7 signs you need a supplement

Up your energy and improve your overall health by popping a daily supplement or two.

23 June 2006
by The Clicks Health Team

Unless you’re feeling run-down… you probably assume you’re in tip-top shape.

But there are many symptoms, seemingly harmless or merely mildly irritating, that could mean you’re short of a nutrient or two.

1. You’re easily distracted

If you find it hard to concentrate, you could be lacking in the mineral iron. In a recent study, published in the journal Experimental Biology, 113 women performed eight computerised cognitive performance tasks. Those with the highest iron status performed significantly better and took the shortest time to complete the tasks. This is because iron is needed to help blood cells carry oxygen around the body, including the brain. If you have other signs of iron deficiency – a pale complexion, poor energy levels, poor digestion, cracking around the corners of your mouth or even cravings for soap powder and coal – see your healthcare practitioner, who can test your iron levels. If you are found to be anaemic, iron supplements are likely to be prescribed.

You’re more likely to be iron-deficient if you smoke, are a vegetarian or have heavy periods. If you suspect this is you, eat more liver, lean red meat, eggs, nuts, pulses and green leafy vegetables, or take a multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains about 14mg elemental iron.

How long will it take?

Taking iron supplements will increase your body’s production of red blood cells within three to 10 days, so you may start to feel more alert that soon. However, it can take three to four weeks to notice more substantial improvements.

2. You urinate frequently

"Frequent urination is a classic sign of long-chain fatty acid deficiency," says Dr Jackie Stordy, an independent nutritional consultant and former senior nutritional lecturer at the University of Surrey. "Fatty acids are important for membrane function, including those in the kidneys. Changes in the composition of the membrane can produce large volumes of dilute urine." This is because without the protective effect of the right fatty acids, moisture is easily lost from skin and increases your tendency to dehydration, so you drink more. Other symptoms include rough, dry skin, brittle nails and difficulty concentrating, because fatty acids are also essential for brain function.
Having a frequent urge to urinate can also be a sign of other conditions such as cystitis or even diabetes, so rule out these with your medical practitioner first. The best food sources of long-chain fatty acids are oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and fresh tuna. Otherwise, try an essential fatty acid (EFA) supplement such as a good fish oil, which includes a daily dose of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and arachidonic acid (another EFA). Other ingredients to look for include gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and vitamin E.

How long will it take?

A supplement could make a difference to symptoms after just three weeks.

3. You crave sweet foods

If sugar cravings are getting the better of you, you’re likely to be short of magnesium, B vitamins and chromium – all necessary for normal blood-sugar control. While some nutritionists believe our bodies seek magnesium when we crave chocolate, chocolate is a poor source. It’s better to consume magnesium-rich foods such as wholegrains (cereals), nuts, seeds, dried fruit, soya and lentils and take a supplement containing chromium (200mcg), magnesium (250mg) and B vitamins (5mg each of B1, B3 and B6). Take the supplement(s) before lunch or dinner, depending on whether your cravings are worse in the afternoons or evenings.

How long will it take?

It will be four to six weeks before you really notice a difference.

4. You’re tired in the mornings

"Morning tiredness can be due to a deficiency in any of the nutrients crucial for the production of glucose, which the body converts to energy in the cells," says Susan Clark, author of What Really Works In Natural Health (Bantam, R154). These include the B vitamins, especially B12, magnesium, chromium, zinc, vitamin C, iron and coenzyme Q10 (co-Q10). She suggests you cut out refined foods, caffeine, alcohol and sugar, and eat more fibrous foods such as wholegrains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, fruits and veg. Plus, take a multivitamin and mineral supplement, 200mg chromium and 50mg co-Q10.

How long will it take?

You should feel more alert within a few weeks.

5. You’re anxious and edgy

You may be short of magnesium says Dr Carolyn Dean, author of The Miracle Of Magnesium (Simon & Schuster, R179). When you experience stress, adrenaline is released to slow digestion, pump your heart faster and activate your limbs in preparation for flight.
"All these responses require magnesium," says Dr Dean. If you have other signs of magnesium deficiency, such as migraines (around your period), chronic eyelid twitching, backache, leg cramps, constipation or monthly cramping, try taking 300mg daily.

How long will it take?

"If the anxiety is magnesium-related, you’ll notice changes within a week," says Dr Dean.

6. You get leg cramps

"If you experience frequent leg cramps, or restless legs at night, it could mean your body has the wrong calcium to magnesium ratio," says Alison Loftus, a nutritional therapist at The Hale Clinic in London. "They work opposite each other – magnesium helps relax the muscles and calcium helps them contract. So leg cramps could result if your diet contains too much of one and not enough of the other."
She recommends looking at your diet to see which is most likely to be the case. For example, if you’re currently eating lots of calcium-rich dairy products, but not many magnesium-rich foods such as wholegrains, nuts and seeds, you’re likely to need more magnesium. "Most people I see are getting plenty of calcium but not enough magnesium, so I suggest a supplement ratio of calcium: magnesium, 2:1," she says. Take up to 600mg calcium and 300mg magnesium.

How long will it take?

Symptoms could improve within a week of dietary changes or supplementation.

7. You bruise easily

If you bruise at the slightest touch, you could be short on vitamin K, which is responsible for blood clotting. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach and is also present in most vitamin and mineral multivitamins. If you’re not taking a daily supplement, start now.
Loftus also suggests that bruising could be a sign of vitamin C deficiency. She asserts that because it helps produce collagen, a substance that forms the connective tissue between cells, when there isn’t enough in the body, blood vessels burst more easily, causing bruises. She therefore advises taking 1 000mg vitamin C daily (not at the same time of day as you take the Pill, as this could reduce its effectiveness). If your bruising is severe, always see your medical practitioner.

How long will it take?

Up to three to four months.