News & Media

03 February 2020

Vitamins and supplements… do we really need them?

Everywhere you turn, there seems to be a new vitamin, supplement or craze that promises to make you look 20 years younger, become the definition of health or prevent chronic disease. All you need to do is apply a cream, take a tablet a day or down a tasteless drink… it’s that easy and life-changing (according to the ads)! Ever wondered if it’s fact or fiction? We consulted our dietitian, Anna, for her take on popular vitamins and supplements.

Tablets and pills

Collagen

Let’s be honest, as humans we like to look and feel good and often this is associated with a youthful appearance. Many people take or trial collagen supplements to help reduce the appearance of skin wrinkles and lines, and basically to look more ‘youthful’. But, does it actually help?

Collagen is a protein found in our body that helps provide the scaffolding for many bodily tissues, including our skin, tendons, muscles, bones and even teeth!

There’s no strong evidence to suggest collagen supplementation improves skin composition or appearance. To date, there has been little investigation into its benefits, and there have been mixed results.

Collagen is used throughout our body (not just our skin), so there’s also no guarantee supplemented collagen will reduce wrinkles or improve skin quality.

The main piece of advice we have for managing skin (genetics and health conditions aside), is to drink enough water and be smart about skin protection. Our skin is our body’s largest organ and when we look after it, we can prevent early skin ageing.

Krill oil

Krill oil is often touted to improve cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation and be an anti-depressant.

Krill oil supplements contain the good quality fats (think your omega-3s) that are also found in fish oil. There have been claims the good quality fats in krill oil are more easily absorbed by our body than when we consume fish oil, but research hotly debates this. We also know that consuming the food as opposed to the supplement can result in better health outcomes.

If you’re after a proven, beneficial way to improve heart health, then include more omega-3 fats in your diet. Oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts are the way to go.

Probiotics

Probiotics seem to be the new go-to health supplement. There is an apparently endless list of their positive benefits, but how do you sort the hype from the facts?

Probiotics are living micro-organisms and they feed off the prebiotics (fuel) in our gut. It’s this interaction with our gut that can improve our digestive health and immunity.

Our gut already has a natural population of good bacteria, and often probiotics in supplements do little to change this.

Probiotics are naturally found in many foods, such as yoghurts, certain cheeses and fermented foods like miso, sauerkraut and speciality breads.

Research in this area is still evolving, and it is unclear if specific types of probiotics are beneficial for managing health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel diseases, bone health and diarrhoea. So even if you take a probiotic supplement, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see any benefit.

You’re best to stick to a varied diet that includes plenty of veggies, fruits and high-fibre wholegrains to feed your natural gut bacteria and keep it healthy. If you haven’t already, add fermented foods to your diet. This will mean you’re consuming a bigger range of probiotics and improving your digestive health and overall immunity.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 isn’t produced by our body, but it is essential for multiple bodily functions. It plays a key role in energy production, blood cell formation and neurological function. While it can be stored in our liver for years until we need it, some people are at risk of developing B12 deficiency.

We can consume enough B12 in our diet, but it’s primarily sourced from animal products (meats, dairy and eggs). Vegetarians and vegans are at higher risk of B12 deficiency, so we recommend choosing B12 fortified breads, cereals and dairy alternatives to avoid this. People with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are also at risk of become B12 deficient, as are those using certain medications.

Typically, it’s not worth buying Vitamin B12 supplements unless you’re at risk of or have been diagnosed with a deficiency. As always, we recommend speaking with your GP for an adequate health assessment and diagnosis.