How To Avoid Expensive Wee

There are as many producers of vitamin products as there are phytonutrients available to be marketed. How do you know which manufacturer to trust? How do you know if the multi-vitamin you’ve bought is worth its RRP? Well, here’s how:

6 things to read in the small print

1. Are the vitamins or minerals available for absorption or does your body need to go through a conversion process before they’re useful?

Having to convert a nutrient before it can be absorbed means that you will need other nutrients to act as co-factors and may also result in less of the original nutrient being available at the end of the process.

Folic acid, for example, is an entirely synthesised form of its natural cousin folate. If your chosen supplement says “folic acid” on the side you may not get any benefit from it at all - many people are simply genetically unable to absorb it. A further subset even struggle with folate. However if your supplement says something along the lines of “methylated folate” you’re good to go. The conversion has already been carried out by the manufacturer and you’ll have much better uptake.

And I don’t want to panic you folks but if your B12 supplement is “cyanocobalamin” (again an inactive form not found in nature) when your body converts it in order to be able to use it the “cyano” bit is liberated and needs the liver to detoxify it. Let’s hope the liver can anyway, as “cyano” = cyanide.

Another example are Omega 3 supplements. Really the most readily taken up are those from fish or krill as the chemical structure of these are the most beneficial. Vegetarians and vegans who obtain theirs from linseed (flaxseed) are at a disadvantage as the body will need to work on these oils to convert them to a more useful structure. Oils from Echium seeds, which contain Stearidonic Acid (SDA), are one step better for this group.

2. In a similar vein Vitamin E should come in the form of “mixed tocopherols”. There a few varieties of Vitamin E and, in nature you’ll never find a single form, it is naturally found as several different forms and in different combinations. The form of Vitamin D is crucial too and your supplement should contain D3 (cholecalciferol) not D2 (ergocalciferol), as D3 is the type that is naturally produced by our bodies in response to sunlight.

Again, unfortunately for vegans the supplement form of D3 is generally animal derived (something to do with lanolin and sheep apparently – Baaaa). For vegans the best source is getting out at lunchtime and smiling at the sun for 20 minutes.

3. Check the NRV (Nutrient Reference Value) of the individual phytonutrients within the formula. Are they actually at any beneficial level or are they all scraping around the bottom of the nutritional barrel? Equally how many phytonutrients are in the formula? Does it have calcium but lacks the other co-factors required for calcium absorption such as Vitamin K2 or D3? If the co-factors are not in the supplement and not in your diet you will not be absorbing the nutrient.

B vitamins should not, unless specifically advised, be taken as single elements, they work better in synchronicity. Your general formula should contain a B complex (essentially the whole B family), not single members such as B12.

4. What form do the minerals come in? Iron supplements are notorious for causing constipation but this needn’t be the case if the iron is chelated with bisglycinate rather than sulfate. Magnesium too, is better absorbed when chelated with a carrier such as citrate as opposed to oxide.

5. Does your product just do the bog standard vitamins: A, B12 and C and a handful of minerals or does it also include trace elements such as Boron? We have a much lower requirement for some of these elements but they’re equally crucial to our health. Long term supplementation with zinc can adversely affect copper levels so, unless copper is being specifically avoided, this should always appear somewhere on the label alongside zinc.

6. Do you have particular health concerns which need a more targeted formula? It’s obvious that men will not have the same requirement for iron as menstruating women; those on statins may benefit from a supplement containing co-enzyme Q10; diabetics would benefit from a supplement that includes chromium and men who are hoping to become fathers should look at supplements formulated for pre-conception. One supplement, as with bra sizes, does not fit all.

However (there’s always an “however”), no matter how good the supplement or how reputable the manufacturer bear in mind that supplements are no substitution for a good diet. They supplement the diet, they do not replace it.

If you need further advice on supplements please contact me at

By Saffron Rogerson

15 July 2016