The supplement market is a confusing place. There are so many supplements to choose from at varying prices from a few quid in the supermarket ailes to eye watering prices endorsed by celebrities. To save you hours of consulting Dr Google and comparing ingredient lists, I’ve comprised a mini guide to help you choose a quality supplement that supports your nutritional needs.
The Role of Supplements
I will always advocate for diet first. If you aren’t eating a varied whole food (unprocessed), anti-inflammaotry diet then there is only so much supplements can do. Think of supplements as a crutch. They are there to offer additional support in times of need but shouldn’t be relied upon for healing.
Do I Need a Supplement?
If you eat a varied and balanced diet and are in good health, then you probably don’t need to take a supplement. BUT, for some people, and in certain circumstances, they can really help. You might want to consider supplements if you:
- B12 (cyanocobalamin/ methylcobalamin) ➜ for healthy blood cells and nervous system, release of engery from food, processing folic acid (B9) and preventing B12 deficiency aneamia
- Iron ➜ for the formation of red blood cells. Consuming Iron with a source of vitamin C (such as ascorbic acid/ rosehips/ citrus pulp) helps to improve the bioavailability, which means more of that iron will be absorbed. I opt for iron for bisglycinate as it is gentle on the digestive system and is non constipating.
- Omega 3 (algae/ walnuts/ hemp/ flax are vegan sources) ➜ for healthy fats that are part of the structure of every cell wall you have in your body. Did you know that the omega-3 fatty acids (DHA) in fish (both wild and farmed) actually comes from the micro-algae they eat!
- Calcium ➜ for healthy bone and teeth, muscle contractions including the heart, and blot clotting
Live in a winter climate:
- Vitamin D (in the UK it’s recommended that you take vitamin D3 from October – March) ➜ for healthy bones and teeth, and regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in your body
Have gut issues:
- L-glutamine ➜ an amino acid that helps support ‘tight junction function’ which prevents intestinal hyper-permeability, a.k.a leaky gut
- Probiotics ➜ to repopulate your gut with healthy bacteria you may be lacking
- Slippery elm ➜ a natural mucilage that heals and soothes inflamed stomach and intestinal cells
- Marshmallow root ➜ a herb that soothes irritated mucous membranes and contains antioxidants to heal tissue cells
- Liquorice root ➜ very good for stomach inflammation and reparing intestinal lining. It’s also antibacterial which is helful for dealing with bacterial infections. Look for ‘DGL’ (deglycyrrhizinated) as glycyrrhizin can cause raised blood pressure.
- Pysllium husk ➜ a fibre that has a prebiotic effect (helps encourge the colonisation and growth of beneficial bacteria). It’s very helpful for both constipation and diarrhoea.
- Digestive enzymes ➜ to help your body break down, digest, and utilse the nutrients in the food you eat
- Zinc ➜ for the formation of new enzymes and cells, wound healing, and supporting the immune system
- Vitamin B5 (aka pantothenic acid) ➜ to assist in the breakdown of fats and carbohydrates for energy. It’s also considered an ‘anti-stress’ hormone that can help support the adrenal glands.
- DIM (Diindolylmethane) ➜ DIM is natural found in cruciferous vegetables e.g broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, and kale. It is thought to balance both excess oestrogen levels and high androgen (testosterone levels).
- Adaptogens ➜ to help support the adrenal glands (the site where the stress hormone cortisol is made and released). Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, holy basil, and reishi help your body better respond to stressors.
- Probiotics ➜ look for at least 1 billion CFUs (colony forming units), multistrain (one with different types of bacteria like Lactobacillus, and Bifidobacterium), and ‘shelf stable’ or ‘suvives stomach acid’ to ensure the probiotics are making to your gut alive.
- Chinese herbs ➜ herbs such as Vitex can be used to help balance hormones.
⋆ Warning: balancing hormones can be a tricky business. You need to know how your hormones are imbalance (high or low oestrogen/ progesterone/ testosterone/ cortisol) before you try to rebalance them with herbs and specific supplements. Otherwise, you could potentially be exacerating the issue.
Need extra immune support:
- Zinc ➜ to aid your immune system in fighting off invading bacteria and viruses
- Vitamin C ➜ to protect cells from oxidative stress, maintain healthy connective tissue, and assist in wound healing. One of my favourite sources of vitamin C is the Camu Camu berry (you can get it in powder form).
- Echinacea ➜ to support the immune system. It’s also anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and has anti-oxidant properties. You can drink echinacea in tea form (I like Pukka teas).
Where to Buy Supplements?
I would advise buying your supplements from a reputable brand’s website or online chemis,t rather than the supermarket. Supermarket supplements tend to have fairly weak or poor formulations. I personally buy from: The Natural Dispensary (practioner only), Nature Doc Shop, Body Kind, Naturisimo, or a brands own website.
How Long Does It Take For Supplements To Work?
This depends on multiple factors:
- The supplement: quality, bioavailability, compatability with your body’s needs
- Your condition: e.g years of comprimised gut health will take longer to heal and rebalance than a minor vitamin D deficiency.
- Your lifestyle: if you are leading a healthy lifestyle (good nutrition, movement, stress management) that supports healing then you’d see results quicker
In general, you should feel a difference / improvement in your symptoms within 6 weeks. Although, hormonal, skin, and gut issues can take around 12 weeks (3 months) for a noticable difference to occur.
What to Look for in a Good Quality Supplement
Not all supplements are created equal. Many are not tested for safety and effectiveness.
- Read ingredients: Many cheaper supplements contain few active (beneficial) ingredients. They’re often ‘bulked up’ with fillers, binders, sugars (I’m looking at you hair gummies) & artificial ingredients, or contain GMOs.
- Dosage: You shouldn’t need to take multiple pills a day to meet the recommened dosage. And a mega dose (500% +) can cause more problems than it solves. For example a mega dose of vitamin A can cause liver damage.
- Bioavailibility: this simply means how readily available for absorption are the ingredients? Look for “bioavailable,” “optimized,” or “active form” so your body can use the ingredients better.
- Certification: Look for a certification like ‘GMO free’, ‘Informed choice’, ‘NSF’ (National Sanitation Foundation), ‘GMP’ (Good Manufacturing Practice).
- Transparency: Does it say where it’s made? Is there contact info?
Supplement Brands I Trust
If in doubt, buy from a reputable brand. These are the supplement brands I have been recommened by naturopaths and nutritional therapists, or have researched and used myself:
- Bare Biology
- Kiki Health
- Nutri Advanced
- Physica Energetics
- Wild Earth
I really hope the above information helps you better understand the confusing world of supplements. Before we depart and I go and put the kettle on for my fifth herbal tea of the day (I can’t enough of them), I just have a few notes:
- Diet first. I will always advocate for nutrition over supplements where possible. Your first port of call should be focusing on eating a variety of whole foods to ensure your body is recieving all the micronutrients (mineral and vitamins) and macronutrients (protein, fats, carbohydrates) that it needs to function at its optimum.
- Be selective. You don’t need 20+ supplements; quality over quantity. In general, 1 – 5 should cover your needs.
- Introduce one at a time. When starting a new supplements it’s best to introduce them one at at time to monitor how your body resonds. Ideally, give it a week before you start another, or at least 3 days.
- Seek medical advice. Okay, I’m doing my due diligence here. DISCLAIMER: seek medical advice when starting new supplements, especially if you are pregnant, have any underlying health issues, or are currently on medication(s).