The Instagram logo

Should you take supplements?

Caroline Peyton explains why you should consider supplementing your diet with vitamins and minerals

More and more people understand the need to take responsibility for their health, especially with an increasing older demographic. Turning to supplements can be a sensible decision, but how do you know which ones you need? And how do you choose the right product?

We obtain our vitamins and minerals from natural wholefoods: plants, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, pulses and wholegrains. We obtain our fibre from a high plant-based diet with substantial amounts of vegetables, some fruit, wholegrains like brown rice, pulses, nuts and seeds.

However, our soils are becoming depleted of minerals like selenium, magnesium, potassium, iron and calcium due to intense farming methods and/or overuse of fertilisers. We rely on many of these minerals from plants that obtain them from the soil. And many fruits and vegetables from supermarkets are picked and flown into the UK from far away. As soon as the plants are picked, the nutrient status starts to decline.

Add to this our busy, stressful lifestyles. Stress puts additional demands on the body. Did you know that the adrenal glands that secrete our stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol use high concentrations of vitamin C? This is a master vitamin for supporting the immune system. High stress may leave insufficient vitamin C to fight infections.

Seek expert advice

It is best to seek the advice of a highly qualified nutritional therapist who is trained to understand which nutrients support specific symptoms and health concerns. They can advise on the best formulations and potencies to take and will check for contra-indications with medications from a safety perspective. This is especially important if you have a chronic condition that is managed by medications. They can also assess your current diet and identify which nutrients are lacking.

Multivitamins and minerals

Start with a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement. Look for those with few fillers and binders like anti-caking agents, thickeners and bulking agents. Then, look at the NRV, or nutrient reference value, which is the daily intake that prevents disease. This is very different to optimum nutrition. Take vitamin C: the NRV is 80mg, yet an optimal intake could be 500–1,000mg. You won’t get that much crammed into a “multi” supplement, but you could get 250mg. Generally you get what you pay for. B vitamins are also usually included at much higher levels than the NRV. These vitamins tend to work synergistically (better together) to support the nervous system, cognition, stress management, the energy cycle and more. Vegans/vegetarians require B12, which is deficient in their diets.

Vitamin C

If you experience frequent colds and infections, consider a vitamin C standalone supplement (1,000mg daily) with flavonoids (like bilberry) that enhance the bioavailability of vitamin C. It also supports collagen formation and the absorption of iron.


Magnesium is involved in over 300 enzyme processes in the body. It has a calming and relaxing effect and can help with headaches. It may benefit constipation due to the muscle relaxant effect. It supports bone health and is also required in the energy cycle. Minerals are bound to a carrier and some are better absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream than others. Inorganic compounds like oxide are not well absorbed, whereas organic compounds like citrate, glycinate and malate are well absorbed, so support the transport of magnesium into the bloodstream where it can be used. Aim for the full NRV of 375mg.

Essential fatty acids

Essential fatty acids in the form of EPA and DHA are another “essential” supplement I recommend. These fats are converted from omega-3 in the body but the conversion rate is very poor (about 10 per cent). Oily fish is naturally rich in these fats but few people eat enough to obtain what the body requires. We need these fats as the body cannot make them. They send out anti-inflammatory messages helping to dampen down inflammation. The brain is 60 per cent EPA and DHA so required for good brain function. They are found in every cell membrane and nerve ending. They are particularly important for female hormone health and heart health.

If oily fish does not feature in your diet three times a week aim for 750mg combined EPA/DHA. Good quality supplements will screen the fish used to make these oils for heavy metals and PCBs to ensure purity and will source the fish sustainably too. If you are vegan or vegetarian there are vegan algae-based alternatives.

Vitamin D3

Living in the UK there is insufficient access to sunlight, especially in the winter when there is a lack of UVB rays that generate vitamin D in the skin. Those with darker skins and the elderly are more at risk of deficiency. Vitamin D plays an essential role in immunity, bone health and healthy mood. It helps to reduce inflammation and may help with blood sugar regulation. The dosages vary considerably but I tend to recommend 1,000iu.

Caroline Peyton is a naturopath, nutritionist and gut health expert. For more information, visit

Read articles from our latest issue here...