Rachel’s Simple Guide to Supplements
There’s no doubt that nutrition is a complex topic once you get into the nitty gritty; but there’s also no reason why you should be left completely baffled wondering what the difference is between your As, Bs, Cs & Ds, whether a phytonutrient is just something that comes in a pot and what on earth an antioxidant is good for?
I fear that nutrition is sometimes made deliberately confusing so that consumers will continue to spend money just in case they, or more accurately, their health may be missing out on something.
A super brainy fellow once said that “all knowledge should be translated into action”, so, before you reach for those algae-enriched propolis capsules, read on to make sure that your actions around supplements are based on sound knowledge, and not just hearsay or marketing hype.
Should I take a multivitamin & mineral supplement or will I just get expensive urine?
For me, good nutrition starts with food and no amount of supplements will ever come close to replicating the benefits of a healthy balanced diet. Having said that though there are a few points that you need consider when deciding whether to add a daily multivitamin into your life:
- Intensive farming methods have altered the nutrient content of our soil, so plants are not as nutritious as they ought to be. When geologist, David Thomas analysed data regarding the mineral content of fruit and vegetables from McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Food, he found that between 1940 and 1991 the magnesium levels of 27 vegetables had dropped by 24%, calcium by 46%, iron by 27% and zinc by 59%. Most concerning of all was the analysis of selenium levels; in 1975, average selenium intake in Britain was 60mcg per day; by 1994 that level had fallen to 34mcg per day. Selenium is an essential trace mineral for many different aspects of good health but of particular concern nowadays are the threat of global epidemics; especially when you consider that relatively harmless viruses can become virulent in a selenium-deficient person.
- Many people don’t consume a perfectly healthy, balanced diet, in fact it is pretty hard to achieve this on a daily basis when you also take into account work, home, holidays and family life, so a multivitamin can act as a insurance policy for those days when you might be missing out. In an expert review of vitamins for disease prevention published in the highly prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association it was concluded that; “Most people do not consume an optimal amount of all vitamins by diet alone. Pending strong evidence from randomised trials, it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.”1
- Emerging evidence suggests that adequate daily micronutrient (vitamin & mineral) intake, often at levels above the recommended daily allowance (RDA), may also prevent age-related disease and promote optimal health and wellbeing2, so investing in a good quality multivitamin &mineral supplement may have long lasting benefits for your health.
Is there really any difference in quality between cheap & higher priced supplements?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is a resounding yes; as with most things in life, you get what you pay for and supplements are no different. Many of the cheaper supplements contain micronutrients at very low levels in forms that the body cannot utilise. Spending a bit more on a high quality supplement can be an investment in your health whilst spending money on poorer quality products is, more often than not, simply a waste.
Is it a good idea to supplement with individual nutrients to support specific health concerns?
It is never a good idea to supplement with individual nutrients unless you have been specifically recommended to do so by a qualified health professional. It is important to remember that vitamins and minerals often work in conjunction with each other and that supplementing high amounts of some nutrients can cause deficiencies in other areas.
I’ve read so much about different supplements in the paper, how do I know what to believe?
There’s so much conflicting advice out there about supplements that you’d be forgiven for feeling confused. Newspapers and magazines often sensationalise new stories and make sweeping claims to make them sound more significant than they actually are, so it’s always important to look beneath the hype to try and uncover the real truth behind any story you hear or read. A good place to start is a feature on the NHS website called ‘behind the headlines’ where you will usually find an unbiased, balanced, expert viewpoint on stories that have recently been featured in the press.
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1. Ames BN. Increasing longevity by tuning up metabolism: To maximise human health and lifespan, scientists must abandon outdated models of micronutrients. EMBO reports VOL 6/ SPECIAL ISSUE/ 2005
2. Fletcher RH, Fairfield KM. Vitamins for chronic disease preventionin adults: clinical applications. JAMA 2002 Jun 19; 287 (23): 3127-9