Supplements: What, Why and How

by Olivia Cox March 15

Supplements. The clue is in the name, really: they are designed to supplement, support and basically level up your diet. The trick, of course, is identifying exactly what it is that your body needs. Which is often easier said than done. Growing up, supplements weren’t really a thing. Yes they existed, but they seemed like a bit of a waste of time. I was vaguely aware of a multi-vit bottle in the kitchen, and the novelty of a vitamin you could actually taste allowed Berroca a cameo in my morning routine. 90s vitamins were really a one-size-fits-all approach. So long as you fit a prescribed age bracket, the assumption was that you would need a set list of vitamins and minerals. The problem with this is that we are all different, with different needs. We have different diets, different habits. We might be deficient in something at one time of year, but not another. Which is where a more personalised approach to supplements comes in.

There are various ways to figure out which areas you need support in, but one way to take the guess work out is going bespoke. The rise of personalised …. just about everything, has lead to a flurry of brands that’ll create your ideal formula based on a test – either answers to questions or – for the most absolutely accurate result – from a DNA sample.  One such is Nourished. You take a test on their site (takes about 5 mins), then they send you a monthly batch of 3D-printed gummies. Which brings me to my next point.

If you’re like me, remembering to take supplements is very much not a given. I go through phases, but since the majority of supplements require regular use, dabbling every so often really doesn’t work. So I tend to opt for gummy varieties, since it’s something I’ll actually look forward to. Think of it as reward-driven supp-ing. Of course, gummies tend to be high on the sugar side, so if that’s not for you but you’re still into the edible side of things, try powders and granules either sprinkled over salads or blended into smoothies. One of the most powerful of this kind I’ve found is Bioniq. The high potency micronutrients are released slowly through-out the day, allowing for maximum absorption. I should mention that these (like many) can have their efficacy reduced by heat so avoid putting on top of warm plates / soups etc.

And so to the burning question: what are the most useful supplements?

For hair, nails & skin

My first exposure to supplements designed to specifically support strong hair and nails was at Maire Claire. Just about the entire beauty desk took Imedeen (sold at Boots, btw) and it remains a leading competitor. I’m more here for the gummy varieties, though. Sugarbearhair are prob the best known and (I think) the first to introduce a gummy, biotin-rich supp. Trouble is, the taste comes at a price, since their first ingredient is sugar. Vitabiotics do a slightly-lower-sugar alternative (Perfectil Hair Crush), but to me they taste very medicinal. Hum Nutrition’s Hair Sweet Hair are the win for me – great taste and only 15 cals for 2 gummies (aka one dose).

One of the key things needed for healthy hair, nails and skin is collagen. Unfortunately, after about the age of 25, collagen production slows, triggering the ageing process. This is responsible for any number of complaints from loss of skin volume and elasticity, to stiff joints. Collagen supplements are most prevalent in powder form – the latest trend is to include a scoop in your baking. Bioglan does a great unflavoured Beauty Collagen powder, or I love Dose & Co x Khloe’s collagen creamers – caramel is the BOMB in coffee.

And on the note of drinking your supplements, Pink Cloud Beauty Co have awesome drinkable vitamins in sachet form that you mix with water. This particular little badger (below) contains 1190mg of Hydrolysed Marine Collagen, Biotin
and Selenium (powerful anti-oxidant) and is completely sugar-free.

For gut health & digestion

part one…. One of the (it’s a growing list) negatives of ageing is an imbalance in digestive enzymes. It’s not rocket science that this can lead to stomach issues and IBS-like symptoms. But what is lesser known is the imact that poor gut health has other, seemingly unrelated body functions and processes. Like skin health and emotional stability.  And just to make things more fun, periods of high stress can impact this, too (and if you bear in mind that 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, you can see how easy it is to get in an endless negative cycle with gut health). Supplements that help support gut membranes, digestive enzymes and healthy stomach acids help the body’s natural digestion process, thus decreasing complaints such as bloating. Sense For Gut Health supplement powder is great for adding to juices or smoothies, or I also love HUM Nutrition Flatter Me’s capsule form.

part two….. Probiotics.

Let’s clear this up once and for all. Probiotics are bacteria that live in your body naturally and help your intestines break down food. Prebiotics are essentially food for probiotics. Together, this culture of bacteria is called your microbiome, and in order to achieve healthy digestion your body strives to keep this in balance (homeostasis). There are many reasons why you can experience an imbalance in this, perhaps most prevalently following a course of antibiotics, since these kill bacteria indiscriminately. Probiotics that are the same or very similar to the ones that your body makes can be taken to supplement healthy digestion. I’m quite new to bacterial supplements, but have just started using Boots Good GutHolland and Barrett also have a Night version, with added magnesium and 5-HTP – both are great for aiding sleep.

For brain fog

Life recently has been a real whirlwind of bad news and grey days, and it’s easy to feel bogged down by it all. Neura Cognition Clarity is what I use when I really need to focus. It combines a blend of nootropics, adaptogens and vitamins, designed to optimise and support cognitive functions including memory, focus, mood, creativity and mental agility. It’s a bit like a windscreen wiper for the brain – you might not realise you need it ’til you you take it, then wonder why it took you so long to try it.

For when you need a detox

Have you heard about Choline? I hadn’t until very recently, but turns out it is one of the key essential nutrients for health. The main sources of dietary Choline are fish, beef, poultry, and eggs. So if you’re following a vegan lifestyle, it is almost impossible to maintain sufficient levels without supplementing. Choline helps to remove fats from the liver and supports healthy lipid and homocysteine metabolism, that helps you break-down carbohydrates, proteins and fats into energy. I’ve been using Dr Vegan Choline. Their 600mg is in Bitartrate form and is bio-available for easy absorption. Plus, everything arrives in fully biodegradable packaging. Win. Sense* combines Choline with other useful detoxers like milk thistle and healing zinc in their For A Night Out. The best part is you can double up and take these intensively for the few days before and after a big night, taking the health hangover out of indulgence.

For help switching off

This is a HUGE one for me – as of circa 2011, I am no longer a good sleeper so am constantly trying new things. I’ve recently started getting into CBD, but the most potent options tend to be the most unpleasant to take (I struggle with the whole oil under the tongue for 30 seconds thing). Supreme CBD have probably the tastiest gummies I’ve ever encountered, or if you want to go super clean, their oil is available in up to a whopping 24000mg form. There are approximately a zillion competitor CBD brands out there, but this is the highest potency I’ve found so far. And – surprisingly – one of the most mild I’ve tasted. Other supp options for sleep support are ashwaganda and magnesium. Ashwaganda has a calming effect, and can help reduce anxiety and stress, as well as helping to fight depression. HUM Nutrition’s Calm Sweet Calm combines this with l-theanine, which is believed to reduce insomnia. As a double whammy, I’ve also been taking Dr Vegan Magnesium. Magnesium plays a role in just about every aspect of health (especially is you regularly undertake high impact exercise), and has been proven to improve quality of sleep.

For adrenal support

One of the major signs that you’re heading for burn-out is energy that’s out of whack. It’s hard to describe exactly how this feels, but probably a see-saw flipping between exhaustion and feeling totally wired is the nearest analogy I can make. Intense workouts, high reliance on caffeine, the ‘hustle’ of modern life… it’s a dangerous combo, which can leave us in an almost perpetual state of adrenal arousal – aka the fight or flight response – which leads to seriously unbalanced energy hormones, and ultimately adrenal fatigue. Hum Nutrition’s Uber Energy helps to control stress levels and nourish depleted adrenal glands. This leads to higher energy and productivity, and lower fatigue and tension. On a similar theme, Dr Ed Sport Performance is a fusion of CBD, potassium, and vitamin B12. The oil is specially formulated for athletes or those operating at high levels, and helps combat issues from nerves and fatigue to aches and recovery.

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