By Elsa de Berker
For too long, mesonutrients, the humble little sister of the wellness world, have been ignored in favor of an enduring obsession with macronutrients, the three basic components of every diet that make food worth eating—we’re talking carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Dense as a potato or luxurious like avocado, macronutrients can be weighed on digital scales atop of your kitchen counter, and logged into any number of smartphone apps to help you stay abreast of your caloric intake and daily performance needs. Mesonutrients, on the other hand—the active compounds that make certain foods like turmeric more beneficial to your health than paprika, for example—are far more elusive. Perhaps this is even your first introduction to their existence.
As a journalist who also moonlights as a certified health coach, I was as excited as I was concerned when the term “meso-dosing” started popping up in my news feed at some point late last year. Touted as “the wellness buzzword you need to know for 2019,” its practice promises to address and alleviate specific health and-slash-or beauty concerns by consuming certain mesonutrient-dense foods in precise quantities. It’s part of the ancient art of food as medicine, and the propeller behind the notion that drinking turmeric lattes equals a happy and healthy immune system. Drinking lattes is certainly enjoyable and they can help, kind of, but it’s not that simple.
Wellness as a general topic is a perennial trend in the newly-converged health, food, and beauty industries, and the strength of wellness’s ascension is also its weakness—I’d bet good money that thousands of us can name a meal that boosts our libido more than eating a Big Mac, but even for the more nutritionally-informed it can be tricky to decipher the difference between reputable advice rooted in actual fact, and perceived common knowledge based on marketing. This is when something as simple as choosing what kind of milk to pour on your morning cereal might become overwhelmingly confusing.
I decided to go meso-guinea pig for a month and record the outcome. I also decided to talk to Linda Ellison, a multi-hyphenate doctor, lecturer at Harvard University, and the brains behind an impressive maternal malaria system for the United Nations, as well as the founder of an ingestible supplement brand called Kai Collagen. She explained how to meso-dose successfully over email: “Mesonutrients are important to think about if you are serious about relying on your kitchen instead of a doctor’s clinic, or turning to the farm instead of the pharmacy to boost your health profile,” she wrote. “But just like taking a prescribed medication, if you don’t ingest the right level, you won’t get the desired effect. You want to focus on eating the right amount of active nutrients contained in superfoods—not simply incorporate those foods into your diet.”
Let’s continue with turmeric as the example. The golden spice’s active mesonutrient is a compound called curcumin, which is proven to have powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and antidepressant qualities. Ten grams of turmeric contains only two grams of curcumin. An adult of average weight needs 10-12 grams of curcumin daily to see results, which would mean consuming about 50 grams of turmeric. “If you want to visualize it,” wrote Ellison, “you would need to eat the entire contents of one those three-inch by one-inch spice jars you buy at the grocery store, every single day.” That sounded like entirely too much turmeric to me, so I opted to pop some particularly potent pills for four weeks instead. I split my daily dosage into two servings because I don’t like swallowing lots of pills at once: I took 25mg of curcumin with lunch, and the remaining 25mg with dinner.
But curcumin isn’t the only mesonutrient worth dosing up on—it’s just the one that appealed most to me. You could try lycopene, the naturally occurring red carotenoid, aka “plant pigment,” found in tomatoes, strawberries, watermelon, and rosehips that’s thought to help protect against cell damage and decrease the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease (more clinical trials are needed to support this latter claim). Or you could look into gingerol and anthocyanins. There’s also safranal, which is derived from saffron or Crocus sativus as it’s referred to in Latin. Used widely in Asia, trial results have shown it has great promise in the effective treatment of opioid withdrawal, along with mild to moderate depression. Such data is exciting, but in a real-life setting it should go without saying that one must always seek professional medical help for serious conditions.
So four weeks later, how did I feel? The results weren’t dramatic, but I did notice that more people were complimenting me on my skin, and the hormonal outbreak that typically falls a week before my period was less angry and healed quicker than usual. I also think that my knee joints were, maybe, less “click-y.” This could have been the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin working their magic, but I’d like to trial it for three months before making an exaggerated conclusion. (Bitter aftertaste aside, there was nothing significantly arduous about the process and I didn’t experience any negative side effects, so there’s no reason not to, really.) Then again, the compliments have ceased completely now that the bottles in my medicine cabinet are empty. Food for thought?
Written by Elsa de Berker for Youth To The People