The market for supplements in North America which facilitate the transformations in body, mind, quality of life, and longevity that we seek is estimated, at present, to be $53 billion, with a projected compounded annual growth rate of 5.6% through at least 2028. The principal driver behind this significant growth is an increasing awareness, on the part of the public, regarding all matters of health and wellness. It is no longer about taking a vitamin and mineral supplement once daily with breakfast for “nutritional insurance.” It has become about self-improvement and living life to a higher standard than is afforded us by genetics and chance.
We take supplements because we don’t want to leave our health and happiness to fate, and because we believe that we can materially influence the most important aspects of our lives by taking pills, powders, tablets, gels, and drinks. Some of us, in our laziness, feel that supplementation is a panacea – a quick and easy substitute for such health maintenance traditions as proper diet and exercise. Others,
who are somewhat more motivated and determined, use supplements in addition to a physician recommended diet and exercise protocol. No matter which category describes us, we are universally interested and invested in one thing, and one thing only when it comes to purchasing and using supplements: Effectiveness.
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Focusing on what matters
Effectiveness is the universal objective of all purchasers and users of supplements, from the bodybuilder in his or her twenties in search of an increased nitric oxide “pump” in his or her bloodstream (through arginine and citrulline, for example), to the senior citizen in search of enhanced recall and cognitive function (through huperzine-A or vinpocetine, for example). We look for maximum results from our supplements, although this determination is often a challenging one by virtue of several factors.
Firstly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not permit the manufacturers of supplements to make solid representations of precisely what the supplements can do. There is often some guesswork and a bit of research required in order to find out what we should actually expect of any given supplement. Interestingly, and as a quick side note, there is sometimes an unanticipated positive result which we derive from taking a particular formulation which is not the one which we actually purchased the supplement for, or to which we fail to pay attention (because we are simply not looking for it).
Secondly, our perception of results is quite often very subjective if we do not use scientific tests involving bloodwork and the like which give us actual calibrations of change levels in our bodies; and thirdly, and particularly with nootropics, we are all subject to the placebo effect on some level – and besides, once again, without objective testing, such as assessing changes in cerebrospinal fluid, neuronal activity, plasticity, etc., we are at a bit of a loss.
Basically, our bodies are not controlled experiment laboratories, and we gauge potency by how we feel as opposed to accomplishing this by some objective, standardized measurement. And we tend, naturally, to gravitate toward the “if a little is good, then more is even better” approach to supplements. In fact, we sometimes seem to “feel” greater effects just knowing that we’ve ingested more of an active ingredient which is supposed to address a specific symptom or fill a certain need.
The pros and cons of single ingredients versus multi-ingredient formulations
There are many single-ingredient supplements in the marketplace, as there have been for years. These are primarily intended for individual consumers who believe themselves, rightly or wrongly, to be diagnosticians. This is to say that they have made a judgment call as to precisely what they are lacking or what they would like more of, and they simply shop to find the ingredient which is reputed to target that need or to address that issue. If it is wakefulness, they will purchase caffeine or adrafinil. If it’s sleep, they will purchase melatonin. If it’s muscle size, it will be creatine. If it’s a liver and kidney cleanse, it will be silymarin or n-acetylcysteine. If it’s memory, it will be ginkgo biloba or perhaps phosphatidylserine – or for the less adventurous, it may be omegas 3, 6 and 9. And the list goes on.
Single-ingredient supplements have a lot going for them. In general terms, they are less expensive than multi-ingredient blends, and they contain greater amounts or concentrations of specific active ingredients per unit weight. Purchasers of single-ingredient products are, once again speaking in generalities, usually individuals who prefer doing their own research in keeping with the DIY social movement, and they expend a good amount of time scouring the internet for information about the benefits of various individual supplements.
They also tend to explore the more obscure websites representing the products of sellers who specialize in particular supplements for specific types of benefits, although these benefits are worded ever so carefully in light of the FDA’s restrictive guidelines regarding advertising of the purported benefits of any supplement. Of course, these restrictive guidelines benefit the large pharmaceutical concerns which market prescription drugs, perhaps to the detriment of supplement manufacturers and the general public.
In terms of the negatives associated with purchasing single-ingredient supplements, there are a few.
Firstly, the seeming cost savings associated with making individual ingredient purchases may be offset by the habit, on the part of many consumers, of overpurchasing any given supplement in a “more is better” pattern of purchases, and by the tendency, on the part of many of these individuals, to purchase a whole drawerful of single-ingredient items to address every individual symptom or need. These two aspects of over-zealous consumerism can ultimately become extremely expensive, and are equivalent to purchasing every single vitamin (instead of a multivitamin-multimineral complex), and popping handfuls of individual vitamin pills or capsules each day in order to saturate the body with sufficient nutrients. This practice is wasteful and occasionally dangerous.
It is wasteful in terms of the body’s propensity to excrete much of the input which it doesn’t either need (i.e., excessive dosing) or properly recognize (more about this a bit later). And it is sometimes dangerous in that the body’s filters – mainly the liver and the kidneys – can be seriously overtaxed and functionally compromised by overdosing. Further, many supplements have their own specific side effects if taken in excessive amounts and have a steep dosing curve. By way of example, phenylethylamine (“PEA,” a psychostimulant) can increase wakefulness, but in too great a dose, it can send a person into fits of retching and dizziness; yohimbe, used as a sexual tonic, can cause a dangerous blood pressure rise and intense migraine-like headaches when ingested in large doses.
Secondly, since certain supplement ingredients, in the appropriate doses and proportions are mutually synergistic and enhance the effectiveness of each other, benefits may be lost by a regimen of single ingredient supplements, especially if the dosing and proportions are not optimal. Achieving just the right proportions requires a degree of precision that many of us, as supplement users (Supplementarians?), have neither the equipment nor the inclination to do. Caffeine and l-theanine, for example, work together as part of a nootropic “stack,” where l-theanine moderates the effects of the caffeine to eliminate some of its neurological harshness while emphasizing its wakefulness benefit. This “stacking” effect is one reason why multi-ingredient formulations may provide greater effectiveness than the DIY approach.
Many consumers view multiple-ingredient supplements as cornucopias of vital ingredients which obviate the need to make multiple purchases of individual ingredients and which also eliminate the requirement that each consumer be a diagnostician and a researcher. These consumers leave it to the manufacturers to put the mojo in the mix, and leave the more time-consuming and cerebrally-intensive protocols to the single ingredient crowd.
So far, multiple-ingredient formulations would seem to have a rather decisive lead over single ingredient supplementation, but there are other factors to take a look at in rendering a final verdict, including the systemic versus cellular wellness approach, the “h” factors (more about this later), and the measure of bioavailability.
The systemic approach versus the cellular approach: Two schools
In terms of anti-aging supplements (just an example), many consumers and a fair number of manufacturers attempt to address problems associated with age-related decline systemically. That is to say, they believe that the adverse manifestations of old age are caused by a breakdown in certain specific systems in the body or brain which, if treated with a sufficient amount of the right supplement (in this case, a nootropic to improve recall, attentiveness or focus), will reverse or or slow the decline in faculties. This systemic approach is most popular among single-ingredient supplement advocates, although it is not held in such high regard by the proponents of multiple-ingredient supplements who believe that all causality is most appropriately found and addressed at the cellular level, dealing with the microscopic organelles, such as the mitochondria and ribosomes, which are inside of every cell of the body.
These advocates of the the cellular approach believe that supplements must be active at the cellular level in order to change the functioning of the body and the brain. They generally feel that smaller dosages of multiple ingredients are more effective, over the longer term, than the mega dosages of single ingredients sometimes preferred by those who embrace the systemic approach.
By crude analogy, students of the systemic school endorse and practice something akin to symptomatic relief in the allopathic tradition, while the students of the cellular school regard the body and brain as being made of genetically-programmed cells that operate in complex systems which need to be fine tuned in order to manifest improved health. This latter school resembles, once again by crude analogy, either naturopaths or even homeopaths who look for subtle changes to produce significant and lasting results.
The cellular folks, supported by some nascent and tentative science, also believe – and this is quite an important consideration – that large doses of ingredients can actually impair the body’s and brain’s natural ability to heal themselves by creating an atrophy and a dependency, and that small doses of the right stacks of ingredients can actually “teach” the body and brain to repair and even improve themselves and their functioning if these somehow act at the cellular level.
While a case can be made for either school, the general trend in the marketplace now is increasingly toward the cellular school, with even some die-hard traditionalist supplementers taking multiple ingredient supplements along with the individual ingredients which they take on a more targeted basis. This is not unlike taking aspirin while undergoing physical therapy – it provides some possibility of immediate relief while waiting for a greater, more lasting change to kick in brought about by a prescribed program of progressive resistance exercise.
The “H” Factors: Hormesis, homestasis and holistic supplementation
The concept of hormesis deals with the notion that very small amounts of certain toxins which stress the organism can actually serve, over time, to strengthen it. Broadly speaking, this concept is part of the reasoning underlying exercise and even homeopathy. Going somewhat uncomfortably further, it relates to the science behind traditional vaccinations. Some multiple-supplement formulas which claim to confer adaptogenic benefits are engineered with hormesis in mind. In dealing with isolated single ingredient supplements, the notion of hormesis is all but nonexistent, as well as wildly impractical. In fact, large does of toxic substances can cause permanent damage, disability, and even death.
Homeostasis relates to the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by the physiological processes which power body and brain. More directly, there is a delicate balance within every one of our cells which is dependent upon just the right nutrients and other influences, and that if this balance is upset, your health will be adversely impacted. This is another very important consideration in taking large doses of isolated ingredients; this practice can upset homeostasis. Some of the telltale earlier stage signs of a system out of homeostatic balance following a regimen of individual-ingredient formulations might be an upset stomach, dizziness or a headache. A disruption in homeostasis is what ultimately makes us unwell.
Holistic supplementation protocols are those practices that treat the body and brain as a complex system of interdependent processes which must be dealt with all together, as each process affects all of the others. Holistic supplements are, invariably, complex mixtures or precision stacks of nutrients and other agents which go beyond simple cause-and-effect mechanisms and seek to align whole body and brain systems, starting at the cellular level. The trend in the marketplace is toward holistic treatments, protocols and formulations.
The ideal supplement should probably possess all three, or at least two out of three, of the three “H Factors” if it is expected to assist us in our campaign to optimize health and wellness.
Bioavailability: The ultimate decider of potency
The commonly accepted definition of bioavailability is that fraction of a nutrient that is digested, absorbed and metabolized through normal pathways, i.e., that enters the bloodsteam. Consequently, it is not enough to know how much of a particular ingredient is present in any given nutritional supplement; the more important issue is how much of that present is actually bioavailable.
Bioavailability can be increased by decreasing the particle size of nutrients, by adding certain vitamins or other substances which act as “carriers” of nutrients into the bloodsteam, or by finding clever ways to avoid the digestive tract by using delivery systems that don’t involve swallowing the nutrients. Some alternative delivery methods are sublinguals, transdermals, and suppositories, none of which are particularly popular, and some of which, reputedly, can cause irritations, rashes and other problems.
One company’s approach
Of particular interest is MyPEAK Supplements, a Florida-based formulator, manufacturer and seller of encapsulated products which exemplify and incorporate a holistic wellness-based approach (as opposed to the more prevalent symptom-based or treatment-based approaches) to improving the quality and length of life. The company’s branded formulations include Wellness, Brilliance (an exciting nootropic), PeakBiotic, Radiance, and DeltaSleep, each of which focuses upon a particular systemic issue (i.e., mind and memory, quaility sleep, and so forth), but addresses these issues at the cellular level in a scientifically supported hybrid type of mechanism of action. The reasoning behind this is referred to as holistic systems science, and it flies boldly in the face of the all too commonly held belief that “more is better” when it comes to supplements.
Ingredients in all of these products are vegan-friendly, non-GMO and responsibly sourced in keeping with the social and ethical principles of the enterprise’s founders, Dr. Bhargav Patel (CEO) and Urja Shah (COO). The product line emphasizes quality of ingredients and formulations over mere quantity, which, in and of itself, represents a positive departure from one of the archaic norms in the industry.
In addition to the synergistic nature of the combinations of ingredients in each of the formulations, all of the products are engineered to maximize bioavailability based upon minimalist particle size and the inclusion of certain bioavailability-enhancing agents such as piperine (from black pepper) and certain
vitamins, both water-soluble and fat-soluble, which have the demonstrated ability to “piggyback” other key ingredients into the bloodstream with efficiency and minimal degradation. One of MyPEAK’s catchphrases is “ You are not what you eat; you are what your body absorbs.” Such problematic but salubrious ingredients as resveratrol and curcumin, which pose a challenge to get into the bloodstream, become increasingly “friendly” when paired with piperine and the right types of vitamins in the proper proportions. MyPEAK is a company to watch.
The way forward
It seems that the major advantages for most of us are categorically with multi-ingredient supplements, if these are chosen wisely. The best quality multi-supplements are those which are formulated synergistically, which pay homage to the three “H Factors,” and which have high levels of bioavailability. While there is a place for supplementation with carefully-selected single nutrients in reasonable doses, you would probably be benefitted most by putting one or more carefully-selected multi-ingredient formulations at the core of your supplement regimen.
Important Note: The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as health or medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease or health condition. Before embarking on any diet or program of nutritional supplementation, it is advisable to consult your healthcare professional in order to determine its safety and probable efficacy in terms of your individual state of health.