Monday, November 4, 2013

Are any supplements worth the money and hassle?

One of the themes of this blog recently has been trying to steer people away from the hype, the promises of miracles and astounding progress from some new routine, diet or supplement.

Supplements are an area where, over the years there has been so many empty promises. I've been reading bodybuilding magazines since 1983 and I have seen many products touted as the latest miracle: l-ornithine, orchic tissue (dried bull testicles!), safflower oil, desiccated liver , brewers' yeast, beta-alanine.... Each one promoted by some big name bodybuilder whose physique was really built from superior genetics and anabolics. Over the years I have developed quite a scepticism about supplements. However, some supplements do have some evidence to support their use.

I asked the guys at to tell me what supplements are actually worth the money and effort for an average 45 year old office worker like me! (I've referred to before and have also highlighted their excellent supplement guide) They base their recommendations on a full review of the scientific literature, not marketing hype. I interviewed Sol Orwell - the chief research nerd behind a few months ago .....Ok then, what supplements make sense? What does the science support?

Supplementation for the Average Joe : A Guest Post from


Creatine is one of the most readily recommended supplements. It noticeably increases physical performance in new and advanced trainees, and it can be taken daily without side-effects.

It stands out from other ergogenics, like caffeine and beta-alanine, as caffeine becomes less effective as tolerance grows, and beta-alanine, while it works, only accounts for a 3% increase in endurance performance. Not only does creatine work, but it has positive health benefits. Though these health benefits are not strong and consistent enough for creatine to be marketed as an general health supplement, they are a great bonus to creatine’s positive effects on the athlete.

Vitamin D and Vitamin K

These two vitamins are prime for supplementation for two reasons:

  • The average person is most likely not deficient, as Vitamin D and K are present in most diets in low doses. A proper diet is enough to prevent the problems of a vitamin deficiency (rickets and haemorrhaging, for example).
  • Even though most people are not deficient, their vitamin levels are not optimal. It is difficult to hit the ideal level of Vitamin K and D through diet alone.

Both of these supplements are general health supplements. Proper supplementation will reduce the risk of cardiovascular issues like atherosclerosis and heart attacks, as well as bone issues like osteoporosis, and even reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s.

Other vitamin and mineral supplements, like magnesium, can also be supplemented. Unlike Vitamin D and K, however, a proper diet will eliminate the need for supplementation.


Adaptogens are a group of supplements that cause a minor stress response in the body, which is immediately met with an exaggerated anti-stress reaction. These are the best supplements to take for the purpose of stress reduction. Users typically experience less stress from specific sources, as well as a resistance to future stress. The reduction of stress can help with alleviating depression, anxiety, and immune system suppression.

Three major adatogens are panax ginseng, ashwagandha, and rhodiola rosea. All three will reduce stress. Rhodiola rosea aids specifically in reducing ‘burnout’ symptoms in the workplace, and ashwagandha can help facilitate social interaction and improve physical performance.

To determine which adaptogen is ideal for you, take one of them during a period of stress and observe the effects. If you do not observe any effects, you may not need the adaptogen.

Sleep Aids

Sleep aids are a collection of supplements that will improve sleep quality. Non-benzodiazepine sleep aids are rare. Benzodiazepines are a class of pharmaceuticals that, despite being potent sedatives, possess addicting properties.

  • Melatonin will improve issues with sleep latency. Sleep latency is the time that it takes to fall asleep after your head hits the pillow.
  • Glycine will improve issues with sleep quality. If falling asleep is not a problem, but getting a good night’s rest is, consider improving your sleep quality.

Both supplements are cheap, safe, and worth a try if you wake up in the mornings feeling like you need another 8 hours. Take melatonin or glycine 30 minutes before sleeping. The time between supplementation and actual sleep should ideally be a period of relaxation in a dim or dark room.


So there you have it: 
  • Creatine
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin K
  • Adaptogens to fight stress
  • Sleep aids
More about Examine has just expanded their editorial team bringing on more experts: a medical doctor, 2 PhDs and a Doctor of Pharmacy.  They have a huge free resource at, but also the excellent Supplement Guide which includes free lifetime updates, keeping the material up to date as the science develops.

1 comment:

psychic24 said...

I was attempting to buy ashwagandha on amazon and seem to find pills that supply small doses (450-500mg) in comparison to the recommended 6gram dose you suggest on I wonder if the additional info. about the extract (e.g. 4.5%extract..etc) reduces the necessary dosage?
Specifically i'm referring to