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How Effective are Supplements?

How Effective are Supplements?

A lot is written and said about whether or not supplements are effective. As with most health issues, the answer is “it depends”. 

The first factor is your general health status. Before you start taking anything it’s important to understand your baseline.  If you haven’t checked in with your health in a while you may need a visit to your GP to arrange blood tests and understand any deficiencies or vulnerabilities. Then you’ll know if there’s a particular area to focus on via diet, lifestyle intervention or supplementation.

The second factor impacting the effectiveness of a supplement is the food you eat. It’s often said you can’t out-run a bad diet. You also can’t supplement your way out of a bad diet. When you get nutrients from high quality fresh food you also get some combination of hydration, fibre and other vitamins and minerals. It’s impossible to enjoy optimal health when your diet is based around low quality convenience foods. However, if you’re already doing your best with your diet then supplements can be a great extra boost.

The third factor is the quality of the supplement – not all are created equal. In New Zealand there’s no pre-approval process for dietary supplements. It remains the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure the product is made to an acceptable quality, is safe to use and complies with legislation.  Products vary greatly in their active ingredients. And if they have been improperly stored by the retailer they can expire sooner than the printed date.

The fourth factor in supplement effectiveness is the way you take your supplements. Some are best taken in the morning, some at night, some with food, some without. Some supplements can interact with pharmaceutical medicine you are taking and need to be separated. Some supplements may require your dose to be built up gradually to avoid side effects.

Finally, to supplement effectively you need to be taking the correct supplements based on all the other factors. Some supplements can benefit most people most of the time, for example fish oil for brain health and a probiotic for gut and mental health.  Sometimes particular supplements may be handy for a short term boost, for example if you’re in a period of extreme stress, you’re starting a new exercise program or if there’s a virus going around.

Health is a complex issue – achieving it, keeping it and optimizing it. Supplements can be part of your toolbox, but not if you take a haphazard scatter-gun approach. You need to be taking the right supplements, at the right times, in the right doses. Don’t buy off the shelf or be sold to by somebody without professional qualifications. Come in to Life Pharmacy Takapuna for individualized advice on how to supplement smart for best results.


Claire Bellingham

Claire Bellingham is Life Pharmacy Takapuna's very own health columnist.  Claire has been a personal trainer at Les Mills Takapuna for 15 years and writes a monthly health column in Channel Magazine.