5 Essential Supplements

It’s easy to get lost in a supplement frenzy, desperately searching for the next new thing. There’s so much on the shelves, it’s easy to think that taking more will be better for your health. While supplements can help fill in the nutritional gaps and help you meet the demands of modern-day living, there’s no need to take them all. Here’s a shortlist of the 5 essential supplements which could make the biggest difference to your health and 5 questions to ask yourself to help you choose ‘the best’.

Multivitamin and mineral

An obvious place to start but a good multi will include all of the vitamins and minerals to help keep your body ticking over, and perhaps a little bit more – a full dose of vitamin D, coQ10 for extra energy, or even extra antioxidants for cellular health. A basic multi with a well-balanced formulation will contain more than 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA), but this needn’t be a cause for concern. The RDA is the bare minimum needed to protect the majority of people from developing disease. For instance, vitamin C recommendations are set to prevent scurvy; vitamin D recommendations are sufficient to prevent rickets – where the bones in your legs are so soft they bow out under the pressure of your weight. If this were the measure of great health, then the bar would be set pretty low. A multi that provides more than the RDA may bring you closer to an optimal state of health.

In general, check the packet to find take the recommended daily dosage of your multi.

Omega oils

Omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 oils have an important role in general metabolism. It’s true, you will find omega-6 and omega-9 oils in many of the foods you eat everyday – such as olives, nuts and seeds and their oils. However, the quality of these oils may be questionable, particularly if they’ve been roasted, toasted or exposed to air and light. Heat will damage their structure and the fatty acids are also prone to becoming oxidised. Since this affects how they work within your body, it’s possible to be eating oils which do more harm than good. Supplementing a cold-pressed, organic, omega 3,6,9 plant oil has obvious benefits for your health.

An additional omega-3 supplement may also be desirable, especially if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or just on the days you don’t eat oily fish. This delivers EPA and DHA at much higher, and often therapeutic, levels. A daily supplement of 250mg DHA contributes to normal brain function and vision, while the combination of 250mg EPA/DHA supports normal heart function. In general, the omega-3 oils are fantastic for helping to manage pro-inflammatory states.

The general recommendation is to supplement between 250mg and 2000mg of omega-3 oils a day.

Vitamin D

Did you know Public Health England recommends that if you live in the UK you should supplement 400iu vitamin D every day from October to April?  That’s because it’s challenging to eat or make enough of this vital vitamin during the Summer months to meet your year-round needs. But could you take more than 400iu? While research indicates 1000iu will ensure calcium absorption and support bone health, the upper safe limit is set higher than this. In fact if you’re vitamin D test reveals you have a deficiency (less than 20 ng/mL) or insufficiency (20-49 ng/mL), then taking a higher strength supplement may make more sense.

One small study shows how much time and effort is needed to slightly raise vitamin D levels.

51 South Asians in the UK had their vitamin D levels measured at the start of the trial: 18 had levels under 5 ng/mL and 27 of the group had levels less than 10 ng/mL. These levels are classified as ‘deficient’ and are when bone degeneration and malformations start to occur. By the end of the study their levels were still deficient, but had risen by roughly 9 ng/mL to around 15 ng/mL. To achieve this, participants exposed their arms and legs for 45 minutes, 3 times a week for 6 weeks, to the same strength of light seen in Manchester at noon on a sunny Summer’s day [1].

The general recommendation is to take 1000 – 2000iu of vitamin D each day.


The mineral magnesium is included in most multis, but an extra daily dose could make a crucial difference to your everyday wellbeing – particularly if you’re lacking in energy, feeling overly stressed or anxious, or finding it hard to relax and sleep at night. Capsules, powders, sprays and body butters are all available, so you’re likely to find a form that’s easy to use. Another riddle that can leave you stumped is deciding which type to take. What’s the difference between citrates, oxides, glycinates and the other magnesiums on the shelf? If you’re not sure, take a look at another article The Best Magnesium Supplements for Sleep where this has been discussed in detail.

The general recommendation is to supplement between 350 – 375mg of magnesium a day.

Coenzyme Q10

Although this nutrient might not seem like an obvious top 5 essential there are a few reasons why it makes the list.

Firstly, coenzyme Q10 is a key nutrient in your energy-production pathways, and who hasn’t experienced a dip in energy?

Coenzyme Q10 (also called coQ10, ubiquinone and ubiquinol) is a potent antioxidant and contributes to cell health and heart health too. While it’s expected and normal, the unfortunate reality is that the amount you make in your body decreases with age.

Thirdly, although many GPs will neglect to mention this, taking statins interferes with its synthesis. But if you’re taking statins in an effort to achieve better cardiovascular health, it makes no sense to decrease your levels of a heart-friendly, energy producing, antioxidant.

It does sound pretty essential doesn’t it?

The general recommendation is to take 100 – 200mg of coQ10  per day preferably with a meal that contains some fat.

1. What do I want to get from this supplement?

Most staff are enthusiastic, informed and qualified so don’t be scared to discuss what you need. It’s best to consider your goals before you get there so you don’t get sidetracked from what’s most relevant.

2. Am I getting the same nutrient in another supplement?

You can easily end up taking too much of a single nutrient so consider what’s included in your mix. For example if you’re taking a multi, then add in a skin-hair-nails supplement and some immune support over winter you could be getting too much zinc. If you’re not sure, then take a pre-shop snapshot. Take a clear picture of the back label of any supplements you regularly use and refer to this when you’re at the shop.

3. Is this a high quality form or one that’s not so well absorbed?

Supplements come in a variety of forms which can affect how well they are absorbed and utilised. Sometimes cheaper options are not offering you value for money.

4. Is this packed full of artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners, fillers and binders?

I believe it’s important to opt for companies which don’t use any fillers, binders or excipients in their products. Otherwise it’s a bit like putting a few potatoes in your bag BEFORE you go and do a food shop. A complete waste of space really. Artificial colours and sweeteners are also strange ingredients to include in a product aimed at health.

5. Am I focused enough to make the best choice?

Many people are prepared to spend more time shopping for a pair of shoes then they would on a supplement that will affect their long-term health. Rushing through your purchase can lead to so many mistakes. You end up buying the wrong strength; the wrong form; a gelatine based capsule when you’re vegan; a probiotic that you can’t return or exchange. Basically you’ve just wasted your time.

In fact this is the one thing I try never to do. Even knowing what’s on the market, I ALWAYS take my time.

 If you’re distracted and thinking about 5 other things on your to-do-list, shopping with small or bored children, or squeezing your buy in during your lunchtime, then give your self a break. Head for the door and shop on another day when you can concentrate on what you need.

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Natural food supplements have an important place in your wellbeing as they can help to fill in the nutritional gaps.  For adults living in the UK, there are a handful of essentials – including vitamin D and magnesium along with a multi, an omega oil and the energising antioxidant coenzyme Q10. Asking yourself a few crucial questions can help you make the wisest choice. Knowing what you want to get out of your supplements or what types of ingredients are on your ‘definitely not’ list can narrow it down so you buy ‘the best’. And don’t forget to ask for advice if you need it – there are lots of options, but this needn’t leave you feeling overwhelmed.



[1] Farrar M et al (2013) Efficacy of a dose range of simulated sunlight exposures in raising vitamin D status in South Asian adults: implications for targeted guidance on sun exposure.


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Nastya Dulhiier, Ruslan Mceegun, Isaac NC

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