Choosing supplements


Choosing supplements

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.

13 Mar, 2014

6 thoughts on “Choosing supplements

  1. This is all really good advice.

    I do feel that people often look towards supplements as a substitute for a healthy diet/lifestyle as it is the easier option. Also it is amazing that some ingredients in supplements can actually be harmful.

    It is clearly not just a matter of picking a multi-vitamin off the shelf. Thanks for organising this guest blog. I have found it really informative.

    1. You’re welcome. I agree Elizabeth’s blog is really helpful and informative. In the longer term, I believe it’s important for us all to have a better understanding on some of the supplements we take.

      Hopefully Elizabeth’s blog will help with that.

  2. Very good information to know, especially knowing our contraindications with medication that we may be on.

    Yes there are so many supplements on the market, it is hard to choose which one’s are right for you. There is one multivitamin that I take that is great. I feel the results of it, but when I’m out and can’t get that supplement I get something similar but don’t get the same results. Actually I get substandard results.

    The supplement that works well is only available at GNC stores and I have to travel about 25 miles to get to the closest one. I usually will use one from the local pharmacy until I can get the one I want.

    Other things to consider when choosing a supplement is any health disorders you may have. Some supplements have ingredients in them that people with certain health problems shouldn’t take.

    For example, Gingko Biloba can thin the blood because it increases circulation. If you’re on blood thinners or have a bleeding issue, you shouldn’t take it until you check with your physician.

    Again, very good information to know.

    1. Unfortunately help with supplements isn’t ready available, unless you go to someone like Elizabeth who will advise you on the supplements you should be taking.

      I think people need to understand more of what they take, in what doses and of course as you have mentioned, what the contraindications are if we are having to take other medication too.

      I’m pleased you enjoyed Elizabeth’s blog. Thanks Lisa.

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