4 things to know about supplements

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We’ve all seen them. The little pills, capsules or gummies promoted across social media that promise to promote glowing health, strong nails, weight loss, thicker hair, or better sleep.

The supplement industry shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, with the backing of celebrities and influencers, more of us than ever are getting in on the action, trying different teas and tonics in the hope of finding health heaven. But are they all they’re cracked up to be?

Here are four things worth knowing about supplements:

Firstly, what are supplements?

Whether you’re trying to balance a vitamin deficiency, lower your risk of certain diseases, or improve the appearance of your skin, hair or nails, there’s a supplement for that.

From vitamin A to zinc, we’ve been taking dietary supplements for decades. Found in tablet, capsule, liquid or powder forms, supplements promise to replenish missing vitamins or minerals, providing something which has been lacking.

But not all supplements are created equally. While some have a clear medical backing, with evidence of their efficacy, others are perhaps more placebo than anything else.

1. Supplements can be dietary

The goal of dietary supplements is generally to boost the food you eat by topping it up with something you’re missing. This could be certain vitamins or minerals you don’t get because you’re vegetarian or vegan, or because you would have to eat a large quantity of foods you don’t like to get the benefit.

These supplements contain at least one dietary ingredient, such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, amino acids or enzymes. They can be bought as standalone supplements, or as multivitamins, reducing the number of pills you’d need to take.

Some of the most common dietary supplements include:

  • Calcium
  • Fish oil
  • Echinacea
  • Ginseng
  • Garlic
  • Vitamin D
  • St. John’s wort
  • Green tea

2. They can be very beneficial to your health – but they aren’t a cure all

Many common supplements support a balanced diet, boosting your overall health and wellbeing.

Common supplements that may benefit your health include:

  • Calcium, which can promote bone health
  • Fish oil, which can support heart health
  • Folic acid, which can reduce birth defects when taken by pregnant women
  • Melatonin, which can help counteract jet lag
  • Vitamin A, which can slow down vision loss
  • Vitamin B12, which can help keep nerve and blood cells healthy and prevent anaemia
  • Vitamins C and E, which can prevent cell damage
  • Vitamin D, which can strengthen bones
  • Zinc, which can promote skin health and slow down vision loss

While there has been extensive research conducted on supplements, there’s still quite a lot of ambiguity about how effective they can be. Most studies suggest that multivitamins aren’t effective in preventing conditions such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

3. Supplements aren’t always safe.

Generally, multivitamins aren’t likely to pose any health risks. But you should still be careful about what you choose to put into your body.

Some supplements can interact badly with other medications you’re taking or pose risks if you have certain medical conditions, while others haven’t been tested in pregnant women, nursing mothers or children. If in doubt, always speak with your doctors to check that it’s safe to take supplements.

Some supplements that could be risky include:

  • Beta-carotene and vitamin A, which can increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers
  • Gingko, which can increase blood thinning
  • Herbal supplements comfrey and kava, which can damage your liver
  • St. John’s wort, which can make some drugs, such as antidepressants and birth control, less effective
  • Vitamin K, which can reduce the effectiveness of blood thinners

4. They aren’t a replacement for a healthy diet

While it may be an attractive idea to just pop a pill and get on with your day, thinking that it’ll give you everything you need to be healthy, that simply isn’t the case. You shouldn’t rely on supplements alone to give you everything your body needs.

Supplements should never be used in place of real food. A nutrient-packed salad can do far more for you for than a pill and you should focus on eating a diet rich in all the vitamins, nutrients and macros you need to sustain you.

When supplements don’t do the job

While supplements can certainly help boost your health in areas that might be lacking, they aren’t a cure all. You may be taking them to help with certain symptoms, such as skin conditions, IBS and bloating or fatigue.

But if you find that you’re continuing to notice these issues, despite introducing supplements, it could be time to take a closer look at your diet. 

If you’ve noticed that you regularly seem to experience these types of symptoms, but you aren’t sure why, it may be worth taking a closer look at the foods you’re eating to understand if something in your diet could be the cause.

A common recommendation is the elimination diet, where you remove one food at a time for a few weeks to see how you feel. But this process can take a long time. And, although many of us commonly react to a few different ingredients, the elimination diet is often abandoned when the first trigger food is found, leaving an incomplete picture of what’s causing the problem.

Get answers faster with Smartblood

When it comes to food intolerance testing, it’s important to do your research and choose a reputable laboratory testing company. At Smartblood, we offer a comprehensive test to help you take control of your diet quickly and discover your own trigger foods. 

Our home-to-laboratory service gives you fast, accurate results that pinpoint exactly which foods you are reacting to. Tests are completed in our accredited laboratory by trained experts, with clear, easy to understand results sent to you via email within three days. 

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The full Smartblood test is a complete program and is a great way to discover all of your food sensitivities and take control over your own personal trigger foods.

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