The ultimate supplement guide
Well over half of Brits now take supplements, many regularly, according to a report by Mintel. But with so many lesser-known supplements on the market, some of us could be missing a trick. ‘A multivitamin and mineral is great for giving you a broad range of nutrients,’ says nutritional physiologist Rick Hay. ‘But if you have a particular health niggle, then topping up your levels of a specific nutrient could make all the difference.’ Here’s our guide to seven popular supplements…
Good for: A sluggish thyroid, stress, fatigue, poor concentration.
Think of tyrosine as your thyroid’s best friend. The amino acid is a key component in the production of thyroxine, a hormone that controls everything from metabolism to mood. ‘When we’re stressed, levels of L-tyrosine can become depleted,’ says Hay, ‘so thyroid function suffers.’
Symptoms of a flagging thyroid include fatigue, poor concentration, low mood, and difficulty losing weight, so if you’re experiencing any of these, this supplement could be worth a try. ‘There’s mounting evidence L-tyrosine can also help improve mental performance,’ says Hay, ‘particularly when you’re feeling stressed or under pressure.’
Eat up: Your body naturally makes L-tyrosine from food that contains protein, such as dairy products, eggs and oats, so aim to have a portion of protein with every meal.
Top up: A daily dose of around 150mg per kg of bodyweight is considered optimal – so for a 10st woman, that’s around 10g per day.
Good for: Anxiety, insomnia and PMS.
This mineral plays a vital role in more than 300 cellular reactions throughout the body, including the regulation of neurotransmitters and the sleep hormone melatonin.
‘Magnesium has a calming effect on the entire nervous system,’ says nutritional therapist and author Angelique Panagos. ‘And this helps promote restful sleep and can ease anxiety. Unfortunately, the mineral is used up by the body’s stress response, so levels can easily fall below optimum.’ Research also suggests that low levels can be associated with symptoms of PMS, including low mood and irritability.
Eat up: Leafy vegetables, nuts, quinoa, sesame seeds, chickpeas, avocados and bananas. ‘Good-quality dark chocolate is another tasty way to up your intake,’ says Panagos.
Top up: Up to 400mg of magnesium a day is considered safe. Be sure to take an hour before bed for best results.
Good for: Low energy, fertility issues.
This enzyme plays an important role in helping the cells to produce energy. ‘As we age, the body produces less Co-Q10, and we also get worse at absorbing it from the diet,’ explains Hay. ‘So most people would benefit from taking a supplement – particularly if you’re prone to fatigue.’ Studies also indicate Co-Q10 boosts fertility by improving sperm motility in men; while women who took 600mg daily showed improved egg quality and fertilisation rates, according to research published in Fertility And Sterility.
Eat up: Sources of Co-Q10 include spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, oranges and strawberries, soybeans, lentils, peanuts and sesame seeds.
Top up: Anything from 90mg to 200mg per day. ‘Taking it with food will help you absorb it faster as it’s fat soluble,’ explains Hay.
Good for: Achy joints, immunity.
This molecule contains sulphur, which the body needs to produce and repair cartilage, and to make immunoglobulins that support your immune system. ‘MSM acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory,’ says Hay. ‘It’s good for easing pain in the joints – I often recommend it to clients who run.’ If you’re already taking glucosamine for achy knees, it may well be worth adding MSM to your regime – one study found taking both together gave more rapid pain relief to people with osteoarthritis.
Eat up: Think smelly foods like eggs, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower or garlic.
Top up: ‘Intensive agricultural methods have leached the soil of important elements like sulphur, so a supplement is a good idea,’ says Hay. Try a dose of 1000mg, three times a day, with meals.
Good for: Acne, thin hair, boosting fertility.
A key player in the immune system, as well as hormone production and cell repair, zinc couldn’t be more vital to good health. ‘Unfortunately, stress can deplete levels of this mineral,’ warns Panagos, ‘which can manifest itself in poor skin and thinning hair.’ A study in the Archives Of Dermatology found people who took 135mg zinc supplements showed a dramatic improvement in skin condition after just four weeks.
And, if you’re trying for a baby, it’s worth topping up your levels. ‘Zinc is vital to egg and sperm development,’ says Panagos.
Eat up: Zinc-rich foods include cashews, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and lentils.
Top up: The recommended daily amount for women is 7mg, though treatment for skin issues requires a higher dose of around 130mg.
Good for: Bloating and food intolerances.
With around one in five of us suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), digestive enzymes can be a helpful addition to the diet, particularly if you’re prone to bloating. ‘
These break down fats, proteins and carbs into smaller molecules that are easier to absorb,’ explains Hay. ‘As we get older, the digestive system becomes less efficient, so food can sit undigested in the gut, which is when bloating occurs. Taking a mix of digestive enzymes is a good way to give your body a helping hand and ease food intolerances.’
Eat up: Pineapple and papaya both contain enzymes that help the body break down protein; mango and banana are good for helping to process carbohydrates, avocados can help with fat digestion, while kefir (a fermented milk) can improve lactose digestion.
Top up: Look for a supplement that includes lactase (for digestion of milk) and alpha-galactosidase (which helps reduce gas and bloating caused by eating beans and veg) and take with every meal.
Good for: Recurrent thrush, bacterial vaginosis, digestive problems.
Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are a form of soluble fibre that isn’t actually digested by the body. ‘Instead, FOS pass to the large intestine, where they act like fertiliser for healthy bacteria such as lactobacillus,’ says Panagos. ‘Research indicates that prebiotics enhance the benefits of probiotics, so if you’re taking these, it’s worth looking for one that contains FOS.’ If you’re prone to thrush or bacterial vaginosis, prebiotics could play another helpful role. In one French study, prebiotic gel significantly improved recovery of vaginal flora following treatment for bacterial vaginosis, reducing the risk of further recurrences.
Eat up: Bananas, onions, garlic, asparagus and leeks are all good sources of FOS.
Top up: Optimum intake is around 5-10g FOS daily. ‘A word of warning,’ says Panagos. ‘Prebiotics can make you windy, so avoid if you already suffer from gas issues.