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Countless people take dietary supplements to support their health and wellness. But not all food supplements are created equal.

In this article we will explore what science says about the best day to day supplements to incorporate into you diet, and reveal how the food supplement industry isn't everything you may have thought it was.

What's the Difference Between Multi-Vitamins, Dietary Supplements, Energy Supplements and Health Supplements

The terms 'dietary supplement' and 'food supplement' can be used interchangeably. Yet within these broad categories, you will find a vast array of different types of supplements - formulated to target specific areas of nutrition or drive certain physiological outcomes.

Multivitamins provide the vitamins necessary for health, but no more. Health supplements go a little further and may include minerals, and perhaps amino acids and fatty acids.

Beauty supplements, for example, target hair, skin and nails. Energy supplements might set their crosshairs for mental sharpness, physical vigour or both.

Sounds good - but despite the glossy marketing and purported benefits, the food supplement industry is rife with untruths and false claims.

What Is a Food Supplement?

In the modern world, where nutrient-poor food is so convenient, it's not always easy to eat a diet that will provide enough of all the many nutrients your body needs for optimal health.

Food supplements are intended to, literally, supplement your diet by providing a concentrated dose of micro- and phyto-nutrients - usually in the form of capsules or tablets

The explicit aim of food supplements is to help you correct nutritional deficiencies and maintain the recommended intake of certain nutrients. It's a multi-billion-pound industry!.

Natural, Herbal or Synthetic Supplements?

While all food supplements are technically synthetic, their ingredients can come from a variety of sources. Herbal supplements, for example are derived from plants thought to convey health benefits. Some supplements are natural, meaning they are made using ingredients found in the natural world. Other supplements are made using synthetic compounds that were created in a chemical plant.

Natural, Herbal or Synthetic Supplements?

While all food supplements are technically synthetic, their ingredients can come from a variety of sources. Herbal supplements, for example are derived from plants thought to convey health benefits. Some supplements are natural, meaning they are made using ingredients found in the natural world. Other supplements are made using synthetic compounds that were created in a chemical plant.

How To choose Food Supplements That Work?

Have no doubt, there are food supplements out there that have a positive impact. But they are easy to overlook or completely miss due to an oversaturated and under-regulated market - and all the harder to find when honest manufacturers are prevented from referencing the scientific rigour behind their product. Remember: it's illegal for food supplements to make definitive health claims on their packaging. So how do you separate the good from bad.

Any brand can pay for a private clinical study, doctor the results and state outcomes that are gravely misleading. Yet peer-reviewed clinical studies have been reviewed and approved by independent experts, published in medical journals and can be trusted.

So, follow this simple step to identify which food supplements will work

  • Check for evidence. If you do see a ingredients, pop it in the search bar at www.pubmed.gov to see if the ingredients have been studied, tested and published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

What Nutritional Deficiencies Do Most Adults Have, and What Supplements Are Best to Address These?

Health and wellness is a vast, ever-changing landscape. Eating a rich and varied diet is just part of the bigger picture. In short: it's not as simple as typing into Google “what vitamins are you deficient in if you're fatigued all the time?” Nutritional deficiencies undoubtedly play a role in short-term problems such as fatigue, insomnia and headaches, but more importantly they increase the risk of developing chronic health conditions in later life.

Analysis of the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey in 2018 found depletion in several key micronutrients was common across mid-life age ranges in the UK. Those micronutrients include magnesium (important for energy), potassium, calcium, folic acid, iodine and riboflavin.

Food supplements can help to compensate for a diet that's lacking in quality and variety. It's a natural conclusion to think that if you are low in magnesium, for example, you should reach for a magnesium supplement. But it's never that straightforward. Over-supplementation can cause problems of its own. Also as we have learnt, most food supplements are little more than placebos.

That's where the science backed food supplements are really coming in to its own - driving an emerging wave of products that are built on efficacy and bioavailability: giving your body the right nutrients, in the right dosage.

What Are the Best Supplements to Take Day to Day?

First and foremost, we need to talk about bioavailability. This is referring to the way your body absorbs nutrients. The concept of bioavailability refers to the rate at which a substance enters bodily circulation and becomes available to its intended biological destination's. In short: how fast does a nutrient get into your body and start having an impact. Diet-related factors affecting nutritional bioavailability include the structure of food, the chemical form of a particular nutrient and the way food has been processed, cooked etc.

Then there are relationships between different nutrients. For example, eating foods that are high in vitamin C increases the absorption of iron, a nutrient that 25% of the global population is deficient in according to the World Health Organisation.

On the other hand, absorption of nutrients such as calcium and zinc can be hindered by phytic acid, a compound found in many foods including grains, legumes and tubers. Understanding the interactions between different nutrients is one of the keys to creating food supplements with high bioavailability.

Food supplements that the body absorbs readily are key.

Which Vitamins Do We Need to Take Day to Day?

Vitamins are responsible for the supporting of bodily functions that maintain optimum health - such as clearing out free radicals and keeping the immune system tip top. However, many of the essential vitamins we need can't be stored in the body, which makes it important to top up regularly. The NHS recommends getting the following vitamins daily: vitamin A, the B vitamins (including thiamine, riboflavin and folic acid), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K. But in truth most people are rarely deficient in vitamins other than D and K.

Which Vitamins Do We Need to Take Day to Day?

Vitamins are responsible for the supporting of bodily functions that maintain optimum health - such as clearing out free radicals and keeping the immune system tip top. However, many of the essential vitamins we need can't be stored in the body, which makes it important to top up regularly. The NHS recommends getting the following vitamins daily: vitamin A, the B vitamins (including thiamine, riboflavin and folic acid), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K. But in truth most people are rarely deficient in vitamins other than D and K.

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Antioxidants

Found in many plant-based foods, antioxidants help to protect your cells from oxidative stress and breakdown caused by free radicals. Free radicals are created naturally as a by-product of exercising and metabolising food, and also by exposure to pollutants such as tobacco smoke. By offering protection against free radicals, antioxidants are thought to help fight the signs of ageing while helping to prevent the onset of serious degenerative conditions.

Adaptogens

Adaptogens are amazing and are derived from non-toxic plants and mainly come in the form of herbs or roots. Their role is to counteract the impact of chemical, environmental or physical stressors on the body and restore balance to the system. Adaptogens are thought to help promote everything from calmness and mental clarity to healthy sleep patterns. A good example of an adaptogen is Ashwagandha (our fav), which has been a staple in ancient Chinese medicine for around 8,000 years and is enjoying a renaissance today for its ability to help tackle stress and anxiety among other issues we face.

Anti-inflammatory Nutrients

Inflammation has got a bad rep over recent years. But it's not all bad. short-term inflammation is how your body fights invaders, flushes out cellular debris and heals from injury. When this inflammatory process continues unchecked, however, it can lead to problams!

Chronic (long-term) inflammation is thought to help trigger a long list of conditions including arthritis, asthma, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and even mental illness. Then there's “inflammaging” - which relates to how chronic inflammation speeds up the biological ageing process. If you are noticing breakouts of blemishes, fatigue, weight gain or anxiety, a developing problem with chronic inflammation could be playing a part.

But there is hope! chronic inflammation is reversible. For so many reasons it's important to try and get a daily dose of foods that are high in anti-inflammatories, such as tomatoes, olive oil, fruits, nuts, leafy greens and fatty fish - or to support your diet with supplementation.

Nootropics

With the promise of enhanced cognitive performance, the interest around nootropics has exploded in recent years. But there's one nootropic that's as old as time - and you've almost certainly sampled it already this week: caffeine. Yes, caffeine is a type of nootropic, a group that increases cognitive functions such as memory, creativity, motivation and attention. There are many natural nootropics - including coffee, ginkgo biloba and panax ginseng - and there are synthesised versions that are made in a lab.

Best Supplements for Muscle Gain, Muscle Strength and Recovery

When you are trying to build muscle and improve your recovery from exercise, you already know that pure, clean protein is key. But herbal supplementation has a role here too. So what are the best supplements for building muscle and supporting Testosterone?

Ashwagandha is a game changer. In one controlled study, male participants given ashwagandha vs a placebo showed significantly greater increases in muscle strength, greater increase in muscle size and greater increase in testosterone - as well as a greater decrease in body fat percentage.

Ashwagandha has also been shown to reduce muscle damage - on top of the strength-building benefits mentioned above.

Supplements for Depression

Living with depression can be incredibly challenging. Sadly, all to common in today's society, it's a condition that has many potential origins. One thought is that depression can be caused by - or manifest as - a chemical imbalance in the brain.

What we know for sure is that the food you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain - and in-turn your mood. So diet is a good place to start in terms of easing some of the symptoms you may be experiencing. Are there any supplements that might be helpful here?

Both ashwagandha, maca and curcumin have been shown to relieve symptoms of low mood.

Natural Supplements for Brain Health

Shockingly we know more about space than we do about the workings of the human brain. As a human you are walking around with a three-pound supercomputer with a network of ten billion neurons exchanging information at speeds of up to 250mph. Your brain is truly a marvel. We don't fully understand how it works. What we do know is that you can support it - and the wonderful things it does - with natural supplements for brain health.

One of those brain supplements nootropics or 'smart drugs' Another revered natural supplement for brain health is ashwagandha - which as you can see has an extensive range of actions.

One fascinating study revealed that patients administered ashwagandha for eight weeks developed significant improvements in immediate and general memory as well as improvements to attention and information processing speed - versus patients administered a placebo.

Supplements for Stress and Anxiety

Living with persistent stress and anxiety is draining and can be deadly. By observing and identifying the conditions that are triggering your stress can help you to bring about the changes needed to live a less draining and healthier life. But it's also worth knowing that there are ways to help to relieve some of the pressure, tension and edginess.

Ashwagandha root (yes again), is a widely reported natural remedy, ashwagandha root is thought to help due to its moderating effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis.

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