Health

How To Know Which Supplements You Need, According To Nutritionists

The A, B, C of vitamin A, B, & C.

Beauty Pie

With the arrival of 2021 and a new lockdown, many of us are re-focusing our efforts on our overall health and wellbeing, be it nutrition and exercise, or mental wellness and self-care. One way you might be looking to support this is through supplements. They can admittedly be very confusing, and it's hard to know where to start. Here's how to figure out which supplements you need, according to nutritionists I've spoken to.

Why should we consider taking supplements?

We hear a lot about supplements and vitamins, but just why should we even bother? Well, evidence suggests that supplements can support a healthy diet and lifestyle, and boost overall wellbeing in lots of ways.

"An optimum supplement programme can provide the essential vitamins and minerals that work in synergy with your diet for optimum skin and general health," says Lorraine Perretta, Advanced Nutrition Programme's Head of Nutrition.

"Supplements can be helpful for those who are falling short of vitamin intake due to reduced dietary intake and can help us prevent nutritional deficiencies," adds Clarissa Lenherr, Registered Nutritionist. "In some instances, supplements may also help to reduce symptom severity or speed up recovery."

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Which supplements should you take for general health?

I asked my experts where a total newbie to the world of supplements should start, and the overwhelming response was to pick up a good multivitamin to begin with. :The best place to start your vitamin journey is with a good all round multi-vit, think of it as being a 'taster menu' with a little of everything thrown into the mix, so you discover what overall benefit vitamins can offer you." says Diane Ackers, skincare expert for Doctors Formula.

When it comes to which vitamins you should look for in your multivitamin, or which you should go on to invest in singularly, Ackers advises: "Focus which vitamins you believe you need the most — more like ordering your favourite main course — maybe a boost of vitamin C to help protect cells and keep them healthy, or vitamin B for overall skin health."

Meanwhile Perretta lays out the following suggestions:

"The ideal starting point would be to combine the following five supplements: probiotics and multivitamins with vitamin C, omegas 3 and 6, and vitamin D," she says.

Probiotics

"These beneficial bacteria support gut health, which is an important starting point for wellbeing in general. A healthy gut means your body is able to absorb nutrients from your food and supplements more efficiently."

Vitamin C

"This is a big vitamin. By that I mean it is physically large and so it is difficult to squeeze an optimum amount into a multivitamin. Therefore, it is best to take an additional vitamin C supplement to ensure you are getting an impactful dose.

It is especially beneficial at times when the need for a robust immune system is a focus. Immunity, energy, mood, skin – it has dozens of roles. It is particularly important during times of stress. When you are stressed, your body uses a lot of vitamin C for the stress reaction in the adrenal gland. People often find that when they are stressed, they suffer the symptoms of having low vitamin C. For example, when stressed you may get a cold, because all the vitamin C in the body is being used by the stress rather than immunity."

Omegas 3 and 6

"These essential fatty acids are required for optimum physical and mental health. Research has indicated that they may support skin, memory and cardiovascular health. They are found in the diet naturally, but most people do not eat enough oily fish, nuts and seeds to get the necessary amount."

Vitamin D

"Since 2000, the benefits of vitamin D have been highlighted through extensive research. One important study from 2007 found that the prevalence of hypovitaminosis D (a low vitamin D status) in the general population is alarmingly high during winter and spring. Many multivitamin supplements may not contain enough vitamin D for those of us living in cold (and less sunny) climates such as the UK, so it is advised to take an extra vitamin D supplement."

Recent studies have also found that vitamin D deficiencies may impact the severity of Covid-19 symptoms too, making it a particularly relevant vitamin to invest in currently.

It's also even more important for people with dark skin to ensure they are topped up on vitamin D, as it takes longer for those with dark skin tones to produce the same amount of vitamin D from sunlight as someone with lighter skin.

Which supplements are great for skin, hair & nails?

While opting for supplements that help our overall health is the priority, many of us are also keen to invest in something that can help our skin glow, and encourage hair and nail growth. So what should you be looking at here?

Many of the vitamins you should already be taking for your overall health have noticeable skin benefits, such as A, B, C and D vitamins. When shopping for supplements specifically for skin, opt for products that combine certain ones for best results, says Perretta. "Vitamins work in synergy, so look for curated combinations that are specific for skin health," she says, adding that vitamin A with vitamin D, and Vitamin A and C are good combos to start with.

In terms of more specific vitamins and minerals that work to help your skin, hair and nails, Lenherr notes that iron, zinc, vitamin E, Biotin, Calcium, and Selenium can all really help. Some may already be in your multivitamin, so be sure to check nothing interferes if you pick up a skin supplement or any of these singular vitamins.

As well as supplements, however, Lenherr stresses that the real help for our appearance comes from our diet. "We mustn’t also forget that eating enough protein and consuming omega 3 fats is also key. You can get omega 3 fats in your diet through eating oily fish such as salmon and sardines or through plant-based sources such as chia seeds and walnuts.

However, if you want to guarantee intake, you can also supplement with algae or fish oils."

Anything Else I Should Know?

First, all experts I spoke to strongly agreed that supplements mustn't be used to replace a healthy diet or lifestyle. They also remind users to be careful not to over-supplement, which can sometimes happen when taking lots of different combinations.

"Taking too much of any one vitamin can potentially lead to symptoms or be dangerous," says Lenherr. "Whilst most people to do not take toxic levels of vitamins, taking concentrated amounts over time can lead to symptoms which range from nausea and stomach upset to vision changes, ulcers and drowsiness."

So which vitamins should you pay most attention to when ensuring you don't take too much? "Fat soluble vitamins such as A, D and E which can be stored in the body’s tissue," responds Lenherr. "Over consumption of Vitamin D can lead to a raise in calcium levels which can impact your organ health whereas Vitamin A at very high levels can lead to nausea, vomiting and blurred vision."

In terms of other important 'rules' to follow, Ackers says that taking vitamins on an empty stomach is a no-no. "You’re adding something new into your digestive system and you want it to be absorbed gently, also don’t exceed the recommended dosage," she says, before recommending you take supplements with a meal instead.

Ackers also acknowledges that most supplements don't have immediate 'wow' effects, as they take a while to get into the body's system and start to act. "So be patient and let the vitamins work in harmony with your natural body processes," she encourages.