Must-have health heroes

Our natural health experts highlight the must-have supplements that everyone should consider taking

Vitamin E: The Skin Protector

“Whilst Vitamin E does not have a sunscreen action, when applied to the skin it can reduce inflammation and UV-B-induced skin damage,” explains Shani Shaker, a registered nutritional therapist and Director of Health at Golin (golin.com). “Studies have also shown that it protects the fibroblasts in the skin – the cells that make collagen – so it has a beneficial effect in helping prevent the signs of premature ageing. To protect your skin from damage during summer increase your intake of Vitamin E-rich foods including oily fish, lamb, beef and lean pork. This will also support physical endurance and muscle strength. Vegetarian? No problem!” Tofu, nuts and cooked spinach are also loaded with vitamin E.”

Omega-3: The Inflammation Soother

“Omega-3 is vital for our health,” explains Sarah Flower, a nutritionist and author of The Sugar-Free Family Cookbook (www.sarahflower.co.uk). “The western diet is very high in omega-6 and 9 and actually low in omega-3 and this can cause health problems including whole body inflammation.” Sarah recommends that everyone should take an omega-3 supplement or consume at least three servings per week of oily fish. Sarah adds that omega-3, which comes from fish oil, is vital for heart, brain and joint health but also plays a vital role in balancing hormones, boosting our immune system, easing depression, balancing blood sugar, reducing anxiety, easing inflammation and reduces cholesterol. “It can be taken at any age,” she says, “and has been shown to have fantastic effects on children’s brain health, including memory and concentration levels, as well as helping with ADHD and autism. Aim for a good quality supplement delivering good levels of EPA and DHA. The real Rolls Royce of fish oil is krill oil, which is high in the antioxidant astaxanthin and phospholipids and has been shown to be far more effective. For example, krill oil reduced the fat content in the heart by 42 per cent compared to fish oil at 2 per cent.” Vegetarians and vegan-friendly omega-3 supplements are also available.

Chromium: The Blood Sugar Balancer

“Can you eat yourself calm? You’d be surprised,” says Shani Shaker. “Anxiety is associated with unbalanced blood sugar and raised levels of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Chromium is particularly effective in balancing blood sugar and can help support sugar cravings, symptoms of depression and fatigue. Reducing caffeine, including coffee and energy drinks, as well as nicotine and alcohol can help rebalance our own natural energy levels. It’s not easy and will take at least a few days of eating a low-GL diet and taking the right supplements. Take 2 x 200mcg of chromium and increase your intake of chromium-rich foods including whole grains, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, orange juice, broccoli, potatoes, green beans and ham.”

Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

“Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D has been seen to help with mental health problems, heart health, bone and joint health, multiple sclerosis and even cancer,” says Sarah Flower. “It has been shown to increase movement in joints and decrease pain, especially in those suffering from arthritis. It plays a vital role in cholesterol, boosts our immune system, helps lower blood pressure and can even help with asthma. There is a huge amount of research and evidence to support the use of vitamin D for a wide range of mental health issues and there is also some interesting research in the prevention of postnatal depression. Vitamin D has always been associated with helping us absorb calcium and has been used to help treat a variety of conditions including osteoporosis but what is not so well-known is you also need magnesium to help absorb and utilise calcium efficiently. Although you can get some levels of Vitamin D in our food, it is not to be relied upon. To gain adequate exposure from the sun’s UVB rays, in order to get your daily vitamin D top up, you need to be in the sun for at least 15 minutes per day without, of course, getting burnt.”

Vitamin B complex: The Brain Booster

“Want to boost your energy and improve depression? Reach for a good vitamin B complex supplement,” says Shani Shaker. “One of the common culprits for mild depression is an imbalance of brain neurotransmitters that enhance mood by helping transmit signals between brain cells, in particular, serotonin. As B vitamins are the building blocks of serotonin, increasing your intake of poultry, seafood, bananas, leafy green vegetables, potatoes and fortified cereals should help support mood. Reducing your intake of sugar will also help as it robs the body of B vitamins. One thing to watch out for is if you are already on an anti-depressant (SSRI). In that case, consult a GP before adding a supplement.”

Magnesium: The Hero Nutrient

“This really is a hero nutrient and almost every fundamental process in our body needs a good supply,” says Sarah Flower. “It may shock you to know that approximately 80 per cent of the population are deficient in magnesium. Magnesium is required for the production and stability of the ATP molecule, which provides energy for basic bodily processes. These range from processing and transporting nutrients, to making enzymes, and activating cellular pumps so that important substances can move in and out of each cell. Women in particular can suffer a range of hormonal problems from PMT symptoms right through to menopause due to low magnesium. Our heart is totally dependent on magnesium. Magnesium deficiency has been shown to increase platelet aggregation, which contributes to the kind of clotting seen in heart attacks, pulmonary embolism and strokes, which is why those with lower levels are more likely to have heart conditions. Magnesium has been shown to have a calming effect on the whole body and has been particularly useful for those suffering from anxiety, stress and even depression. When choosing a supplement opt for the most bioavailable form, Magnesium Citrate, which has been shown to be 4.5 times more absorbable than magnesium oxide.”

Co-enzyme Q10: The Energy Producer

“Q10 is essential for energy production, especially in the muscles and heart,” says Frankie Brogan, a nutritionist with Pharma Nord (www.multivits.co.uk). “Although we produce Q10 ourselves, this production declines in adulthood due to ageing and medications (such as statins). The result? Low Q10 is associated with muscular fatigue and cardiovascular health issues. Well documented Q10 supplements can combat this decline. The best Q10 supplements are derived from yeast fermentation, forming pure but difficult to absorb Q10 crystals. It’s up to the manufacturer to disperse these crystals in an oil capsule and keep the molecules stable, so the Q10 can enter the bloodstream and benefit the cells. Blister packaging helps maintain the integrity of the supplement, once produced. Seeking out Q10 products with documented bioavailability research helps assure the most benefit from this vital supplement. Research suggests 100-200mg daily as an ideal dose.”

Vitamin K2: The Calcium Transporter

“Vitamin K2 assists circulation, bone health and blood clotting,” says Frankie Brogan. “By activating specific proteins, K2 helps ensure calcium is not deposited into blood vessels where it can cause harm (i.e. calcification) but into bone where it helps improve bone density and strength. Difficult to source from the diet, most individuals benefit from K2 supplementation. MK-7 is K2’s most effective form and is either processed through fermentation or via a patented organic process. The organic technique results in a K2 MK-7 which is proven to have the highest biological activity, contains 100 per cent trans isomers and is allergen-free. As a lipid soluble vitamin, K2 is best absorbed from the gut in the presence of fats, most dependably in an oil capsule format.”

Probiotics The Gut Healer

Ensuring that you have the right balance of good bacteria in your digestive system is essential to good health and wellbeing. When this balance is right, the healthy bacteria keep the unhealthy bacteria in check. Taking a good multi-strain probiotic supplement is an effective way of topping up your levels of good bacteria. “These ‘good’ bacteria help to manufacture nutrients like the B vitamins, including folate, and help your body to absorb calcium, which is important if you are at risk of osteoporosis,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville, a leading nutritionist and author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar. As 70 per cent of your immune system is located in your gut, a good balance of healthy bacteria is crucial in order to help the body maintain its defences against bugs and infection. Dr Glenville recommends taking a probiotic that contains at least 22 billion organisms including both lactobacillus and bifidobacteria strains.

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