended is 3:2 in favor of DHA if you are looking to reduce total triglyceride counts, increase HDL (good) cholesterol, improve cognition slow mental decline or quell neurological response. On the other hand, you would be better suited to employ the same 3:2 ratio in favor of EPA if your emphasis is to lower overall LDL (bad) cholesterol and/or improve the modulation of stress-affected immune activity (7).

In regard to overall daily intake, there are no standard amounts, however, the general recommendation is a minimum of 250mg combined EPA and DHA for general health, with the American Heart Association recommending 1 gram per day for those with heart disease and a dosage of 2-4 grams per day for lowering triglycerides (8).

When it comes to who should consider using omega-3 supplements, they are a great staple supplement for everyone to ensure that you’re meeting the daily intake of 250mg and ideally come from a combination of whole food and supplementation and the more DHA/EPA consumed through diet, the less is needed from supplementation. More specifically, if you are interested in using omega-3 for helping with specific health conditions of interest, it is encouraged that you examine the individual research on the specific conditions and talk with your healthcare provider.

Omega-3 Sources – Animal vs. Plant

There has been some debate in regard to what the ideal source of dietary omega-3 is with strong proponents on both sides of the fence for both animal and plant sources. As listed earlier, the primary sources for animal-based include cold water fish, krill and the oils from such fish. On the other hand, the primary sources of plant-based intake include chia seed, hemp, perilla, and flaxseed.

The main reason that some are opposed to getting their intake of omega-3s from cold water fish are dietary beliefs such as vegan/vegetarian and that there is concern over potential contamination in fish/fish oil with pollutants or heavy metals like mercury.

It is widely advised that it is preferable to consume your omega-3s through animal sources opposed to plant, and this is based on the nutritional content. Marine animals such as those we discussed earlier contain readily available EPA and DHA while the plant sources such as chia, hemp and the like provide primarily ALA which must be synthesized into EPA and DHA. This isn’t ideal as ALA has a very poor conversion rate to EPA and DHA with less than 5% of ALA getting converted to EPA, and less than 0.5% of ALA converting to DHA. Making matters worse is that research has indicated that diets rich in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats can have conversion further reduced by 40 to 50% (9). Further attesting to animal sources over the plant-based source is that almost all of the health benefits discovered in research are based on animal-based DHA and EPA and not plant based ALA.

Do keep in mind that while it isn’t ideal to use plant-based sources for your EPA and DHA intake via conversion of ALA, plant-based sources are in no way harmful or warrant avoidance. There are great benefits from these plants including the additional ALA as well as fiber and other mineral content for health. Ideally, aim to get plant sources in addition and by combination such as adding chia or flax seeds to your diet in addition to your animal sourced omega-3s.

The Alpha of the Omegas – Benefits

There are many benefits associated with having adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids and in fact, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition even has published three separate studies on the effects of EPA and DHA intake and its role in populations. The researchers found that those with low intakes of EPA and DHA had increased risk of mortality and even accelerated cognitive decline (10). On the flip side, adequate consumption via whole food and supplementation of omega-3s has been shown to play a positive role in:

  • Reducing/improving blood triglycerides (11)
  • Improving depression comparable to that of pharmaceutical drugs (12)
  • Improving ADHD symptoms in children (13)
  • Reducing blood pressure in those with hypertension (14)
  • Increasing HDL (good cholesterol) (15)
  • Reducing inflammation (chronic) (16)
  • Slow the progression and reduce the discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis (17)

In terms of potential side effects from omega-3 fatty acids, there are few if any associated with normal consumption of them through whole foods aside potential concern from mercury exposure from eating contaminated fish. The side effects that could potentially be associated with omega-3s, though minor, are associated with the supplementation route.

These include the possibility of an upset stomach or diarrhea so use caution when introducing supplemental omega-3s. The main concern of omega-3 supplementation is in relation to their anti-atherosclerotic and antithrombotic effects. While these are good properties in that they reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and clotting, though rare, this can be detrimental as they can thin the blood too much or prevent the necessary clotting for healing following surgery or the natural response to injury (18).

Modern Day Balancing Act – Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 Intake

Last but not least, one important area to address is the dietary intake of omega-6 fatty acids in ratio to omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 and Omega-3s are both unsaturated fatty acids, more specifically polyunsaturated fatty acids. While they are lipids by nature, they behave differently than other fats and instead of being stored or burned as energy, exert active effects such as lowering blood pressure, reducing triglycerides, boosting serotonin and dopamine and play a large role in metabolic processes such as inflammation and blood clotting.

Specifically for this discussion, it is important to note that omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and omega-6 fatty acids are inflammatory. It’s important to have both as inflammation is essential for the natural mechanisms of healing and protective properties in the body, however, too much inflammation can result in an onslaught of serious health conditions.

This is especially important to note as an excess in omega-6 consumption can cause increased inflammation, and in modern society, there is an alarmingly high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 consumption. The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 2:1, however it has been found that on average, especially in Western civilization, the ratio is an alarming 16:1 ratio (19). This is due to an overabundance of omega-6 containing oils including corn, canola, soybean oil and sunflower oils paired with an inadequate omega-3 intake.

Excessive omega-6 intake is associated not only with chronic inflammation but an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (20) and cognitive issues such as depression (21). Furthermore, making matters worse is that omega-6 fatty acids tend to be very reactive to oxygen, forming free radicals which can cause cell damage (22).

In order to improve the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, the key thing to do is reduce the consumption of processed seed and vegetable oils as much as possible, including the foods that contain them as well with sunflower, canola, soybean, corn, and cottonseed being the highest omega-6 containing oils. Inversely, focusing on increasing your intake of omega-3s is ideal by way of eating seafood once or twice per week from items like wild caught salmon. In terms of meats, grass-fed meat is optimal for increasing omega-3 intake as conventionally raised meat has higher omega-6 content due to a grain-based diet and the same goes for farm-raised fish vs. wild caught. Lastly, if you find yourself eating mostly conventionally raised meats and little to no fish, you can supplement omega-3s with a high-quality fish oil.

Lastly, when it comes to what to look for in an omega-3 supplement, there are 3 common forms that are available today: natural fish oil, processed fish oil, and krill oil. Natural fish oil is as close as you can get to real fish and the omega-3 fatty acids are mostly present as triglycerides. Roughly 30% of the oil is omega-3 (EPA and DHA) with the remaining 70% consisting of other fatty acids that can help with absorption (23).

Processed fish oil is purified and/or concentrated and this also transforms the fats into the ethyl ester form. This process helps rid the oil of contaminants, such as mercury and PCBs and also concentrating the oil which increases EPA and DHA level to contain anywhere from 50–90% pure EPA and/or DHA. The downside, however, is that the ethyl ester form is hard for the body to absorb, but this can be countered by further processing to re-esterify them as another step, however, not all oils do this extra step and the ones that have been processed with this method are typically more expensive.

The other common form is often referred to as the best, and that is krill oil, which is a small shrimp-like animal. Though it isn’t fish, it has omega-3s in both triglyceride and phospholipid form, and the phospholipid form has even been shown in studies to be absorbed just as good and perhaps better than that of fish oil (24). The other benefits of krill over traditional fish oil is that it contains the antioxidant astaxanthin to resist oxidation naturally and since they have a short life-span, are naturally less prone to have accumulated many contaminants, meaning no processing resulting in ethyl esters (25).

When selecting an omega-3 supplement, things to look for are making sure it contains both EPA and DHA, and be sure it contains at least the 250mg recommendation of them. Also, referring to the form, look for free fatty acids vs the aforementioned ethyl ester form which is harder to absorb. Lastly, for safety and good practices on the manufacturing side, look for one that is GOED standard for purity or ‘third party tested’ and that they have an added anti-oxidant such as vitamin E to prevent rancidity and oxidation of the product.

The Omega Points – Conclusion

Omega-3s are one of the most beneficial fatty acids in the human diet today. They have a wide array of benefits when implemented correctly and adequately. A deficiency of them, especially if replaced with elevated omega-6 consumption can have detrimental effects, and negatively impact long-term health. With the information contained in this article, we hope that you now have a more thorough understanding of why they’re important, beyond the general “make sure to take your fish oil”.

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References

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids, hepatic lipid metabolism, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Scorletti, E.2013, Annual Review of Nutrition, Vol. 33, pp. 231-248.
  2. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth. National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health. [Online] National Institute of Health. [Cited: November 29, 2016.] https://nccih.nih.gov/health/omega3/introduction.htm.
  3. Erdman, J.Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury: Improving Acute and Subacute Health Outcomes in Military Personnel. Washington D.C. : s.n., 2011.
  4. WebMD.DHA (DOCOSAHEXAENOIC ACID). WebMD. [Online] [Cited: November 29, 2016.] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-864-dha%20docosahexaenoic%20acid.aspx?activeingredientid=864.
  5. Health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Horroks, L.3, September 1999, Pharmacology Research, Vol. 40, pp. 211-235.
  6. University of Maryland.Alpha-linolenic acid. University of Maryland Medical Center. [Online] [Cited: November 29, 2016.] http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/alphalinolenic-acid.
  7. Effect of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on inflammation, oxidative stress and recurrence of atrial fibrillation. Darghosian, L.2, January 2015, American Journal of Cardiology, Vol. 115, pp. 196-201.
  8. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on postprandial triglycerides and monocyte activation. Schirmer, S.1, November 2012, Journal of Atherosclerosis, Vol. 225, pp. 166-173.
  9. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)? Gerster, H.3, 1998, International Journal of Vitamin & Nutrient Research, Vol. 68, pp. 159-173.
  10. Long-chain n−3 fatty acids and mortality in elderly patients. Lindberg, M.3, s.l. : American Society for Clinical Nutrition, September 2008, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 88, pp. 722-729.
  11. Supplementation with omega3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and all-rac alpha-tocopherol alone and in combination failed to exert an anti-inflammatory effect in human volunteers. Vega-Lopez, S.2, February 2004, Journal of Metabolism, Vol. 53, pp. 236-240.
  12. Meta-analysis of the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in clinical trials in depression. Sublette, M.12, December 2011, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Vol. 72, pp. 1577-1584.
  13. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for the treatment of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptomatology: systematic review and meta-analysis. Bloch, M.10, October 2011, Journal of American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol. 50, pp. 991-1000.
  14. A systematic review of fish-oil supplements for the prevention and treatment of hypertension. Campbell, F.1, February 2013, European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, Vol. 20, pp. 107-120.
  15. A meta-analysis shows that docosahexaenoic acid from algal oil reduces serum triglycerides and increases HDL-cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol in persons without coronary heart disease. Bernstein, M.1, January 2012, Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 142, pp. 99-104.
  16. N-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Relationship to Inflammation in Healthy Adults and Adults Exhibiting Features of Metabolic Syndrome. Robinson, L.4, April 2013, Journal of Lipids, Vol. 48, pp. 319-322.
  17. Influence of marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on immune function and a systematic review of their effects on clinical outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis. Miles, E.S2, June 2012, British Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 107, pp. 171-184.
  18. WebMD.Omega-3 Fatty Acids. WebMD. [Online] [Cited: November 30, 2016.] http://www.webmd.com/diet/supplement-guide-omega-3-fatty-acids#2.
  19. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Simopoulos, A.8, October 2002, Journal of Biomedical Pharmacotherapy, Vol. 56, pp. 365-379.
  20. Dietary fat and health: the evidence and the politics of prevention: careful use of dietary fats can improve life and prevent disease. Lands, W.December 2005, Ann. N Y Acad. Sci, Vol. 1055, pp. 179-192.
  21. Depressive Symptoms, omega-6:omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Inflammation in Older Adults. Kiecolt-Glaser, J.3, April 2007, Psychosematic Medicine, Vol. 69, pp. 217-224.
  22. Lipid peroxidation-induced DNA damage in cancer-prone inflammatory diseases: a review of published adduct types and levels in humans. Nair, U.8, October 2007, Free Radical Biological Medicine, Vol. 43, pp. 1109-1020.
  23. Digestion and lymphatic transport of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids given in the form of triacylglycerol, free acid and ethyl ester in rats. Ikeda, I.3, 1995, Biochim Biophys Acta., Vol. 1259.
  24. Incorporation of EPA and DHA into plasma phospholipids in response to different omega-3 fatty acid formulations–a comparative bioavailability study of fish oil vs. krill oil. Schuchardt, J.145, Aug 2011, Lipids Health Dis., Vol. 10, p. 145.
  25. Effect of temperature towards lipid oxidation and non-enzymatic browning reactions in krill oil upon storage. Lu, F.Aug 2014, Food Chemistry, Vol. 157, pp. 398-407.

One of the most crucial hormones in the human body is also consequently one of the biggest lightning rods of controversy in the health community. Misunderstood for many reasons in regards to what it is, what it does and the applications it is used for, testosterone is a hot topic that isn’t going away anytime soon, and rightfully so. If you were to conduct a survey, most if not all of the participants would have at least heard of this hormone, as few other hormones can rival the common awareness of it. Unfortunately, however, many aren’t familiar with exactly what this hormone does, how it works or where it comes from. The purpose of this article is to cover just what testosterone is, what it does, where it comes from (natural & synthetic) and give a brief overview of a few other related matters.

Testosterone – What is it?

Technically speaking on the physiological level, testosterone is a 19-carbon steroid hormone produced in the Leydig cells (in men) and the ovaries (in women) (1). It belongs to the androgen class of hormones, which also include the hormones androstendione, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and androstendiol (2). These are not to be confused with the other six classes of steroid hormones which include progestins, estrogens, mineralcorticoids, glucocorticoids, Vitamin D and bile acids (3).

Testosterone is the dominant sex hormone in men, and for average males, the average production is about seven mg of testosterone per day, putting normal blood values between 300 and 1000 ng/dL (10-28 nmol/L). Females on the other hand, while it isn’t their dominant sex hormone still produce testosterone at about 1/15th this amount with normal blood levels of 25 to 90 ng/dL (1-2.5 nmol/L) (4).

To get a little further into detail, it is important to note that within the bloodstream, when testosterone enters the bloodstream; roughly 96% of it is bound to a albumin and globulin, proteins that assist in keeping blood from leaking out of blood vessels (5). This binding may sound like a fairly high amount, but it serves 3 purposes. The first is that it makes testosterone soluble for blood transport, secondly it protects the hormone from degradation in the kidneys and liver and lastly it serves as a built-in reservoir that helps prevent possible fluctuations in plasma testosterone levels (6). The remaining portion of testosterone that isn’t bound to albumin or globulin, is appropriately named “free testosterone” and is the biologically active fraction of the hormone, meaning it is free to interact with the various tissues of the body such as skeletal muscle and cause physiological changes (7).

The testosterone levels are regulated by two key factors in the body. The first is the total amount of testosterone in the blood and the second is the binding capacity of the plasma proteins. There is an inverse relationship between the two as when binding capacity rises, the levels of free testosterone are lowered. The binding ability in the bloodstream and resulting higher level of free testosterone can be altered by way of drugs such as anabolic steroids, insulin or other synthetic hormones but have also shown alterations with natural ergogenic aids such as Tribulus, d-aspartic acid, etc (8). On the other side of the coin, there is mounting evidence that environmental pollution and contaminants can actually have the opposite effect, and make for less free testosterone (9).

It is also important to make note that of the free testosterone in the body, much of it is converted by the 5-alpha reductase enzyme to a more potent androgen, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) (10). The other thing that testosterone can convert to is estrogens such as estradiol, estriol and estrone and this is regulated by the aromatase enzyme complex and occurs mainly in the liver, brain and fat tissue (11).

Testosterone – What Does It Do?

Testosterone plays many roles in the human body for both sexes, but this is especially prevalent in men. An illustrative but not exhaustive list includes the following effects that testosterone plays in the male body:

  • Deepening of the voice (enlargement of the larynx during puberty)
  • Sperm production and formation
  • Increase in sex drive (libido)
  • Increase in muscle protein synthesis; Results in increased muscle mass
  • Magnified calcium retention in bones
  • Red blood cell number and total blood volume increases
  • Raise in basal metabolic rate
  • Glycogen breakdown in skeletal muscle is reduced during training
  • Growth of male sex organs during puberty
  • Hair growth stimulation in male characteristic areas such as chest, face, etc.

For females, testosterone plays a part as well in the body, predominantly influencing the growth, maintenance, and repair of reproductive tissues and secondarily skeletal muscle and metabolism.

From The Lows to the Highs – Varying Testosterone Levels

For men, one of the negatives of aging is decreased levels of testosterone in the body; however, this can also be a problem for younger individuals if there is an endocrine disorder. Since testosterone is the hormone most responsible for male sex drive, one of the negatives of low testosterone can include things such as issues with sexual function meaning a reduced sex drive, fewer erections and even a higher chance of infertility (12).

Another primary issue with decreased testosterone in men is physical changes such as an increase in body fat, decreased muscle mass, increased fatigue, negative cholesterol metabolism effects, increased fragility in bones and swelling/tenderness of the breast tissue. Additionally, low testosterone can cause issues with emotional state such as sadness or depression for some individuals. Lastly, it can even affect your sleep if testosterone levels are low causing insomnia, but interestingly testosterone replacement therapy has been researched to investigate its role in increasing the occurrence of sleep apnea (13).

There are many things that can cause low testosterone. Aside from the natural decline of testosterone production that comes from aging, things like an injury to the testicles, medication side effects, alcohol use, genetic abnormalities, nutrition disorders, pituitary gland problems, thyroid conditions, testicular cancer and other environmental factors can all negatively affect testosterone levels (14).

On The Rise – How to Increase Testosterone Naturally

On the flip side, there are things that have been shown to elevate natural testosterone levels including high intensity interval training, resistance training, optimized vitamin D levels, stress reduction, increased fat consumption as well as certain supplements such as d-aspartic acid, ashwagandha, and fenugreek (15).

Diet & Supplementation

One of the most crucial areas you can address in increasing natural testosterone levels is that of your nutrition, specifically the aforementioned fat and cholesterol intake. Dietary fat is actually one of the most critical players when it comes to optimizing natural testosterone production in regards to diet. One study that examined men who switched from a high-fat diet, consisting of 13% saturated fat to one that was low-fat consisting of 5% saturated fat had a significant reduction in testosterone production (16). Additionally, there has been demonstrated that overall higher amounts of both monosaturated and saturated fats can increase testosterone levels naturally (17).

Another dietary measure that has been demonized for years, much like dietary fat is that of dietary cholesterol. On a chemistry level, testosterone is derived from cholesterol, so if there is a lack of dietary cholesterol, then there will also be a deficiency in available material for testosterone production. There has been a strong correlation between free testosterone levels and HDL shown in research, so making sure your “good” cholesterol, HDL is sufficient (18). Interestingly, in regards to a food that has been demonized time and again, the whole egg has also been shown to have positive effects. In one study, it was shown that adding whole eggs into a moderate carbohydrate diet helped improve the HDL cholesterol levels and reduce insulin resistance in individuals experiencing metabolic syndrome (19).

In regards to supplements, fenugreek, zinc and d-aspartic acid have shown positive effects in increasing natural testosterone levels. For fenugreek, it was found that six weeks of supplementing with a formula containing fenugreek as a major ingredient showed significant increases in performance, sexual function, and satisfaction in healthy adult males (20).

An essential mineral, Zinc plays a critical role in testosterone production. Common among men and women in the United States, mild zinc deficiency has been associated with suppressed testosterone concentrations. One study, for example, has found that older men who had a mild zinc deficiency significantly increased their testosterone from 8.3 to 16.0 nmol/L (93% percent increase) following six months of zinc supplementation (21). Another essential diet based vitamin that can be supplemented is Vitamin D. The relationship between vitamin D supplementation and testosterone levels in men has shown a strong correlation with those ingesting adequate Vitamin D showing significantly higher levels of free testosterone compared to those with insufficient levels of vitamin D (22).

One of the most popular ingredients in testosterone boosting supplements these days for increasing testosterone naturally is d-aspartic acid (DAA) which is an amino acid present in neuroendocrine tissues. It has been shown to increase the activity of testosterone production in numerous instances. In one such study, researchers had 23 men take a daily dose of 3,120 mg of DAA for 12 days and another group receive a placebo. It was found that just after just 12 days, the subjects supplementing with DAA exhibited an average of 42 percent increase in testosterone and a 33% increase in luteinizing hormone (LH) (23).

Training & Recovery

The other crucial aspect for raising testosterone levels naturally lie in your training and rest. Specifically for training, resistance training has a large effect on natural testosterone levels. It has been demonstrated in numerous studies that high-intensity weight training (defined by weight in which failure is reached by 10 reps) can profoundly stimulate an increase in testosterone secretion. Specifically, it is supported that the more muscle mass that is stimulated, the greater testosterone elevation. Supporting such for example is a study that was conducted on trained subjects that resulted in squats stimulating a greater testosterone response when compared to leg press. To capitalize on this in your training, make sure to use multi-joint exercises like squat, deadlift, bench press in priority over machines or less intense exercises when possible (24).

As equally important is the time spent NOT in the gym. What we mean by this is that the duration of workouts can end up being counterproductive. It has been shown that regular practice of lengthy, drawn-out workouts with long rest periods or excessive endurance exercise can negatively impact testosterone levels. This is in part because workouts that last longer than an hour can start to negatively impact hormones not only reducing testosterone production but also increasing cortisol. To counteract this it has been suggested in research that a shorter rest period between sets (1 minute vs. 3 minutes) resulted in higher acute hormonal responses following resistance training, so keep rest periods short and workouts no longer than 60 minutes for most individuals (25).

Lastly, make sure that adequate sleep is attained as a crucial part of optimizing testosterone levels. It has been shown that a lack of quality sleep can have a drastic negative effect on the amount of testosterone your body produces. It has been demonstrated that the amount of sleep an individual gets is associated with testosterone levels after rising in the morning. One study showed that after recording the sleeping patterns of healthy men, it was found that participants’ testosterone levels increased the longer they slept and that 7-9 hours of sleep is optimal (26).

Natural Testosterone vs. Synthetic

One last area that has a lot of confusion that we will address is the difference between natural vs. synthetic testosterone. Simply put, endogenous (natural) testosterone is what the body produces naturally from within while exogenous (synthetic) testosterone is a chemically engineered version.

A further differentiating factor is that while synthetic testosterone of all forms are considered anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), there is a difference between medically prescribed purpose and recreational. For the testosterone deficient individual that goes to the doctor, they can be prescribed testosterone replacement therapy, which means they are given synthetic testosterone at a dosage that mimics the naturally occurring levels that the human body would produce. Recreational use such as in the case of bodybuilding or other physique enhancement purposes are typically taken at much higher doses than medical necessity and can combine one or more versions of the synthetic version to have various effects.

Summary

As you can see, testosterone has a wide array of effects in the human body, especially for males. It is one of the most misunderstood, yet popular hormones in modern society, and we hope that with this article you have more insight of what testosterone is, what it does, why low testosterone can be negative and the difference between natural and synthetic testosterone.

References

  1. Sargis, R.An Overview of the Testes. Endocrine Web. [Online] [Cited: January 10, 2017.] https://www.endocrineweb.com/endocrinology/overview-testes.
  2. Tulane University.The Hormones: Androgens. E.Hormone.tulane.edu. [Online] [Cited: January 10, 2017.] http://e.hormone.tulane.edu/learning/androgens.html.
  3. Introduction to Steroid Hormones. The Medical Biochemistry Page. [Online] [Cited: January 10, 2017.] http://themedicalbiochemistrypage.org/steroid-hormones.php.
  4. Severson, Alexia.Testosterone Levels by Age. HealthLine. [Online] [Cited: January 12, 2017.] http://www.healthline.com/health/low-testosterone/testosterone-levels-by-age#Overview1.
  5. Mayo Clinic.Testosterone, Total, Bioavailable, and Free, Serum. The Mayo Clinic. [Online] [Cited: January 12, 2017.] http://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com/test-catalog/Clinical+and+Interpretive/83686.
  6. Nguyen, R.The Science Behind Testosterone Biomarkers. InsideTracker. [Online] February 26, 2014. [Cited: January 12, 2017.] https://www.insidetracker.com/blog/post/77907963875/the-science-behind-testosterone-biomarkers#.
  7. University of Rochester.Free Testosterone. Health Encyclopedia. [Online] University of Rochester. [Cited: January 12, 2017.] https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=testosterone_free.
  8. Sinja, S.Total T or Free T: Which is the Better Test for Androgen Deficiency? Hypogonadism Research Center. [Online] Medpage Today. [Cited: January 12, 2017.] http://www.medpagetoday.com/resource-center/hypogonadism/androgen-deficiency-testing/a/34999.
  9. Exposure to urban stressors and free testosterone plasma values. Sanici, A.6, August 2011, International Ach Occ Environ Health, Vol. 84, pp. 609-616.
  10. Belgravia Centre.What is DHT? Belgravia Centre Blog. [Online] [Cited: January 12, 2017.] http://www.belgraviacentre.com/blog/what-is-dht/.
  11. Estrogen Actions in the Brain and the Basis for Differential Action in Men and Women: A Case for Sex-Specific Medicines. Gillies, G.2, JUne 2010, Vol. 62, pp. 155-198.
  12. Effects of Testosterone Treatment in Older Men. Snyder, P.February 18, 2016, The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 374, pp. 611-624.
  13. Testosterone therapy and obstructive sleep apnea: is there a real connection? Hanafy, H.5, September 2007, Journal of Sex Medicine, Vol. 4, pp. 1241-1246.
  14. Gotter, A.Low Testosterone In Men. HealthLine. [Online] July 18, 2016. [Cited: January 13, 2017.] http://www.healthline.com/health/side-effects-of-low-testosterone#Overview1.
  15. An update on testosterone, HDL and cardiovascular risk in men. Thirumalai, A.3, 2015, Journal of Clinical Lipidology, Vol. 10, pp. 251-258.
  16. Effects of dietary fat and fiber on plasma and urine androgens and estrogens in men: a controlled feeding study. Dorgan, J.6, December 1996, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 64, pp. 850-855.
  17. Testosterone and cortisol in relationship to dietary nutrients and resistance exercise. Volek, J.1, January 1997, Vol. 82, pp. 49-54.
  18. Relationship of high density lipoprotein cholesterol with total and free testosterone and sex hormone binding globulin. Heller, R.2, October 1983, Acta Endocrinology (Copenh), Vol. 104, pp. 253-256.
  19. Whole egg consumption improves lipoprotein profiles and insulin sensitivity to a greater extent than yolk-free egg substitute in individuals with metabolic syndrome. Blesso, C.March 2013, Journal of Metabolism, pp. 400-410.
  20. Physiological Aspects of Male Libido Enhanced by Standardized Trigonella foenum?graecum Extract and Mineral Formulation. Steels, A.9, 2011, Phytotherapy Research, Vol. 25, pp. 1294-1300.
  21. Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults. Prasad, A.5, 1996, Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 12.
  22. Association of vitamin D status with serum androgen levels in men. Wehr, E.2, August 2010, Clinical Journal of Endocrinology, Vol. 73, pp. 243-248.
  23. The role and molecular mechanism of D-aspartic acid in the release and synthesis of LH and testosterone in humans and rats. Topo, E.2009, Reproductive Biology & Endocrinology.

 

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Protein: This is single-handedly the most researched over the counter supplement in the history of sports nutrition. Consisting of a full spectrum of amino acids that include all the essential amino acids (EAA) including the popular branched chain amino acids (BCAA), the most common term that is thrown around from which people describe the mechanism by which protein benefits those looking to improve body composition such as increased lean muscle is protein synthesis. Even without exercise, the human body synthesizes protein from the dietary intake at a rapid rate while the body is growing through adolescence and into young adulthood. The rate at which protein is synthesized slows significantly after age 20 and this is the reason that even among active, highly trained adults, the actual rate of muscle growth will be far less in relative terms to that of a healthy teenager.

Now, while protein is and should be primarily consumed through whole foods, the need for additional protein in the form of supplementation definitely has its place. Whether it be a matter of convenience or the solid data behind supplementing with protein for its effects on protein synthesis and recovery, protein supplementation is here to stay. Now, while you have probably been beaten to death with the vast amount of protein options out there as anyone and everyone seems to have their own variation, there is a not so bright side of things when it comes to this part of the industry. I’ve been in the game for over 8 years now and I can tell you…there is a lot of things that aren’t brought up or known the by the layperson. With that being said, I might ruffle some feathers with this, but hey, the insight is something to mull over.

A Lot of It Comes from the Same Place

One thing that still shocks me is that a majority of people are under the impression that each company manufactures the products they sell themselves. This is far from the truth as very few companies do their own in-house manufacturing. Applying not only to protein powders, but pre-workouts, capsules, tablets…virtually all products they sell are more than likely made at one or more contract manufacturers for that company. This is a necessity as the astronomical cost of the manufacturing equipment, purchasing of raw materials, containers, etc. is an investment equating to a literal fortune before a product has even been produced to be sold. Regardless, of how much is being made you have to keep in mind, this is a perfect example of “You have to spend money to make money” and there is a sizeable investment up front needed to produce any product for sale before the task of selling to make that money back and then of course profit.

With this being said, companies that claim to have superior products over another are often times either sensationalizing things or they are blowing things a little bit out of proportion. It is true however that 2 companies can have a product such as a whey protein made at the exact same co-manufacturer and have a vast difference in the quality of ingredients used. This comes down to the desired cost of goods (COGS) they have decided to invest per unit of protein. The type of grade of protein such as Whey Protein Concentrate 34 (WPC34) vs Whey Protein Concentrate 80 (WPC80) is one such example. One company may use pure WPC80 to reach their label claim for protein while the other may use a blend of WPC34 and WPC80 to reach the desired label claim with cheaper material dropping cost down, yet both can simply list “Whey Protein Concentrate” on the ingredients and you would be none the wiser. This just demonstrates that the manufacturer isn’t what may make a brand superior, but the choice of formula the company opts to go with for their specific product.

It Might Not Be As Fresh as You Think

When a production run of protein is started, the ingredients for a particular product including protein powder, flavoring, sweeteners and excipients such as emulsifiers and thickeners are all measured out according to the batch specifications, combined in a mixing vat, and blended together to make the formula. The mixed product is then either moved directly over to the filling station or sometimes put in giant holding bags before it is filled into containers. This typically is a quick turnaround time and the container is then sealed and there is a lot number is stamped on the container that indicates the expiration date for that particular tub.

Most, if not all products have a 2-year shelf life, so for example, if a product is made in May 2018, the expiration would be May 2020. While a product past expiration to some degree isn’t necessarily dangerous, the problem is that the materials, just like any other substance degrade over time, and therefore, the older the material is, the less potent the actives are. A mix that is tested and verified to deliver 25g of protein when it is manufactured may only yield 20 or so grams if tested a few years later due to the degradation. Certain elements such as flavors, especially natural flavoring, can degrade much quicker and affect the taste of the protein.

With this in mind, the problem lies in what happens when we rewind to examine the raw materials that are being used. Mind you, the expiration date on the container is simply based on when the container was filled with the formulated blend…it doesn’t take into account how old the protein and materials used in the blend may be. For example, a manufacturer may have over-ordered a large quantity of whey protein back in December of 2016 and didn’t have the volume they expected. Now say it’s May of 2018 and that same protein is set to expire in December, yet taking the protein, mixing it for a product and putting it on a container with a fresh new lot number and expiration date somehow magically resets the age of the protein…Magic! Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing how old the material used may be in spite of the expiration date. The best you can do is purchase from reputable brands and trust that they do their due diligence to check the certificate of analysis for the materials that go into their product and demand that quality materials that aren’t in risk of expiring are used.

There is a Huge Variance in Protein Quality

As briefly alluded to earlier in the article, there can be a great degree of variation in the quality of materials used. While two proteins can be identical at a glance, it really comes down to the cost of goods that a company opted to go within producing the product. For example, a product may simply list ‘whey protein concentrate’ as the protein source in the ingredients. While one product may use pure WPC80 to reach their label claim for protein while the other may use a blend of WPC34 and WPC80 to reach the desired label claim with cheaper material dropping cost down, they both say simply “whey protein concentrate”.

Another example I’ve seen time and time again is label dressing. A product that may list Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Isolate, and Whey Protein Hydrolysate may look great, but in reality, to get to the 25g of protein claimed on the label, they may use 22g of protein from the concentrate, 5g protein from the isolate to hit overage and ensure they make label claim and then add in 1mg of hydrolysate just to have it on the label. The same thing goes here for buying protein: To get the best quality, buy from reputable brands and remember that you’re paying for what you get…products may not be as equal as one might think.

While there are other shady things that I’ve seen go on in this industry unchecked for quite some time, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of great brands out there that care about the consumer and are in it for more than just making a profit. While it may seem daunting at first and that everyone is marketing about why their product is ‘better’, just take it all in with a grain of salt and remember that things aren’t as they appear sometimes.

Trusted Protein Powders

With all of the above taken into consideration, there’s still plenty of brands that are doing it the right way. When choosing a protein powder, make sure that you are going with a brand that you trust and one that is open about how their product is made. The below brands go above and beyond to make sure that their protein quality is at the highest level.

NutraBio – In-house manufacturing. 3rd party ingredients testing (results posted at checkmysupps.com). 100% full disclosure labels. Expiration dates from the date of raw goods manufacturing (not finished goods manufacturing). Only uses WPC80 for Classic Whey. Other proteins comprised of Isolate and/or casein.

MTS – All products manufactured in NSF Certified facility. Expiration dates from the date of raw goods manufacturing (not finished goods manufacturing). Uses WPC80 and Isolate.

Purus Labs – In-house manufacturing. Expiration dates from the date of raw goods manufacturing (not finished goods manufacturing). Uses only WPC80 for Myofeed.

 

When we think intra-workout supplementation, we often find ourselves thinking BCAA, BCAA, BCAA, but what about Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)? For years we’ve been led to believe that BCAAs are all you need for intra-workout supplementation, but research shows that isn’t the case [1].

BCAA use has been promoted in various manners:

  1. All day sipping, which turned out to blunt MPS (muscle protein synthesis) signaling. This is counterproductive to muscle growth and recovery, and thus should not be promoted as a way to flavor your water.
  2. Intra-workout usage. This is not helpful since it takes all of the EAAs to reap the benefits of intra-workout use (see article below).
  3. Using BCAA’s between meals to signal muscle protein synthesis. This would be beneficial for those in a caloric deficit as an “anti-catabolic” agent, but once again does not work (see reference 1). Dieter et al. (2016) found that the usage of BCAAs does not lead to an increase of fat-free index in those dieting while supplementing with BCAAs [1]. This is a finding consistent with lots of BCAA studies [2].

Essentially BCAAs are not the Holy Grail we’ve been led to believe by supplement companies.

What does Leucine do?

Leucine itself is a tricky beast. Leucine can increase MPS by 30%. Leucine, in theory, works because it is a rate-limiting step in protein synthesis. By supplementing Leucine, you get around the rate-limiting step. Rate limiting step, in this case, refers to the means in which a process is limited (i.e. without more leucine, MPS rates are limited). This is due to an intracellular anabolic signaling, which is increased when leucine is supplemented. Leucine, however, is not the only important component of this process as it does require the other Essential Amino Acids to work best. A major limitation in these studies is that in humans skeletal muscle is a small amount of your total body mass [2].

What about EAA’s?

A 2011 study performed by the US military (meaning these are very fit individuals) studied the effects of EAA supplementation during endurance exercise; they were interested to see the effects of EAA supplementation on postexercise skeletal muscle metabolism. This study examined the effects of 10 g of EAAs in two different groups: a 3.5g Leucine group or a 1.87g Leucine group [3]. Subjects performed one hour of slow steady state (endurance) exercise while consuming their BCAA/EAA mixture over the course of two weeks.

The interesting finding of this study was that muscle protein synthesis (MPS) was as much as 33% greater in the 3.5g Leucine group than the 1.87 g leucine group. This shows that leucine amount is key to activating MPS. They also found that whole body protein breakdown was lower. So you may be thinking to yourself, well that’s pretty common sense, leucine activates MPS so what makes this study unique?

  1. This study was done by the US Military, so there is no inherent bias from the funding source.
  2. This study shows the importance of Leucine and shows that the ratio of BCAA’s is not important.
    For years, people have touted the so-called “2:1:1” ratio as best (oddly enough, a majority of research is actually not using the so-called “2:1:1” ratio that is being touted as best [4]), but this study shows that ratio does not matter. The high Leucine group in this study used essentially a 4:1:1 ratio (refer to figure 1). This study shows as long as you get enough EAA’s, Leucine content is what’s most important, not the ratio. This study also highlights the importance of EAA’s during endurance exercise; an area of research that BCAA’s alone have been unable to do so far.
  3. The lack of Carbohydrates. A large number of studies investigating the effects of BCAA’s confound the research findings by including Carbohydrates with their BCAA or EAA mixture. Not all athletes consume carbohydrates during exercise, making the findings of those studies difficult to extrapolate into real-world results. We currently live in an industry that is petrified of carbohydrates even though they have lots of ergogenic potential.
eaa ratio chart
Figure 1

Why are these findings important? Unlike resistance exercise, endurance exercise is truly catabolic. Endurance exercise results in lower rates of MPS and plasma Leucine concentration [3]. This means when you are performing endurance exercise, not only are you deficient in plasma Leucine content in your bloodstream, but you are also deficient in stimulating muscle protein synthesis as well. This one-two combination can have a major catabolic effect on your body. The data from the US military study indicates that increasing Leucine availability during endurance exercise promotes skeletal muscle protein anabolism and spares endogenous protein. This prevents the catabolic effects of endurance exercise.

What about protein?

According to the U.S. Dairy Council, Whey Protein offers the highest concentration of BCAAs of any dietary source of Protein at about 26 g of BCAAs per 100g of Protein. Whey protein itself has a multitude of benefits and has the optimal amount of BCAA’s/EAA’s one would use when using an intra-workout product. This means if you are simply low on money, Whey Protein is your best chance to make sure you are getting an increase in muscle protein synthesis rate (refer to figure 2). It is important to note that BCAA & EAA products provide “free form” amino acids, so they do not count towards your daily protein intake, and that they do contain calories unlike what you see on most supplement facts for most Amino products.

Whey Protein EAA Ratio
Figure 2

Take Home Message

So what’s the take-home message? Well, if you are going to take additional amino acids in your diet through a supplement, there are only two things you really should look for:

  1. Leucine content. Know how much you are consuming. Take at least 2.5 g or more.
  2. Take Leucine with additional EAAs. Also make sure you take the full 10 grams, which does include the Leucine content.

Do not just take BCAAs, because if you are going to be supplementing, you should supplement what is needed…Essential Amino acids with a high Leucine content. Anyone selling an EAA product with a proprietary blend under 10 grams is not doing you any favors.

Product Recommendations

intra-blast-productThe top supplement in this category hands down is NutraBio Intra Blast. Intra Blast is the gold standard for Essential Amino Acid products and has been for years. It features a full 10g EAA’s (including an optimal dose of Leucine at 3.6g) along with Glutamine, Betaine, OKG, Taurine, and Electrolytes. Other EAA products sometimes cost less but do not offer the optimal Leucine dosage or overall EAA dosage.

Shop All EAA's

 

References:

  1. Dieter, B. P., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Aragon, A. A. (2016, May 11). The data do not seem to support a benefit to BCAA supplementation during periods of caloric restriction. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. BioMed Central Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-016-0128-9
  2. Wolfe, R. (2017). Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality?. J Int Soc Sports Nutri 14:30.
  3. Pasiakos, S. M., McClung, H. L., McClung, J. P., Margolis, L. M., Andersen, N. E., Cloutier, G. J., Pikosky, M. A., et al. (2011). Leucine-enriched essential amino acid supplementation during moderate steady state exercise enhances postexercise muscle protein synthesis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 94(3), 809-818.
  4. Norton LE, Layman DK. (2006). Leucine regulates translation initiation of protein synthesis in skeletal muscle after exercise. J Nutr. 136:533S–7S.

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Bodybuilder With Mask

What is 1-Andro?

This article is primarily about the supplement 1-Andro which is a DHEA metabolite and is legal in the US under DASCA (Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act). The DHEA metabolite 1-Andro undergoes a two-step conversion to the hormone 1-Testosterone. This two-step conversion is what makes it a legal compound.

1-Androsterone is an androgenic sex hormone and is a metabolite of testosterone.  It’s a non-methylated anabolic compound whose primary metabolite is 1-Androstendione (1-AD) in the body.  1-Andro is the nomenclature for 1-androstene 3b-ol, 12-one.  It is also known as Androsterone. The assumption is that 1-Andro converts to testosterone, which is wrong.  1-Andro converts to 1-testosterone which can boost testosterone levels without the conversion to estrogen.  Some of the 1-Andro benefits are actually anti-estrogenic which means it’s a very good compound for adding lean muscle mass or aiding in fat loss.

What are the benefits of 1-Andro?

Due to the boost of 1-testosterone, your body will be able to add lean muscle mass.  If the goal is to add mass, a calorie surplus is usually required.  But even in a calorie deficit when cutting, this compound can help your body build muscle.  Due to the anti-estrogenic effects, your body shouldn’t hold extra water, no bloating, and won’t be like many prohormones of the past which caused a large amount of water weight gain.

The androgenic effects are very potent, meaning you will see gains on this compound.  The more in touch the user is with diet and training, the greater the change they should notice.  1-Andro is an excellent compound to either use alone or stack with other anabolic compounds for making even greater progress.

So in short……

  • Increases Lean Muscle Mass
  • Increases Strength
  • Increases Recovery
  • Doesn’t convert to estrogen
  • No Bloating
  • Has a recomposition effect to it (building muscle in a calorie deficit, burning fat while building muscle)

Is 1-Andro Legal?

Sounds like some very good benefits, right?  You must be wondering if 1-Andro is a legal supplement.  In 2014 is when the big prohormone ban came about and 1-Andro is one of the ingredients not on the list and is the most effective prohormone ingredient left on the market. See the first paragraph in this blog for more info.

Any side effects?

Due to being non-methylated and no estrogenic related increases, the side effects are very minimal if the user experiences any.  Non-liver toxic.  Gyno cannot occur without the estrogen increase.  Males who are prone to baldness should avoid this compound as mild hair loss may occur.

Lethargy is the most common side effect but not something all users experience.  Users may also experience a decrease in libido while on cycle.  Other temporary health issues are an increase in blood pressure and possible anxiety.  Not all users experience these side effects and some can go multiple cycles without having any negative effects. One way to combat these side effects is to stack it with a compound containing Epiandrosterone (Such as Sparta Epimax) as this converts to the male sex hormone DHT.

So in short…..

  • Lethargy
  • Decreased libido
  • Anxiety
  • Hair loss to those genetically prone
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Painful pumps (supplement with taurine to help)

Running a Cycle

1-Andro cycles can run anywhere from 4-8 weeks.  Stretching longer may hinder results and increase the number of side effects.  Results can usually be seen fast in the first couple weeks.  Fuller looking muscles, strength levels increasing, more muscle definition, and increased aggression.

Cycle support alongside a 1-Andro supplement is highly necessary with any anabolic hormone.  Running at the recommended dosage or higher is always best being safe and protect your body.  After all, we all got into fitness with the idea of a healthy body.  A cycle support supplement would be highly recommended as they will help the body process and deliver all these ingredients while maintaining strong organ and body health.

Post cycle therapy (PCT) will be needed to restore your natural testosterone production. During your cycle, your natural production of Testosterone will slow due to supplementation of 1-Andro. PCT will be required to raise those levels, and also to lower levels of Estrogen and Cortisol. These hormones are catabolic (breaks down muscle) in nature, and failing to suppress them may lead to a severe loss of muscle mass.

Most brands that sell a 1-Andro supplement also sell cycle support and PCT supplements.  You can stick to all one brand or buy from a couple different brands.

What are the most realistic gains I can expect from a cycle?

5-10lbs of lean muscle mass with a decrease in 1-4% body fat is very possible while on a 4-6 week cycle.  The longer and higher the dosage, the more significate those numbers can change.  Results will vary based on the individual’s diet, training, genetics, supplements, and goals.

Price Point?

1-Andro products will be priced rather high.  Don’t be surprised if you’re spending $60-80 for a 1-Andro supplement or up to $100 if you’re buying a supplement with a blend of 1-Andro and other compounds.  Remember, this is the strongest remaining prohormone ingredient on the market for adding clean muscle mass and enhancing fat loss.

Popular 1-Andro Supplements:

Popular PCT Supplements:

PSA: you can also supplement your gains during post cycle by taking a natural anabolic such as Black Lion Research Follidrone.