Category Archives: multi-vitamin

Potassium boosts bone health

A randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled trial has suggested that potassium citrate may have significant benefits for bone health (1).

The research involved 201 healthy elderly men and women who received supplements each day for 24 months. All of the adults received a calcium and vitamin D supplement each day. In addition, the adults were given either a daily potassium citrate supplement or a placebo pill.

After 24 months, bone mineral density was measured by x-ray. A special tool was also used to calculate the risk of fracture for each participant.

Potassium Citrate is strongly linked with bone health
Potassium Citrate is strongly linked with bone health

The researchers suggested that the benefits of the potassium citrate are a result of its alkalinity which helps to prevent calcium loss from bones. The food that we eat determines the pH balance in our bodies. If our diet is acid-forming, then the alkaline mineral calcium is leeched from our bones to restore pH balance. This calcium loss decreases bone mineral density, making bones very vulnerable. Potassium citrate gives the body the resource it needs to keep pH levels balanced without placing stress of the bones. It ensures that the bones are provided with sufficient back-up alkaline which can be stored by the bone ready to be used when alkaline compounds in the blood run short.

The modern diet is believed to have an increasingly acidic load owing to poor food choices. Potassium-rich fruits and vegetables are often overlooked in favour of acid-forming processed red meats, cheddar cheese, sodium, white flour and sugar. Over time, eating an imbalanced diet of excess animal protein, refined grains, sugar, alcohol and salt can cause your body to slip into a state of mild acidosis.

By making small adjustments to your diet, your body can use its mineral stores for building bone, rather than for fighting acidosis. You can shift to a more alkaline diet by making a few simple dietary changes:

  • Eat more than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables each day
  • Reduce intake of processed animal products
  • Replace grains such as wheat and white rice with more alkaline quinoa, millet and buckwheat
  • Drink water with a little freshly squeezed lemon or lime
  • Use potatoes, squash and other root vegetables as your energy-giving carbohydrate sources
  • Eat plenty of spices such as ginger, cinnamon and mustard
  • Try alkaline-forming supplements such as a good quality multivitamin and mineral formula, or a greens powder each day


1.Jehle S, Hulter HN, Krapf R (2012) Effect of Potassium Citrate on Bone Density, Microarchitecture, and Fracture Risk in Healthy Older Adults without Osteoporosis: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Nov 15 (Epub ahead of print)


UK Falls Short on Vitamin Intake

It is 100 years since the discovery of vitamins by Polish scientist Casimir Funk. A century later, are we managing to meet our recommended intake of these vital nutrients? A study published last month in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that we are not (1).

The study, a review of national dietary surveys, has highlighted shortfalls in the Western diet, with adults in the UK likely to be deficient in critical nutrients such as Vitamins D and E.

The researchers reviewed the diets of adults in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA, and compared them with national recommendations. Data was taken from the more recent national dietary intake surveys from each country as a basis for the analysis.

Of the countries studies, the Netherlands appeared healthiest, with fewer significant vitamin shortfalls compared with the rest of Europe and the US. Data from the UK and the USA showed similar patterns and levels of deficiencies, perhaps reflecting similar dietary habits and lifestyles.

Data from the UK included dietary information for both men and women between the ages of 19 and 49 years old. The results showed that more than 75% of men and women in the UK are deficient in Vitamins D and E, Furthermore, between 50-75% of UK adults are deficient in Vitamin A. Up to 50% of UK women were also found to fall short of the recommended dietary intake of certain B Vitamins such as folic acid and riboflavin.

Fruit Bowl
Fruit can help to maintain your vitamin levels.

The researchers concede that “a gap exists between vitamin intakes and requirements for a significant proportion of the population, even though diverse foods are available.” Increases in the consumption of fast food with low nutritional value probably accounts for this ‘gap’. A diet based on nutrient-dense, organic, whole foods is the best way to meet your nutritional requirements. A healthy diet should also be free from added sugar, refined grains and alcohol which ‘rob’ the body of nutrients.

Dr Manfred Eggersdorfer, DSM Senior Vice-President for Nutrition and Science Advocacy, and one of the study’s authors, concludes that action is needed to ensure that we are getting the vitamins we need for optimal health.  “This research highlights that 100 years after the discovery [of vitamins], there are still major gaps that urgently need closing – to improve people’s long term health and to drive down healthcare costs.”

Failing to meet the recommended levels of vitamins can leave individuals vulnerable to a host of chronic, diet-related diseases. In the UK in particular,  the recent study shows that many are failing to obtain adequate levels of Vitamins A, C and E in our diets. As these vitamins are major antioxidant nutrients, then, this could mean that a large number of the UK population are vulnerable to oxidative damage which is linked to the progression of a huge range of conditions from accelerated ageing and inflammation to cataracts, hypertension and diabetes.

Changing lifestyles mean that, even with the best of intentions, we do not always have the time or opportunity to ensure that we are getting all the nutrients we need from our diet. Processed convenience foods are all too readily available. Furthermore, unavoidable factors such as stress and pollution increase our nutrient needs. Small dietary changes can help to redress the balance. Regular consumption of oily fish, eggs and brightly coloured vegetables will help deliver a balanced of Vitamin A and its precursor beta-carotene, while regular snacks of fresh fruit and raw nuts and seeds will provide Vitamins C and E. For those in need of additional support, a good quality multi-vitamin or antioxidant supplement will help close the gap between vitamin intakes and recommendations.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC


1. Troesch et al (2012) Dietary surveys indicate vitamin intakes below recommendations are common in representative Western countries. Brit J Nutr 108:4, pp. 692-698.

2. Image courtesy of  lynnc



Back To School – Part 1 – Children’s Nutrition

With your children rested and rejuvenated from the summer holidays and poised and ready to return to school in September, now is the perfect time to make changes to their diet to improve their health and academic performance alike.

Children's Nutrition
Now is the perfect time to make the changes to your children's diet to improve their health and academic performance alike. (5)

Childhood is a very demanding time for the body.  Both physical and mental growth and development are operating at top speed which means that the food and ‘fuel’ children receive at this stage of life is crucial for their present and future development as adults.  As their provider of food, parents and guardians are ultimately responsible for the majority of what their child consumes, however this is often more easily said than done in an age where long hours at work are the norm and time is of the essence.

The easy option would be to give your kids quick processed foods, however these foods are often laden with saturated fats, sugars, and salt and their consumption in childhood has been linked to the formulation of atherosclerosis (where fat deposits stick to the arterial walls) which can increase risks to health and disease in later life. These foods are also heavily associated with childhood obesity which is now an epidemic (1). Therefore it is vitally important to give your kids healthy foods and limit the junk to help them to get the best possible nutrition.

Natural, fresh and nutrient dense foods should form the majority of a child’s daily food consumption.  These foods can include a variety of fruit such as Oranges which contain vitamin C to keep our children’s cells, tissues and organs healthy as well as to strengthen the immune system.  Cherries are full of antioxidants and bioflavonoids to reduce inflammation which can help headaches.  Strawberries contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals especially vitamin C.

Vegetables are also essential such as broccoli for vitamin C and fibre as well as antioxidants.  Peas are an excellent source of fibre and many vitamins especially vitamin K which is good for bones.  Carrots contain vitamin A providing benefits to eyes and skin and sweetcorn provides fibre and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are especially good for the eyes.

Wholegrains such as wholemeal bread, pasta and brown rice as well as legumes are also great for keeping our kids blood sugar levels balanced and to prevent snacking.  Low fat dairy is also needed to build strong bones and teeth as well as lean meats such as poultry for protein.  Fish is very important for the ‘good fats’ omega 3’s which are great for brain function, concentration and also for skin, hair and nails.  These foods are packed full of great health boosting nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids to help keep kids healthy with strong immune systems, great learning capacity, full of energy and to reduce their risk of disease (3).  They also contain complex carbohydrates (fibre) to balance blood sugar, reducing those dreaded sugar rushes as well as limiting hunger pangs and keeping your child’s digestion on track.  With all of these benefits it’s easy to see why it’s so important to try to include these foods in your child’s diet.

As well as improving your child’s diet, you may wish to consider supplements specifically designed for children to ensure you give them the vital nutrients their developing body needs as the nutrients mentioned previously (e.g. multivitamins, vitamins C and K, omegas, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin) can all be found in a supplement form.  There are a good number of supplements appropriate for children and you may which to get some advice from a registered nutritionist for any more complex requirements. However, here are a few that can make life easier for parent and child alike.

Essential Fatty Acids – Known to aid in behavioural issue, to boost academic performance and to ease skin problems including eczema.

Pycnogenol – More than 200 studies show this patented pine bark extract to be safe and effective in numerous health conditions including respiratory health in adults and children.

Echinacea – Offers an immune boosting alternative to antibiotics for minor day to day ailments.

Probiotics – Immune supporting and digestion boosting.  Look for formulations specifically designed for children.

Multivitamins – A daily insurance policy to ensure your child has the nutrients required for optimum nutrition.  They have also been shown to aid in behavioural problems.

Don’t miss part 2 of our back to school blogs where we share our top tips for healthy lunch boxes and snack ideas.

Written by Lauren Foster


1. Foresight Group (2007). Government Office for Science. Tackling Obesities: Future Choices – Project Report 2nd Edition. London: HM Government.

2. Melanson, K.J. (2008) Nutrition Review: Lifestyle Approaches to Promoting Healthy Eating for Children. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2: 26.

3. Abdel-Salam, A.M. (2010) Functional Foods: Hopefulness to Good Health. American Journal of Food Technology, 5: 86-99.

4. Singh, P. & Goyal, G.K. (2008) Dietary Lycopene: Its Properties and Anticarcinogenic Effects. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Science and Food Safety, Vol. 7, Issue 3, 255-270.

5.  Image courtesy of Ambro.



Healthy skin spotlight – Our top 5 supplements for skin health

This blog post looks at some of the key nutritional supplements for supporting and maintaining healthy skin.  Follow our top five tips and your skin will be looking healthy and radiant all through natural choices and healthy diet without the need for beauty products that contain harmful chemicals.

Natural skin care
Support your skin care through nutrition and a healthy diet (1)

1. Fish Oils

Fish oils are essential fatty acids which means that they are not made by the body and have to be consumed (either eaten or supplemented) in order to provide the body with their fantastic benefits.  Fatty acids have been recognised for their ability to improve the skin through their anti-inflammatory activity which may also reduce the development of eczema psoriasis, acne and rashes.  They can also help to firm the skin and potentially reduce lines and wrinkles.  Read more about the power of fish oils for skin health in previous blog posts here.  Overall a top skin care provider!

2. Antioxidants:

Oxidative damage from free radicals (unstable molecules) is the primary cause of premature skin aging as they can interfere with DNA and breakdown collagen which contributes to the formation of those dreaded wrinkles.  Antioxidants have been found to help prevent this damage and protect the body from their harmful effects.  Antioxidants, such as alpha tocopherol, beta carotene, lycopene, and lutein, have also been identified to protect against UV damage (photoaging) which causes the most harm to the skin (3).

3. Multivitamin

Eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and wholegrains helps to provide the body with vitamins, minerals, fibre and other essential components to help the body to function optimally and keep the skin in its best condition.  Adding a multivitamin (which are natural nutrients that are essentially consumed as the body can not produce them itself) to this regime can offer a great boost to your body’s balance of health and support the health and appearance of the largest organ in your body, your skin.  Again multivitamins that include the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E are great skin supporters, and also B3, D and K have also been identified as protecting against the biggest skin ager, photoaging (4).

Higher Nature Aeterna Gold
Having a healthy diet with lots of vitamins and antioxidants such as vitamin C, can help to encourage collagen production

4. Collagen

As we age, our collagen stores steadily decrease which reduces the elasticity in our skin and causes lines and wrinkles, so supplementing collagen may help to limit these effects.  Also having a healthy diet with lots of vitamins and antioxidants such as vitamin C, can help to encourage collagen production and its use within the body, which may assist in keeping the skin bright and youthful.

5. Probiotics

Probiotics are non digestible foods that can promote health by stimulating the activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut.  They have been found to assist with the absorption of nutrients in the digestive tract which then allows the nutrients to fully benefit the skin.  Additionally, probiotics have also been recognised for stimulating the microflora of the skin and protecting the skin through the immune system (6).  Therefore these friendly bacteria are perfect little protectors of youthful skin so make sure you include them in your daily routine.

A top tip for supplementing would be to include probiotics with your supplements to ensure that your digestive system is optimal and you are absorbing the necessary nutrients from the supplements you are taking.

P.S. You may also wish to consider using light therapy as an alternative to help keep skin beautiful, as they have been found to kill the bacteria that causes acne and also to reduce the inflammation in the skin caused by acne.  They do this through the combination of wavelengths which also assist facial lesions, scars and many other conditions.  They have also shown to be very effective at brightening the skin tone (7,8).  Therefore they may be worth considering if you are suffering from a skin complaint.

Written by Lauren Foster


(1) Image courtesy of  photostock.

(2)De Spirit s et al. (2009) Intervention with flaxseed and borage oil supplements modulates skin condition in women. British Journal of Nutrition, 101:440-445.

(3) Evans, J.A. & Johnson, E.J. (2010) The Role of Phytonutrients in Skin Health. Nutrients, 2, 903-928.

(4) Zussman, J., Ahdout, J. and Kim, J. (2010) Vitamins and photoaging: Do scientific data support their use? American Academy of Dermatology, Vol. 63, No. 3.

(5) Zouboulis, C.C., Makrantonaki, E. (2011) Clinical aspects and molecular diagnostics of skin aging. Clinics in Dermatology, 29, 3–14.

(6) Krutmann, J. (2009) Pre- and probiotics for human skin. Journal of Dermatological Science 54, 1–5.

(7) Babilas, B. (2010) Light-assisted therapy in dermatology: The use of intense pulsed light (IPL). Medical Laser Application, Vol. 25, 61–69.

(8) Lee, S.Y., You, C.E. & Park, M.Y. (2007) Blue and red light combination LED phototherapy for acne vulgaris in patients with skin phototype IV. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, 39:180–188.


Nutrient supplements might impact brain function

 Nutrition impacts all aspects of health and the body.  What we eat can impact brain function and our mood and new research is constantly being released which indicates that having a good diet and a good supply of nutrients can impact our mental state.

Recently a double-blind placebo-controlled study (1) was conducted to investigate the effect of a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement on cognitive (brain) function and fatigue in over 200 healthy female individuals aged between 25 and 50 years old.  The participants were tested before and 9 weeks after starting the multi-vitamin and mineral supplement.  The tests that the women underwent included brain function tests and tasks related to mood and fatigue.   The group taking the multi-vitamin and mineral supplement had improved multi-tasking performance and better accuracy across the tasks compared to the placebo group.  The women taking the supplements also did better in terms of their mood and fatigue levels after performing the brain function tests.  The authors conclude that “These findings suggest that healthy members of the general population may benefit from augmented levels of vitamins/minerals via direct dietary supplementation”.

Another recent study (2) looked at the cognitive and mood effects of a high dose B-vitamin and mineral supplement in 215 men aged 30-55 years old.  The men completed assessments and tests prior to and on the last day of a 33-day supplement period.   Those men taking the supplement, compared to those taking the inactive placebo, had significant improvements in ratings on the stress test and the general health questionnaire as well as certain aspects of the mood test.  The men taking the supplement also rated themselves as less ‘mentally tired’ both before and after completing a cognitive (brain function) test.  The authors of this test conclude “Healthy members of the general population may benefit from augmented levels of vitamins/minerals via direct dietary supplementation. Specifically, supplementation led to improved ratings of stress, mental health and vigour and improved cognitive performance during intense mental processing”.

The authors of this study also write “Taken together with previous results showing beneficial effects of vitamin/mineral supplementation in healthy children and adults, these findings further suggest that augmenting vitamin/mineral levels in healthy, normal populations may provide beneficial effects in terms of brain function. It is unclear whether these effects represent a an offset of impairment due to marginal deficiencies or an improvement due to sub-optimal levels that would not, under current guidelines, be classed as deficiency. However, given that a large section of the population are unable or unwilling to eat the adequately balanced diet that would satisfy their micronutrient requirements, it seems that supplementation with multi-vitamins/minerals may be a useful and possibly necessary option for this portion of the population

This research is certainly interesting but further larger trials are be needed before making any recommendations for nutrient supplementation in order to enhance brain function and mood.  Always check with your medical doctor prior to taking any supplements.  Supplements should never be seen as an alternative to a healthy, balanced diet, however they can be useful to cover any shortfalls.  This research certainly highlights how nutrition can impact the brain and mood states.  Optimum functioning of the brain is dependent on a wide range nutrients and as the authors state, many people do not eat healthy balanced diets and may therefore be lacking in vitamins and minerals. Eating a nutrient dense diet which is rich in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed meat and fish, especially oily fish, nuts/seeds, beans and unprocessed wholegrains is a great way to ensure a plentiful supply of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids to the body and brain.


(1)Haskell CF et al.  2010.  Effects of a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement on cognitive function and fatigue during extended multi-tasking.  Hum Psychopharmacol. 25(6):448-61.

(2) Kennedy DO et al.  2010.  Effects of high-dose B vitamin complex with vitamin C and minerals on subjective mood and performance in healthy males. Psychopharmacology (Berl).   211(1):55-68.



Written by Ani Kowal


Can a multi-nutrient supplement benefit child intelligence?

Back in August I wrote about how diet can impact the brain and behaviour in children.  Nutrition for the brain is something I am very interested in and those of you who follow this blog will see that there is a lot of scientific evidence to show that what we eat can make a difference to mood and feelings as well as brain structure and function.

A very recent review study (1) has concluded that multi-nutrient supplementation may be associated with a small but significant increase in a measure of intelligence and academic performance in healthy schoolchildren.  The authors of the study do state however that “more research is required, however, before public health recommendations can be given(1).

The researchers undertook the study because “Although multiple micronutrient interventions have been shown to benefit children’s intellectual development, a thorough evaluation of the totality of evidence is currently lacking to direct public health policy(1).  The aim of the research was to review the present literature on the effects of multiple-nutrient supplements on cognitive (mental/intellectual) performance in school aged children (children aged up to 18).  The researchers looked at data from trials published between 1970 and 2008 – quite a huge body of work!  As stated above, they found that multi-nutrient supplements seemed to have a small but significant positive effect on academic performance. 

The important aspect of these kinds of research studies, in my opinion, is that they show that nutrition does impact the brain, thinking, mood and therefore perhaps academic performance.  Limitations of such studies include the quality of the supplement, the quantity and also the actual diet of the child.  If you read the post from August you will see that overall diet quality is very important to the brain.  A good supply of daily vegetables, fruits, unrefined and unprocessed foods and healthy omega 3 fats as well as a protein supply with each meal is a great way to look after body and mind.  Regular exercise is also crucial for mood. 

In terms of supplements, they can never replace a healthy diet.  If you are considering supplements I would suggest a good quality multivitamin-mineral supplement, I like food-state supplements as they are made from ‘food’ and not chemicals and are easily absorbed into the body.  In addition to this I think that a daily omega 3 fatty acid supplement is definitely worth considering – these fats really are essential for the brain.  The most effective of the omega 3 fatty acids for brain function seem to be the long chain omega 3 fats EPA and DHA which are found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines.  These can be purchased as an oil or in capsule form.  Many of the oils are made easy for children to take as they are flavoured and have no fishy taste or smell.  For vegetarians and vegans flaxseed oil can be taken – this is a shorter chain omega 3 fat and not as effective, since the body has to work hard to convert it into the longer chain structure – however, it is certainly worth taking.  This kind of fat can be found in good amounts in walnuts and flaxseeds.  Vegan EPA and DHA is now being produced from algae, it is expensive but available to buy from some retailers and online.


(1)Eilander A et al.  2010.  Multiple micronutrient supplementation for improving cognitive performance in children: systematic review of randomized controlled trials.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  91: 115-130
Written by Ani Kowal


A few ways that might help to keep ‘back to work’ lethargy at bay

Many people are currently heading back to work after an extended Christmas and New Year break.  It can be tough to get back into the swing of things after having time off and often people feel lacking in energy.  There are a few natural ways that can be useful to help provide a mood boost and prevent feelings of lethargy.

Back in September I wrote about the link between anxioxidant nutrients and symptoms such as stress, anxiety and fatigue.  It is important to keep your dietary antioxidant levels high, this will boost your immune system but may also help to combat fatigue.  The best way of providing the body with ample antioxidants is to eat a variety of colourful vegetables and fruits daily.  Get a minimum of 5 portions a day.  A good way to make sure you are always supplied is to take easy to eat fruits and vegetable stick to work with you.  Keep them at your desk and snack away guilt-free.  Blueberries, any berries in fact, are packed with antioxidants and also very tasty.  Clementines are easy to peel and readily available at the moment and most supermarkets stock carrot and celery sticks if you don’t have time to prepare your own in the morning.  You can dip these into a tomato-based salsa for an extra antioxidant hit. Any fruits and vegetables will work to boost antioxidant levels in the body – remember to eat a variety to provide an array of different antioxidants to the body.  Antioxidant supplements made from natural berries and herbs are now also available to buy but should not be viewed or used as an alternative to a healthy diet.

Magnesium is also considered a great lethargy buster.  Fatigue is thought by some in the medical field to be one of the typical early symptoms of magnesium deficiency (1).  Stress hormones can promote a reduction in tissue magnesium levels and mild magnesium deficiency may promote the feelings of fatigue.  Magnesium is an incredibly important mineral and acts as a multi-functional nutrient in the body where it is present in all cells!  It takes part in around 300 processes in the body and is vital to many bodily functions such as energy production, nerve function, muscle relaxation, bone and tooth formation, heart rhythm and aids in the production and use of insulin. 

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) of adults aged 19-64 (2) found that quite a shocking number of women in the UK are not achieving adequate daily magnesium intakes with 74% of women age 19-64 not reaching the RNI (reference nutrient intake) for magnesium and 85% of 19-24 year old women not beaching the RNI for this vital nutrient.  Many men (about 42%) too appear not to be reaching recommended levels.  Modern society does not eat as many whole grains, seeds, beans and nuts as in previous times and it is these sources that are rich in magnesium.  Processed foods contain little of this vital mineral.  Good dietary sources of magnesium include dried figs, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashew nuts, sunflower seeds and dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids!).  Wholegrains such as brown rice and oatmeal also contain good amounts.

Omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish such as salmon are vital for the brain and may help lift the mood.  Good dietary sources of omega 3 fatty acids include oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout and some nuts, especially walnuts, and flax seeds.  For people who don’t regularly eat fish considering a daily omega 3 supplement could be very helpful.  In fact I would suggest that the majority of individuals in the UK do not achieve good dietary Omega 3 intakes.  For vegetarians and vegans a flaxseed oil supplement can be useful and there are now supplements containing the longer chain omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, available which are made from algae. 

Ginseng is often taken as an energy boosting supplement.  Korean Ginseng, also known as Panax ginseng, appears to be helpful in treating and reducing stress-related fatigue (3,4,5).  A short term, one month, supplement with this herb could be worth a try.  Remember to read the label and stick to the recommended dosages.

Keeping blood sugar levels stable during the day will help prevent energy and mood slumps – a key here is to ensure you include a source of protein with each meal, this could include eggs, unprocessed meats and fish, beans, lentils or other pulses and nuts or seeds.  It is also important to avoid refined carbohydrates and minimise caffeine intake since this can disrupt hormones involved in blood sugar balance.  Eating a healthy balanced diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits and minimal processed and refined foods will help to keep levels of all nutrients and antioxidants high.  If you feel that you are in need of a boost or are consistently finding it hard to eat a diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits you could consider taking a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to cover any dietary shortfalls.  Personally I like the food-state supplements which are easily absorbed by the body and derived from natural sources.  Multi-nutrient supplements that also contain probiotics (‘good’ bacteria) are also available.  A study (6) found that such a supplement could help to reduce stress and exhaustion as well as improving the immune system.  Remember that a nutrient supplement can never be considered as an alternative to a healthy diet. 


(1)Saris N-E L et al.  2000.  Magnesium:  an update on physiological, clinical and analytical aspects.  Clinica Chimica Acta.  294:1-26, 2000.
(2)Henderson L et al.  2003.  The National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Adults aged 19-64 years.  HMSO London.
(3)Bannerjee U et al.  1982.  Antistress and antifatigue properties of panax ginseng:  comparison with piracetam.  Acta Physiol Lat Am.  32(4):277-285.
(4)Reay J L et al.  2005.  Single doses of Panax ginseng (G115) reduce blood glucose levels and improve cognitive performance during sustained mental activity.  J Psychopharmacol.  19(4):357-365, 2005.
(5)Reay J L et al.  2006.  Effects of Panax ginseng, consumed with and without glucose, on blood glucose levels and cognitive performance during sustained ‘mentally demanding’ tasks.  J Psychopharmacol.
(6)Grunenwald J et al.  2002.  Effect of a probiotic multivitamin compound on stress and exhaustion.  Adv Ther.  19:141-150
Written by Ani Kowal


More evidence that living healthily may reduce the risk of chronic disease

I began last week by writing about diet and lifestyle and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  Today I wanted to discuss a research piece(1) with a fabulous title: “Healthy Living Is The Best Revenge”.

The study took place in Germany, the authors wanted to look at the risks of developing major chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), type II diabetes and cancer.  Data from 23,153 participants aged between 35 and 65 years old was used.  Four healthy lifestyle factors were looked at: never having smoked, having a body mass index (BMI) of less than 30, performing at least three and a half hours of physical activity a week and adhering to a healthy diet.  A healthy diet was considered one with high intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains and low meat consumption.

BMI (Body Mass Index) is a measure often used for healthy weight, it is worked out as weight divided by height squared.  To check your own BMI you may find it useful to visit the Food Standards Agency website where an online BMI calculator can be found. (generally a BMI of 19-25 is viewed as a healthy weight).

The 4 factors were scored (healthy, 1 point; unhealthy, 0 points) to form an index that
ranged from 0 to 4.  The participants were followed for an average of 7.8 years.  3.7% of participants developed diabetes, 0.9% had a heart attack (myocardial infarction), 0.8% suffered a stroke and 3.8% developed cancer.  Fewer than 4% of participants had a 0 healthy factor score, most had 1 to 3 healthy factors, and approximately 9% had 4 factors. 

The risk for developing a chronic disease decreased progressively as the number of healthy factors increased. Participants with all 4 factors at the start of the study had a 78% lower risk of developing any of the chronic diseases compared to participants with no healthy factors (a score of 0).  The four factors were associated with a 93% reduced risk of diabetes, and 81% reduced risk of heart attack, 50% reduced risk of stroke and a 36% reduced risk of cancer.  The largest reduction in risk was associated with having a BMI less than 30, followed by never smoking, then taking at least 3.5 hours of physical activity a week and then adhering to good dietary principles.  The authors conclude that “Adhering to 4 simple healthy lifestyle factors can have a strong impact on the prevention of chronic diseases(1)

In a press release (2) the authors say  “Our results reinforce current public health recommendations to avoid smoking, to maintain a healthy weight, to engage in physical activity appropriately and to eat adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables and foods containing whole grains and to partake of red meat prudently,” “Because the roots of these factors often originate during the formative stages of life, it is especially important to start early in teaching the important lessons concerning healthy living.”

It is important to note that is was an observational study which shows that lifestyle factors may be associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases, it does not however prove cause and effect.  These kinds of studies are important indicators and we can learn a lot from them.  Evidence is continually mounting for the importance of living a healthy lifestyle – in the end living healthily is about increasing our likelihood of living a long, active and HEALTHY life. 

As I wrote last week if you feel your diet consistently falls short of vegetables and fruits you may wish to consider taking a food-state multi-vitamin and mineral supplement which tends to provide bioflavonoids in addition to the nutrients and is easy for the body to absorb.  For those of you who do not eat oil fish regularly (at least twice per week) you may want to consider taking a daily fish oil supplement in order to provide omega 3 fatty acids to the body (a supplement to provide around 250-350mg of EPA and 250-350mg DHA), for vegetarians and vegans flaxseed oil can provide the shorter chain omega 3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid, (a supplement providing 1000mg alpha-linolenic acid daily can be considered).  Vegetarian EPA and DHA supplements produced from algae are also becoming increasingly available. 

Getting out for a walk every day, even for 15-30minutes is a good way of adding physical activity into life.


(1) Earl Ford ES et al.  2009.  Healthy Living Is the Best Revenge: Findings From the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition-Potsdam Study. Arch Intern Med.  169 (15): 1355-1362
Written by Ani Kowal
(2)Press release.  JAMA and Archives Journals (2009, August 10). Healthy Lifestyle Habits May Be Associated With Reduced Risk Of Chronic Disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 12, 2009, from

Written by Ani Kowal


Multivitamins may help to reduce the risk of having a low birth weight baby

There seems to be a run of research being released at the moment looking at pregnancy and fertility related issues, as you can see from my recent blog posts.  In a recent review paper (1) researchers have estimated that 1.5million fewer babies would be born at low birth weights every year if all pregnant women, worldwide, took vitamin and mineral supplements. 

The lead researcher of the study, Dr Prakesh Shah, stated in a press release (2) that women should start taking vitamin and mineral supplements “as soon as they know they are pregnant”.  Compared with women who took a placebo, women who took multi-nutrient supplements were 19% less likely to have a low birth weight baby.

Low birth weight infants, those born weighing less than 2.5 kilograms (about 5.5 pounds), face a greater risk of health problems that may extend into adulthood. They tend to be more vulnerable to infections during infancy and childhood and may be more likely to have developmental problems in childhood.  As adults they may be at greater risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.  This study (1) found that “Prenatal multimicronutrient supplementation was associated with a significantly reduced risk of low birth weight and with improved birth weight when compared with iron–folic acid supplementation”.


Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends supplementation with folic acid and iron during pregnancy.  However there have been numerous studies showing that a number of different vitamins/minerals may be necessary in early pregnancy for the best outcomes for mother and baby.  In this current study (1) when compared with women taking iron and folic acid only, the researchers found the multi-supplement users had a 17% risk of having a low birth weight baby.  Babies born to women taking multimicronutrient supplements weighed 54 grams more, on average, than babies born to women taking iron and folic acid alone.  The authors of the study suggest that the WHO could consider revisiting their guidelines to recommend multi-nutrient supplements, not just iron and folic acid, for all pregnant women.


The research is limited by the fact that it is a review study of already published data, not an intervention trial.  In addition to this the studies included in the review varied with regards timing, duration, composition of micronutrients, and characteristics of the study populations.  In populations where under-nutrition is common the multi-nutrient supplement may be more helpful than in populations where nutrient rich diets are eaten.  However there is a growing increase in teenage pregnancy here in the UK and often these children are not following a healthy diet and may well be lacking in a number of vitamins and minerals.  In addition to this my previous posts have shown that many nutrients in early and pre pregnancy are associated with better health in mothers and children in Western populations, so it does seem that multi-nutrient supplements could be important for all pregnant women.

Supplements designed especially for pregnant women are widely available, however it is always a good idea to check with your doctor or midwife before taking any supplements during pregnancy.  As mentioned last week – a healthy balanced diet also very important at all times, but especially during pregnancy.

(1)Prakesh S. Shah et al.  2009.   Effects of prenatal multimicronutrient supplementation on pregnancy outcomes: a meta-analysis.  CMAJ.  June 9, 180 (12). doi:10.1503/cmaj.081777.
(2)Anne Harding.  Multivitamins best for preventing low birth weight.  08/06/2009.  Reuters Health.
(3) Canadian Medical Association Journal (2009, June 8). Multivitamins In Pregnancy Reduce Risk Of Low Birth Weights. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 9, 2009, from

(4)Bhutta ZA & Haider BA.  2009.  Prenatal micronutrient supplementation: Are we there yet?  Commentary.  CMAJ • June 9, 2009; 180 (12). doi:10.1503/cmaj.090652

Written by Ani Kowal


Can vitamin supplements play a role in reducing the risk of miscarriage?

Since I started the week with a focus on the pregnancy related condition preeclampsia I thought it was a good time to mention a recent study (1) that looked at vitamin supplement use in pregnancy to see if there was any association with the risk of having a miscarriage.  


In this study(1), the authors wanted to look at the relationship between use of prenatal vitamins in early pregnancy and the risk of miscarriage.  4,752 women in the US were involved and individual data about vitamin use was collected at a first-trimester interview.  Approximately 95% of participants reported use of vitamins during early pregnancy and a total of 524 women had a miscarriage.  Any use of vitamins during pregnancy was associated with a reduced risk of miscarriage when compared to women who did not take any vitamins.  The researchers found that the risk for miscarriage was 57% lower among women who took vitamins, compared to those who did not.


These results suggest that taking vitamins before pregnancy and during early pregnancy is associated with a reduced risk for miscarriage.  However the study is far from conclusive.  It may well be that women who take vitamins also tend to be more aware of the factors considered important for health and may tend to lead generally healthier lifestyles when compared to women who do not take vitamins, other confounding factors may also be involved.  Further studies are necessary before firm conclusions can be drawn regarding the effects of supplements on miscarriage risk.   

In a press release (2) the lead study author said  “Because miscarriage occurs very early in pregnancy, it is important for women of reproductive age, who may become pregnant, to eat a balanced diet and use vitamins.”  Recently I have written a lot about the links between various nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D and multivitamins in early pregnancy and pre pregnancy and an apparent reduced risk of various pregnancy related issues in the mother and baby.  Pre-pregnancy and pregnancy is a very important time for healthy living and healthy eating

If you are planning a pregnancy eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, beans/pulses, fish (especially oily fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel), unprocessed meats and unprocessed/unrefined wholegrains will help to provide an abundance of vitamins, minerals, flavonoids (bioactive plant chemicals),fibre, protein, healthy fats and energy for you and your baby.  If you feel concerned that you may not be eating a consistently nutritious diet then you may wish to consider taking a food-state multi-nutrient supplement specifically designed for use during pregnancy.  An omega 3 supplement could also be helpful, especially if you do not regularly eat oily fish (at least twice a week) or nuts/seeds.  Before deciding to take any supplement during pregnancy please discuss your thoughts with a GP, nurse or midwife.  For information about miscarriage and support please visit the Miscarriage Association charity website


(1)Hasan R et al.  2009.  Self-reported vitamin supplementation in early pregnancy and risk of miscarriage.  Am J Epidemiol. 169(11):1312-8.
(2)Reuters Health
press release .  Vitamin Sypplements may lessen miscarriage risk.  Joene Hendry.  Health eLine 05/06/2009.

Written by Ani Kowal