Three Important Questions:

1) Does Your Gut Absorb Nutrition Properly?

2) Do Our Foods Contain Enough Nutrition?

3) Does Illness Cause The Body To Process Nutrients Poorly?

A deficiency or excess — of any nutrient — can really cripple the system.

This is especially true when the body is weakened by the inflammation of chronic illness — when the body struggles to maintain homeostasis.

“The presence of a certain amount of one nutrient often increases or decreases the amount of other nutrients needed.”

Ray Peat, PhD

Each nutrient works with other nutrients and, therefore, all must be in balance.


A Healthy Body Balances Nutrients Easily

Very few diets, by themselves, provide adequate nutrition. Therefore, even the healthiest people stand to benefit from wise nutrient balancing habits.

However, in chronic illness smart nutrient balance can be the difference in a real recovery — or no recovery at all.

A Healthy Gut

A healthy body easily absorbs food’s nutrients, first into the bloodstream and later delivering them to cells. The healthy body has no trouble keeping these nutrients in balance throughout the system.

For example: If sodium gets too low, aldosterone (a hormone) causes the body to retain more sodium.

The kidneys reabsorb minerals into the blood, as needed. In this manner, the body can maintain homeostasis. Proper fluid balance is easily achieved in a healthy person. Puffiness, inflammation and edema, which are signs of poor fluid balance, are more rare in a young and healthy system.

Robust gut health ensures that nutrients are readily absorbed. A healthy gut will also perform many other essential functions:

  • Nutrients — (from food) are absorbed well
  • Nutrients — are produced by gut microbes (such as B-vitamins and other nutrients)
  • Appetite — is stimulated (via the hormone ghrelin)
  • Toxins — are trapped for elimination from the body
  • Bowel Movements — are stimulated (removing toxins)
  • Immune System — 70%+ is in the gut
For more about gut health

In a healthy body, nutrient absorption stays high, and nutrients are easily balanced throughout the body.


An Unhealthy Body Struggles

To Absorb & Balance Nutrients

In chronic illness, the system struggles to maintain its nutritional balance. This happens for several reasons.

Nutrients Aren’t Absorbed Well

In poor gut health (dysbiosis), nutrients are not absorbed efficiently.

Ideally, the lining of the intestines is designed to do two things:

  1. Absorb nutrients
  2. Keep microbes and toxic waste inside the intestines.

In dysbiosis, neither of these functions work properly. The gut lining is damaged and inflamed.

In fact, in chronic illness the entire digestive process slows down. Digestive enzymes and juices are weakly produced and fail to adequately break food down into its constituent particles.

When food reaches the intestines, the gut lining is compromised and doesn’t absorb nutrients properly. The gut lining will also be “leaky” which lets microbes, toxins, and even undigested food into the bloodstream.

Poor gut health means the energy and nutrients contained in food have little chance of being properly absorbed. The body is kept in a low-energy state because food — even healthy food — no longer nourishes as it can and should.

Fortunately, gut health can be improved and restored over time. It is essential for correction of the energetic and nutritional deficiencies we see in chronic illness.

The Body Actively Slows Nutrient Uptake

In poor health, the body is typically burdened by multiple, low-grade pathogenic infections. These almost always manifest in the gut and often present throughout the body.

One method by which the body fights infection is by a process known as nutritional immunity — where the intestines slow nutrient uptake.

In this process, the body will also sequester nutrients that are absorbed — hiding them in various places like the liver — to make them less available to pathogens. This also makes nutrients unavailable for use by the body.

Nutritional immunity may be beneficial in acute infections, but it seems to be detrimental and counterproductive when illnesses become chronic like in gut dysbiosis or hypothyroidism. Ultimately, the body is forced to fend off long-standing infections in a state of perpetual nutrient deficiency.

Chronic nutrient deficiencies appear to be a common occurrence in the chronically ill. These deficiencies can ultimately lead to more compound problems than an initial infection or disease state. Poor gut health and nutritional immunity appear to play roles in perpetuating chronic illness by reducing the bioavailability of nutrients from the diet and around the body.

In this process, intestinal assimilation of minerals is reduced, and free minerals are sequestered in storage tissues, primarily the liver, thereby rapidly limiting the circulating minerals available for uptake and use by pathogens.

Deficiencies Cause Deeper Problems

One downstream effect of nutrient deficiency is that it compromises immunity even further.

Weakened immunity directly leads to rising levels of pathogens that call the body home — the body’s pathogenic load to increase.

A higher pathogenic load means rising systemic inflammation and rising toxicity. Both work to impair the liver and gut, as well as to blunt the metabolism.

When the body is chronically ill, many factors work together to cause nutrients to become scarce.

A Negative Feedback Loop

As chronic pathogenic load rises, one downside of the resultant chronic inflammation is that it further prevents nutrients from entering cells — or being absorbed from the gut at all. 

Pathogens, particularly those in the gut, can release toxins known as “endotoxin.” These toxins are extremely harmful and are readily absorbed into the bloodstream — much like nutrients would be absorbed in a healthy state.

In poor gut health, normal metabolic waste is not cleared very well. This means daily toxicity builds up in the gut, and is reabsorbed into the bloodstream and transported throughout the body. This overwhelms every bodily system, which cannot function optimally in a state of high toxicity.

Chronic toxicity burdens the liver to excess. This requires the liver to use stores of nutrients more quickly. High toxicity causes excessive demand for nutrients in a system that is starved of nourishment.

Rapid Use Of Nutrients (And Wasted)

In hypothyroidism, minerals are wasted rapidly.  As the metabolism slows, the body is less able to retain minerals in cells (this requires energy), and they are lost via urine.

A healthy body doesn’t waste nutrients this way. An unhealthy body does — and it’s a big deal for daily quality of life and long-term health outcomes.

All of these effects accumulate in the system in a chronic feedback loop. The body needs nutrients more than ever — yet fewer and fewer nutrients are absorbed and available to the body.

READ MORE: What Is Disease?


Modern Foods Provide Fewer Nutrients

Soil quality is plummeting, and modern farming practices are to blame.

This means our foods are less nutritious, too.

In a 2010 study, researchers found that several popular diet plans were remarkably deficient in micronutrients.

These selected diet plans are presented to the public as sound, healthy, balanced diets.

They recommend their followers eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, and yet, not a single plan was able to provide RDI sufficiency of the studies selected 27 essential micronutrients at the calorie intake level suggested by their respective sample menus.

It was found that 100% sufficiency was possible for all 27 essential micronutrients only when daily calorie intake requirement averaged 27,575 calories.

An individual following a popular diet plan using food alone, has a high likelihood of becoming micronutrient deficient, a condition shown to be scientifically linked to a higher risk of dangerous and debilitating diseases including cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, birth defects and overweight/obesity.

Vitamin D is practically absent from modern diets (even when fortified) because modern animals are often kept indoors — while most people get very little UVB-rich sunshine or substitute sunshine for inferior Vitamin D supplements.  

Real Vitamin A (not carotenes) is even more absent from the diet when modern people don’t consume organ meats. This is important when liver function is compromised, which is common in chronic illness.

Vitamin C intake can easily be too low if it’s not a focus in the diet via fruit and greens. Most vegetables don’t have Vitamin C.

Multivitamins are often a flawed way to address nutrient deficiencies in foods due to inferior, imbalanced, and limited ingredients. That magnesium deficiency that’s rocking the 1st world? Most multi-vitamins contain virtually no magnesium to speak of.

Plummeting soil quality and modern research suggest it’s becoming increasingly difficult to receive adequate nutrition from food alone.


Nutrient Imbalance Means Illness

Imbalance Is Disease

Imbalanced nutrition can cause disease states without help from other threats.

Every bodily function is weakened by nutrient imbalance. The energy of the system is reduced, which impairs energy metabolism, immunity, and more.

Sleep is one of the first bodily functions to suffer in nutritional imbalance. Gut health is made worse. The thyroid slows down to conserve nutrients — leading to all sorts of miserable symptoms.

When nutrients are not present and are not balanced the defenses against disease become frail.

Based on the nutrients in short or excess supply, imbalances create unpleasant side effects and conditions that could lead to serious disease.


Nutrients Have Cofactors

Cofactors are nutrients that interact.

Nutrient Cofactors Work Together

No nutrient acts alone in the body.

In fact, all nutrients work together to facilitate energy metabolism and health. But nutrients exist within a family of other nutrients, and balance is essential within these families — and across them.

The term “co-factors” refers to nutrients which must be balanced in proper ratios to work together in synergy.

To some extent, every nutrient is a cofactor for every other nutrient.

For example, for the body to produce energy, the B-vitamins team up with minerals, which all team up with the fat-soluble vitamins. All are required, and they each interact. On some level, every nutrient is a “weak co-factor” with all the rest to help the metabolism turn food into energy.

But some nutrient relationships are especially important, and these are usually what is meant by the term cofactor.

Each nutrient has a handful of other nutrients that we considered are its primary cofactors. Supplementing a nutrient without its cofactors, in optimal ratios, can directly result in imbalance over time.

Example Co-Factors:

  • Vitamin D cofactors — Magnesium, Vitamin A, Vitamin K2
  • Sodium cofactors — Potassium, Magnesium, Vitamin C

Major Partners

Most nutrients have a single most important cofactor, which might be considered its major partner nutrient.

Partners must be well-balanced with each other.  Any Supplementation of one nutrient will “use up” or “drive down” its partner’s levels more than any other relationship.

Partners often exist in a 1:1 relationship — but not always. 

Examples of Major Partners: 

  • Vitamin D & Vitamin A
  • Sodium & Potassium
  • Calcium & Magnesium
  • Zinc & Copper
  • Sulfur & Molybdenum


Three Big Groups Of Nutrients

Minerals — B Vitamins — Fat Solubles


Minerals are mostly metals, with a few exceptions. They are often very conductive, which makes them electrolytes utilized in both batteries and the human body (which is, in fact, a walking battery).

Electrolyte (defined): A chemical that conducts electrical current.  (Metals are made of chemicals).

We need electrolytes (minerals) to help us hydrate and to conduct electricity throughout the body.

Biological uses for minerals:

  • As electrolytes (to carry an electrical charge)
  • For hydration (to transport water around the body)
  • To kill pathogens
  • To stimulate and relax the nervous system,
  • To balance hormones

Each mineral needs to be balanced with all other minerals, as well as with all other nutrients.

The Minerals


2nd FOUR



There are 12 B-vitamins, and they are crucial for the body to extract energy from food, a process known as energy metabolism.

B-vitamins are absorbed from animal products, and created by the beneficial microbes in the gut. A premier risk of poor gut health is the lack of B-vitamins supplied by the gut.

The B-vitamins are also essential for nervous system function.

Imbalance and deficiency of B-vitamin levels can cause a wide-range of symptoms: poor digestion, weak cognitive & motor function, blood sugar unregulation, insomnia, and chronic fatigue.

As is always true, B-vitamins need to be balanced with all other nutrients.

The B-Vitamins

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

There are only 4 Fat-Soluble Vitamins, but they’re important in health recovery.

The Fat-Solubles each interact with minerals, impacting various mineral levels when supplemented.

Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body’s fat tissues, meaning they can accumulate when supplemented in excess.

These nutrients absolutely must be balanced with each other, and none should be supplemented daily.

The Fat Solubles


The Big Ratios

Sodium / Potassium
Vitamin D / Magnesium
Vitamin C

Sodium — Potassium Ratio

This ratio is important for everyone.

Healthy folks usually need lots of potassium, and may even restrict sodium a little. Unhealthy folks often waste sodium, and need larger — sometimes quite large — amounts to offset the losses.

For these folks, it’s important to bring up sodium levels prior to raising levels of other nutrients.

Vitamin D — Magnesium Ratio

This ratio is important for virtually everyone.

Over 90% of first-world people are low in both Vitamin D and magnesium. Raising both levels simultaneously will help both nutrients assimilate.

Vitamin D is best received from UVB light, and magnesium is best received from supplements such as:

Vitamin C

It’s incredibly easy to become deficient in Vitamin C without seating lots of fruit and/or greens.

Therefore, most people should take a Vitamin C supplement in the range of 400mg — 1000mg per day, with several days off per week. This is not necessary if several pieces of fruit are eaten daily.

In chronic illness, start slow: Take 400mg every 2nd or 3rd day to avoid excessive depletion of minerals. Vitamin C will especially deplete sodium, copper, & zinc in those struggling with illness.

Get Familiar With Nutrients In Food

Small quantities of nutrients in food aren’t so important when balancing nutrients. For example, the tiny amount of copper in chocolate does not make chocolate an excellent source of copper. It’s best to think only in broad-strokes: Only consider foods that are extremely high in a particular nutrient to be great sources.

Some examples:
  • Fruit & coconut water are quite high in potassium. This will lower sodium.
  • Meat has B Vitamins, zinc, and iron.
  • Dairy has calcium, which will lower magnesium.
  • Very few foods have magnesium.
  • Greens are high in Vitamin K1 (but not K2).


What You
To Know

Whether recovering from illness or interested in optimizing great health, nutrient balance represents an expansive field of exploration and — potentially — results.

It can also be a large field of landmines if supplementation is pursued unwise.

Nutrient supplementation should almost never be undertaken for the drug-like effects of a nutrient or collection of nutrients. This will almost always lead to over-supplementation and unwanted side effects. This will be especially likely in illness, when the body is weakened and nutritional deficiency is prevalent.

3 Rules Of Nutrient Supplementation

In this blog post, we discuss nutrient supplementation from a bird’s eye view — and three simple concepts to prevent a majority of pitfalls.

When you know which nutrients you need most
  • Slowly bring up the levels of nutrients you’re low in.
  • Slowly reduce intake of nutrients you’re toohigh in.
  • Undo years of mistakes from poor diet or unbalanced supplementation.

This completes Understand Nutrients.
To continue, select Minerals below.

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