Log In

Reset Password

Supplement mistakes you might be making

Vitamin supplements: expert opinion ranges from expensive urine to life-changing nutrients

I’ve been approaching this moment with fear and dread, but it’s recently become official.

At the tender ages of 11 and 8, based on a high volume of eye-rolling and “Muuuuum, you’re sooo embarrassing”, I suspect I’m now living with tweenagers.

These not-so-small humans are a total joy and it’s amazing to really get to know them as they grow but, wow, I am on a steep learning curve.

Recently, my clothes and mascara started disappearing, then I was officially informed the tooth fairy did not exist; then there were questions about puberty and lately everything has been a source of debate.

I’ve been challenged over bedtimes, age-appropriate outfits, homework, iPad safety rules and, most recently, the relative merits of broccoli versus pizza.

Of all things, they should know that the latter is not really up for discussion! I’m kidding there because, really, I’m actually always happy to chat nutrition with my children. I just have to remember to ditch the emotional involvement at the door.

We make so many decisions for our children when they’re young, that what they actually choose to swallow becomes one of the few they make for themselves. Short of literally shoving the food down their throats, you can’t make a kid eat something if they don’t want to — and boy don’t they know it.

Food can very quickly become the focus of a power struggle. The second you put your emotional concern over what they eat to the side, the whole thing becomes easier (maybe that’s a topic for next week).

Funnily enough, the one area that I meet zero resistance on is the children taking their vitamins.

No one has to put up with a spoonful of gross cod liver oil any more. Our children are lucky enough to have that all-important DHA and EPA disguised in a delicious gummy or easy-to-swallow gel cap.

My girls actually have the strawberry-flavoured Nordic Naturals gel caps from People’s.

They can chew them or swallow them … I’m not really sure which they do to be honest, but they definitely go in without complaint! What is a matter of huge debate, is the subject of supplementation in general.

There’s an extremely confusing range of opinions out there; some articles will tell you that vitamin supplements just give you expensive urine and some will tell you they’re life-changing.

I actually think both can be true, depending on what you’re up to. But here’s a list of the most common mistakes I see people making. If you’re still confused about what you should be doing after reading this, then come in and see me at the clinic!

12 mistakes you might be making with supplements:

1, Trying to compensate for a bad diet

If you eat terribly, but pop a multivitamin thinking that makes it all OK, think again (especially if it’s a sugary gummy). You can’t outrun a bad diet using supplements.

They will never live up to what whole, real food can give you — packed full of fibre and micronutrients that work in synergy to give your body what it needs.

They also can’t undo the damage that eating refined sugar and processed fats will do when it comes to either weight or chronic disease. If you’re a parent trying to boost a fussy eater, then by all means go ahead, but we need to keep working on the eating too (more on this next week).

2, Not considering bioavailability

The form that your micronutrient comes in is crucial. For example, calcium citrate is usually much more readily absorbed than calcium carbonate.

Unfortunately, the less bioavailable forms are usually cheaper, which means they’re prolific in supplements. Do your research about the most bioavailable options (which also means dosages can be lower) or, better still, seek professional guidance.

3, Going budget

The most bioavailable option will come from a more specialist company and is likely to be more expensive. But these companies are also less likely to use artificial dyes, fillers or talc in their supplements. There are lots of great options available here including Innate Choice (Inside Out Wellness), Life Extension (Rock On), Rainbow Light (People’s), Nordic Naturals (People’s) or Solgar (Down to Earth).

4, Not checking for interactions with medications

Remember that supplements can sometimes interact with medications or trigger medical issues, so it’s always a good idea to run your supplementation past your GP or nutritionist.

For example, Omega 3 supplements are contraindicated for people with epilepsy and shouldn’t be taken with certain high blood pressure meds.

Curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) is also contraindicated with high blood pressure meds and also radiation therapy. This is just scratching the surface, so please check in with a professional!

5, Taking micronutrients at the same time as fibre supplements or chia

Chia seed or fibre supplements like psyllium can be amazing for getting your bowels moving, but they can also bind to your supplements meaning that you are less likely to absorb them. Take your vitamins/minerals at a different time of day.

6, Presuming you have enough vitamin D because of our climate

Recent research suggests that there isn’t a safe enough level of sun exposure to provide you with adequate vitamin D.

Many people, even in sunny climates, are vitamin D deficient — especially because we use so much sunscreen and seek shade/air conditioning!

Vitamin D is really important for energy and disease prevention and most adults do well with a baseline supplement of 1000ius. It’s a fat-soluble nutrient so best taken in an oil base.

I like the vitamin D drops by Innate Choice at Inside Out Wellness. Good food sources of vitamin D include organic dairy, salmon, sardines, eggs and mushrooms that have been soaking up sunlight.

7, Taking multivitamins or B vitamins at night

B vitamins give you energy so don’t take them at night right before you go to bed! A potent multivitamin is likely to have a high B vitamin content, so watch those too.

Please also remember that these are best taken with food. If you take them on an empty stomach they might make you feel sick. In Bermuda, I suggest keeping most vitamins and minerals in the fridge.

8, Taking iron without testing, or without vitamin C

Many of us are quick to assume that fatigue is the result of iron deficiency (anaemia). However, this really is a supplement you should only take if you have been tested and are medically deficient.

Supplementing iron when you are not deficient can be toxic. Also know that iron absorption is vastly improved with vitamin C, preferably a gentle ascorbate version versus an ascorbic acid version. This helps to prevent the constipation that often goes hand in hand with iron supplementation.

If your doctor indicates you do need it, try the Solgar Gentle Iron (Down to Earth) with 500mg Ester-C or Easy-C.

9, Using any old probiotic

Probiotics are immensely useful for digestive health, especially following antibiotics or when you are using the birth control pill (or any steroid medication).

However, they are tricky to supplement because they need to survive the gastric juices in the digestive tract in order to populate your bowel.

Choose a high-dosage, multi-strain option from a reputable provider. I like the Innate Choice and Solgar options.

10, Taking high doses of some single nutrients in isolation

Nutrients rarely function in isolation. Taking high doses of single nutrients can do more harm than good.

For example, high doses of vitamin E, without adequate vitamin C and selenium (and especially in conjunction with a poor diet and lifestyle) can actually increase cardiovascular risk.

B6 and B12 are also two examples of nutrients that are best taken with a baseline B complex in order to be absorbed properly.

11, Relying on supplements for calcium

Osteoporosis is a big problem in westernised cultures and yet we have the highest dairy intake.

Eating a lot of dairy isn’t the answer for bone density but neither is relying on high-dosage supplements which may increase cardiovascular risk.

Having a lower dose, bioavailable supplement can be helpful, but it’s also useful to eat plenty of green leaves/vegetables, nuts/seeds, oily fish (because of the tiny edible bones), beans/lentils and hummus (because of the garbanzos and tahini).

It’s also what you don’t consume that’s important. Caffeine, refined sugar, alcohol and carbonated drinks are all bad for bone density. Oh, and do weight-bearing exercise too!

12, Self-prescribing over and above the basics

You probably won’t go far wrong with a quality multivitamin, a probiotic and a good fish oil supplement.

However, if you’re trying to do anything else, then it’s probably best to consult a professional.

They can make sure you have a targeted plan that includes dietary steps as well as a supplement strategy.

They can also make sure you avoid any contraindications and take the most bioavailable forms possible.

Catherine Burns is a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. For details: www.natural.bm, 236-7511 or, on Facebook, Natural Nutrition Bermuda