Should we take vitamin and mineral supplements? and which might be most worth considering and WHY?
Having a balanced diet is widely accepted to be essential for good and optimal health. However obtaining everything we need from our food is not always possible.
Preventative supplementation is one strategy I look at here, in the case of supplements that you should consider as these are nutrients are most likely short in our diets and also hard or impossible to take too much of.
Before I write any more: + DISCLAIMER: Note this article is based on the views and research of the author Kate Brooks and should not be construed as medical advice or advice which should be followed without first consulting with a Medical professional.
In this blog. I discuss supplements in particular those I feel are most important and ones you might want to be aware of. However bare in mind this is not necessarily exhaustive and of course there may be other supplements you might consider or even vitamins and minerals you need. This blog focuses on the WHY and of course the WHAT to be aware of i in particular in relation to sourcing and BENEFITS.
What kind of Supplements do you need?
This blog is specifically on the topic of vitamin and mineral supplements you might consider, with a couple of small exceptions in the form of turmeric which is not so much herbal as a spice (made from a root), and also a bit of Algae, so I’ve included both here in this topic of nutritional supplementation.
Herbal supplementation however, is a slightly different topic, which I would like to write about another time. However it is worth noting that herbal supplements are a different product as they are offering therapeutic benefits, rather than catering for a shortfall in a specific vitamin or mineral.
Herbal supplements are also often much less well researched, although the market for non medical intervention is growing rapidly all the time, along with the body of research, so these may also be worth considering at times.
So why might you consider taking anything? If “food is medicine”?
In short, additionally to preventing deficiency in a proactive and safe way. It is also the case that eating well is not always easy. Access to quality raw ingredients might be restricted by budgets or time to cook, or physical access. So, we fall back on convenience and processed foods at times, which are generally very short on nutritional value.
Added to which the nutrient levels in our soils(1) has also been shown to have declined since industrialisation of farming practices. So where the staple vegetables such as carrots and broccoli of my childhood used to be rich in vitamins, evidence now shows that steep reductions in vitamin levels are a result of our increasingly nutrient depleted soils. I prefer to take a ‘just eat more vegetables’ approach myself, as a solution, but what if this doesn’t strike you as enough?
Should you just take a Multivitamin?
Many of us might be tempted to take a multivitamin as a one-stop shop solution. However it is necessary to consider that all multivitamins will vary, and rather like a ready meal, frankly you can’t see what’s in them.
To get to the point with an example, vitamin A is one to watch if you are pregnant in a Multi-vit as pregnant women don’t want too much of it, and it is readily available in a balanced diet. Conversely where as Magnesium is generally added at tiny trace values if at all, there is much more likely to be in shorter supply, especially as we age. So, my answer is that a Multivitamin might only be good for those of us who can’t eat as much or eat as much diversity as we should. There is also a danger of having a false sense of health security. Just by taking a Multivitamin, believing that it is a great catch all solution.
Perhaps what not to take, as well as what to take then, is also a relevant issue. It depends far more on individual circumstances and health status than anything else. So please consider your diet, and any conditions and medication you take.
I often get asked if I take any Calcium or Vitamin C, however I don’t as I like to make sure I get these from dietary sources. In addition having adequate Vitamin D and K facilities the proper use of Calcium in the body, which I do supplement with.
Whilst there is little danger of over doing it Vitamin C is water soluble, in very high quantities there is some evidence it can lead to an overload of iron. In my case I prefer to keep myself conscious of consuming enough fresh foods, which in sufficient diversity are great to boosting levels of vitamin C. So it is a very personal choice, however worth noting that where a medical condition or specific life-stage, for example I mention the Menopause, it is worth saying that the recommended amount increases slightly in advance of and during this time as hormonal changes can lead to bone thinning and greater amounts of calcium can help. However other medications such as hormone replacement therapy should be considered as well as present and ongoing blood levels which can be tested for either at home, or by a qualified Nutritional Therapist.
Number 1: has to be Vitamin D:
It has so many functions in our body, but we can’t make it accept from sunlight which is why so many of us have lower levels of Vitamin D than we should.
Vitamin D, plays a crucial role in maintaining bone health as well as supporting the immune system. Recent research has also suggested that Vitamin D deficiency may also be linked to cognitive decline and mood disorders. Vitamin D intake, has also been shown to contributes to enhanced mental clarity and reduces the risk of low mood.*** From a fitness point of view, not having enough of this nutrient also impairs muscle maintenance and frankly wrecks any notion of hypertrophy and leaves you feeling tired and depleted.
Taking Vitamin D supplements daily of 1000 nano microns a day to in pill form is very low risk. The high dose version is suitable for anyone with a higher requirement level at 5000 nano microns. It may be worth getting your levels checked, using an at home blood test or similar if you spend a lot of time indoors, have dark skin or a genetic vulnerability. Taking Vitamin D with Omega 3 also helps the absorption of both.
The next most important supplement to consider is Omega 3. This is an essential fatty acid (EFA) which is unsaturated. It is considered essential as we do not make this EFA in our bodies. The need to take Omega three arises for two main reasons. The first being many of us don’t consume enough foods that allow us to naturally have enough Omega 3 which has functions in relation to the homeostasis, maintenance and health of so many systems in our bodies, including our bones, brain, vision, circulation, hormones and immunity.
The evidence around benefits and potential benefits is impressive and really extremely wide ranging and the focus of much ongoing research (2). My favourite wins from Omega 3 are definitely to do with improving vascular and heart health risks. This is a mechanism connected to that of Cholesterol. Balancing healthy fats and outweighing the deleterious effects of too many saturates in the diet, assists with making our blood vessels less likely to be clogged up and the omega 3’s also help keep blood vessels elastic and platelets less sticky, which helps reduce risks associated with blood pressure being high. The brain protecting effects of Omega 3, also show that anxiety and depression are less likely amongst those of us who have reasonable to higher levels of omega 3’s in their diets or via supplement, but also help to prevent age related mental decline such as Alzheimers disease. If those are not considerable enough reasons to take an Omega 3 supplement I’d be surprised, although you may have doubts about assessing what your levels of Omega 3’s actually are, and I was going to write about ideal ratio’s of Omega 3 to Omega 6 in our diet. However it transpires having just listened to a podcast with Dr Bill Harris who is President of the Fatty Acids Research Institute in the US a definite ratio is currently not possible to define. This agrees with my own findings following a deep dive (which took far too much time!) of the internet, that shows that, the Inuit populations of the North have a far more healthy ratio of Omega 6:3, but in the post industrial countries of Australasia, the UK much or Europe and the US the ratio’s are much higher in terms of 6 to 3. The relevance of this it is important to clarify is that where Omega 6 seed oils are balanced against higher Omega 3 levels the health benefits and increased and health risks diminished. As Nathalie Niddam summarised on the podcast (2)” increasing levels of Omega 3 is more important than worrying about getting omega 6 levels down in order to have a good ratio between the two.”
In relation to supplementation and what to take this is unfortunately not yet enough information to make an informed choice about what to buy. There are vegan and fish oil and Omega 3 & 6 supplements. Not all created equal at all and you will I hope have clocked the fact that the 3 & 6 and sometimes even 9 supplements that are available are not useful for addressing a shortfall of Omega 3’s that is only materially resolved by balancing out the naturally higher levels of Omega 6 and 9 that occurs in nearly all of our modern diets.
So, that just leaves the question of whether to go Vegan or Fish oil? The answer by looking at the bottle might be evident in some compounds that appear as trios of letters. There is also three of these trios in some cases. EPA and DHA are non negotiable. These are what we need!
The Omega-3 Trio: EPA, DHA, and DPA is EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid), DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) and 3. DPA (Docosapentaenoic Acid), which is the most recently discovered in relation to Omega 3, is increasingly looking like it acts as an intermediary between EPA and DHA which helps achieve a balance between the three types of Omega 3. The science is moving fast on this but fish oil or algal oil supplements are both good as the fish get these fatty acids from their diet, however always refer to the side of the bottle to ensure clean sourcing, and doses that are relatively high of EPA & DHA.
2. The next supplement I really would not go without is Magnesium:
Magnesium is powerhouse of a mineral (4 ) in fact magnesium even helps to form enzymes which then release energy from the food we consume, and also protects and facilitates, heart, brain and nerve health. So is incontrovertibly necessary! However it is estimated to be low in two thirds of the UK population.
There are multiple forms and complex forms of Magnesium, and added to this, taking it with Zinc or in chelated form can make this mineral more easily absorbable. (more on this later). National guidelines in the UK suggest we need between 300-270 mg a day. This level is higher in other countries, and perhaps this is because Magnesium is widely present in our food. However seeing as it is not well absorbed and is often inhibited in uptake, over time leading to deficiencies this level is often missed and low. Leading to common deficiency of magnesium in modern populations which in turn is thought to be contributing to increased numbers of people suffering from impaired insulin resistance, Cardiovascular disease, Osteoporosis and type II Diabetes to name a few.
Moving on to the most notable benefits of adequate levels of Magnesium, decreased stress levels, and superior relaxation, sleep and physical recovery are most commonly known about. Less well know is that a broad based Magnesium supplement is also really critical for women as post Menopause loss of bone mass is almost inevitable (without hormone replacement therapy)* and particularly worsens with low Magnesium levels (5). (this is definitely a whole other blog!).
Magnesium Taurate (6) is specifically worth a mention too, in with women’s health in mind, as it has been found to have a role in managing blood pressure as well as blood sugar levels. Both of which are negatively affected in Peri Menopause to Menopause. Magnesium Taurate is a combination of the mineral Magnesium and an amino acid, in this case taurine. There are a handful of brands that market themselves of Magnesium Complex’s, some include Mg taurate, some not, it is not easy to decide which form to purchase, however certainly a source that incorporates more than a single form combined with a balanced diet, will offer a degree of protection from the effects of defficiency, and health improvement should be achieved.
The article ref (6) referred to at Healthline on the various Magnesium forms is worth a read if you would like to dive deeper into which forms might be worth seeking out most for you.
Chlorella and Spirulina: Algae Allies - for B Vitamins & more.
A shortage of B vitamins is quite common, as these are water-soluble and cannot be stored in the body. However this potential shortfall is easily resolvable through taking a supplement. However whilst everyone needs different amounts and a B Complex is readily available, I prefer to take a combined Chlorella and Spirulina supplement, whilst ensuring the remaining B7 which is not present are obtained through my diet. Taking a combined Chlorella and Spirulina Supplement, it is possible to get Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 & B9, & B12 supplemented. So, it is only B7 (biotin) that is missing, and I routinely eat sufficient in the form of eggs, nuts and seeds and even the odd sweet potato.
These Algae are so exciting they have been called Superfoods. NASA has fed Spirulina to its Astronauts and the benefits of both algae as a food that contains almost all the B vitamins, but also more Omegas and VLCPUFA’s or very-long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids( not just 3’s), and minerals including Manganese, Phosphorus, Magnesium, iron and Zinc. Also as trace minerals include Calcium, Potassium, copper and Selenium.
Not only are they in fact a real food, they are brilliant at assisting with natural processes of detoxification in addition to providing all B vitamins in one go. Both are also rich in minerals and these microorganisms have also been associated with immune system support, and cognitive benefits. While more research is needed, their impressive nutritional profiles make them a no brainer supplement to add to your routine unless you’re currently on medications that might be contraindicated. In which case a B-Complex may work better.
Zinc: Cognitive Catalyst
I also supplement with Zinc, as I know how important it is in immunity (7) and other mineral absorption including Magnesium. It is an essential mineral involved in numerous enzymatic reactions in the body, including those related to brain function. It's believed to play a role in memory formation, learning, and cognitive development. Adequate zinc levels have been linked to improved attention and cognitive performance, making it a potential asset for mental acuity and is also key in reproduction.
Vitamin K1 & K2: Beyond Bone Health
While Vitamin K is commonly associated with managing platelet function and blood clotting, research suggests it may have a broader impact on health, including cognitive function and bone strength maintenance.
Vitamin K2 specifically, first caught my attention when it was linked to the health of blood vessels (8) and brain health. Whilst vitamin K1 can be found in leafy greens vitamin K2 is harder to obtain in the diet as to is found in fermented foods and certain animal products such as egg yolks, but is highest in liver. K2 may however be easier to hold on to in the body, but is a relatively new area of research so I take this supplement about half of the week.
Turmeric and Black Pepper:
Whilst as I mentioned at the outset Turmeric is not technically a vitamin, neither were Chlorella and Spirulina, the Algal supplements discussed previously. Turmeric with Black pepper rose to great heights when it was discovered how they have significant anti-inflammatory properties. This is reduction or management of chronic inflammation is so good for overall health, youthfulness, energy and immunity. I like taking this as a tablet now, as putting it on top of my porridge turned out not to work so well, when I found my teeth were rather yellow. In addition porridge is not the best breakfast for a lower Carbohydrate regimen should you be needing to work on your metabolic flexibility.
Supplements can be valuable allies in the quest for improved mental performance, quality sleep, and long-term health. However, it's important to remember that individual needs vary, and what works for one person might not be suitable for another. Before adding any new supplements to your routine, it's recommended to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure they align with your specific health goals and circumstances.
I hope however this is a good start for many of my health curious readers.
Any questions or feedback always welcome: Feel free to e-mail me at Kate@wellness-inspired.com
National Geographic, Stacey Colino, May 2022 “Fruits and vegetables are less nutritious than they used to be”
Biohacking Superhuman performance (Podcast) with Nathalie Niddam episode 176, May ’23 with Dr Bill Harris, President of the Fatty Acids Research Institute.
Healthline, Freydis Hjalmardsdottir, (Blog) www. healthline.com, Oct 2018, ’17 Science Based benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
Biohacking Superhuman Performance (Podcast) with Nathalie Niddam, episode 104 “Are we training or are we draining?” How to listen to your body with Mike Salemi, Kettlebell lifestyle founder.
European Journal of Epidemiology, April 2017, Kunutsor, richard, Whitehouse et al, “Low serum magnesium levels are associated with increased risk of fractures”
Healthline, Higuera, March 2019,(Blog) www.healthline.com “Magnesium and Diabetes: How are they related?”
Prasad, 2008, Molecular medicine “Zinc in Human health: effect of zine on immune cells”
Nutraceutical Business review (NBR), Oct 2018, “Vitamin K2 MK-7 and Cardiovascular Calcification”