Andrew Huberman’s Guide to Supplements

Nutrition, Supplementation, and Prescription Drugs

Huberman discusses the importance of establishing a strong foundation for mental health, physical health, and performance, emphasizing the role of behavioral tools, nutrition, supplementation, and prescription drugs in achieving optimal well-being.

Huberman highlights that simple practices, such as viewing morning sunlight and engaging in regular exercise, form the bedrock of this foundation.

Equally important are the behaviors we should avoid, like exposing our eyes to bright light between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. or consuming caffeine too late in the afternoon, as these habits can disrupt our sleep and negatively affect our mental and physical health.

Building upon the foundation of behavioral tools, Huberman places nutrition as the second layer in the hierarchy of health and performance, stressing that no amount of supplementation or prescription compounds can compensate for poor nutrition in the long run. He encourages individuals to focus on obtaining macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients through a diverse array of food choices.

The third layer in Huberman’s hierarchy is supplementation, which he defines as non-prescription compounds that can enhance health and performance.

Huberman stresses the importance of thinking about the different categories of supplements, such as vitamins, minerals, and adaptogens, and how they interact with your nutrition and behaviors. He encourages listeners to learn how to navigate this vast space and develop protocols that are optimal for their individual needs.

Finally, Huberman acknowledges the vital role that prescription drugs can play in the treatment or augmentation of mental health, physical health, and performance goals.

While some individuals may require prescription medications, Huberman suggests that many people may be able to reduce their dosages or replace prescription compounds with quality behavioral tools, nutrition, and supplementation.

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

One common criticism of vitamin and mineral supplements is that they simply result in “expensive urine,” as excess water-soluble vitamins are excreted from the body. However, Huberman pointed out that many individuals may not be getting enough of these vitamins from their diet alone, and taking supplements can serve as an insurance policy against deficiencies.

He also noted that taking slightly higher than needed amounts of water-soluble vitamins is generally safe, as long as the levels are not excessively high.

When it comes to fat-soluble vitamins, skeptics often warn against taking high doses, as these can accumulate in the body and potentially reach dangerous levels. Huberman acknowledged this concern but emphasized that as long as vitamin and mineral supplements are not taken in excess, it is unlikely that fat-soluble vitamins will build up to problematic levels.

Ultimately, the decision to take a vitamin and mineral supplement is highly individual and depends on factors such as cost and the ability to obtain adequate nutrition through diet alone.

Those who are physically or mentally active, as well as those following intermittent fasting schedules, may benefit more from supplementation.

In addition to traditional vitamins and minerals, many foundational supplements now include digestive enzymes and adaptogens. While these components can be beneficial, Huberman cautioned that the term “adaptogen” lacks a clear operational definition, making it difficult to compare the effects of different products.

Regardless of whether one chooses to take supplements, Huberman stressed the importance of focusing on a balanced diet consisting primarily of unprocessed or minimally processed foods.

Supporting the Gut Microbiome

The gut microbiome, which consists of trillions of microorganisms living in the digestive tract, plays a crucial role in various biological functions, including immune system function, hormone regulation, and the gut-brain axis.

Huberman emphasized that diversity in the gut microbiome is key to maintaining good health. Having a wide range of microbial species in the gut has been shown to support immune function, mood, motivation, and neurotransmitter production in the brain and body.

To support a healthy gut microbiome, Huberman recommends consuming low-sugar fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, Greek yogurt, kombucha, and kefir.

Studies from Stanford School of Medicine have shown that consuming four servings of these foods per day can significantly improve gut microbiome function, enhance immune system performance, and reduce inflammation in the brain and body.

While fiber intake, particularly prebiotic fiber, is often touted as beneficial for the gut microbiome, Huberman noted that recent research suggests its effects may vary among individuals. Some people may experience no benefit or even increased inflammation from increased fiber consumption.

As most people do not consume enough fermented foods to support their gut microbiome, Huberman suggests that prebiotic and probiotic supplements can be a helpful addition to a foundational supplement regimen.

However, he cautions that these supplements can be expensive and that the most effective ones require refrigeration.

Additionally, Huberman warns against taking excessive amounts of prebiotic and probiotic supplements, as ongoing high-dose consumption may lead to issues such as brain fog. He recommends choosing supplements with lower levels of prebiotics and probiotics to avoid potential side effects.

Secrets of Supplementation for Better Sleep

Before turning to supplements, Huberman recommended addressing two key factors: caffeine intake and pre-bedtime eating habits. He advised limiting or eliminating caffeine consumption after 2:00 p.m. and avoiding food within two hours of bedtime.

For individuals struggling to fall asleep, Dr. Huberman recommended trying magnesium threonate or magnesium bisglycinate, which can induce mild drowsiness without impairing function. Another option is apigenin, a derivative of chamomile that can help reduce anxiety and rumination before sleep.

To determine which supplement works best, Dr. Huberman suggested a systematic approach. One could try magnesium threonate for a week, then switch to apigenin for another week, and evaluate which one is more effective. If neither works, he recommended combining both.

For those who wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep, Huberman suggested considering myo-inositol, typically taken as 900 milligrams, which can help shorten the time it takes to fall back asleep.

However, he advised avoiding theanine supplementation for individuals who experience excessively vivid dreams that jolt them awake.

Dr. Huberman emphasized the importance of isolating variables when experimenting with supplements and advised against changing other aspects of one’s nutrition or supplementation routine dramatically while testing a new supplement.

He also recommended the website Examine as an excellent resource for researching the effects of various supplements on hormone, brain, and body health.

The Truth About Melatonin

Huberman, sheds light on the misconceptions surrounding melatonin, a hormone often associated with sleep. While many people turn to melatonin supplements to improve their sleep quality, Huberman expressed his reservations about its widespread use.

One of the main issues with melatonin is that it may induce sleepiness but fails to keep individuals asleep throughout the night.

People who take melatonin supplements often find themselves falling asleep quickly but waking up and struggling to fall back asleep.

Another concern Huberman raised is the discrepancy between the melatonin levels found in supplements and the body’s natural production of the hormone. Most melatonin supplements contain amounts that significantly exceed the normal biological levels, which can have unintended consequences on other hormone systems, particularly the reproductive hormone axis.

Studies have also revealed inconsistencies in the actual melatonin content of supplements compared to what is listed on the label. Even reputable brands have been found to contain anywhere from 15% to several times more melatonin than advertised, raising concerns about the reliability of these products.

While melatonin can be useful for occasional use, such as managing jet lag, Huberman emphasizes the need for caution.

He recommends consulting reliable sources, such as Examine.com, for information on appropriate dosages and potential side effects.

Sleep Supplements: Does It Create a Dependency?

Huberman, who personally takes magnesium, theanine, apigenin, and ashwagandha before sleep, shared his experience of occasionally falling asleep without taking his usual supplements. He found that while he could still sleep, the depth and duration of his sleep were not as good as when he was supplementing.

This suggests that there isn’t a true dependency on these supplements to fall asleep, unlike the dependence people may experience with sleeping pills.

However, Huberman pointed out that any compound can create a placebo effect, where individuals believe they need something to achieve a certain result.

To explore the issue of dependency and placebo effects, Huberman recommends taking a night off from sleep supplements every few weeks or leaving out one supplement at a time. He suggests doing this on a night when there are no pressing commitments the following day to minimize any potential impact on sleep quality.

Huberman explains that the ability to sleep well even after missing a night of supplementation could be due to the buildup of certain compounds, like magnesium, in the body and brain.

Additionally, the neural circuits involved in falling and staying asleep can undergo plasticity, meaning they can function well even in the absence of supplements.

Hormone Supplementation

Before considering supplements or prescription-based approaches to improve hormones, Huberman stressed the significance of getting your nutrition and behaviors in check. Adequate calorie intake from high-quality sources is crucial for maintaining healthy levels of hormones such as testosterone and estrogen.

Insufficient calorie intake can lead to hormonal imbalances, such as women experiencing a halt in their menstrual cycles or men experiencing a drop in testosterone levels.

Huberman also highlighted the relationship between insulin and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). Insulin, which increases after the ingestion of carbohydrates, inhibits SHBG. This means that individuals who practice intermittent fasting or consume very few carbohydrates may experience an increase in SHBG and a decrease in free testosterone, the more active form of the hormone.

In addition to nutrition, behaviors play a vital role in hormone status.

Getting morning sunlight helps elevate cortisol levels, which is essential for focus, alertness, and immune function.

Engaging in strenuous exercise, such as cardiovascular and resistance training, can also dramatically alter hormone profiles.

Huberman referenced an episode with Dr. Duncan French, who described a brief but intense two-day-a-week resistance training protocol specifically designed to increase testosterone, free testosterone, and growth hormone.

Once nutrition and behaviors are optimized for hormone support, it makes sense to consider supplements that can further enhance hormone function. However, Huberman emphasized the importance of getting these foundational elements in place before turning to supplementation or prescription-based approaches.

Shilajit, Ashwagandha, L-Carnitine, and Maca Root

Huberman discussesvvarious supplements that can support multiple hormone pathways, focusing on fertility, libido, and the balance between testosterone and estrogen.

He categorized these supplements into two groups: those that provide broad support for multiple hormones and those that target specific hormones or pathways.

Shilajit, an Ayurvedic medicine containing fulvic acid, is known to increase follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which promotes egg growth and fertility in women. In males, FSH indirectly increases testosterone and sperm production. Shilajit is also reported to enhance libido in both males and females.

Ashwagandha, another potent supplement, is effective in reducing cortisol levels. Since cortisol and testosterone exist on a seesaw, lowering cortisol can indirectly increase testosterone. However, Huberman cautions against taking high doses of Ashwagandha for more than two weeks at a time and suggests referring to the “Master Stress” episode and examine.com for more information on cycling and dosage.

L-Carnitine, a supplement often discussed in terms of fertility, can improve sperm motility and quality, as well as egg quality. Its effects on hormones are more indirect, as it primarily impacts mitochondrial pathways.

Maca root is purported to increase libido, particularly in women and individuals suffering from lowered libido due to SSRI intake. While some reports suggest that maca increases testosterone, the evidence is relatively weak. Its effects on libido are likely due to its influence on dopamine-related pathways and upstream hormone pathways.

Huberman also mentions the existence of supplements that work more directly on specific hormone pathways, targeting goals such as elevated testosterone, free testosterone, growth hormone, and thyroid hormone.

Boosting Growth Hormone and Testosterone Levels

According to Dr. Huberman, the most effective way to increase growth hormone is by getting quality, deep sleep, particularly in the first three to four hours of the night. He emphasized the importance of avoiding caloric intake, alcohol, and cannabis in the two hours preceding sleep to facilitate optimal growth hormone release.

While intermittent fasting and extended fasts have been touted as methods to boost growth hormone, Dr. Huberman cautioned that prolonged fasting can have detrimental effects on the genetic pathways and receptors for growth hormone.

Turning to supplements, Dr. Huberman noted that there are few proven options for augmenting growth hormone. He mentioned that arginine supplementation prior to bedtime, especially when fasted, may slightly elevate growth hormone levels, but the supporting literature is weak.

Instead, he highlighted that the most potent methods for increasing growth hormone fall outside the realm of supplementation, such as exercise and prescription compounds like peptides and growth hormone itself, which should only be used under medical supervision.

Moving on to testosterone and luteinizing hormone, Dr. Huberman explained the complex interplay between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the gonads. He introduced the supplement Fidogia agrestis, which has shown promise in increasing luteinizing hormone, testosterone, and estrogen when taken at dosages of 600 milligrams per day. However, he cautioned that individual response to Fidogia agrestis varies, and it is crucial to follow recommended dosages and cycle the supplement to avoid potential toxicity to testicular cells.

Dr. Huberman stressed the importance of blood tests to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of any hormone-altering supplement.

He recommended taking a baseline blood test before starting a supplement regimen and repeating the test after four to eight weeks to assess the impact on hormone levels and check for any negative effects.

Tonga Ali

Title: The Potential Benefits of Tonga Ali for Hormone Augmentation

Tonga Ali has been known to increase libido, although it is not clear whether this effect is due to its impact on dopamine-related pathways or testosterone pathways. However, it is known to increase free testosterone by reducing sex hormone-binding globulin.

Tonga Ali can be beneficial for both men and women, with dosages ranging from 200 to 600 milligrams per day.

Huberman emphasized the importance of finding the minimal effective dose and using blood work to determine the objective numbers.

Subjective experience also matters, and if no effect is noticed after taking Tonga Ali at 400 milligrams for four weeks, one might try increasing the dosage to 600 milligrams, but not higher.

The effectiveness of supplements like Tonga Ali and fidogia can vary depending on the individual’s starting point. People with low testosterone levels, for example, may experience greater effects compared to those with optimal levels achieved through age, genetics, exercise, and nutrition.

Huberman shared an anecdote of an individual who took Tonga Ali and fidogia in combination and experienced a significant increase in total testosterone, nearly tripling from where he started. However, it is unclear which specific ingredient was responsible for the results.

Unlike some other supplements, Tonga Ali does not need to be cycled, meaning there is no need to take periods of time off from it. The effects of Tonga Ali can take longer to experience, so blood work should be done 8 to 12 weeks after initiating the protocol.

While the exact effects of Tonga Ali on the brain and body are not fully understood, a recent review article surveyed the current literature on the supplement.

Huberman provided a link to this article for those interested in learning more about the potential benefits and findings related to Tonga Ali.

Supplement Use for Women’s Hormone Health

Huberman noted that some women may find certain supplements, such as Shilajit, Tongkat Ali, or Maca, beneficial during specific phases of their menstrual cycle, while experiencing negative effects during other phases.

This highlights the significance of having control over specific ingredients and dosages in supplement regimens to allow for titration or cessation of use as needed.

While some women may be able to continuously take these supplements throughout their menstrual cycle without issue, others may find it necessary to alter their intake based on their body’s response. Huberman stressed the critical importance of single ingredient control, dosage control, and the ability to stop taking individual or multiple ingredients based on one’s overall health.

The use of hormone-based birth control adds another layer of complexity to the discussion. Certain forms of birth control consistently elevate estrogen levels, which can reduce fluctuations in hormone pathways across the menstrual cycle, but not eliminate them entirely.

Huberman also touched on the topic of fertility, mentioning that supplements such as L-carnitine, available both as an injectable prescription and oral supplement, can improve sperm and egg health and motility. However, he cautioned that couples trying to conceive should consider how these supplements interact with other hormone-based prescription drugs they may be taking, regardless of whether they are undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) or not.

Cognitive Supplements

Caffeine, a widely consumed stimulant, took center stage in Huberman’s exploration of energy-boosting supplements. He emphasized that caffeine can effectively increase alertness and focus when consumed in the appropriate dosage range, typically one to three milligrams per kilogram of body weight, approximately 30 minutes before a mental or physical task.

Regular caffeine users can still benefit from its cognitive-enhancing effects, but taking a two-day break from caffeine before an important event can amplify its impact.

However, Huberman cautioned against consuming caffeine too late in the day, as it can significantly disrupt sleep quality. He stressed that a good night’s sleep of sufficient duration is the ultimate cognitive enhancer, as it is during sleep that neural connections remodel and learning is consolidated.

In addition to sleep, Huberman emphasized the importance of proper nutrition for optimal cognitive function.

He warned against being overly hungry or consuming excessive calories, as both can hinder focus. The phrase “rest and digest” highlights the connection between a full stomach and feelings of sleepiness, making it challenging to maintain cognitive attention and memory.

Enhancing Cognitive Ability and Focus with Supplements

One major category of supplements for enhancing cognitive ability and focus is stimulants, with caffeine being the most common.

Caffeine can be consumed through coffee, tea, or in its pure form as a supplement. Huberman cautioned that consuming caffeine in pill or capsule form tends to have a more potent and long-lasting effect compared to drinking it in coffee or tea. He also warned that individuals who experience anxiety or panic attacks should be careful with their caffeine intake.

Another category of stimulants that can enhance alertness and focus are those that increase adrenaline or epinephrine, such as yohimbine and its various forms.

Alpha yohimbine, sometimes known as rawulcine, is used as a stimulant to promote fat loss and alertness. However, Huberman noted that it can be a potent and somewhat precarious supplement, with some people experiencing anxiety when taking it.

Apart from stimulant-based approaches, there are also supplement-based approaches that increase certain neurotransmitter pathways to enhance cognitive function and focus. Alpha GPC, a choline donor that acts in the pathways related to the neuromodulator acetylcholine, can enhance focus at dosages of 300 to 600 milligrams. Similarly, 500 to 1000 milligrams of l-tyrosine, an amino acid precursor to dopamine, can lead to increased levels of focus without the jittery or overstimulated feelings associated with caffeine.

Huberman emphasized the importance of exploring these supplements separately before combining them in a single formula.

He also mentioned that some people may find even the slightest bit of these supplements uncomfortable and incompatible with their desired work, while others may rely on them regularly.

Lastly, Huberman touched on supplements that support cognitive function and focus while also affecting other general functions related to brain and body health, such as omega-three fatty acids.

These can be obtained through foods like fatty ocean fish and certain plant-based sources, as well as through fish oil capsules and liquids.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 essential fatty acids, specifically in the form of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), have been shown to have a significant impact on brain and body health.

Scientific literature supports the idea that consuming one to three grams of EPA per day, either through fish oil capsules or liquid, can help offset depression, reduce the need for antidepressant medication, improve metabolic and cardiovascular function, and enhance cognitive abilities, including focus.

The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids extend beyond mental health. Research from the University of California, Santa Barbara, has demonstrated that mothers who supplement with omega-3s, particularly EPAs and DHAs (docosahexaenoic acid), give birth to offspring with greater brain weights and overall health.

This fascinating area of study will be explored further in a future episode of the podcast, likely featuring an expert guest from the UC Santa Barbara laboratory.

For those with a limited budget for supplements, Huberman recommends prioritizing a high-quality omega-3 fatty acid fish oil supplement.

When selecting a product, it is crucial to ensure that the daily intake of EPA exceeds one gram, with an optimal range of up to three grams per day. Dr. Rhonda Patrick, a previous guest on the podcast, reportedly consumes between three to four grams, or even more, of EPA daily for various health reasons.

Food-Based Supplements

Huberman delves into the vast category of food-based supplements, including protein powders derived from various sources such as whey, milk, eggs, and plants. While this topic alone could fill an entire episode, Huberman highlighted some key points to consider when navigating this landscape.

Huberman referred listeners to a segment within his interview with Dr. Lane Norton, where they discussed total protein needs per day, which generally amount to about 1 gram per pound of body weight, although this can vary depending on individual activity levels.

The quality and sourcing of these proteins are crucial factors to consider when selecting a supplement.

Interestingly, Dr. Norton pointed to data suggesting that potato protein may serve as an excellent plant-based alternative for those who prefer not to consume whey-based protein.

Whey protein supplements can be beneficial for reaching and surpassing protein thresholds, not only for muscle building but for other purposes as well.

Beyond protein powders, there exists a wide array of food-based supplements, such as branched-chain amino acids and green tea extracts.

While these supplements can provide a convenient way to replace meals that may otherwise be missed, Huberman emphasized the importance of obtaining a significant portion of one’s nutrition from whole foods.

Whole foods offer several advantages, including the presence of fiber, which helps promote feelings of satiety, as well as a variety of essential vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids that may not be present in most food-mimic powders and meal replacements.

Should Kids Take Supplements?

When it comes to children, Dr. Huberman highlighted the potential benefits of ensuring adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA.

These essential nutrients can be obtained through food sources, but some parents may choose to supplement their children’s diet, especially during periods of rapid development. However, it is crucial to exercise caution when considering supplements for children.

One supplement that has gained popularity among parents is melatonin, often used to help children sleep better. Dr. Huberman expressed his concerns about the use of melatonin in children, citing a growing body of literature that suggests potential harm.

Melatonin levels are naturally elevated in children, and supplementation may disrupt their delicate hormonal balance.

Parents who have given their children melatonin in the past should not be alarmed, but it is advisable to approach this supplement with caution moving forward.

When it comes to hormone-related supplements, Dr. Huberman strongly advises against their use in children and adolescents, unless specifically recommended by a board-certified physician.

The body and brain continue to develop well into the late teens and early 20s, and interfering with hormonal systems during this time can have unintended consequences. It is essential to allow the body to develop naturally, under the close supervision of a healthcare professional.

For adults, the considerations surrounding supplement use may differ depending on age. Dr. Huberman suggests that the protocols for individuals in their 50s and 60s may not vary significantly from those in their 30s and 40s. However, when it comes to cognitive enhancement, older adults may benefit from increased dosages or a more diverse range of approaches, as age-related cognitive decline is an inevitable reality. The goal is to maintain a shallow slope of decline rather than a steep one.

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