The Ultimate Guide to Health Supplements
Health is on everyone's minds at the moment. As we return, slowly, to something like normality, we're returning to a much-changed world. After more than a year where good health was a blessing, you may be considering ways to maintain and boost your health from here on out.
Health supplement sales rocketed in the past eighteen months and if you're now trying to understand which health supplements you should and shouldn't take to support good health, check out our ultimate guide to health supplements.
We've done some research into which vitamins and minerals are best to support and maintain your health, and which you should only take under certain circumstances. Keep reading to find out more.
What are health supplements?
So, what actually are health supplements?
Health supplements are dietary supplements that contain vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, herbs, and anything else touted to support your health. Traditionally in the form of pills, dietary supplements now come in a variety of forms.
How do I take dietary supplements?
Dietary supplements were, traditionally, pills to be taken orally. More recently, supplements have been made in gummy forms, like these ACV gummies, in powder forms, like this hormone balancing herbal supplement, and in tincture or liquid form, like this zinc concentrate.
Who should take nutritional supplements?
While most people should take some supplements in certain circumstances, there are people who definitely need to take certain supplements and may even be advised by a doctor to do so. This includes:
- Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Those with restrictive diets, such as those who are vegan or have intolerances
- Those over the age of 50
- Those with deficiencies
- Children, in some cases
You should aim to get your vitamins from food
Eating a whole and varied diet is actually the best way to get all of the nutrition you need. While it is difficult to get some essential nutrients from the food we eat, most can be consumed without the need for supplements.
You should aim to get as many of the necessary vitamins and minerals from the food you consume before turning to supplements.
This may mean some lifestyle and dietary changes for you, such as increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat and decreasing the number of processed foods you eat.
As advocates of organic and natural foods, we're here to remind you that organically grown produce is thought to have higher levels of essential vitamins and minerals and so, choosing organic is better for your health!
Also choosing fortified foods, like fortified breakfast cereals and milk, can help to increase your vitamin and mineral intake.
Vitamins and other nutritional supplements can have negative effects
Before diving into the vitamins you should be taking, we're going to go over some of the dangers of taking health supplements. Contrary to some marketing tools, health supplements are not miracle cures, replacements for a healthy lifestyle, or suitable to be taken in large doses.
Vitamin supplements are not miracle cures
Supplements will not magically cure you of illness, disease, or even aging!
Contrary to the way some supplements are marketed, nothing can stop time and the eventual aging of the body. Vitamin E is frequently purported as some kind of fountain of youth but it isn't. Vitamin E helps to support healthy skin and eyes and strengthens the body's natural defences against illness, but it's not going to stop you from getting old.
You can get all of the vitamin E you need from the food you eat and while taking a vitamin E supplement is perfectly fine, it is thought that taking too much can be harmful. The body only needs a small amount of the vitamin a day, just 4mg for men and 3mg for women.
Vitamin E is found in lots of skincare and this kind of use is perfectly safe!
Similarly, a health supplement will not magically cure stress or tiredness. If you're feeling burned out, no supplement is going to change this. Though you can add a supplement to your diet, you will need to make other lifestyle changes too!
And finally, contradictory to what we were all taught about vitamin C, there is no evidence it will cure your cold! In fact, the only mineral found to have any effect on the common cold is Zinc.
While vitamin C cannot be stored by the body, you can get the amount your body needs from your diet. Eating more citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts can help boost your intake of this vitamin.
If you do choose to take a vitamin C supplement, be aware that you can take too much. An overdose will cause stomach pain, diarrhea, and flatulence.
Vitamins are not a replacement for a healthy lifestyle
We've covered when vitamins aren't actually helping you and so it is also important to note that vitamin supplements are not a replacement for a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Though you may choose to take a multivitamin, this shouldn't be taken in place of eating a diet full of whole and healthy foods that nourish the body.
For the most part, you can get all the nutrients you need in your diet and you should aim to do this before turning to multivitamins.
You should also be aware of the kinds of supplements that can be detrimental to your health and choose the right ones for your body. For instance, those on low-sodium diets should be aware of the salt content of effervescent supplements.
Vitamins and minerals can be toxic
When beginning your health supplement journey, you may be tempted to take a large dose of the supplement to boost your health quickly but this can be very dangerous. Supplements have recommended daily intakes on their packaging and you should never exceed this amount.
High doses of certain vitamins and minerals can be detrimental to your health. These include:
- Calcium, excess calcium is thought to settle in the arteries and lead to a range of health issues
- Magnesium, overdose can cause nausea and vomiting, low blood pressure, urine retention, respiratory distress, and even cardiac arrest
- Zinc, iron, chromium, and selenium, which can hit toxic levels quickly and have lots of negative effects
- Folate, research shows taking too much can actually hide B12 deficiencies
- Vitamins A, D, E, and K, which are fat-soluble and stored in the body, meaning large doses can be toxic. In addition, high doses of vitamin A have been linked to birth defects and central nervous system, bone, liver, and skin disorders
- Vitamin B6, higher doses have been linked to some kinds of nerve damage
- Vitamin C, as discussed above, large doses are known to cause a range of negative side effects
- Vitamin D, high doses of vitamin D can cause kidney stones, abdominal pain and even increase the risk of heart attacks
- Fish oils, these supplements have been linked to decreased blood clotting when taken in excess
While the benefits of taking some of these vitamins are great and can help to support a better lifestyle, you can overdose on supplements and so care should be taken to only take the recommended doses of vitamin and mineral supplements.
Be aware of supplements and drug interactions
In addition to overdose, you should also be aware of possible interactions with medication that you're already taking. Certain supplements can cause adverse effects and hinder the effectiveness of some medications.
St John's Wort, for example, is known to have a considerable effect on a range of prescribed medicine. St John's Wort is usually taken to relieve mild stress and anxiety, as well as sleeplessness. If you are taking this medicine, you should speak to your doctor about possible drug interactions.
St John's Wort is thought to interact with some blood-thinning drugs, like warfarin, some HIV medications, oral contraceptives, and some anticonvulsants. Always seek professional help if you're concerned about drug interaction.
Vitamins are usually a short-term measure
In general, vitamin supplements are usually taken as a short measure against some health problems. While continued use of them is recommended in a few cases, if you are prescribed a health supplement, you may want to consider making overall lifestyle changes too, such as changes to your daily routine and your food consumption to boost health and energy levels.
Which vitamins and minerals should I be taking?
Now we know that these supplements should be taken in moderation, let's take a look at which vitamin and mineral supplements you should actually be taking and why!
While vitamin D overdoses can occur, it is still recommended that a supplement be taken in the winter months.
Vitamin D is difficult to get from food and so the only source of vitamin D really left to us is the sun, and while you can go out in the sun for around 10 -15 minutes without sunscreen, you will need sunblock after that!
And so, this supplement should be added to your daily routine. Taking vitamin D helps to keep your bones strong and is needed by the body.
Zinc, as a supplement for colds
As discussed above, taking zinc is a great remedy for the common cold. You can usually find zinc supplements in pharmacies and it is used as a treatment for symptoms of the common cold.
Zinc is necessary to the body for general health but can usually be found easily in meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, and legumes. It may not be necessary to take a zinc supplement continuously provided you eat a nutritious diet.
Vitamin B12, if you are vegan, have a dairy allergy, or a deficiency
B12 is an essential vitamin to the body but is difficult to get into your diet, particularly if you follow a restrictive diet. B12 is generally found in meat and dairy products and so those who follow vegan or dairy-free diets may struggle to get the required amount.
You should take B12 if you have been advised to do so by health professionals and if you follow a restrictive diet that limits meat and dairy products.
Folic acid, if you're pregnant or breastfeeding
The body uses folic acid (vitamin b9, or folate) to create new cells. This is particularly beneficial to people who are trying to get pregnant or are already pregnant. It can help your baby's brain, skull, and spinal cord to develop and has been known to prevent some birth defects.
You will usually be advised by health professionals to take folic acid if you are not already when you get pregnant.
A multivitamin containing vitamins A, C, and D, for your children
Though multivitamins are not necessary for adults who follow a healthy diet, it is recommended that children between the ages of six months and five years are given supplemental vitamins A, C, and D.
You should speak with your child's doctor if you are concerned about giving them a multivitamin but it is recommended due to a child's inability to get these vitamins in their diet.
Remember that multivitamins are not replacements for a healthy diet and should only be used to supplement a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods.
When choosing a multivitamin for your child, ensure you choose a product catered to their age range.
Magnesium, with some considerations
Though serious magnesium deficiencies are generally only found in those with some chronic illnesses, many are thought to have small magnesium deficiencies.
Eating a diet rich in leafy greens, nuts, beans, peas, soybeans, and whole-grain cereals, should provide enough magnesium a day.
While magnesium can be taken orally, magnesium can also be used topically. Amazing Oils offer a large range of topical magnesium treatments, like this daily gel, which can be a great way of using magnesium for its anti-inflammatory properties without the need to ingest it.
Vitamin C, in moderation
We've discussed the drawbacks of vitamin C, and while it can be found in your diet, you may choose to take it as a supplement too. It is essential to the body and so provides nutritional benefits when taken orally, as long as it is taken in moderation.
Fish oil, in some cases
The research on fish oil differs. While some suggest that fish oil does little to prevent heart attacks and strokes, some suggest it can be effective.
Fish oil is taken for its omega-3 content. This can also be found in oily fish, nuts and seeds, plant oils, and fortified foods.
If you choose to take fish oil supplements, make sure you do so in moderation.
A note on adaptogens, ACV, and superfoods
In recent years, more traditional medicine has been making a comeback. This includes herbal remedies and other long-used treatments that were, perhaps, overlooked in favour of western medicine.
Below, we've rounded up a few supplements that have seen an increase in popularity in the past few years that aren't part of the mainstream bunch you've probably heard lots about!
Adaptogenic herbal supplements
Adaptogens are herbs and mushrooms that are thought to have impressive health benefits. Used a lot in traditional medical practice, like Ayurveda, adaptogens include:
- Ashwagandha, found in teas, like this Buddha Teas Ashwagandha Tea, but also in capsule form
- Tulsi, found in lots of tea products, like this Plant Organic Tulsi Tea
- Ginseng found commonly in tea and in capsule form
- Mushrooms, like cordyceps, lions manes, and reishi, and found in Four Sigmatic's Mushroom Coffee range
Adaptogens are thought to help improve mood and combat stress, anxiety, and tiredness.
Apple cider vinegar supplements
Apple cider vinegar has been used throughout the decades as a natural herbal remedy and it can now be found in the form of natural health supplements.
ACV can be taken orally by the spoonful, or in capsule form and can help blood sugar regulation, lower cholesterol levels, and help with healthy weight loss.
Greens, like wheatgrass, barley grass, and liquid chlorophyll
Superfoods and super greens are now used extensively in the health food world. Available in powdered and tincture forms, these greens can add a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to your diet.
Whether you choose to take lots of health supplements or none at all is completely up to you. Some supplements are much better for you and have more benefits than others but it is very much about choosing what is best for you.
Remember to seek professional advice if you're concerned about the effects of any supplements you're thinking of taking and only take the recommended doses.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do health supplements really work?
Some health supplements can do lots of good for your body! There are some supplements it is recommended you take daily, like vitamin D, which can be good for your health, and you may be prescribed supplements if you have a deficiency. Some health supplements could be redundant if you are eating a healthy and balanced diet.
What are the most popular health supplements?
The most popular health supplements are usually those which people are prescribed or it is recommended you take. These include:
- Vitamin D
- Fish oil
- Vitamin C