Nearly half of all adults in Britain take vitamin and mineral supplements — yet 90 per cent of these products are ‘invalidated’ and many ‘have no measurable benefits’, a former adviser to the Government’s Committee on Safety of Medicines, Dr Paul Clayton, claimed recently.
In fact, the conventional view is that it’s better to get your nutrients from food, by eating healthily. But which supplements are worth taking?
We asked specialists from different fields of medicine to reveal the ones they take — and why.
Open wide: We asked specialists from different fields of medicine to reveal what they take
UROLOGIST: VITAMIN C TO PREVENT URINE INFECTIONS
Professor Christopher Eden, 57, is a consultant urological surgeon at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford.
I see a lot of patients — both men and women — with urinary tract infections, which can be debilitating and painful, and can only be treated with antibiotics.
Professor Christopher Eden, 57, suggests vitamin C to avoid getting urinary infections
One of the key triggers for these infections is alkaline urine, as this environment is ideal for the bacteria to thrive.
To avoid getting such infections, and regardless of what I’m eating that day, I take a 1g supplement of vitamin C daily. (The recommended daily amount, or RDA, is 40mg, which is equivalent to a large orange.)
This amount of vitamin C makes the urine mildly acidic and increases the levels of an antimicrobial protein called siderocalin, found naturally in urine, which makes the environment less favourable to bad bacteria and reduces the risk of infection.
MENOPAUSE GP: PROBIOTICS FOR HORMONE IMBALANCE
Louise Newson, 48, is a GP and menopause specialist based in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Louise Newson, 48, insists there’s a link between a healthy gut and hormone health
Most people don’t realise that there’s a strong link between a healthy gut and hormone health, as hormone receptors in the gut help with the function of the bowel.
Women going through the menopause or perimenopause may get bowel symptoms such as bloating which are due to hormone imbalances affecting the balance of gut bacteria. Probiotic (good bacteria) supplements correct this imbalance and are also linked to levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which can improve mood. This is important during the menopause.
I make sure I take a probiotic daily, specifically one with a high bacteria count including Lactobacillus acidophilus. I look for one that has to be kept in the fridge, as this is a sign of a quality product.
ORTHOPAEDIC SURGEON: COLLAGEN FOR PAIN
Professor Tony Kochhar, 45, is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at London Bridge Hospital.
Professor Tony Kochhar, 45, takes collagen to avoid foot pain caused by tendonitis
Having taken statins for a couple of years, I developed tendonitis, inflammation in the foot, which caused pain around the outside of it.
My GP told me to stop taking the statins, which helped, and I now control my condition with diet. I also take a supplement of collagen (a natural protein found in the tendons) to build up tendon structure and reduce pain.
I take two 1,200mg collagen supplements daily and it has really helped. Within two weeks of starting them, my pain had gone.
ONCOLOGIST: VITAMIN D TO WARD OFF CANCER
Dr Anne Rigg, 51, is a consultant oncologist at London Bridge Hospital.
Vitamin D is required for the general functioning of a healthy body — but the reason I take a supplement is because low levels have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, though it’s not clear why.
Dr Anne Rigg, 51, takes vitamin D because it can help to combat breast cancer
One theory is that vitamin D may help control normal breast cell growth and may even stop breast cancer cells from growing.
The body creates vitamin D from sunlight on the skin when we are outdoors, but because of the British weather and the rightful use of sunscreen, it’s easy to become deficient.
I take the recommended daily dose of 10mcg. [Fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are good sources, too, but you’d have to eat them in large amounts to get the recommended daily dosage.]
It’s vital not to overdose, as it can increase the risk of kidney stones: the vitamin helps absorb calcium from the diet, which can build up into stones.
OPTOMETRIST: VISION BOOSTING ANTIOXIDANTS
Dr Rob Hogan, 62, is an optometrist at iCare Consulting
Dr Rob Hogan, 62, take MacuShield, a supplement which can help improve vision
An optometrist with poor vision isn’t much use to anyone.
But as I get older, and through patients I see, I’m aware, too, of the increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of sight loss in people over 60.
This is where the small central portion of the retina (the macula) at the back of the eye deteriorates. So I take MacuShield, a supplement which, studies have found, can help improve vision and keep the back of the eye healthy.
It contains a mixture of natural compounds — lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin — which are antioxidants that have been found in studies to improve vision and eye health. I take one a day, usually with a meal.
DENTIST: CALCIUM TO PREVENT TOOTH DECAY
Dr Milad Shadrooh, 37, takes calcium to protect his teeth enamel
Dr Milad Shadrooh, 37, is a dentist in Basingstoke, Hampshire
I take a varied supplement daily to maintain good health and, specifically, healthy teeth. It contains calcium (an adult’s RDA is 700mg, which is equivalent to three 200ml cups of milk) as most people, including me, don’t get enough in their diet.
Tooth enamel, the protective covering on teeth, is made up of calcium, so it is therefore an important mineral to supplement to protect against decay. I also take iron, as a deficiency can cause mouth ulcers [as a symptom of anaemia — where the blood contains too few red blood cells].
DERMATOLOGIST: ZINC FOR STRONG NAILS
Dr Joanna Gach, 49, takes a multivitamin capsule containing zinc, selenium and biotin
Dr Joanna Gach, 49, is a consultant dermatologist at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust.
Every so often, I take a multivitamin capsule containing zinc, selenium and biotin. These are all helpful for sorting out my brittle nails and maintaining healthy hair.
You can’t just take the odd one — you need to take a course for several weeks at a time to see a difference — so I might take a daily supplement for two months at a time, or until I see an improvement.
A 2013 study in the journal Annals Of Dermatology on 312 people with hair loss found that all had lower zinc concentrations in their blood than those with healthy hair.
ORAL SURGEON: VITAMIN B FOR ULCERS
Luke Cascarini, 47, has a daily vitamin drink containing a high-dose vitamin B complex
Luke Cascarini, 47, is a consultant maxillofacial surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London.
Looking inside people’s mouths on a daily basis, I am very aware of the need for good oral health.
I take a daily vitamin drink containing a high-dose vitamin B complex, which is necessary for good oral health.
Low levels of vitamin B12, in particular, can cause mouth ulcers and a swollen tongue.
This is because the vitamin is needed to keep the mucosa — the membrane lining the inside of the mouth — healthy. As B vitamins are water soluble, they are absorbed best on an empty stomach — so I take them first thing, before breakfast. I hardly ever get ulcers.
GYNAECOLOGIST: PRIMROSE OIL
Dr Jenni Byrom, 44, takes evening primrose oil for premenstrual symptoms
Dr Jenni Byrom, 44, is a consultant gynaecologist at Birmingham’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
I take evening primrose oil for premenstrual symptoms such as breast pain. I take 1g of evening primrose oil daily and have found it really makes a difference.
Some women with breast pain might not have high enough levels of certain ‘fatty acids’ found in evening primrose oil.
One theory is that high levels of the hormone prolactin (secreted by the pituitary gland) may lead to breast pain.
Evening primrose oil contains a fatty acid, gamma-linoleic acid, that can be converted into a compound called prostaglandin, which is believed to control the effects of excess prolactin.
GP: VITAMIN C TO PREVENT COLDS
Dr Sarah Myhill, 60, takes 10g of vitamin C dissolved in a glass of water every day
Dr Sarah Myhill, 60, is a GP based in Wales.
As A GP, I’m on the front line in terms of coming into contact with people who are harbouring colds, flu and other infections, so I take 10g of vitamin C dissolved in a glass of water every day before I start my shift — and I never get colds.
I believe that high doses of vitamin C can kill bad microbes on contact — or, at least, help reduce the severity of infections such as colds and sore throats.
SPORTS SURGEON: SORE MUSCLES SPRAY
Jonathan Dearing, 49, carries a vitamin D oral spray and uses it after exercising at the gym
Jonathan Dearing, 49, is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon specialising in sports injuries at BMI Carrick Glen Hospital in Ayrshire.
I carry a vitamin D oral spray and use it after exercise, as it helps improve muscle recovery by regulating various processes that help them repair and grow.
When I was younger, I used to play rugby, but these days I train for triathlons.
I exercise every day if I can — everything from road running for 10km, swimming a mile or going out on a bike for one or two hours.
Afterwards, I always use a vitamin spray to help soothe sore muscles.
MAGNESIUM FOR A STRONGER HEART
Dr Glyn Thomas, 46, takes a magnesium supplement to address an extra heartbeat
Dr Glyn Thomas, 46, is a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist at the Bristol Heart Institute.
I take a magnesium supplement as it can help address an extra heartbeat — something I suffered with for 20 years.
Although harmless, these extra beats, known as premature ventricular contractions, disrupt your regular heart rhythm, sometimes causing a heart flutter or palpitation. It’s very common to have extra beats when you’re stressed, anxious or fatigued.
Magnesium is important for co-ordinating the activity of the heart muscle and the nerves that initiate heartbeat. I take 300mg daily — which is the RDA, and equivalent to two cups of spinach — with the result that I no longer get the extra heartbeats.