The argument about whether or not to take supplements has raged for a number of years. Many doctors and dieticians have maintained that a good balanced western diet supplies all the nutrients you need. Now research is coming down firmly on the side of sensible supplementation, confirming what many of us have found from personal experience.
Research also suggests that the way we live now – stressed out, smoking and drinking, bombarded by UV rays, petrol fumes and, often, radiation from office equipment – can deplete our bodies’ stores of essential nutrients. At the same time, modern farming techniques, food processing technology and the way we cook our meals mean that actual foodstuffs are not as nutritious as they used to be.
We are not suggesting that you become supplement junkies. It’s vital to eat the best possible diet, preferably organic, but we would have to sit and chew from dawn to dusk to get the levels of some vitamins and minerals now recommended by eminent researchers worldwide. Both of us firmly believe in the value of well-formulated supplements to prevent illness and keep us functioning at peak energy and fitness – and that, of course, means looking good, too.
Supplements are virtually non-toxic, so there is no real issue about safety. If in doubt about quantities it’s best to stick to the manufacturer’s dosage instructions, however: more may not be better. Very occasionally someone discovers they are allergic to an ingredient in a supplement. If you find you have, say, a rash stop all your supplements, then start adding them back at the rate of one every three days to find the culprit.
We think it is worth buying the best brands you can afford because more expensive ones are invariably better formulated and so more effectively absorbed into your system. Our preferred supplement brands are BioCare, Food Science of Vermont, BetterYou (great vitamin sprays, which makes life easier), IdealOmega, PharmaNord and Solgar.
If the supplement is doing you good, you should feel noticeably better at the end of four weeks.
IF SO, WHICH?
The difficulty is choosing which supplements to take. Gazing at rows of bottles with complicated names is not enlightening. We asked nutritionist Patrick Holford of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition to suggest supplements for this section in our original book. Here are his guidelines:
- At a minimum, take a good multivitamin and multimineral supplement.
- If possible, also take a ‘super’ antioxidant formula, containing vitamins beta carotene, C and E, minerals including selenium, plus amino acids.
- Essential fatty acids are vital and most people don’t get enough. Look for gamma linolenic acid (GLA; Omega-6), which is found in evening primrose, starflower or borage oils. You should have 150mg of actual GLA daily so read the label carefully. You also need linolenic acid (Omega-3), which comes from flax seed oil – try taking one dessertspoonful daily in soup, or on cereal or salad. (But don’t take flax on its own long term; you need to combine it with Omega-6 for optimum results.)
- Take 1 g of vitamin C daily, with 3g if you’re under stress. If a cold threatens, take 3g every four hours.
- Women aged 45 upwards should consider taking a supplement to help prevent bone density loss, articularly if they have osteoporosis (brittle bones) in the family. The most important nutrients are calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D and boron. Aim for a product containing a ratio of 400 mg of calcium balanced with 200 mg of magnesium.
If you’re feeling poorly
- Boost your immune system with echinacaea (try Echinaforce by Bioforce) and an infusion of the rain forest herb Cat’s Claw, in addition to your vitamin C.
For tummy trouble and other illness
- Grape seed extract (also called citricidal) is a natural anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-parasitical. It’s marvellous for anything from food poisoning and cystitis to ear infections and sore throats. Take ten drops twice daily whilst infection lasts.
- For any sort of digestive upset, and always following a course of antibiotics, probiotics (which replace the friendly gut bacteria) are invaluable. Look for capsules or pills containing strains of lactobacillus and bifidus, which naturally populate the human gut.
- When you exert a lot of energy, you often crave sweet foods and caffeine for a quick energy fix. This is the time to take chromium, which stabilises your blood sugar levels. Try it as chromium polynicotinate, which contains vitamin B3 (200mg daily).
- Support the adrenal gland, which controls your reactions to stress of all kinds, with pantothenic acid (500mg daily).
For a healthy baby
Patrick suggests taking 400mg of folic acid before conception and during the first three months of pregnancy. Zinc, vitamin B6, essential fatty acids and selenium are also very important. It’s always wise to get specific advice from organisations such as Foresight, which specialises in pre-conceptual care.
WHEN SHOULD YOU TAKE SUPPLEMENTS?
Here are Patrick’s guidelines for supplementation…
- Take most of your supplements with your first meal of the day.
- Take vitamins and minerals 15 minutes before or after, or during a meal.
- If you’re taking two or more B Complex or vitamin C tablets, take one at each meal.
- Don’t take B vitamins at night if you have difficulty sleeping.
- Don’t take individual B vitamins unless you are also taking a general B Complex, perhaps in a multivitamin.
- Take multiminerals in the evening to help you sleep.
- Don’t take individual minerals unless you are also taking a general multimineral.
- Take your supplements every day. Irregular supplementation doesn’t work.
For the supplements we can’t live without, click here