Supplements: a buyer’s guide

Registered nutritional therapist Michaella Mazzoni gives an overview of how to choose the right vitamins, minerals and supplements for you

The great thing about the internet is that there is lots of information out there. However, the downside is that there is lots of information out there! It’s so easy to become totally overwhelmed when trying to decide which supplement is right for you. You may have done hours of research online and decided on the vitamin or mineral that you want, only to discover that there are different forms of that nutrient! This guide will help to clarify some of the considerations around choosing the right supplement for you.

Health store vs supermarket

You may have noticed that you can get the same vitamin B12 supplement from your supermarket that you see in the health store. You may have also noticed there is a big difference in price. But the differences don’t start and end at pricing. Where you get your supplements from matters, and they are almost always more expensive for a reason. Firstly, supplement brands often fund research to ensure they are up to date with scientific developments and therapeutic uses of vitamins, minerals and other extracts. Most practitioner-based supplement brands also employ nutritionists or functional doctors to work alongside the general public and practitioners. Secondly, the dosage is likely to be higher with less additives such as bulking agents in the practitioner/premium brand supplement than in the supermarket version. So, while a bottle of 60 vitamin B12 supplements may be £10 cheaper than a premium supplement, you would need to take more of the cheaper version to get the same amount of the vitamin or nutrient.

Different formats

Supplements come in different forms. This can vary from tinctures and powders to liquids, capsules or tablets, and even sprays that you take internally or externally. Sprays and sublingual products (this comes from the Latin for ‘under the tongue’) are very easily absorbed since they don’t have to go through the digestive system. This makes them a good option for people who don’t have an easy time digesting food or supplements in general. The downside to sprays is that they often consist of just one nutrient.

Powders are an easy way to take supplements since they are easily absorbed and can be added to smoothies or drinks. I particularly like using powdered multinutrient products and probiotics with children as they can be stirred in with yogurt or sprinkled over their food without them noticing or having to swallow a tablet.

The most common form of supplements is capsules or tablets. The advantage is that they are often in complex form, which means that they consist of many different nutrients in one capsule. The downside is that they can sometimes be difficult to swallow. One way of working around this is to cut the tablet in half or open the capsule and stir the contents together with some water or juice.

Safety is paramount

As always, safety is crucial when it comes to supplements, particularly if you are not working with a nutritionist or health care practitioner. Some supplements, like 5HTP and vitamin K, can interfere with medication in a serious way. If you are on any medication, pregnant, breastfeeding or have a medical condition, it is very important to check with your doctor or health care practitioner before you start taking supplements.

Secondly, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Even if you aren’t taking medication, some of the most commonly used supplements can build up in the body, essentially meaning that they are coming in faster than the body can use them. It’s particularly important to bear this in mind with the fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K – so be sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dosage on the bottle.

Some supplements are better taken with food and some without. Carefully read the instructions on the bottle as there is always a reason for the timing. For example, amino acid supplements like 5HTP will compete with protein in food for absorption. So, if you take them at the same time as you eat your dinner, you won’t be getting as much out of the supplement compared to taking it on an empty stomach.

5 of the best supplements to consider taking

Here are some examples of the most commonly used supplements and some information about their purpose, format and dosage.

Magnesium is necessary for over 300 different processes in the body. Magnesium citrate is generally well tolerated and can have a mild laxative effect, so while it can be helpful for easing constipation, if you have loose stools, opt instead for magnesium glycinate.

B vitamins are essential for energy production. Select a B-complex which says ‘methylated’ on the bottle as this means that the B vitamins are ‘activated’ and easier for your body to use.

Zinc is often forgotten about, but it is a key mineral and many people have low levels of it. Pick a balanced zinc product and do not exceed 15mg per day.

Vitamin D. It is recommended that everyone in the UK takes a vitamin D supplement between the months of October and March. Vitamin D supplements in the form of drops or sprays are easier to absorb. Select one that contains vitamin K (unless you are on medication) for even better absorption. Do not exceed 2000iu per day outside of a health care practitioner’s supervision.

Probiotics. Most people have heard about probiotics in one way or another. Generally speaking, you need a blend with more than 10 billion bacteria per dosage for general maintenance and 20–30 billion per capsule for a ‘top up’ after antibiotics.

Michaella Mazzoni, Registered NT, DipCNM mBANT CNHC reg, offers private nutrition consultations as well as video consultations to help support all areas of health. To book an appointment, email Michaella at info@michaellamazzoninutrition.com or call 07786 841 333.

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