Type the word ‘supplement’ into Google and you will be presented with 55,300,000 results, which include a plethora of supplement retailers, articles and advertorials touting supplements for weight loss, muscle gain, fatigue… the list goes on.
On top of this, supplements can be found in every supermarket, high street health store, chemist and independent health food shops. With such a wide range of supplements, how do we know which ones to choose?
- Firstly, we have to be confident we need a supplement. It’s too easy to go out and buy a supplement, after reading an article or chatting to a friend about its amazing benefits, without really considering whether it’s necessary for us. Evidence shows that our food may no longer supply us with all of the nutrients we need, but equally we shouldn’t rely on supplements to patch up poor food choices;
- Secondly, do we really know what all of those added ingredients are that we see on the side of the container, or do we just take it for granted that they’re totally harmless? Well the truth is, they may not be harmless. For instance, magnesium stearate is found in many supplements because it makes their processing easier. However, magnesium stearate can build up and cause digestive problems. Titanium dioxide is another common additive in supplements and this is now viewed as potentially carcinogenic. This is just the tip of the iceberg;
- Thirdly, it’s important before choosing a supplement to understand the bioavailability of the different forms of vitamins and minerals. For instance, calcium in the form of carbonate is poorly absorbed in comparison to calcium citrate, which is much better absorbed. Even if you do choose more absorbable forms of nutrients, they may still be poorly taken up due to gastrointestinal issues such as intestinal permeability, low stomach acid or inflammatory bowel disease. In a case such as this you may want to choose a supplement in liquid form, which may mean it is better absorbed, as well as seeking support for the issue or condition.
Unfortunately quality can also be a problem. There are many worldwide studies that have uncovered quality issues in supplements, so make sure you do the research before buying a potentially substandard product.
If all of this wasn’t enough to consider, now at the forefront of the supplement world are ‘food-state’ supplements. Rather than being isolated nutrients that are reproduced synthetically into a tablet, food state supplements take the nutrient in its natural form as well as the co-factors, which help the nutrient to be absorbed and utilised and bond them in a food complex. This means they have a high rate of absorbency, are of superior quality and are retained for longer by the body than synthetic supplements.
As you can see there’s a lot to think about, but it’s worth thinking about, because what you put into your body, whether it’s in the form of food, supplements or medication, is paramount to your health.
Just a final cautionary note: if you’re on medication, it’s vital that you check for possible interactions between your medication and any supplements you’re on.
Bio: Elizabeth Cooper is a Nutritional Therapist who runs several clinics, both privately and for a leading health charity, around Leeds and Harrogate. She is also co-author of a healthy lifestyle booklet for children.