Which supplements are actually worth the money?

We’re all searching for a magic pill that will make us feel better and take away all our ailments and anxieties in an instant but not all pills are created equal. With 15 years in the industry, Fin Mackenzie shares her expertise. 

From manuka to mushrooms and collagen to CBD, the wellness industry has seen a lot of trends come and go in recent years.

But one thing never changes and that’s the question mark that hangs over some supplements and their efficacy. Which ones work? And which ones are best for stress, immunity and sleep?

From A(ndrographis) to Z(inc), here are the supplements I recommend, those I avoid, and some tips on how to get the most out of popular pills if wellness is atop the new year’s resolution list.

Andrographis – take (in short bursts)

Certain supplements have been shown to be acutely effective for colds and flus but it’s important to note that some, like Andrographis (also known as Indian echinacea), should only be taken in short bursts, while others like olive leaf have no known side effects.

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There were some stories during the pandemic about Andrographis supplements causing loss of taste and this highlights the need to follow instructions and consult a professional to avoid side effects from overuse.

B Vitamins – take (in the right dose)

From thiamine (B1) to folate (B9) and riboflavin (B2), B vitamins make up more than half of the vitamins our body needs to operate at its optimum. This group of vitamins play a vital role in cellular energy production, normal blood production, DNA repair, skin health and the healthy functioning of the nervous system. Unfortunately, some over-the-counter brands have such low levels they are a total waste of money.

If taking Vitamin B for stress or another therapeutic reason, it’s important to get the right dose – 1-2mg just isn’t enough. Look for 10-50mg doses and try to find activated supplements which are closer to how these vitamins appear in nature and our body.

Caffeine – ditch

Some workout supplements contain dangerously high levels of caffeine and unless you can be certain about what’s in them, leave them on the shelf and instead have a cup of green tea for a more natural energy boost.

Detox – ditch (rapid versions)

The market is flooded with two- and three-day detoxes that come wrapped in a pretty box and promise fast results, but there’s little that short detoxes do anything and can potentially be dangerous.

Either let your body detox naturally by supporting it with exercise, sleep and a good diet, or try a proper naturopathic detox which allows the body to reset over several weeks.

Elderberry – take

Elderberry isn’t as well-known as Vitamin C but it packs a punch when it comes to immunity and assisting with colds and flus. It’s one of most researched herbs and has been shown to be effective against viral infections.

There was so much demand for elderberry during the pandemic – possibly prompted by a post by Miranda Kerr – that many herbal businesses sold out and it’s only just coming back into stock.

Garcinia – ditch

Beware this diet supplement which doesn’t live up to the hype. There hasn’t been any research that has shown that it performs any better than a placebo when it comes to weight loss.

Multivitamins – ditch (shelf versions)

Many supermarket multivitamins contain such low doses of vitamins and minerals that they are practically useless. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is a far more effective way to ensure your body is getting the minimum required daily nutrients than popping a multi off the shelf.

Nootropics – take

Forget the fancy name, nootropics are simply herbs that support the brain and this is why they are one of my top picks for anyone that’s feeling a little frazzled. Research has shown that nootropics may help to increase circulation to the brain, provide precursors to neurotransmitters, provide usable energy to the brain, improve neuron function and prevent free radical damage to brain cells, which can help with memory, learning, cognition, intelligence, concentration and motivation, as well as health conditions that interfere with motor control, learning and a healthy emotional state such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and ADHD.

Probiotics – take

Probiotics are king when it comes to gut health and we all know how vital a balanced gut microbiome is for the healthy functioning of our mind and body. These tiny live organisms, which we consume in the billions (of colony-forming units), can have a big impact on overall mental and physical wellbeing.

Some strains have been shown to signal the production of certain neurotransmitters that affect mood, while their antimicrobial effect in the gut promotes immune modulation which makes them an effective tool against allergic and inflammatory responses while at the same time improving resistance to pathogens.

Propolis – take

Propolis is produced by bees as a by-product of honey production. Bees use the sticky substance to coat the inside of the hive as a defence mechanism and also to mummify any intruders, but for humans, it’s valued for its antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Propolis has been shown to be effective against Staphylococci, e. coli bacteria, candida and viruses like HIV, herpes and influenza.

With the ability to stick to the mucous membranes of the throat, just like in the beehive, it can reduce the likelihood of bacteria taking hold or infecting the host, which may protect against catching a virus while supporting immunity. It can be useful for sore throats, sleep apnoea, ear infections and any mild upper respiratory tract infection.

Vitamin C – take (in the right form)

Long touted for its ability to reduce cold and flu symptoms and ramp up immunity, Vitamin C is one of the most popular supplements in the world. But there are certain ways to take Vitamin C that can make it more effective. Liposomal formulations of Vitamin C have been shown to improve absorption – up to 93 percent compared to 17 percent for regular Vitamin C capsules.

Vitamin D – take

The sunshine vitamin really came into its own this year with a lot of studies showing how important it is in the fight against COVID-19. It has long been known that Vitamin D is useful when it comes to immunity, heart health, athletic performance, cancer prevention, arthritis, diabetes, treating chronic pain, treating auto-immune disease, preventing tooth decay and even to assist with asthma and ADHD.

Exposure to the sun for 20 minutes a day provides about 1000 IU for people living in mid-latitudes who expose about a third of their body surface yet even with a healthy dose of sunshine, it’s estimated that 30-50 percent of us could be deficient in Vitamin D. It’s such an inexpensive supplement, it really is an easy one for everyone to take for better health.

Zinc – take (in the right dose)

Zinc is one of my favourite supplements, especially when zinc is in a readily available form like citrate or glycinate for better absorption. Zinc can help with many modern ailments from stress to sleep and skin, but often the recommended daily dose of 15mg is too low. For the best results, look to take supplements around 25-50mg daily.

Fin Mackenzie is a naturopath, naturopathic and Nutritional medicine lecturer at Endeavour College of Natural Health, and founder of Green Door Health.

Always seek the advice of a health practitioner before self-prescribing herbal medicine, especially if you are taking any other medication.