The foundational nutrition company, whose greens powder AG1 includes some 75 ingredients in one serving, conducted a review to explore how nutrient synergy affects brain, heart, respiratory, digestive, musculoskeletal, endocrine, immune and integumentary health.
“Through examining the broader literature, we found convincing evidence that the efficacy of an ingredient can be amplified when paired with another,” Jeremy Townsend, research manager at Athletic Greens, told NutraIngredients-USA. “The aim of this review is to highlight the potential of nutrient synergy to positively influence human health and performance.”
Published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, the review also addresses the research challenges and proposes new methodologies to advance scientific knowledge in this area. It follows two other Athletic Greens publications this year—one on the implications of foundational nutrition and the other on the synbiotic effect of AG1—to make the case that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The additive effect
The review contrasts the exploration of nutrient synergy with a traditional reductionist approach focused on the effects of a single nutrient on a specific health outcome or biological system. The premise is that the combined effect of two or more nutrients has a greater physiological impact on the body than a nutrient working alone.
While recognizing that consumption of a single nutrient in appropriate amounts mitigates certain nutrient deficiencies (e.g., vitamin D for rickets, vitamin C for scurvy or folic acid for neural tube defects), the researchers suggest that current Dietary References Intakes (DRIs) fail to consider the additive effect of certain nutrients.
“Fortunately, during the Food and Nutrition Board’s recent discussions in 2021 on an update to Riboflavin guidelines, the board acknowledged the need to examine evidence for nutrient ‘clusters’ for all DRI nutrients, considering these nutrients are not consumed in isolation and have metabolic interactions,” they wrote.
Challenges and future directions
The researchers also noted that the field of nutrition may accept synergy as premise but that relatively few studies specifically examine this phenomenon outside of whole food investigations.
“While this is promising for advancing our knowledge on the benefits of nutrient synergy, these studies cannot indicate which constituents of the whole food are driving the health benefit,” they wrote, calling for identification of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients primarily responsible for the synergistic effects despite the added study design challenges and cost.
They suggested using cell culture models or new technology like organ-on-a-chip systems or artificial intelligence algorithms, as well as transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, microbiomics and nutrigenomics to provide insights into the mechanisms of action and the absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion of specific nutrients.
Another factor mentioned but beyond the scope of the review was nutrient antagonism (i.e., anti-nutrients), where the presence of one nutrient interferes with the absorption, utilization, excretion or function of another nutrient.
“Antagonism can lead to reduced overall health benefits when certain nutrients are consumed together or consumed together in incorrect quantities and/or ratios,” the researchers wrote. “This highlights the complexity of nutrient relationships and emphasizes the need to carefully consider adopting improved research techniques and methodologies in the study of nutrient interactions.”
The AG1 formula, which currently includes vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, whole food concentrates, probiotics, adaptogens, digestive enzymes and functional mushrooms, has undergone 53 iterations since launching in 2010. It is the only product marketed by Athletic Greens.
Source: Frontiers in Nutrition
“Nutrient synergy: definition, evidence, and future directions”
Authors: J. Townsend et al.