Are you wasting your time with your supplements?

supplements, nutrition, health advice
In a perfect world no one would need supplements – we would all get eight hours of sleep a night, eat more than five serves of organic, seasonal fruit and vegetables a day, exercising regularly and generally lead blissful stress-free lives.

But cut to reality and we are time poor, stressed and generally not consuming enough of the good stuff (and too much of the bad stuff). This can lead to deficiency or depletion of the basic vitamins and minerals that fuel our enzymes and biochemistry, to keep us ticking like a well-oiled machine.

My advice on supplements

Do nutritional supplements really work?

The dietary supplement business is a global multi-billion dollar operation ($$$) and as such there are a lot of supplements of varying quality. Just because something has ‘everything from A to zinc’ does not mean its bioavailability (your body’s uptake of it) is any good.

In my experience, practitioner-only supplements (the ones you can only get through a GP, nutritionist, naturopath or good health food shop) are the best. These brands do their research to make evidence-based supplements, with therapeutic dosages, good absorption rates and quality ingredients.

Do we really need to take supplements?

While I would like to say no, the answer really is, it depends. While a balanced whole-foods diet should provide sufficient amounts of all your necessary vitamins and minerals, the average Australian diet is far from that. There are also many disease states and diets that mean you need extra supplementation support.

When they’re ideal (filling the gap)

Supplementation can be great if you see there is a big need or gap in your diet. People who may find it necessary to take them include folks who have dietary restrictions (vegetarians, vegans and individuals with intolerances or allergies to certain foods groups), immuno-compromised individuals, the elderly and people on certain medications that effect absorption of some vitamins and minerals.

As with everything, it is much better to see a professional for advice rather than have a one-way chat with Dr Google or gossip magazines. Some vitamins and minerals can build up to toxic levels or compete with medications and other supplements. Getting the right dosage for a therapeutic effect (meaning it works) is also super important, otherwise you are burning your money and possibly harming your body.

What’s the best way to store them?

How and where you keep supplements is really important – store powders, oils and liquids in the fridge; it’s a dark cool environment that means they’ll keep fresher (and more potent) longer. For anything else, store them in a cool, dry and dark place like as a cupboard.

Easy supplement stock take:

  • Throw out anything that has gone past its expiry date.
  • Think about why you’re taking them and if or when you really need them (e.g. are they for daily support or as required to ward of a cold).
  • Make sure you know how to take the supplement. What is a therapeutic dose is? Is there a measure that it is working for you? Do you know if it affects the absorption or uptake of other nutrients or medications? Can you take too much of it? Consult a professional if you’re not sure.
Image credit: iStock
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Lucy Beaumont
Lucy is a practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Pilates instructor and health writer. Lucy practices at Transform Health and teaches at several Pilates studios (mat, reformer and equipment) around Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, city and inner west. And has taught in some of the best studios in New York and loves to write. With a strong belief that preventative nutritional medicine is fundamental to a healthy mind and body, she regularly scours the latest health and nutrition literature as well as attending conferences and seminars. As an extreme foodie, Lucy firmly believes in the ‘everything in moderation’ mantra, and loves cooking, eating and entertaining.