Reading this magazine, chances are you’re one of the 14 million Australians taking complementary medicines. But how can you make sure you’re not wasting your hard-earned dollars on supplements you don’t really need – and instead find the ones that will make a real difference? Just like with any other medicine, knowledge is key.
Is natural always safe?
Walking past the health aisle at your local supermarket, it’s easy to forget that multivitamins should be treated with the same caution and guidelines as “normal medicines”. You follow the prescription guidelines from your doctor and stay away from anything that could interfere with your medicine, so why wouldn’t you do the same with herbal supplements or vitamins? Don’t assume something is safe simply because it’s natural.
5 quick questions
Always check with the pharmacist or a qualified practitioner before selecting a new product, and ask yourself the following questions before picking it off the shelf:
1. Do I have an underlying condition?
2. Am I on medications?
3. Have I had surgery lately?
4. What other herbs or supplements do I use?
5. Why do I need this – and do I experience these symptoms often?
The best way to good health is to get your vitamins through a healthy and well-balanced diet, or in the case of vitamin D, by feeling the sun on your skin. It sounds simple, but a staggering nine out of 10 Aussies don’t get their daily servings of fruit and veg. And ironically, in the land of sunshine, a third of us don’t get enough vitamin D! But don’t run to the nearest health store thinking that vitamins are a shortcut to healthy living. A vitamin or mineral supplement is exactly that – a supplement to a balanced diet.
Back to basics: what is a multivitamin?
Multivitamins are a combination of the nutritional minerals and vitamins that are essential for our bodies to function. Synthetic multivitamins are prepared in laboratories by creating essential vitamins and minerals. Wholefood nutrients, on the other hand, are from natural sources and contain concentrates of fruits and vegetables. Though multivitamins are no substitute for a healthy diet, they can definitely help provide a good nutrient boost.
Take with food
Have you ever wondered why we’re told to take vitamins with food? This isn’t just a myth – in 1999, Dr Gunter Blobel received a Nobel Prize for discovering the key to getting vitamins or minerals into the bloodstream and, importantly, into the cells. The answer is attaching them to a chaperone molecule. Don’t know what that is? Don’t worry – all you need to know is that this is one reason why vitamin supplements must be taken with meals (unless stated otherwise on the label).
Quick tip! To get the best effects from your multivitamin, take it with a full glass of water with food. Coffee lover? Wait 30 minutes after having your coffee before taking your supplement as caffeine inhibits the absorption of vitamins.
Fresh is best
Did you know that your body only absorbs about 10 per cent of the vitamin content in a supplement? Compare that to between 77 and 93 per cent when eating a fresh plant! Minerals in a supplement are even worse – your body only absorbs between one and five per cent. On the flipside, if you eat raw broccoli, the minerals are 63 to 78 per cent absorbable. Just another reason why you should look to food first and use supplements as an added boost!
Research by the Complementary Healthcare Council found that 75 per cent of consumers know exactly what product they are buying and why. Do you?