Many people are skeptical when it comes to dietary supplements, believing that one can get all the nourishment they need from food only, and also that supplements are more or less a scam pushed by the supplement industry. I’ve previously shown why, even with the best diet in the world, your age, health condition, or even the season of the year or geographic location can require supplementation. (I get particularly irritated when certain writers urge people to get out in the sun – in winter. Vitamin D capsules will get better results.) Now, a new study shows that a multi-supplement promotes weight loss and improves metabolic health. (FASEB Journal.)
That many people have bad diets is a statement that will have many saying, “Well, duh!” But bad diets consisting of processed food with lots of sugar and refined carbohydrates, washed down with soda or beer, and eaten every three hours, don’t merely promote obesity and insulin resistance, but damage health through a lack of nutrients. Nutrients that the Standard American Diet (SAD) may lack include vitamins, minerals, protein, omega-3 fats, and fiber.
The question is, how much of the weight gain of modern life may be due to increased calories or carbohydrate-induced high insulin levels (which promote fat storage), and how much is caused by a lack of nutrients.
The idea here is that nutrient shortages in food may cause people to eat more in order to get what their body requires. There’s good evidence that a relative paucity of dietary protein will make people eat more in order to get more protein: this is the protein leverage hypothesis of obesity.
This may well be the case for other nutrients besides protein, and I believe that the study in review here definitively shows that lack of micronutrients promotes weight gain and metabolic derangement.
Bruce Ames, a well-known biomedical scientist, developed a theory to explain how the body handles a shortage of nutrients: The “triage theory”: micronutrient deficiencies cause insidious damage that accelerates age-associated chronic disease.
The idea is that, faced with a shortage of micronutrients, the body prioritizes those functions necessary for short-term survival at the expense of other functions the loss of which can be better tolerated. When vitamin and/or mineral supplies are limited, this conduces to increased risk of chronic diseases in the aging organism.
Ames points out that the implications for health are enormous, not only because of the prevalence of so much chronic disease, but because vitamin and mineral supplements are cheap. One would be able to prevent disease with the provision of a few cents worth of supplements daily.
Ames has found experimental evidence for his theory by looking at how shortages of vitamin K and selenium are handled: the body clearly prioritizes the use of these for some functions over others.
In the study under review, Ames and colleagues wanted to see what would happen when a group of people, both overweight/obese and of normal weight (although many of them were no doubt not lean in the sense in which we use it here) were provided with a multi-supplement food bar (two a day) over an eight-week period.
The food bar used here was the CHORI Bar (named for the Children’s Hospital of Oakland Research Institute, where Ames works). You can see the list of its ingredients in the original article. It provided adequate amounts of vitamins A, C, D, E, K, the B vitamins, along with calcium, magnesium (and a decent sized dose of it too), zinc, selenium, omega-3 fats, and a number of others. It also contained about 8 grams of fiber, and >500 mg polyphenols.
After eight weeks of doing nothing besides adding two bars (at 224 calories) a day to their diets, the overweight/obese group lost 0.8 kg and almost an inch off their waist circumference, a 2% drop. The “lean” group did not lose weight, but did lose about half an inch (1 cm) of waist circumference, which would seem to indicate changes in body composition, i.e. more lean mass, less fat mass.
Heart rate in the overweight/obese dropped over 5%. Blood pressure dropped 3%.
In addition, in the overweight/obese, triglycerides (a major indicator of heart disease and diabetes risk), insulin levels, insulin resistance, and C-reactive protein (the most important indicator of inflammation) all dropped dramatically. Adiponectin, a hormone that promotes fatty acid oxidation, rose dramatically, which indicates to me that if the supplement were to be continued longer, weight loss would also continue.
HDL rose dramatically as well.
All in all what we see here is not only weight loss but major improvements in metabolic health, all from doing nothing but eating fortified nutrition bars. The study suggests a number of reasons for these results, including reduced mitochondrial stress, lower inflammation, and improved gut-wall integrity.
Improved gut-wall integrity refers to an improvement in leaky gut – which we have been informed does not exist and is the province of quacks. Leaky gut is an important phenomenon implicated in many things, including chronic fatigue syndrome, but mainstream doctors don’t believe anyone really has it. Supplementation can help fix it. (I should write a post on that.)
So, how much of the modern obesity epidemic can be laid at the feet of nutrient deficiencies? At this point, no one can say for sure, but it could be a sizable fraction, maybe even a majority.
The lesson here, I think, is that if you want to lose fat, get better body composition including more lean mass, and improve your metabolic health, ensuring adequate nutrition, including enough protein, vitamins, and minerals, is important if not critical. That may be difficult to do without supplements.
Almost no one gets enough magnesium or omega-3 fats. Zinc deficiency is rampant, especially in the elderly. (Zinc supplementation can regrow the thymus gland: Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology.) Unless you eat grass-fed butter – and sometimes even then, depending on season – vitamin K is difficult to get in the diet. The list goes on.
A list of and rationale for the best supplements for men can be found in my book.