Supplements are for times of illness as well as times of wellness. Research shows we begin taking supplements for a multitude of reasons - following family and friends advice, after reading ‘faddy’ health articles, or simply buying them on a whim, but how are we to know what is right for us? Usually, these reasons are not a good foundation for long lasting and dedicated personal health care. Unless advice is given by a Doctor, Nutritionist or Healthcare professional how can we tell the fad from the truth?
Collectively as Homo sapiens we are fueled by the same ‘stuff’, and as a standard, require relatively similar amounts of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. This begs the question, ‘What supplements should we all be taking?’ Now, this question is no small task considering the vast number of supplements available on the market but it is important to consider all systems of the body, the organs, the bones, the immune, reproductive and digestive systems, and how best to protect them.
What Supplements Should we all be Taking?
Following changes made by SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) on Vitamin D requirements a particular news story swept the nation that stated ‘Everyone should take vitamin D supplements’. Alongside this, requirements jumped to 10mcg, considering the previous recommendation was 0mcg, this was quite momentous.According to a recent SACN report, adults (19-64 years) consumed an average of 2.8mcg of Vitamin D without supplementation. This is deemed inadequate. So, why is it that we are not achieving the minimum standard that is required of us?
Vitamin D is one of the 4 fat soluble vitamins. As humans, our primary source of Vitamin D is from the sun’s UVB rays. Lying dormant in our skin is a compound called 7-dehydrocholesterol, otherwise known as pre-vitamin D. This compound reacts with UV rays and converts it to cholecalciferol which is taken to the liver and converted to 25-hydroxycholecalciferol. The final conversion occurs in the kidneys, which produces the active form of Vitamin D called 1,25(OH)2D (Calcitriol).
You’d think a couple of minutes in the sun could do this, right? Wrong, UVB rays are incredibly fragile and can be blocked by many factors including the following:
- Covered skin, this can be with clothing or suncream
- Cloud cover
- Country, area of the globe
- Time of day
This is one of the main reasons why SACN began a campaign to increase Vitamin D recommendations.
Vitamin D is a vital nutrient for the musculoskeletal system. Adequate Vitamin D as a child can help to avoid diseases such as Rickets. Whereas as an adult correct nutrition can prevent the onset of Osteomalacia and other degenerative bone diseases. Moreover, Vitamin D is essential for Calcium absorption, in fact, it cannot be absorbed without it. On numerous occasions, Vitamin D has been proven to benefit bone density. Vitamin D works alongside bone cells, osteoblasts and osteoclasts to maintain bones density. Therefore, it can prevent diseases such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and many other degenerative bone diseases. Other research suggests that Vitamin D can also help to prevent type 1 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
The current statistic states that every one in five British people is deficient in Vitamin D, so what can we do? We advise getting at least 15 minutes of sunshine on uncovered skin. Also, try to eat rich Vitamin D sources. Foods such as:
- Oily fish (swordfish, cod, tuna and salmon)
- Cod liver oil
- Fortified margarine
- Animal liver
That being said SACN does advise that we all take Vitamin D supplements (particularly through the winter months). They believe that our diet simply isn’t enough. The majority of dietary supplements provide between 1000iu (25mcg) and 5000iu (125mcg) of Vitamin D. To get the most from your supplement find one that also provides Calcium or Vitamin K2. [1,2,3]
Omega 3 oils have recently shot to fame due to a great number of publications stating their potential health benefits. Omega 3 is unmistakably one of the most prominent supplements in the health industry today.
According to EU guidance, there is no definitive recommendation on how much omega 3 we should be consuming. The only advice given on the matter is that we should be consuming at least one portion (140g) of oily fish per week. According to studies, this accounts for all the omega 3 we are thought to need. However, statistics show that we fail miserably at this target consuming only 54g of oily fish per week on average. So, what does this mean for omega 3 – it’s simple, we are not getting enough.
Omega 3 is an umbrella term for a number of chemical compounds including, Alpha lipoic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and a few others. The most popular of which being DHA and EPA. The majority of recent studies in Omega 3 has been associated with these compounds both of which have been found to improve joint health, heart health and cognitive focus.
Studies have shown Omega 3 is most beneficial for cognitive health and long-term memory. One study attempted to correlate dementia rates with fish consumption. They concluded that eating fish twice a week reduced the risk of dementia onset by 41%, in comparison with a control group that consumed fish only once a month.
Omega 3 oils are classified as essential oils, which means they cannot be produced in the body, thus, most only be eaten. The richest sources of omega 3 oils come from oily fish such as:
- Fresh Crab
Omega 3 can be found in an oil form, or in capsule form. The capsule form of omega 3 is the most popular because of its ease of taking. [4,5]
Research into Probiotics is at the forefront of the Nutrition and Health-Science industry. Despite bacteria occupying our guts since day dot, it is only now that we are discovering the effect they can have on our health.
It is thought that the human gut contains over 100 trillion bacteria and over 1000 species. From this scientist have predicted that our microflora weighs approximately 2kg. Our Microflora begins developing as we are born, as we are leaving a sterile world and entering a bacteria plagued world- But don’t worry! The bacteria that we have in our guts is healthy and even helpful!
Gut bacteria can improve our Nutrition status by promoting in vivo production of some B vitamins and Vitamin K. Furthermore, it promotes healthy digestive function, aiding the efficiency and speed of work done by the gastrointestinal tract. Moreover, our gut bacteria acts as a protective barrier against harmful bacteria and infection. An imbalance of gut bacteria has been linked to diseases such as Diabetes, weight gain/obesity, Ulcerative colitis and Fibromyalgia, although this is yet to be exclusively proven [6,7]. The bacteria found in the gut include the following:
- Heliobacter pylori, and many more. 
So, to the main question. What are probiotics? Probiotics are live bacteria that we are able to consume to improve the health and well-being of our gut. They are eaten, then settle in our gut to increase the ratio of good bacteria. Evidence has shown that taking probiotics can improve symptoms of Lactose intolerance, Inflammatory bowel disease, Irritable bowel syndrome – But wait, there’s more, it can also benefit our immune and digestive systems.
One of the most popular probiotics is Lactobacillus acidophilus. Lactobacillus is classified as a homofermantive micro-aerophilic bacteria. Yes, that does sound like gobbledygook, but it simply means the bacteria ferments to produce one product and does so by using very little oxygen. In particular, Lactobacillus acidophilus has been linked to improvements in digestion, diarrhoea and vaginal infections. 
I think the majority of us have heard the fact ‘We have enough Iron in our body to make a whole nail’. This is true, but human reserves of Iron are only so-so. To maintain our body’s reserves we must consume adequate iron in our diet.
Iron becomes most essential during our adolescent years. As a result, this is when Iron recommendations are at their highest. Females aged over 13 years are recommended to consume up to 14.8mg of Iron per day, this is much greater than the 11.3mg advised for boys of the same age. As we reach our adult years these recommendations reduce to 11.3mg for women (up until post-menopause) and 8.7mg for men.
Iron is found is a number of foods of both plant and animal origin. These are split into haem and non-haem sources. Haem iron is absorbed in much greater quantities than non-haem iron.
Haem sources of Iron include:
- Some fish
Non-haem source of Iron include:
- Fortified cereals
- Fortified bread
- Kidney beans
- Green leafy vegetables, e.g. spinach and kale.
The major problem with iron is its bioavailability. It is very poorly absorbed which means that a lot of people are unknowingly deficient in Iron. This is particularly the case for adolescent girls, vegans, vegetarians, and people with a gastrointestinal disease (IBS, IBD or coeliac disease). Furthermore, Iron is prevented from absorption by a number of compounds in food, including the following:
- Tannins, found in tea, coffee and fizzy drinks.
- Calcium and phosphorous
- Fibre found wholegrains and bran.
- Soy proteins found in soy products, and tofu.
There are, however, nutrients that can enhance its absorption, such as consuming Iron with:
Moreover, the iron status of our current diets is poor. Our diet which was once made up of fresh meats rich in Iron is now mainly made up of processed meat sources. The problem with processing our meat is that loses its nutritional content. So what choice do we have? Eat a selective diet only combining certain foods to optimise iron absorption. No, it is almost impossible! The best thing to do, and what many health professionals will advise is to take iron supplements. For optimal absorption, you will be advised to take this with a glass of orange juice, or another food/drink that will enhance its absorption.
To conclude, it is important to run a critical eye over your diet, always looking for what can be improved. Also, look out for current health stories, as Vitamin D’s importance is a very recent development, but an essential one to know.
Harriet Hunter | Oxford Vitality Nutritionist
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