Episode 74 | Shawn Wells | Supplements Everyone Over 40 Needs To Know About

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Maybe your introduction to vitamins started with chewable Finstones that your mom gave you as a kid… then in college, it was vitamin-infused water… and now, perhaps you’ve heard of an edgier and somewhat controversial method, vitamin vaping. Although the delivery systems might have changed through the years, this idea of supplementing your diet with vitamins has been something that’s been part of our lifestyle since the time we were little ones. So the question…and the debate… is do we even need to take vitamins? Find out in today’s NEW podcast episode with Shawn Wells. 

We know that taking vitamins and minerals is never going to justify less-than-healthy eating habits. But, there’s growing evidence that the right supplements can improve your health and vitality… including maintaining bone density and muscle mass, improving brain function and mental clarity… balancing hormones and rejuvenating skin, hair and nails. One trip down the vitamin aisle and you’re bombarded with hundreds of options, and some with outrageous claims…which can cause decision fatigue and opting out of adding any of the supplements to your cart.

So if your head starts to spin when you start to talk about vitamins, welcome to the club! But that’s all about to change when you listen to today’s episode.

Shawn Wells, MPH, RD, FISSN has a unique blend of knowledge in the field of performance nutrition and supplementation. Mr. Wells attended UNC-Chapel Hill, earning a Master’s degree in Nutrition and minor in Exercise Science. His education along with credentials of Registered Dietitian and Certified Sport Nutritionist (CISSN), distinguished him as an expert in performance nutrition. Mr. Wells has held the role of Chief Clinical Dietitian with over a decade in acute and skilled nursing care, grounding his ethics and practice of patient focused care. Fulfilling the position of CEO of Zone Halo Research, a consulting group for supplement formulations, he gained significant notoriety in the industry. As an accomplished author, formulator and clinician, in 2011, Shawn took his experience and passion to become Director of R&D at Dymatize Nutrition. Dymatize Nutrition, now owned by Post Holdings, has cemented its role the global leader in finished product research and innovation with over 200 products in more than 50 countries. Shawn currently works for top non-GMO & natural dietary supplement company in the industry, BioTRUST Nutrition, as their Chief Science Officer (CSO) over R&D, Quality Control, and Regulatory departments. Mr. Wells travels the globe looking for the next great ingredient, doing research, and assembling innovative formulations with experience in every channel of distribution/sales. Mr. Wells proudly serves on the JISSN Editorial Board, co-wrote a chapter in the most recent ISSN textbook, Sports Nutrition and Performance Enhancing Supplements, on Creatine, presented with Dr. Gabriel Wilson on Leucine and the Metabolites in Clearwater, Fats that Fight Fat at the Europa University ISSN event, and presenting on ketogenic dieting at the Arnold Brazil. Having never missed an annual conference since becoming a member a decade ago is something he is quite proud of. Shawn continues to be passionate about the ISSN and is thrilled to be named to the prestigious ISSN Advisory Board ans well as the honor of Fellowship (FISSN). Shawn can be heard on nationally broadcast One Life Radio Show regularly as a Guest Expert. The show is also frequented by ISSN co-founder, Dr. Jose Antonio. For more on Shawn Wells, MPH, RD, FISSN him on LinkedIn or his website.

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Kathy Smith: Shawn, welcome to the show.

Shawn Wells: Thank you for having me on. I’m excited to be on.

Kathy Smith: I’m excited to have you hear. It was interesting, because I know you lecture and talk and you travel around the world. Actually, I’m talking to you right now and you’re in China. What are you in China for? What are you doing there?

Shawn Wells: I have some speaking engagements here. But I’m also visiting some factories and some labs working on new and novel ingredients that I will bring to the world.

Kathy Smith: Which we’re excited to hear about. Before we jump into supplementation, let’s just start with this debate that you can get all of your nutrients through the food you eat. There are two camps on this. Some people say you don’t need supplements. You get it all from the food. What do you say to those people?

Shawn Wells: One, I would say that most people have too much stress in their life, too little sleep, a poor diet. They’re not eating enough whole food. Our foods aren’t typically organic. They’re sprayed with glyphosates. They’re not coming from rich soil. Times have changed and the stressors that we’re exposed to and the quality of food isn’t so great.

Kathy Smith: Again, as you mentioned, farming practices from a century ago to today with depleted soil, etc. make our food sources a little less desirable. Let’s talk about this topic of vitamins. When we start the conversation– I know when we had dinner a month ago in Salt Lake, we started this conversation about what’s your top 10.

But I decided not to go that direction, because I wanted to ask you, if you’re going to start a conversation about vitamins, do you start with talking about a specific condition like you might have thinning bones or you’re lacking energy or you can’t sleep at night. Or do you start the discussion of which vitamins somebody should be taking with let’s start with a total overall vitamin mineral and maybe an adaptogen or something to keep us healthy. Do you go condition specific or total body?

Shawn Wells: That’s a good question. There is so much individuality. Now that you can look at bloodwork and genetic information and then certainly do what’s called a global assessment where you look at them, you talk to them, you listen to them, I like to piece together all of my ingredients. I probably take more than 100 things a day. That’s me and I wouldn’t put everyone on that.

It just depends on compliance. I think compliance is the most important thing. There are certain people that I could put on a number if individual ingredients that will probably the best way to approach it. But there are other people that will say, “Just give me one thing, and that’s all I’m going to do.” And you need to listen to them. Compliance is what matters.

Kathy Smith: That’s so true. And I’m going to put you on the spot right now with that. Let’s just say I come to you and I say, “I will take three pills or capsules or supplements. What would you recommend?” When I say me, why don’t we say a 45 plus year old woman? What would you say would be the three that we should start with? You have to have this on your shelf in your kitchen or in your refrigerator?

Shawn Wells: I would say that the most important three would be a really good multivitamin, and I would say 95% of them are junk. It would be something that has organic salts as minerals like some things like magnesium or calcium bound to citrate, malate, things like that instead of inferior salts that are poorly absorbed like carbonates or oxide. Like magnesium oxide or calcium carbonate, those are really poorly absorbed.

Also, you want to look at with the B vitamins, that they’re in the active form. It’s called the co-enzyme form, where they don’t have to convert. So B12 instead of being cyanocobalamin, it’s methylcobalamin, the active form.

Folic acid instead of just simply folate, it is 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, also called L-methylfolate. And that’s the active form. A lot of people have a genetic issue called the MTHFR gene where they can’t convert folic acid all the way to the active very well. That would leave you anemic. But if you looked at your blood levels of folic acid, it would show that it’s normal. but you’re not converting it and making it into the active form. So you need to get a really good multi. Not just some Centrum stuff or something like that.

The next one I would say is fish oil. But here again, a lot of fish oil is junk. So I would look at a high DHA fish oil which is really good for brain health and not just circulation. I’m a big fan of DHA. But you want to look at the actual Omega-3 content and not just the fish oil content. There are huge variations in concentration. Then it’s also good to look at where it’s being sourced from – the cold waters, the types of fish. Is it tested well for heavy metals, things like that?

Lastly, I would choose a high dose, quality probiotic that also probably has some prebiotics in it as well. Again, you have to do some research to make sure that these are high enough dosed, that they’re stabilized, meaning like protected from the gut, things like that. Those would be my top three for a woman that just needs the core basics.

Kathy Smith: A couple of things you mentioned that I’ve heard a lot about. I’m not quite exactly sure what it means, and I’m sure our listeners might need a little explanation. Talk about this term methyl or methylation. You mentioned it a few times when you said you’re looking at your multiple vitamin and mineral and you want something – I think it was the B12 or the folate that we need in the methyl form. I know that there’s also this term methylation being thrown around. Can you explain methylation?

Shawn Wells: In organic chemistry, a methyl group is just simply a hydrogen on the end of something and a methyl group will get added and removed – demethylated – from chemicals all over the place. This happens trillions of times a day in your body. It’s one of the most common processes, but it’s really important. Hydrogen ions are involved in all kinds of chemical reactions. So it’s just an important process and methylation is hugely important when it comes to DNA and protecting the DNA. So when we see methylation errors, it’s usually related to one, it has a role in aging, two, a role in cancer, and three, in how well DNA gets assembled, let’s say.

So it’s really important. It can’t be overlooked. It’s one of the most basic fundamental processes in the body in terms of chemistry. So it’s important to make sure you’re methylating well. That would involve some of those co-enzyme forms of B vitamins, and it would also involve taking something like creatine, which is a good methylator as well.

Kathy Smith: Most of the time, are you suggesting that people take it on an empty stomach or should you have food in your stomach?

Shawn Wells: I think that’s overstated in terms of how important that is. It just depends on, I think, more you. If you feel like when you take some supplement, if it hurts your stomach or you don’t like taking something on an empty stomach, then I wouldn’t. I try and kind of split the difference. I take it right before I eat food. So it’s on an empty stomach, but then food is coming.

Kathy Smith: You mentioned you take almost 100 pills, which is amazing. But do you spread them out through the day? Are you taking those in one fell swoop in the morning?

Shawn Wells: I do spread them out. It’s best when you do divide the doses. There are sometimes a limit to how much you’re going to take up and utilize, so I like to split up my supplements probably to about three times a day.

Kathy Smith: We went through the basics for somebody who is starting out and wants to test vitamins and mineral supplements – the top three. Then I know that you have a lot of supplements that you talk about for peak performance, higher functioning mentally, maintaining muscle mass, maintaining and building bones.

Can we now move to maybe the next three to five? There is one that you were discussing when we were at dinner. I took some notes on it, and it was all about getting focused and brain function. That’s something I’m looking for all the time, because I like to do a lot of different things. I’m traveling, I’m getting up on stage, I’m writing, I’m doing podcasts, and I want to be sharp and be present. So can you talk about some of the ones you were talking about that night, but in general, what are you suggesting are some of the really anti-aging, great breakthrough vitamins right now?

Shawn Wells: I think when you look at aging, there are really three important factors that come up. And those all track back to mitochondrial function. Mitochondrial function is going to become so important in the next five years. I can promise you that will be thing that everyone is talking about. How do I keep my mitochondria healthy?

Kathy Smith: Just for the lay person, I think you were going there. But explain the mitochondria. Go ahead. Sorry.

Shawn Wells: If you go back to your high school biology class and there were the organelles in the cell, which means like they’re organs. And the mitochondria is kind of like the heart for the cell. It’s what creates the energy. The currency that the body uses for energy is ATP – adenosine triphosphate. That’s involved in something called the electron transport chain and the Krebs cycle, if you remember that. Now, it’s called the citric acid cycle. That’s how you create energy – ATP – so that the body can run.

When you’re not in the correct state with enough mitochondria, one, and two, those mitochondria functioning well, then you get into a state called insufficient cellular energy – ICE. Or in the brain, sometimes it’s called brain energy gap. That’s where you’re not creating enough energy, and there’s a short fall. What happens there is that all kinds of processes start to become suboptimal and you’re not running at full strength. You’re not optimized.

Then there are things that happen like these three things that are very important when you see mitochondrial dysfunction. You see oxidation. Think of like antioxidants work against oxidation. Oxidation, an example that everyone knows is rust, like with iron. When iron oxidizes, it gets rusty. That’s happening in our body. We need antioxidants to protect our body.

The other one is glycation. Glycation is blood sugar damage. That’s when blood glucose stays elevated for too long and insulin stays high for too long. We’re seeing this a lot with what’s called metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes. There are a lot of people that maybe aren’t diabetic yet, but they’re overweight, obese, and borderline diabetic, and that’s still a concern.

The last one is inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a concern. Obviously, all these things are related to every disease and aging. Oxidation, glycation, inflammation, and ultimately mitochondrial dysfunction, those are all diseases, all aging related to these. You’re not hearing about it this way. If I was to change the face of medicine with just $100 a year per person, I could radically reshape medicine if everyone got two simple labs. CRP for inflammation – C-reactive protein and hemoglobin A1c for blood sugar. I could tell you how your biological age is verses your chronological age. I could tell you the likelihood of you getting any chronic disease.

Kathy Smith: Yeah. We had Joel Kahn on the show – Dr. Kahn – a few weeks ago. It’s interesting, but obviously, it just reinforces what you’re saying. Those were the exact two tests that he recommends.

Shawn Wells: Really? I just spoke with him on stage a while ago. Cool.

Kathy Smith: I think it’s important to get out to people that this is something that they might have to ask for, that their doctors aren’t going to be requesting these particular labs – so to ask for them. It’s a snapshot of what’s inside your body. Because one of the things that, as we go through this process and we talk about vitamins and supplementations, I know for myself, the more labs I’ve gotten, the more I understand what’s working and what’s not working.

I love and I’m going to keep you back on track with the mitochondria, because I’m hearing this over and over again. I still think it’s a complicated subject. So let’s get back to it. We want to slow down the aging process. We have to keep our mitochondria strong, vibrant, energetic, which by the way, to the listeners, there’s an exercise component to making that happen. But from the side of the three things you mentioned, which let’s go through them again. It’s inflammation, it’s glycation, and the third one was oxidation – rusting.

What do we have to do to prevent those three from happening as far as supplements? What can we do?

Shawn Wells: A couple directly for mitochondrial health would be CoQ10 and PQQ. Any D supplements are all the rage right now. There’s a product called Niagen. There’s a better one I like called NMN. But they really don’t work that well. There’s a process – it gets complicated – that’s in the citric acid cycle that has this NAD to NADH ratio. Again, it gets chemically complicated. But NAD is something that’s being discussed for anti-aging and mitochondrial health.

Really, the best way to effect it isn’t a supplement. It’s going to be IV. And that’s going to be one of the most powerful ways to affect your mitochondria is getting an NAD IV.

The problem

that NAD is niacin. So if you try and do this IV too fast, it’ll be the niacin flushing, and it’ll kind of get a little painful.

Kathy Smith: Uncomfortable. I don’t know if anybody out there has ever had that niacin flush. I have early on, not through even IVs, but just taking it orally. If you’re not used to niacin and you take a big dose, all of a sudden you turn kind of lobster looking with a tingly sensation that can actually even cause a knot in your stomach and cause you to get a little nauseous. But if you titrate it and you start with a little and add a little more each week, you build up a tolerance to it. I love the sensation of niacin. But I’ve never done an IV, so that’s going to be interesting.

What else is in that IV? Also, as you’re going through this, I think we’re very familiar – you and I have talked about this with IVs, but somebody who’s never had–

Shawn Wells: Probably the two best places to start in terms of mitochondrial health are ones that directly affect the mitochondria – CoQ10 and PQQ. Beyond that, there are some that you’ll see in the market that work on a mechanism called NAD, which is involved in the citric acid cycle of producing the ATP.

There is a lot of great research with NAD potentially being powerfully anti-aging. But the problem is the oral supplements aren’t that compelling. There’s a product called Niagen that you’ll see a lot of hype around, but it just doesn’t do a whole lot when it comes to real studies. The most effective way that I’ve seen is probably IVs – intravenous with NAD. But that can get a little uncomfortable and a little expensive. It can be well over $100 to get that IV.

You can have the niacin flush that’s associated with this ingredient. It’s called paresthesia where you get that tingling. Sometimes you can get the redness and a little tingly burn in your skin. So it usually has to be done over a course of hours and not too quickly.

Kathy Smith: I know they offer these now in Los Angeles and New York. Around the country now, they’re becoming more available where 10 years ago, you couldn’t find them anywhere. So it’s worth trying to find somebody to do it and experiment with it. I find vitamin drips to be very beneficial. How often are you recommending someone does something like that?

Shawn Wells: If you could do it once a month, that would be great. I think that would really move the needle. I think less than that is going to not have as much impact. I do like throwing in some other things when you do it. Potentially, like glutathione, which is the master antioxidant and works on that oxidation pathway that we discussed, probably throwing in a Myers cocktail, which is just some healthy vitamins and minerals that help rehydrate you as well. Quite often, we’re in a dehydrated state, so it can be good. And one of the reasons it’s popular in Las Vegas is you can bounce back after that night out on the town.

Kathy Smith: No hangover. What if I do a quick, rapid fire with you before I let you go? All I mean with that is I’m going to give a symptom or a condition and you give a suggestion of what you would look for to supplement your diet. Let’s just start with not sleeping well.

Shawn Wells: Not sleeping well, I would say melatonin depending on your age. It’s part of what should be a healthy hormone replacement therapy potentially. It declines pretty radically after age 30, and by 50, it’s pretty much nonexistent.

Kathy Smith: Thinning bones.

Shawn Wells: I’m going to say D3 and K2. You’re going to think calcium, but I think a lot of people are taking too much calcium if they’re taking supplements. You can run into an issue with calcification of your arteries that’s counterproductive if you’re not taking enough D3/K2. Also, getting that sunshine is important to that equation.

Kathy Smith: It’s raining here today, but I know. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, getting out. Lack of focus.

Shawn Wells: Lack of focus could be that brain energy gap that I’m talking about. We’re finding that in mild cognitive impairment, which is the precursor to type III diabetes, which is Alzheimer’s, that the brain cells are becoming insulin resistant and therefore, they’re not getting enough energy, and you’re getting into that insufficient cellular energy/brain energy gap situation. So I would recommend that you take something like exogenous ketones, use a ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, berberine.

That was one of the things that I was going to mention for glycation, protecting you. One of the most powerful things you can take for anti-aging, you’ve probably heard of the drug metformin for anti-aging. Berberine is the natural version that’s actually even more effective than metformin. So I would recommend berberine be a staple.

Then, actually on that inflammation thing we discussed, I would say CBD and curcumin are two powerful ones.

Kathy Smith: What about low energy? No get up and go.

Shawn Wells: That could be a lot of things. I would really, one, talk to your doctor first, because you might be hypothyroid, you might be anemic, you might not be eating well enough, you may be in a situation where you’re blood sugar is chronically elevated, where you’re too inflamed, where you do have some energy gap scenarios. You might have autoimmune conditions, which again relates to mitochondrial dysfunction.

So all the ones that I mentioned before would be helpful. Taking that Coenzymated B vitamins, taking the creatine, taking curcumin, CBD, taking berberine and then taking CoQ10, PQQ, and the NAD IV.

Kathy Smith: Two more. How about dull looking skin or hair?

Shawn Wells: Biotin is really important for that. Along with that, probably silica. But that would be the big one – is taking high-dose biotin.

Kathy Smith: Then, what if you have heart disease in your family and you might have some kind of heart condition, including maybe high cholesterol or blood pressure?

Shawn Wells: Again, mitochondrial dysfunction. We were taught in biology that there’s one mitochondrion in the cell. But in a heart cell, because they’re so energy hungry, they are loaded with mitochondria – 5,000 mitochondria in one cell. So this is where mitochondrial dysfunction can really go awry, and that’s why CoQ10 that I mentioned before is so important when we look at heart health. That’s why it’s a part of the cardiac recovery regime, if you will. So that’s something that I would look at first and foremost.

For blood pressure, hawthorn berry is one of the most effective natural ingredients. That’s something to look at as well. But magnesium would be very effective there for heart health and healthy blood pressure too. Certainly, when I look at hydration, electrolyte status, that’s a big factor.

Kathy Smith: We could talk all day, because you are so much fun to talk to. But I have to say that we could have a seminar on this and still have more to talk about. This was just the tip of the iceberg. We’re going to have notes on this. We’re going to send people to your website.

Before I let you go, you started this whole discussion off by saying people start taking things and there’s a lot of junk out there. Since supplements aren’t that tightly regulated in the U.S., how does somebody know if they are getting the right vitamin, the right mineral, what’s in the supplement, if it’s coming from a good source? And what steps should somebody take to make sure they’re getting a really good product?

Shawn Wells: One place to start is potentially online reviews. But those can be manipulated. I would say any good company will have good online reviews and plenty of them. There can potentially be bad companies that have good online reviews, but all good companies have good reviews.

I would also look at how long they’ve been around. There are companies like Thorne, Jarrow, NOW Foods, Carlson’s, Barlean’s that are really good companies and have been around for 10, 20 years, or more. They’re not going anywhere, and they’ve earned the reputation they have over decades with constantly testing out third-party companies coming against them like Consumer Labs or the FDA or whatever. They’ve been through it all, and they’ve come out on the right side of the equation. They’re not a fly-by-night company.

I’d also look at proprietary blends. If it has them, don’t buy it. It’s not that all proprietary blend products are bad. It’s just there’s a decent chance they are. And a good company likes to have transparent labeling, full disclosure so you can see the form, the dose, everything clearly. And you can say, “Okay. This is it. 100 milligrams and the study says 100 milligrams is the effective dose. So they did it right.”

When a company has 15 ingredients and they have 800 milligrams for these 15 ingredients and you don’t know what’s what, it actually goes in order of ascending mass. So the first ingredient could be 99% of that blend and then the other 14 ingredients could be 1% in what’s called fairy dusting. It’s very disreputable. It’s a frustrating practice to me.

And I would look to see if there are too many ingredients, because that tips you off that they’re just putting label fluff in there instead of what’s most effective. If you have an effective formulator, they’re going to say, “Here are the four mechanisms of action to affect this. I’ve got one ingredient that’s the best ingredient at the best dose for each of those four mechanisms.”

When there are 15 ingredients, they’re just fluffing up the label. So I think less ingredients, quality company, good reviews, full disclosure. There you go.

Kathy Smith: Where do our listeners find you if they want more information, if they want to read about the different lectures, where you’re going to be, and some of the papers that you’ve written? Where can they find you?

Shawn Wells: ShawnWells@ZoneHalo on Instagram and Twitter.

Kathy Smith: Okay. Is there a story behind ZoneHalo or should we just leave it at that?

Shawn Wells: It’s my company that I do sourcing and formulations and create novel ingredients on there and all that good stuff.

Kathy Smith: Shawn, you’re in an incredible position right now. You work for, as I mentioned, one of the best companies in the world. I really am impressed with how ethical you are in your approach to this whole topic of supplementation. I’ve heard you talk on air. I’ve heard you on your podcast over at BioTrust. I think there was one line that stuck out to me, which is you tell people how it has to be done the right way. And the right companies do it the right way or they don’t do it if it’s too expensive to put it out. Because these ingredients get expensive, and that’s what pushes the price of these vitamins and minerals up. So if you’re going to cut corners, you’re not really going to get the results. And I think your sense of integrity through all of this is it’s just been very impressive, and I thank you for that.

Shawn Wells: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. I really appreciate being on. You’re a rock star.

Kathy Smith: Thank you, darling. It’s been fun. Enjoy the rest of your trip in China. When you’re back I’m going to be in Texas next week. Not your part of Texas. I’m going to be in Houston, but I look forward to seeing you in the not-too-distant future. Enjoy your trip.

Shawn Wells: All right. Thank you. I’ll talk to you soon.

Kathy Smith: Bye-bye now.

Shawn Wells: Bye.