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HEALTH: What's the best way to take your vitamins?; Four in ten adults in the UK take extra vitamins. But what's the most effective way to ensure you're getting what you need? To find out, M put four of the top types of supplement to the test...

Byline: Text by Nathalie Gibbins.

However good you think your diet is, it is almost certain you lack some key vitamins, minerals or trace elements. For example, up to 90% of women in the UK don't get enough magnesium (found in green, leafy veg, nuts, bread, fish, meat, dairy) - vital for bone health - from their diet. Most of us know that supplements are a good idea. But with different ways of taking vitamins and minerals (now even including sprays), plus a confusing array of supplements, we wanted to road-test some of the best methods and find out if multivitamins are adequate for the average person or whether you should invest in individual supplements too.

THE TESTS We sent four readers - all non-smokers and of a similar age, height and weight - for blood tests to check for levels of zinc, magnesium and Vitamins B1, B2 and B6. `Most young women are deficient in magnesium because it's lacking in our over-farmed soils and we don't eat enough magnesium-rich foods,' says Dr George Lewith from the Centre for the Study of Complementary Medicine, who oversaw the trials. `Zinc is low as the Pill interferes with absorption and B vitamins are burnt up quickly.' Each tester took a three-month course of supplements, then had a second blood test to see which type of supplement had increased nutrients the most.


Advantages: Good for making up specific nutrient deficiencies. Their main benefit is they can provide higher levels of particular nutrients. `There's a limit to how much of a nutrient you can fit into one supplement that's easy to swallow. Calcium and magnesium are bulky, so it's hard to fit enough into a multi-supplement,' says Dr Ann Walker, senior lecturer in nutrition at Reading University.

ALEX HILTON, 25, was lacking zinc and magnesium. She took Biocare BioMagnesium (pounds 13.55 for 60 capsules) and Zinc Ascorbate (pounds 9.75 for 60 capsules; call 0121- 433 3727 for mail-order).

BEFORE Zinc: LOW; Magnesium: LOW

AFTER THREE MONTHS Zinc: NORMAL (up by 29%); Magnesium: LOW (slight increase)

DR LEWITH SAYS `For a three-month programme, the individual supplements worked well, raising Alex's zinc levels up to the normal range. The problem with magnesium is that it can take a long time to be properly absorbed - up to nine months. Always choose magnesium citrate over oxide - it's better absorbed.'


Advantages: `Multis are an easy way to get a range of nutrients,' says Dr Walker. `Levels aren't as high as in individual supplements but most meet the RDAs. Vitamins and minerals work in synergy and if you take too much of a nutrient you don't need, it can knock others out of balance. This can be a problem with self-prescribed individual supplements, but not with multis which are formulated to work in synergy.'

HANNAH CARTER, 28, was lacking zinc, magnesium, Vitamin B2 and B6 and had borderline levels of Vitamin B1. She took Solgar VM75 multivitamin and mineral (pounds 8.19 for 30 tablets; call 01442-890355).

BEFORE Zinc: LOW; Magnesium: LOW; Vitamin B1: BORDERLINE; Vitamin B2: LOW; Vitamin B6: LOW

AFTER THREE MONTHS Zinc: NORMAL (up by 49%); Magnesium: LOW (slight increase); Vitamin B1: NORMAL (up by 13%); Vitamin B2: BORDERLINE (up by 10%); Vitamin B6: NORMAL (up by 22%)

DR LEWITH SAYS `The multi performed as well as the individuals, raising levels of all the nutrients except magnesium (for the same reason as before). Hannah should consider taking a multi from now on.'


Advantages: `The nutrients in "true food" supplements have been extracted from food sources, whereas those in standard supplements are taken from non-foods, so have a different chemical structure. Vitamin B12, for example, is often extracted from lanolin in wool,' says Dr Walker. In theory, true food supplements are more easily absorbed so you need lower doses to achieve the same effect.

SARA WALKER, 29, was lacking zinc, magnesium, Vitamin B1 and, B2 and had borderline levels of B6. She took Higher Nature's True Food Supernutrition Plus multi-vitamin and mineral (pounds 6.60 for 30 tablets; call 01435-884668).

BEFORE Zinc: LOW; Magnesium: LOW;

Vitamin B1: LOW; Vitamin B2: LOW; Vitamin B6: BORDERLINE

AFTER THREE MONTHS Zinc: NORMAL (up by 19%); Magnesium: LOW (slight increase); Vitamin B1: NORMAL (up by 23%); Vitamin B2: BORDERLINE (also up by 23%); Vitamin B6: NORMAL (up by 15%)

DR LEWITH SAYS `Most nutritionists are sceptical about these but this raised all nutrients to pretty good levels. And more pleasant to take than the multi we tested.'


Advantages: These are fairly new to the UK. Instead of swallowing tablets, you spray the liquid form of nutrient into your mouth - each spray provides a metered dose. `They are easier to take than tablets and more direct - they avoid the liver which quickly breaks the vitamins and minerals down. But absorption through the lining of the mouth is usually only suitable for very small amounts of drugs or nutrients,' says Dr Walker.

BIANCA INCOCCIATI, 27, was lacking Vitamin B1, B2 and had borderline levels of Vitamin B6. She used Boots Spray Vitamin Revitalize (pounds 12.50 for 30 days) which contains Vitamins A, B and E.

BEFORE Vitamin B1: LOW; Vitamin B2: LOW; Vitamin B6: BORDERLINE

AFTER THREE MONTHS Vitamin B1: NORMAL (up by 16%); Vitamin B2: NORMAL (up by 53%); Vitamin B6: POOR (down by 22%)

DR LEWITH SAYS `Sprays are quite an unusual way to supply nutrients and it was interesting to see that this one did deliver on B1 and B2. Levels of B6 stayed low - probably because it's technically difficult to fit a large enough dose into liquid form. You need 30-40mg a day to bring levels up - this contains 4mg.'


A recent government study caused controversy when it found safe limits on vitamins and minerals were lower than the doses some alternative therapists recommend. Here are a few examples...

VITAMIN B6 Experts prescribe a daily dose of 50mg taken for short periods to treat PMT. The government says don't exceed 10mg per day as excessive amounts can cause a loss of feeling in your arms and legs - in most cases a reversible symptom.

VITAMIN C Some natural health practitioners believe that 1,000mg three times a day during a cold can help shorten it. The government recommends you do not exceed 1,000mg a day. The side effects of an excessive intake include abdominal pain but are short term.

ZINC Some dermatologists recommend up to 30mg to help control acne (plus 2mg copper). The government says the average woman shouldn't take more than 25mg a day (unless advised to by a doctor) as too much zinc can reduce the amount of copper the body can absorb, which could lead to bones weakening.

The danger if you're taking lots of supplements is that you may be doubling up on nutrients. See for more on safe limits or order their book for pounds 19.95 by calling the Food Standards Agency on 0845-606 0667 and quoting ISBN 1-904026-11-7. Or see a registered herbalist; contact The National Institute of Medical Herbalists on 01392-426022 to find one in your area.
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 2, 2003
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