A few weeks ago I wrote about vitamins, in attempt to demystify them (let's face it, all the spiel on the bottles is very confusing) – now I'm going to tackle supplements. So, what's worth trying, depending on what you want to work on? Note that this guide is by no means comprehensive and focuses on key issues that affect many of us in our day-to-day lives, from skin woes to low mood. Please also note that you should consult your doctor (and do more of your own research) before taking any sort of supplement; while most are fine, some may interact with other medications or not be recommended if you're pregnant. Better safe than sorry!
Omega 3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish, have been proven to help ease the risk of a myriad of health issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. But what you may not be aware of is Omega 3's potential to clear up acne-prone skin. Skincare guru Caroline Hirons swears by high doses of omega 3 oils as a solution for problematic skin. If you already eat a lot of fatty fish (tuna and salmon are probably the most popular choices), there is no real need to supplement with fish oil, but supplements provide an alternative for those of us who don't eat fish.
Studies have shown that acne sufferers are more likely to have zinc deficiencies – those with acne have, on average, 24% lower zinc levels than those with lovely clear skin. So, how can it work? Well, zinc has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce both the redness and severity of your pesky spots. While not as effective as antibiotics in killing of acne-causing bacteria, zinc can help put a stop to severe outbreaks of blemishes, plus it can help reduce keratin levels in the body, thus encouraging your pores to open.
Thinning hair and nails
You've probably seen health bloggers in raptures about biotin – one of the B vitamins – and for good reason, because symptoms of biotin deficiency include brittle hair and nails, along with fatigue, muscle pain and cramps. It can also help your hair to grow, as it encourages the production of keratin, which is what your hair is made of. Suddenly it makes sense why everyone raves about it, huh?
When I worked for Holland & Barrett, I was trained to sell sea kelp for weight loss purposes, but after doing a bit more digging myself (partly because, honestly, I just don't buy into the fact that anything can help you lose weight – and keep it off – other than a healthy diet combined with exercise), I found that a lot of people use sea kelp to help with thinning hair and hair loss. Thinning hair is often caused by thyroid problems so, if you have an under-active thyroid, it's worth giving sea kelp a whirl due to its naturally high iodine content – iodine is known to help the thyroid function normally. It's also rich in a multitude of vitamins, plus zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron so, IMO, it's a good all-rounder.
Here's another thing I took away from Holland & Barret: milk thistle sold so well over Christmas. Obviously, the only real cure for a hangover is to not drink in the first place... but that's easier said than done. Milk thistle, then, taken before a night of heavy drinking (and the morning after, if you feel you need it), could become an unlikely ally in desperate times, given its purported abilities to detoxify the liver.
Low mood and sleep problems
St John's Wort
Millions of people use St John's Wort as an natural alternative to antidepressants. Several studies have shown it can be as effective as some antidepressants when used to treat mild depression, though it should be noted that, if you are suffering from a low mood or are worried about your mental health in any way, you should always visit your doctor to talk through your options first. St John's Wort can interact badly with some medications, so it's particularly important you consult your doctor before giving this herbal remedy a whirl.
5-HTP seems to work because it converts into serotonin, a major mood stabiliser, in the body. I suffer from depression along with bouts of mild anxiety, with the latter being particularly aggravating in the evening. This disrupts my sleep, but I've found that 5-HTP (in particular, this quality supplement from Solgar, a brand which, in my opinion, is worth paying the extra money for) genuinely helps me stress less and sleep better.