Vitamin D is among the most recommended supplements people should take, particular during the winter months. The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors, but between October and early March in the UK, people don’t make enough. The vitamin helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body so is essential for optimum health. Government advice is that everyone should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter.
There are other supplements people should avoid, according to Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director at Healthspan – those not made to a pharmaceutical standard known as GMP.
GMP, which stands for good manufacturing practice, is the minimum standard that a medicines manufacturer must meet in their production processes.
Products must be of consistent high quality, be appropriate to their intended use, and meet the requirements of the marketing authorisation (MA) or product specification.
Dr Brewer shared the first steps you should take when considering taking supplements.
She advised: “Check the quality of supplements – ensure they are made to GMP standards.
“Supplements are there to only supplement the diet, they are not there ever to replace food.
“And it’s important to tailor your supplements for what your specific health and dietary needs are.”
Understanding different types of soluble vitamins is also important.
She explained: “Understanding different types of soluble vitamins e.g. water versus fat and why this is important e.g. water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the B’s: thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12).
“Fat-soluble vitamins are most abundant in high-fat foods and are much better absorbed into your bloodstream when you eat them with fat. The four fat-soluble vitamins in the human diet are vitamins A, D, E and K.
“Unlike water-soluble vitamins, any excess of fat-soluble vitamins don’t immediately leave the body. Instead, they’re stored in the liver or fatty tissue for later use so it’s important to be aware of dosages for these so do always check labels.”
You should also check the supplements you’re taking don’t interact with any prescribed or over-the-counter medicines you are taking.
“Finally, check expiry dates.”
As Dr Brewer mentioned, you should always seek medical advice before taking supplements if you are taking any prescribed medicines.
But she also recommended supplements people should consider taking during the winter time, alongside vitamin D.
“What we do know is several nutrients are required to support the immune system which include vitamins A, C, D E and minerals such as selenium and zinc. The BMJ Research suggests that ensuring a good intake of these nutrients may help to prevent respiratory infections and lessen the time taken to recover.
“Public Health England (PHE) advised that everyone in the UK should take a vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter months, when UV exposure is too low to allow the natural synthesis of vitamin D3 in the skin. PHE suggested taking a supplement supplying 10 micrograms of vitamin D per day. This is the minimum needed to prevent vitamin D deficiency conditions such as muscle and bone aches and pains, osteomalacia or rickets. For optimum health, there is increasing evidence that higher doses of 25mcg to 50mcg vitamin D are needed, especially for older people as the ability to synthesise vitamin D declines in later life. The latest findings relating to asthma protection typically used oral doses of between 10mcg (400 IU) to 100 mcg (4000 IU) vitamin D3 per day (although some used higher doses given by injection).
“Low mood during winter can be related to Seasonal Affective Disorder, which seems to be a natural hibernation response. Several studies suggest that eating more fish, or taking omega-3 fish oils, can have a beneficial effect on low mood.
“CBD also has a calming effect to relieve anxiety, promote feelings of well-being and lift mood. It enhances the effects of natural brain chemicals, such as serotonin, and helps to reduce restlessness and fatigue. Other options include 5-HTP or the traditional herbal remedy, St John’s Wort but if you are on any medication you should check with your health professional first.”