Positive results:Taking vitamin supplements can sometimes yield real health benefits
When my grandmother suffered a fall and broke her pelvis, her GP advised her to take supplements to help speed healing.
Initially I was sceptical – these things are not part of medical training and I assumed the herbal remedies and vitamin pills in health food shops were little more than placebos. But I was wrong.
With some research I discovered many supplements have a good evidence base to support their use in specific conditions.
Together, my grandmother’s GP and I came up with ‘bone juice’ – a soluble mix of Vitamins C and D, zinc and calcium.
She was on her feet in no time and she felt she was helping herself by taking the juice. She would call me each day to say she had drunk it all.
My only concern is that people don’t treat themselves without a doctor’s guidance and that supplements should not be used instead of prescribed medication. But, as Gran showed me, there are times when they can have real benefit.
Here is my guide to some that have been proven to help maintain health and even treat disease, that I, and other doctors, recommend.
TRY: Viridian High 12 B-Complex, £14.70, 90 capsules, healthstore.uk.com.
THE EVIDENCE: All eight B vitamins are involved in a whole host of bodily functions, from controlling metabolism to the production of red blood cells.
The Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA) found that tablets containing Vitamin B12 and B6, and folic acid slowed shrinkage of the brain by an average of 30 per cent a year in patients with possible early stage dementia.
THE DOSE: It’s early stage research, but they suggest 500micrograms of B12, 20 milligrams of B6, and 800 micrograms of folic acid daily. These are quite high doses so you may need to buy separate supplements.
Multivitamin for male fertility
TRY: Vitabiotics Pregnacare His and Hers Conception, 30 tablets, £16.45, lifepharmacy.co.uk
THE EVIDENCE: Much has been written about antioxidants in preventing cancer but the real news is the emerging evidence that they can improve male fertility.
Trials have shown that men who took a combination of oral antioxidants – including vitamins C and E, zinc, selenium, folate, L-carnitine and carotenoids – showed an improvement in either sperm quality or pregnancy rate in their partners after taking the supplements. Experts are yet to understand their importance in sperm quality.
THE DOSE: There is much debate about exact doses that produce the best effects but research suggests doses in the region of: Vitamin C 1000mg, Vitamin E 400-600mg, selenium 100-225micrograms, B-carotene 30mg, L-carnitine 2g. However, it’s easier to simply take one of the tablets specifically designed to help conception.
Fish oil for mental health
TRY: BioCare Mega EPA, 90 capsules, 2,333mg, £16.95, dolphinfitness.co.uk
THE EVIDENCE: There’s a surprising amount of research supporting the use of fish oils in patients with conditions ranging from depression to schizophrenia.
Experts do not fully understand how omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the symptoms of mental disorders but it is thought it helps the neurons (brain cells) communicate more efficiently.
THE DOSE: If you suffer depression or other mental illness you should take one to three grams of omega 3 daily, but speak to your GP if you are on blood-thinning medication.
Fish oils can help reduce symptoms connected with conditions ranging from depression to schizophrenia
Zinc for beating colds
TRY: Redoxon Double Action Vitamin C + Zinc 30 Orange Effervescent Tabs £4.91, pharmacyathand.co.uk
THE EVIDENCE: Zinc is involved in making white blood cells, which help the body to fight colds. I advise elderly patients to take Vitamin C with zinc supplements in the winter as while one fights infection, the other helps heal.
THE DOSE: One tablet contains 10mg. Take daily throughout winter as a preventative or as soon as symptoms begin and until they subside. Effervescent tablets, which are dissolved in water, can be acidic so drink with a straw.
Vitamin D for strong bones
TRY: Nature’s Plus Adult’s Chewable Vitamin D3, 90 tablets, 1000iu, £11.20, nutricentre.com.
THE EVIDENCE: Numerous studies have found that elderly adults who take Vitamin D supplements have stronger bones. Many orthopaedic surgeons recommend supplements to those recovering from fractures.
This is because Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of bone-building calcium and phosphate in the body.
A recent review of all the scientific literature published about Vitamin D also suggested that it might reduce the risk of developing certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes in later life, too.
THE DOSE: If you are aged over 65 you should take a supplement of 10 micrograms (1000iu) each day.
Studies show people who take Vitamin D supplements have stronger bones
Peppermint for nausea
TRY: Obbekjaers Oil of Peppermint, extra strength, 60 capsules, 200mg, £9.46, yourhealthfoodstore.co.uk.
THE EVIDENCE: A study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that peppermint oil was the best treatment for those who suffer with irritable bowel syndrome.
This is because peppermint acts as an anti-spasmodic, meaning that it prevents the stomach cramping and has no side effects – apart from making your breath smell minty. It is also a natural painkiller.
THE DOSE: Take one capsule three times a day before meals.
Ginkgo Biloba for sharp memory
TRY: Vitabiotics Ginkgo and Ginseng, 60 tablets, 800mg and 150mg, £9.95, yourhealthfoodstore.co.uk.
THE EVIDENCE: I often suggest taking ginkgo biloba to elderly people who have memory problems if other treatments haven’t worked, or if their symptoms are not severe enough to warrant prescribed medication.
Ginkgo is a type of tree that produces fan-shaped leaves which have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine.
THE DOSE: A trial in 2010 found that just 240mg a day was significantly superior to a placebo in treating memory problems.
Vitamin C for speedy healing
TRY: Lamberts Vitamin C-Time, 1000mg 60 capsules, £7.30, healthstuff.co.uk.
THE EVIDENCE: Countless studies tried to prove Vitamin C fights colds but only found it offers little assistance. However, Vitamin C is vital for skin growth and cell regeneration as it is involved in the production of collagen, a key component of skin. A surgeon I once worked with insisted that all his patients took a supplement post-operatively.
His reasoning was that as Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin – meaning that the body cannot store it – we need a ready supply, especially when the body is trying to rebuild tissue.
THE DOSE: Take 1g of Vitamin C daily while your wounds heal. Slow-release tablets ensure you do not excrete it too quickly.
Folic acid for pregnancy
TRY: Centrum Pregnancy Care, 30 tabs, £5.29, otcshop.co.uk.
THE EVIDENCE: Folic acid (Vitamin B9) is one supplement that every woman should know about. It has been consistently shown to be of benefit in pregnant women to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
THE DOSE: Take 400iu daily as soon as you begin planning a child, and continue for the first three months of pregnancy, when the baby’s spine is growing.
Health boost: Folic acid is of benefit to pregnant women and helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida
Garlic for heart health
TRY: Viridian Garlic, 90 capsules, 500mg each, £22.05, naturalwayhealth.co.uk.
THE EVIDENCE: Since reading up on the evidence for garlic, I’ve taken a tablet every day. The University of Maryland has found that it boosts circulation, reduces cholesterol and blood pressure by eight per cent as well as slowing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and reducing the risk of cancer.
Although the benefits are slight in each area, when taken overall, it has a potent effect.
THE DOSE: Up to 900mg per day has been shown to be beneficial.
Ginger for nausea
TRY: New Chapter Ginger Force, 30 capsules, £23.69, revital.co.uk.
THE EVIDENCE: Ginger has been used for hundreds of years as a traditional remedy for sickness but there’s actually good evidence that it works. It’s particularly useful in the nausea associated with morning sickness.
A study carried out by the University of Adelaide in Australia found ginger as effective as anti-nausea medication in pregnant women.
Ginger for an upset stomach may seem so obvious it’s a cliche but studies have shown that it may help with post-operative nausea, chemotherapy-induced nausea and sea sickness.
THE DOSE: Just one gram daily of fresh ginger is enough to have an effect. Or take a supplement as needed, following the directions on the bottle.
Green tea for fur-free veins
TRY: Solgar Chinese Green Tea, 50 capsules, £11.73, revital.co.uk.
THE EVIDENCE: Japanese research has shown that those who drink green tea regularly have lower total cholesterol levels than those who don’t, although why is not fully understood.
While the effect is small compared with cholesterol-lowering drugs, it can be useful in those with slightly high levels who are trying to reduce their cholesterol levels naturally.
THE DOSE: Just one cup daily is needed to see an effect, or take a daily supplement.