Do You Really Need To Take Supplements? We Asked The Experts
There's so much conflicting advice out there about the supplements we should supposedly taking, that it's often very difficult to know what to believe. So we asked two nutritionists for their opinions on whether we should be popping (vitamin) pills regularly.
The government has advised that everyone in the UK should be taking a vitamin D supplement everyday (especially in the autumn and winter months) as we don't get enough sunlight for our bodies to keep up levels of this essential chemical topped up. But what about multivitamins or more specialist supplements? The general consensus is that if your diet is a decent one, vitamin D might well be all you really need. But there are a few exceptions:
1. You're overworked
There's no question about it, the best way to get our nutrients is through a healthy balanced diet. But how many of us have eating habits that are less than ideal? As the trend towards longer hours in the office continues, and business travel becomes more common, quite a lot of us are time poor, having limited cooking ability and it can be hard to prepare nutritious foods on the move. It means some of us just won't be getting all the nutrients we need. In this case, a good quality multivitamin can be helpful.
2. You could be naturally deficient
Sounds unfair, and it is. Some of us unfortunately just have higher requirements for certain nutrients. It can be due to health conditions (such as pernicious anaemia), or hormones or different life stages (pregnant women) or careers that demand a lot from our bodies (professional athletes). If this could be you - or you constantly feel tired, dizzy and general under the weather -it's worth seeking advice from a doctor or registered nutritionist about the supplements that could help.
3. You're pregnant
You might think you're doing well when it comes to 'eating for two', but are you getting enough nutrients?
Cassandra Barns says: "DHA, an essential fatty acid, is important for the normal brain development of the foetus, breastfeeding infants and the normal visual development for children up to 12 months of age. This is definitely a nutrient worth supplementing during pregnancy and lactation."
It's worth noting though that a review in last summer's BMJ found that pregnancy multivitamins could be a waste of money for most mothers-to-be. But the NHS does recommend a daily folic acid supplement alongside the vitamin D you're (hopefully) already taking.
4. You're in your golden years
Quite a lot of things get more challenging in old age. As we get older, we produce less digestive enzymes which can make it more difficult to get the same amount of nutrition from our food.
"This also affects the types of food we choose as well as how much we eat. Health and mobility issues can also affect our ability to shop for ingredients and prepare healthy meals, and certain medications such as statins and proton pump inhibitors, commonly prescribed as we age can mean we don't get or absorb enough nutrients to support optimum health. Supporting health with good quality supplements such as digestive enzymes and vitamins and minerals can be very beneficial for the elderly, as long as they don't interfere with any prescribed medications," says Cassandra.
5. You're under stress
Nutrients can also be supportive when we are subjected to a lot of stress. For example the B vitamins, as a group, are important for healthy function of the nervous system and healthy psychological function. This means how you think and feel your mood, how well you cope with stress and how well you sleep.
"We use them up a lot more quickly during times of stress. I'd recommend Nature's Plus Source of Life Garden Vitamin B12 ￡17.50," says Cassandra.
6. You're on the Pill
There's limited research on this one, but some experts believe taking hormonal contraceptives can changes the diversity of gut bacteria potentially putting you at risk of various conditions. For instance, if you find yourself having to tackle thrush regularly and you're taking the Pill, it could be worth trying a probiotic to see if that does the trick.