Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

So, Who Needs Supplements?

I always ask my patients to bring any supplements they are taking when they come to see me. Lots of them turn up with plastic bagsful! A waste of money and potentially dangerous as some vitamins and minerals can be harmful in high doses.

That said there is an enormous difference between the amounts you need to avoid deficiency diseases, and the amounts which will keep you in peak condition and protect against serious illness.

According to latest research, almost 14 million people skip breakfast and have a snack on their way to work - 4 million bacon sandwiches, 2 and a half million packets of crisps, and 2 million ham sandwiches and one and a half million soft drinks each working day and half the workforce don't eat anything. If that's how most of us start the day, it's not surprising that vitamins and minerals are in short supply in the average diet.

Use this guide to make sure you get more nutrients from food and to decide which supplement you may need.


Vital for growth, sex, reproduction, insulin balance and resistance.

Deficiency may cause weight loss, skin problems, acne, poor taste and smell, and brittle nails. Take too much and it can affect your copper levels. Vegetarians, vegans and constant dieters are at greater risk of deficiency. PMS, post natal depression and anorexia almost always respond well to extra zinc, and taken with vitamin C it's the best possible way of shortening a cold.

Good sources - lamb, liver, steak, garlic, ginger-root, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, oysters, eggs, sardines, oats, crab, almonds and chicken.

RDA: Men 9.5 milligrams, women 7 milligrams plus an extra 6 in the first trimester of pregnancy, then an extra 2.5

Suggested supplement: 10-20 mg daily. Don't take together with large doses of copper or at the same time as bran or strong tea. They all reduce absorption.


Part of the immune system, helps control cholesterol and is a vital protector against heart disease, breast and most specifically prostate cancer.

Deficiency may cause heart disease, significantly increased risk of cancer, repeated infections and skin problems.

Selenium works with vitamin E as an antioxidant so is a key protector against high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks. In Britain daily intake has halved in the last 22 years and so have sperm counts - British farmers have added it to animal feed for years to promote health and fertility!

Good sources - Brazil nuts (five provide more than a day's dose), flour from Canada and North America - but not from the UK or Europe, oily fish, offal, mushrooms and oysters.

RDA: 75 micrograms for men, 60 for women

Suggested supplement: 25-100 micrograms


As part of haemoglobin, it carries oxygen from the air you breathe to every cell of the body.

Deficiency causes anaemia, fatigue, depression, loss of appetite, palpitations and pallor. Due to their periods, many women suffer borderline anaemia and have very low iron stores. Vegetarians and vegans are at risk as vegetable sources are poorly absorbed compared with iron in meat.

Good sources - liver, beef, black pudding, pilchards, kidney beans, Brazil nuts, dates, raisins, lentils, peanuts, chicken, soya beans and peas.

Iron-containing foods should always be eaten with vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables to improve absorption and iron supplements should be taken with a glass of orange juice.

RDA: 8.7 mg for men, 14.8 for women

Suggested supplement: 10-25 mg daily. Tannin in tea, phytates in bran and oxalates in spinach and rhubarb interfere with iron absorption. Also avoid phosphates in fizzy drinks, over-consumption of antacid medicines and excessive doses of zinc. Take separately from vitamin E; they can adversely affect each other.


Vital for bones and especially important for children, teenagers and during pregnancy and breast feeding. Also essential for the heart.

The most important time for bone formation is puberty, so high intakes of calcium are essential during childhood. Children need exercise, fresh air and sunlight (for vitamin D). To protect against osteoporosis good intakes of calcium are essential throughout life, as is weight bearing exercise.

A glass of milk, a carton of yoghurt and 60 g of cheese supplies more than you need for a day.

Good sources - dairy products, tinned sardines with bones - also an excellent source of vitamin D; tofu, soya and other dried beans, chickpeas, lentils; dried fruits, peas, parsley, watercress, spring greens.

Vitamin D essential for absorption and magnesium, boron and phosphorus all help build better bones.

Calcium absorption is adversely affected by excessive quantities of bran, tea, salt, sugar, alcohol and smoking.

RDA: 700 mg for men and women - 1250 if breast-feeding - 1000 mg a day are advised for teenage pregnancies.

Suggested supplement: 500-1200 mg


Vital for bones and teeth, nerve and muscle function, especially regulation of heart rhythm, and many chemical reactions throughout the body.

Deficiency causes irritability, high blood pressure, muscle cramp, skin problems and weakness.

Magnesium intakes are generally low and research from the US suggests only 25 percent of Americans get enough. Like all the essential vitamins and minerals it's virtually impossible to get sufficient if you're constantly on diet. Even a well-balanced 2000 calories will only just about provide a day's dose.

Magnesium may be an essential anti-ageing mineral which protects the heart, is a powerful antioxidant, lowers blood pressure and some researchers in America believe it may help prevent and control diabetes.

Good sources - wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, chickpeas, plain chocolate, kidney beans, meat and fish.

Absorption is helped by calcium, but adversely affected by oxalates in spinach and rhubarb, and bran.

RDA: 300 mg for men, 270 for women - 320 during breast-feeding

Suggested supplement: 200-300 mg

Vitamin B12:

Essential for growth, development, the nervous system, and energy.

Deficiency results in pernicious anaemia causing profound fatigue, weakness, sore tongue, shortness of breath, depression, pallor and confusion. Also thought to be implicated in early ageing and menstrual problems.

Smokers, women on the pill, vegetarians and vegans, the elderly and excessive drinkers all need more of this vitamin.

Good sources - liver - 2 teaspoonfuls provides a whole day's dose; kidneys, sardines, other oily fish; eggs, meat, poultry and cheese.

Works best in presence of folic acid and should be taken as part of a vitamin B complex. Adversely affected by smoking and alcohol. Large doses with excessive amounts of vitamin C may cause nose bleeds.

RDA: 1.5 micrograms for men and women, 2 micrograms if breast-feeding

Suggested supplement: 25-100 micrograms

Vitamin E:

A vital antioxidant and heart protector. Essential for skin and fertility.

Deficiency may cause poor fertility, loss of libido, dry skin. There's growing evidence that diets rich in vitamin E mean less heart and circulatory disease, but this is a benefit of lifelong consumption.

Good sources - cold pressed nut and seed oils, olive oil, avocados, sesame seeds, peanuts, peanut butter, tahini, wheat germ and tuna.

Adversely affected by high temperature cooking, freezing, antacids. Take separately from iron supplements; they can adversely affect each other.

RDA: 7 mg for men, 5 mg for women

Suggested supplement: 100 IU (67 mg) - 400 IU (268 mg)

Vitamin C:

Essential for wound healing, resistance to infection, protection against cancer, heart and circulatory disease, collagen and absorption of folic acid and iron.

Deficiency causes bleeding gums, frequent infections, slow wound healing, spontaneous bruising and, if severe, scurvy followed by heart failure.

Many practitioners of nutritional medicine believe the RDA is far too low and Professor Gladys Block at Harvard advises a minimum of 500 mg a day for optimum protective effects. It's estimated that 10 percent of the UK population don't even achieve the RDA. However, long term dosing with more than 1000 mg a day may increase the risk of kidney stones.

Good sources - blackcurrants, citrus fruits, kiwi, all the berries, green vegetables, potatoes

Adversely affected by smoking, alcohol, aspirin, and the pill.

RDA: 40 mg for men and women, 50 mg during pregnancy, 70 mg during breast-feeding

Suggested supplement: 250-1000 mg Look for Ester C, the non acidic form that does not cause stomach problems in large doses.

Vitamin D:

Essential for bone formation as its part of the calcium absorption system.

Deficiency causes rickets in children and bone disorders in adults.

The action of ultraviolet light on the skin produces vitamin D. Those at special risk are the elderly and other groups who get little fresh air and daylight exposure. The Asian community is often at risk due to traditional clothing, diet and lifestyle.

Good sources - cod liver oil, herrings, kippers, mackerel, canned salmon, tuna and sardines, eggs and liver.

Adversely affected by lack of sunlight, aluminium based antacids, excessive consumption of linseeds which may remove this fat soluble vitamin from the body.

RDA: 10 micrograms for men and women, but officially only set for over 65s

Suggested supplement: 10-25 micrograms - do not take more than 50 micrograms daily unless under medical supervision

Vitamin B2:

Essential for growth, and repair of skin and mucous membranes, the release of energy from food, the nervous system and eyes.

Deficiency can cause cracks at the corner of the mouth and lips, sore tongue, gritty eyes and sensitivity to light, insomnia and trembling, dry skin, dermatitis.

Good sources - eggs, milk, offal, cheese, beef, oily fish, almonds and wholegrain cereals.

Best as part of a B complex supplement

Adversely affected by alcohol, nicotine, antidepressants.

RDA: 1.3 mg for men, 1.1 mg for women, 1.4 if pregnant, 1.5 during breast-feeding

Suggested supplement: 10 mg

Vitamin B6:

Essential for growth, part of many chemical reactions, helps brain function, red blood cell growth, has some effect on hormone balance.

Deficiency signs - irritability, insomnia, PMS, loss of co-ordination, muscle cramp, tremor, confusion.

Many women have benefited from B6 and magnesium in the treatment of PMS. This vitamin can also help overcome some of the side-effects of taking the contraceptive pill.

Good sources - fish, meat, liver, cheese, bananas, avocados, cauliflower, sprouts and watercress.

Most effective when combined with other B vitamins.

Adversely affected by smoking, increased need when taking oestrogen or the contraceptive pill, increased excretion caused by a wide variety of drugs especially steroids and immune suppressants.

RDA: 1.4 mg for men, 1.2 mg for women

Suggested supplement: 50-100 mg - can be toxic and cause numbness in hands and feet in doses over 250 mg daily. Some women sensitive to less.

Folic Acid:

Vital during early stages of pregnancy to prevent birth defects. Now thought to be essential for protection against heart disease too. Also for normal red blood cell formation.

Deficiency causes some forms of anaemia, irritability, lack of energy, forgetfulness, sore bright red tongue and sometimes diarrhoea.

It's been known for ten years that deficiency causes birth defects like spina bifida. In spite of all the publicity general levels of consumption have not gone up and due to unplanned pregnancies women may not start supplementing until they're six or eight weeks pregnant. If all flour were fortified with folic acid , many of the birth defects could have been prevented. Increased intake would also help reduce levels of heart disease. In Canada where it is now added to flour, the number of babies born with spina bifida has halved.

Good sources - dark green vegetables, liver, kidney, nuts and seeds, beans, lentils, wheat germ, wholemeal bread, wholegrain cereals and avocados.

Most effective as part of a B complex supplement but particularly with B12.

Adversely affected by analgesics, antibiotics, anticonvulsants, steroids, the pill, quinine, sulphur drugs, smoking and alcohol. Anyone who smokes, or is more than a moderate drinker, and worst of all does both, should take a regular supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid to protect against heart disease.

RDA: 200 micrograms for men and women, pregnant women - 600 micrograms in the first 4 months, then 500

Suggested supplement: 400 micrograms

Good quality multivitamins and minerals are the safest bet as they will be in ideal proportions for optimum absorption. Don't buy pills with dozens of nutrients you've never heard of, and unless you know you have allergies, don't waste your money on expensive yeast-free, lactose-free, hypoallergenic versions unless you are certain that you have allergies.

It's best to use single vitamin supplements with professional guidance as it's easy to end up with dangerously high intakes. Even worse, you may waste a lot of your hard earned cash on supplements you don't need. Stick to well known brands and don't be afraid to ask for advice from your pharmacist or health store. Stick to well-known brand names and don’t be afraid to ask for advice from your pharmacist or health store.

If money is the prime consideration, and your budget is stretched to the limit, add the cash to your food basket, not the pill maker's profits.

But with the growing invasion of fast food, junk food, intensive farming, less home cooking and the appalling number of men, women and children who do not get close to their "five-a-day" many of us need to add some extra nutrients to our daily regime.

Few people get enough vitamin D, folic acid, zinc, selenium, iron or iodine from their daily food. In addition, there is a need for extra nutrients in many groups of people. The young and old, pregnant and nursing women, serious athletes and exercisers, the chronically and acutely ill or those waiting for or recovering from surgery, anyone leading a very stressful life and even those of us who want a bit of extra health insurance, need to take a supplement.

Now, Nature’s Way has partnered with one of the UK’s leading herbal medicine companies, Schwabe Pharma, to bring their quality natural supplements to the UK and Europe.

In the multivitamin and mineral range there are products for men, women and children that contain a perfectly balanced mix of all you need. I personally take the one-a-day men’s energy formula and make sure that my wife gets her dose of the women’s formula too. Each dose provides all, or more than you need for a day of most of the vitamins and minerals essential for energy, immunity, bones, hair and skin and for fertility.

Click here for more information

By choosing these high quality products you will get all you need, nothing that you don’t and at a price that represents excellent nutritional value for money.


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