At the first sign of a cold many of us reach for the vitamin C. But there is more to looking after your body during the winter months than the obvious. You might have considered a multivitamin supplement but wondered what all the minerals and vitamins listed as ingredients actually do. Each plays an important role in strengthening the immune system, boosting energy levels, improving your complexion and restoring vitality. We guide you through the maze of supplements.
What it does: Contrary to popular belief, Vitamin C doesn’t prevent colds and flu, but it can reduce the length and severity of symptoms. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant. This means it protects the body against disease including heart disease and cancer. It is vital for the production of collagen, used to build body tissue and bones.
Main food source: If you eat a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables every day you will have a balanced intake of vitamin C. Citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberries and cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C. Green vegetables (cabbage, broccoli and beans) and potatoes all contain high levels.
How to take supplements: The recommended dose of Vitamin C is 40 milligrammes (mg) a day for adults and 25 mg a day for children. Powder form tends to be acidic, but cheaper than tablet form. Stir vitamin C powder into yoghurt for children.
What it does: Iron is essential for the formation of red blood cells which carries oxygen around the body. A good intake of iron is necessary for energy, intellectual performance and vitality. A lack of iron leads to anaemia – where the body is unable to transport oxygen around the body causing lethargy and listlessness. Excessive iron may damage organs.
Main food source: Red meat is a rich source of iron. Other sources include cereal products, bread, flour, eggs, beans, lentils and dried fruit. Taking Vitamin C alongside iron helps with its absorption.
How to take supplements: People who don’t eat red meat, suffer heavy menstrual cycles or blood loss after surgery should take iron pills to boost formation of blood cells and combat lethargy. Iron also comes in liquid form (available at good health stores) specially mixed for pregnant women, children and older people. The recommended daily dose is 15 mg for women, 9 mg for men and 2-9 mg for children.
What it does: Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. This means that your body can store extra amounts of vitamin D. It is important to get enough vitamin D from your diet because it helps our bodies absorb and use calcium and phosphorus for strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D can help protect older adults against osteoporosis, also protect against infections by keeping your immune system healthy. It may help reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis and certain types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer but this is still being studied.
Main food source: Exposure to sun provides vitamin D, and is not found naturally in many commonly consumed foods, such as milk and margarine and some soy or rice beverages and yogurts have vitamin D added to them. Good food sources of vitamin D include certain kinds of fish, egg yolks, mushrooms and milk.
How to take supplements: With the tremendous growth of knowledge about vitamin D and its effects, there has come an abundance of supplements in every size, shape, and form. If you can’t get enough vitamin D from sun or your diet, you can get all the vitamin D you need from supplements. The recommended daily allowances are 600 IU (15 mcg).
What it does: Vitamin A is important for repairing tissues needed for growth and development. It is also essential for strengthening the immune system and maintaining good eyesight.
Main food source: Milk, fortified margarines, egg yolks, liver, fatty fish (herrings, tuna, pilchards and sardines), carrots, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, mango and apricots all provide vitamin A.
How to take supplements: Too high doses of vitamin A can prove toxic and cause problems with the liver and complications during pregnancy. The recommended daily intake is 600 microgrammes for women and 700 microgrammes for men.
What it does: An essential mineral that makes up part of the enzymes that defend the body against damage. As an antioxidant it strengthens the immune system and is thought to protect against cancer, especially of the prostate.
Main food source: Cereals, meat, fish and Brazil nuts.
How to take supplements: Selenium is included in many multivitamin supplements. The recommended daily intake is 200 microgrammes.