Supplements: What are they and should we take them?
- Nutritional Therapist, Sam Bourne.
What is a dietary supplement?Dietary supplements are manufactured products that come in a variety of forms - tablets, gummies, liquids, powder etc - and are taken to provide the body with additional vitamins, minerals and nutrients you might feel you’re lacking in, from diet and lifestyle. It’s important to note that dietary supplements are in addition to a varied, balanced diet, and not to be consumed as meal replacements. If you’re eating a varied, balanced diet, you’ll likely be getting sufficient nutrients without needing supplementation. However, at different times of the year, certain stages of life such as pregnancy or after specific operations and in rehabilitation, your body may need additional nourishment, to work to its full potential.
How to tell if you’re nutrient deficient and need supplementationA vitamin deficiency can sometimes be difficult to spot, with symptoms that are similar to other conditions. If you’re overall health and well-being is generally good, but you’re still seeing some of the following symptoms, it might be worth discussing a vitamin deficiency with your GP or nutrition professional:
- brittle hair and nails
- poor memory
- hair loss
- lethargy and fatigue
- persistent ulcers or cracks in the corners of your mouth
- heart palpitations
- restless leg syndrome
Common vitaminsBelow are some common vitamins and minerals you may have heard of but are unsure of what they do, and why they're important.
B vitamins for energyA deficiency in vitamin B12 is often found in vegetarians as foods containing a high B12 count include beef, chicken, liver, fish and shellfish. Weakness and fatigue are often common signs you’re lacking in B12 as it’s essential for energy. Nutritional therapist and health coach Rebecca Steele notes, “B vitamins are vital for energy production, as well as co-factors for sex hormones, adrenal and thyroid. B12 and folate are required for methylation, which is an important process which supports the production of brain chemicals and neurotransmitter receptors.” Rebecca suggests adding whole foods, nuts, seeds, whole grains, leafy green and sea vegetables to your diet for natural consumption.
Vitamins C and D to support the immune systemBoth vitamins C and D contribute to your immune function, and a deficiency can leave you susceptible to regular infections when lacking vitamin C, and can even be linked to low mood when you’re lacking in vitamin D. It’s common that many British people will also struggle with a vitamin D deficiency. The British weather is known for being sparing with its sunshine, so seasonal supplementation, particularly in winter is a good idea. Rebecca says, “If you’re not getting enough sunlight in the winter months and you’re using lots of sunscreen in the summer, it’s important to check your vitamin D levels and supplement. Vitamin D is synthesised in the skin after sun exposure and is very little in dietary sources - these do include oily fish but it would require eating a lot.”
Iron for healthy blood cells and transporting oxygenIron is essential for the transportation of oxygen throughout your body. It’s a component of haemoglobin that represents around two-thirds of the body’s iron. If your body doesn’t have enough iron, you won’t be able to produce enough healthy red blood cells, resulting in iron deficiency anaemia, fatigue, shortness of breath and palpitations. You should be able to consume enough iron in your daily diet, but if you naturally lack iron, it can be supplemented, commonly in tablet form. Iron supplementation should be done with careful consideration, ideally with guidance from the GP or a nutrition professional as too much iron can cause unpleasant side effects such as constipation, nausea and vomiting. Too much iron in children can have very severe side effects.
Live cultures for gut health
In recent years, the role of our gut, and our gut microbiome in relation to many bodily functions, has become more and more prominent, particularly surrounding the immune system and our mental health. “Our gut microbiome is made up of trillions of organisms such as bacteria and yeast that play a role in digestion, immunity, mood and skin. Therefore, keeping our gut microbiome happy and healthy is very important!” says Rebecca Traylen (ANutr), Head of Nutrition at Probio7. Probiotics, certain strains of bacteria that usually add to your gut bacteria can be essential in maintaining a healthy gut balance. Rebecca notes, “These live bacteria can be found in foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi. However, these foods may not be for everyone! Probio7 offers easy to take friendly bacteria supplements to support your gut microbiome.” Sam Bourne, nutritional therapist confirms that lifestyle can play a huge part in an unbalanced bacteria in our gut. “Our microbiota can become imbalanced (dysbiosis) when non-beneficial microbes dominate and produce toxic substances that affect our health. Antibiotics, alcohol, medications, stress, sugar and a diet lacking in fibre all disturb the health of the microbiome. Dysbiosis can affect physical, immune and mental health.” Symptoms of an unbalanced gut include:Taking a high-quality probiotic is like sending in the army to support the residents and overcome the ‘baddies’ which in this case are the excessive amounts of toxin-producing bacteria, fungi, yeasts, viruses and even parasites.
- bloating, constipation and heartburn
- autoimmune disorders
- food intolerance
- skin irritations and rashes
- constant fatigue and sleep disturbance
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