Ian Marber, who founded The Food Doctor, is one of the leading nutrition consultants in the UK.
We’ve been longtime fans of Ian Marber’s. The founder of The Food Doctor, nutritionist to the A-list, author of 12 books, and regular contributor to BBC Radio and The Daily Telegraph, he’s one of the most well respected nutritionists in England. To us, Ian represents a voice of reason in the world of nutrition, a realm that can be confusingly contradictory.
He is also, to our delight, a fan of hyaluronic acid supplements: he takes one daily. So we asked, “What other supplements should we be taking? Is there anything we’re missing out on?”
Thankfully, Ian is more of an eat-food-not-supplements nutritionist, so the answer was “Not much, actually.” But, while he generally suggests delving into the world of supplements with a nutritionist’s help — which we agree with wholeheartedly — there are a few things he recommends for general health, especially if you’re 40+. He very kindly wrote up this handy guide for us.
The cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle is what we eat, and it is generally accepted that a “good” diet includes lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and beneficial fats. But where do supplements fit in?
In truth, a good diet can supply the nutrients required to survive, but in this age of nutritional awareness, many people want to achieve optimum nutrition in line with personal needs and goals.
Such individual elements are best identified by working directly with a nutrition professional armed with specific details of your goals and current state of health — but there are some requirements that are common to specific stages of life.
In your 20s-30s
The greatest concern among younger adults is often stress, because there’s no avoiding it. Stress hormones like cortisol are triggered by anything we perceive to be stressful, whether big life issues or simply being late for work. In addition to being smart about caffeine consumption, eating enough protein-rich foods, and adding low-intensity exercise (Pilates, yoga) or meditation to your routine, you might consider supplementing with magnesium.
Magnesium can be depleted in times of stress; a common symptom of low magnesium is tight muscles, especially calf muscles, and constipation. Top up magnesium levels with plenty of green vegetables and have a small green juice daily (with food, never in place of it). You might consider taking 200 or 400mg last thing at night to aid sleep quality, especially if you are used to waking up in the wee hours. Too much can lead to diarrhea, so start doses low.
Once you're 40+
There are a handful of nutrients that take on added importance in the mid-years and beyond, especially for women as they approach perimenopause and menopause.
Selenium: Among its many roles, this important trace element is required for the human body’s built-in antioxidant defenses. Antioxidant requirements may not change much as we age, but cumulative damage from free radicals does. Furthermore, selenium is required for the conversion of thyroid hormones into their active form, which may help enhance flagging metabolism associated with the mid-years.
Women require around 60mcg selenium from all sources, but it is believed that up to 200mcg provides optimum function. Beware of having too much – that means from all sources, both in food and supplement form.
Probiotics: The interaction between nutrients and the plethora of bacteria that reside in the gut is only just beginning to be understood: the number of these bacteria runs into the trillions. But as the levels of beneficial bacteria can be compromised by antibiotic use, refined sugar and alcohol intake, and insufficient fiber in one’s diet, it makes sense to supplement with a good quality probiotic.
Look for brands offering several strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Having optimum levels of these bacteria in their various forms can enhance the breakdown and absorption of many nutrients, so you get a lot of bang for your buck.
B12 differs from other B vitamins as it contains a mineral, cobalt. The absorption of B12 requires a combination of stomach acid and protein. B12 levels can fall with age as digestive capability wanes slightly, so taking extra – in a capsule, powder or via a patch – is advisable in many cases. It is easy to check B12 levels via blood test, too.
That we need to be mindful of vitamin D levels as we age is well known. Low levels of vitamin D have long been linked to reduced bone density, but a Harvard Medical School study published in January 2008 suggested that heart disease is also a risk, as low levels of the vitamin are linked to a noticeably increased incidence of high blood pressure. Vitamin D may also play a protective role in some forms of cancer, particularly breast cancer, as well as stimulating basic immune responses.
The advice about intake varies and is often based on fear (think “supplement guilt”*); while the average adult could benefit from at least 700 iu of vitamin D daily, exceeding 1000iu should not be undertaken without expert guidance from your physician or a nutrition expert who is familiar with your specific health situation.
Omega 3 was the supplement of choice in the last decade and has fallen out of favor a little. However, the need for omega 3 remains, especially as the standard western diet is often richer in omega 6 — which can, to some extent, crowd out the absorption and workings of omega 3.
Omega 3 is found in many foods: fish oil as well as olive oil and some beans (such as soy). There is more than one type of omega 3 – ALA, EPA and DHA (that's alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentanoic acid and docosahexanoic acid). The human body can manufacture EPA and DHA directly from ALA, converting it to the other forms in a series of biochemical changes, but the process is slow and the amounts made are limited. However, we can get EPA and DHA directly from fish oil, hence the importance of eating oily fish (white fish contains far less and is not considered a rich source of omega 3 in its various forms).
Brainpower is one potential benefit of omega 3 intake, and one with a direct link to mid and later life. One recent UK study showed that providing 65 healthy adults aged 50 to 75 years with 2.2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily (1.3g EPA and 0.9g DHA) over 26 weeks resulted in significant improvements in grey matter volume and neuropsychological tests compared with the placebo.
*One word of warning: Supplements tend to be marketed by stressing their benefits as well as what they may prevent. But try not to fall for what I call ‘supplement guilt’ – that feeling that you should be taking x because you read that having more x reduces the incidence of getting y condition, and if you were to get whatever it was, then it’ll be your own fault. Instead of buying every supplement on the shelves, improve your diet; find out where the nutrient comes from, and do your best to include those foods in your usual food plan.
About Ian Marber: Ian founded The Food Doctor Clinic and now practices independently in London, where he conducts one-to-one consultations with clients, advising on all aspects of nutrition and the effect food choices can have on physical health and well-being. He has published 12 books about diet and nutrition. Ian ALSO conducts seminars for global companies and has worked with Goldman Sachs, Google, and Barclays.
He regularly contributes to a number of Britain’s leading magazines and newspapers, including the Times, the Telegraph, Natural Health, and NetDoctor. Ian is also a columnist for the Spectator and Daily Telegraph.
Learn more about Ian’s impressive background here.
Any topic discussed in this article is not intended as medical advice. If you have a medical concern, please check with your doctor.