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Supplements: do we really need them?

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Micronutrient supplements can be an essential addition to our diets in some cases, for example, if you have had surgery to your tract, are on certain medications, or following a vegan diet (see our previous post on this). However, they are certainly not needed by everyone.

Supplements are designed to do exactly that – supplement the diet. So be wary of anyone who recommends a load and promises you huge changes with the addition of these.

Our top tips:

If you are taking micronutrients, always check the recommended daily allowance (RDA) and don’t go above this. High doses of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins can build up in the system, resulting in toxicity. Often doses are pharmaceutical, rather than nutritional, meaning the dose you are taking is much higher than you could possibly obtain naturally from foods.

If you have gut symptoms, be particularly wary of high dose iron or magnesium as these can cause or worsen your symptoms. They can result in loose stools, as magnesium relaxes your muscles and iron is generally poorly absorbed in supplement form.

If you’re on cancer treatment check with your pharmacist team before taking any supplements as they could interact with the treatment drugs.

One supplement we should all be taking in the UK between September and April is Vitamin D. This is because the sun is not close enough to penetrate our skin during those colder months (check your shadow when you’re outdoors – if it is shorter than you, the sun is close enough to penetrate your skin and produce Vitamin D!). The UK government guidelines currently recommend 10mcg (400IU) per day for adults and children over 1. Whilst really high doses can result in toxicity, there is emerging evidence that a slightly higher daily dose may be beneficial …so watch this space!

TAKE HOME: there certainly is a place for micronutrient supplementation in some cases but watch out for those high dose tablets. Getting vitamins and minerals from your food is the best way to feed you and your gut microbes. And take your vitamin D!

If in doubt, seek help from a doctor or registered dietitian.