The Essential Supplements
The following supplements will provide a solid nutritional foundation for the average person, and help to fill any gaps left by dietary choices or preferences.
The spotlight recently turned on turmeric as an excellent way to maintain wellness. As well as being a popular spice in the kitchen, Turmeric is an Ayurvedic medicine used to reduce inflammation, support liver function and boost immunity. Researchers have identified at least 20 ways in which curcumin, the yellow pigment obtained from turmeric, interacts with cells to have beneficial effects on enzymes, hormone receptors and cell survival, as well as reducing inflammation. Curcumin also has antimicrobial effects that can help overcome antibiotic resistance in multiresistant bacterial strains.1
Together, these actions make turmeric the equivalent of an ultra-smart drug; rather than targeting one health problem, it can have beneficial effects in many different conditions, including diabetes, obesity, neurologic and psychiatric disorders, and long-term problems affecting the eyes, liver, lungs, intestines, kidneys, heart and circulation, immunity and brain.
The results from 20 clinical trials involving over 1,400 people, for example, show that turmeric extracts have beneficial effects on blood fats, by lowering triglycerides and raising levels of ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol.2
With rising numbers of people developing inflammatory conditions such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes and fatty liver disease, turmeric is coming into its own.
Find out more
While a multivitamin will include vitamin D, this is often the small amount of 5mcg to meet the EU's recommended intake (NRV) figure. Because we live in northern latitudes we cannot make sufficient vitamin D during the autumn and winter months. You might think a little winter sun in the UK will top you up, but that’s where you’re wrong. A recent poll shows 35% of office workers leave the office to get some sun – but during the winter months how many of this 35% would be shocked to discover they’re not getting any vitamin D during their lunch hour?
Just as your age affects the amount of nutrients and the type of nutrients you need each day, so does where you live and, where vitamin D is concerned, this couldn’t be more true. 90% of your circulating vitamin D level is produced via the skin’s reaction to sunlight.
Every country’s sunlight levels vary. Take Norway, for example, where 6-hour days are the norm during December and January (compared to Britain’s 8-hour days during the same months). These days are short, but there's another problem: the sunshine itself is not strong enough to replenish your vitamin D levels, which plummet correspondingly during the cold months of the year. Fortification of certain foods in Northern Europe with vitamin D has become increasingly mandatory due to this lack of sufficiently strong sunlight.
NDNS data shows 75 per cent of the British population to have a vitamin D intake below the recommended level, and this has negative effects on bone and muscle health as well as immunity. A fifth of adults aged 19 to 64 years, and around a sixth of adults aged 65 years and over and children aged 11-18 years were recently shown by the NDNS to have low vitamin D status over the year as a whole.
Public health England recommend that everyone takes a supplement supplying 10mcg vitamin D. Many experts believe a higher dose of 25mcg is more appropriate – especially in older age groups whose ability to make and absorb vitamin D is reduced. This all helps make vitamin D supplements an important foundation for good nutritional health.
Find out more...
There is growing recognition that a healthy balance of digestive bacteria plays a key role in health and wellness, with beneficial effects not just on digestion, but on immunity and mood, too. Probiotic digestive bacteria, or probiotics, are ‘friendly’ bacteria found in some fermented foods and supplements, such as certain strains of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Because these bacteria are acid-tolerant, a significant number survive passage through the stomach to reach and colonise the large intestines.
Probiotic bacteria produce lactic and acetic acids, which discourage the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, secrete natural antibiotics, and compete with harmful bacteria for available nutrients and for attachment sites on intestinal cell walls. They also produce short-chain fatty acids, which act as an energy source for intestinal lining cells, and are transported to the liver where they have beneficial effects on cholesterol metabolism.
Researchers are discovering that probiotic bacteria also prime immune cells in the gut lining, in order to remain more vigilant against infections elsewhere in the body, and may even stimulate production of serotonin and other mood-regulating chemicals.
Data from 14 trials suggests that replenishing the bowel's probiotic bacteria population can improve irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, whether used alone or in combination with standard anti-spasmodic medications. This is probably because of their ability to reduce the presence of gas-producing bacteria associated with IBS symptoms.3
Find out more...
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart, brain and eye health, and have anti-inflammatory actions.
These fatty acids are so important for health that the shortest-chain omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is classed as essential – you can’t make it so must ensure it comes from your diet, particularly from oily fish, such as mackerel, herring, sardines, tuna and salmon.
The longer-chain omega-3s, EPA and DHA, can be made from alpha-linolenic acid in the body, but these conversions are inefficient, meaning that EPA and DHA are often in short supply. Unfortunately, the UK's mean consumption of oily fish is well below the recommended one portion (140g) per week.
You can safeguard your intakes by eating at least two portions of fish per week, of which one should be an oily fish. A daily omega-3 supplement is an easy way to help those who are not willing to eat more oily fish to avoid a deficiency.4
Find out more...
According to research a mere 27% percent of adults, 35% of older adults and 8% of 11-18 year olds meet the ‘5-A-Day’ recommendation for consumption of fruit and vegetables, despite the newly implemented recommendation of ’10-a-day.’5
And it's not just our eating habits that are the problem. A paper published in the Journal Hort Science in 2009 suggested that the nutritional content of some fruit and veg may have dropped by as much as 40% in the last 70 years. Another report, published by UK nutritionist Dr David Thomas, found that levels of iron, copper and calcium in vegetables had decreased by up to 76% since 1940. His research revealed that in vegetables, levels of magnesium had dropped by 25%, calcium and copper by 75%, while in fruit iron had dropped by 25% and copper by 20%.6
If you know your diet isn’t as good or as varied as it should be, due to cutting back on food intake to lose weight, or avoiding certain foods or food groups due to personal beliefs, intolerances or dislikes, a multivitamin and mineral supplement will correct your nutritional deficiencies.
Select a product based on your age, as those designed for the over 50s have boosted levels of nutrients to account for the reduced absorption that becomes increasingly common as you get older. National Diet and Nutrition Surveys show that significant numbers of people have low intakes of vitamin A, riboflavin, magnesium and potassium, for example, while over 40% of younger women have low iron intakes. In fact, there is evidence of iron-deficiency anaemia in 5% of older girls and 3% of adult women and older women, according to NDNS research.7
Find out more...
Just one piece of the puzzle
Despite these 5 nutrients being key to our health and wellbeing, we shouldn’t forget the other key pillars of nutrition, including obtaining sufficient energy, protein, fibre and fluids. Working out which vitamins and minerals your body might lack or where to focus your health efforts may take time, but every little step is a step towards a healthier, happier you.
1Marini E, Di Giulio M, Magi G, Di Lodovico S, Cimarelli ME, Brenciani A, Nostro A, Cellini L, Facinelli B (2018): Curcumin, an antibiotic resistance breaker against a multiresistant clinical isolate of Mycobacterium abscessus
2Simental-Mendía LE, Pirro M, Gotto AM Jr, Banach M, Atkin SL, Majeed M, Sahebkar A (2017): Lipid-modifying activity of curcuminoids: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
3Hoveyda N, Heneghan C, Mahtani KR, Perera R, Roberts N, Glasziou P (2009): A systematic review and meta-analysis: probiotics in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome
4Public Health England: National Diet and Nutrition Survey - Results from Years 5 and 6 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2012/2013 – 2013/2014)
5Public Health England: Statistical Press Notice: National Diet and Nutrition Survey: results from Years 5 and 6 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2012/13 – 2013/14)
6Rejuvenation Science: UK Study Shows Decline in Fruit and Vegetable Mineral Content
7British Nutrition Foundation: ONS - National Diet and Nutrition Survey