Although following a balanced vegan diet is inherently healthy, busy lifestyles, stress, processed food and poor soil quality mean that sometimes, we all need a little help in getting all our vitamins and minerals. Looking for the lowdown on what supplements you should be considering? Here are 8 key pills to be popping for better health.
Why? The only vitamin not available from a plant based diet, B12 contributes to many important functions within the body. It can take a long time for a B12 deficiency to manifest symptoms by which time, the deficiency is usually pretty serious. Extreme tiredness and lack of energy, pins and needles, muscle weakness, impaired memory and cognitive function, anaemia, increased risk of heart disease, stroke and even depression are just some of the consequences of long terms B12 deficiency.
Who? If you only take one supplement make sure it’s B12. Smokers, Type 2 diabetics taking Metformin, those taking epilepsy medication or people with poor kidney function are especially at risk of B12 deficiency. The amount of B12 in fortified foods is unlikely to be enough so a supplement is essential.
What? B12 supplements come in different forms; look for methylcobalamin or cyanocobalamin and aim for a total intake of around 100 µg (micrograms) each day.
Why? Iron is as essential to life as water and every single cell needs iron to function properly. Most iron is contained in our red blood cells which carry oxygen to every part of the body and a deficiency, commonly called anaemia, can result in lack of energy, exhaustion and cardiovascular problems.
Who? Iron deficiency is more common in women and men. Menstruating women (especially those with heavy periods), in pregnancy, if you’re dieting, if you regularly run or play a sport, those regularly taking medication for acid reflux/indigestion, or those who give blood regularly, may need supplementation. Children and adolescents may also benefit from an iron supplement to support growth. It’s worth noting that men and post-menopausal women generally don’t need iron supplementation unless they have a diagnosed iron deficiency or have a condition that causes chronic blood loss.
What? Eating vitamin C rich foods or drinking orange juice at the same time helps to increase absorption. Look for iron supplements that are easy on the tummy. Aim for around 8mg per day if you’re a man and 14mg for the ladies.
We like: Together Health Gentle Iron
Why? Omega-3 fatty acid decreases inflammation in the body, reducing the risk of heart and circulatory disease. It also supports brain and cognitive function, balances blood sugar, cholesterol and hormonal function, supports the reproductive system and keeps our skin, hair and joints healthy.
Who? Omega-3 fatty acid is actually made up of three parts – EPA, DHA and ALA. Whilst there are several good plant-based sources of ALA, our bodies aren’t so good at converting it into EPA and DHA. Only around 5-10% gets converted into EPA and 2-5% into DHA. So, the simple answer is, we probably should all be taking an omega-3 supplement.
What? Be aware that most omega-3 supplements are based on fish oils. Choose an algae-based omega-3 supplement.
Why? Best known for its benefits in building strong bones and teeth. Most vegans get enough calcium for general health, through a balanced diet. However, research shows that it’s not the only show in town when it comes to bone health, with magnesium, vitamins D3 and K2 being essential too.
Who? Women and children who most benefit from calcium supplements.
What? For bone health, supplement with a calcium complex that includes magnesium, D3 and K2.
We like: Vegetology Joint-Vie
Why? Turmeric’s wonders are many but it’s best known as a powerful anti-inflammatory, digestive aid and can help guard against type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia and some forms of cancer.
Who? Those suffering from inflammatory conditions such as osteo/rheumatoid arthritis, tendonitis, bursitis or joint injuries, people with ulcerative colitis, digestive disorders or autoimmune conditions. Do be aware though, that turmeric can interact with some medications so those taking blood pressure meds, blood thinners, diabetic medication, antacids, who have gall-bladder problems or are pregnant should check with their doctor before taking a turmeric supplement..
What? Choose a whole herb turmeric extract with added black pepper (piperine). The addition of piperine in the supplement is hugely important as it makes the curcumin in the turmeric bioavailable, otherwise the body will struggle to absorb it and you won't see any benefits.
We like: Taka Organic Turmeric with Piperine
Why? Vitamin D comes in two forms: D2 which is made by plants when exposed to UV light, and D3 which is made in the body when exposed to sunlight. Although we need both, D3 is most important for health and wellbeing but as the only dietary sources of D3 come from animal products and many fortified plant based foods only contain D2, vegan supplementation of D3 (made from algae or lichens) is important.
Who? Vitamin D is essential for bone health, immune system function and can help with low mood, mild depression, especially in the winter months. Most of those who live in cooler northern countries suffer from vitamin D deficiency, regardless of diet.
We like: Nature’s Own Vitamin D3 from Lichen
Why? Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect against arthritis and heart disease, as well as helping to reduce the risk of age-related degenerative disease such as dementia. Taking just 200mg of vitamin E each day can strengthen the immune system and reduce the recurrence of infection, whilst women suffering from heavy/painful periods can find their symptoms easing with regular supplementation. Externally, vitamin E is a powerful partner in a beauty regime. Its antioxidant properties benefit skin, hair and nails by fighting free radicals and it’s one of the few vitamins that can be applied externally: try a vitamin E oil to reduce scarring, stretch marks or dark eye circles, puffiness and dryness.
Who? Arthritis sufferers, those at increased risk of heart disease, those with thinning or lacklustre hair and nails, pregnant women, during the winter months to boost immunity, those with an autoimmune disease, anyone aged 50+.
Why? Magnesium is vital in terms of overall health, being involved in over 300 bodily functions including brain function, regulating heartbeat, nerve function, digestion and muscle health.
Who? Almost everyone as it’s estimated that over 80% of the population is magnesium deficient, to a greater or lesser extent, thanks largely to poor soil quality. Those experiencing muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, poor digestion, PMS symptoms, anxiety or trouble sleeping may particularly benefit.
What? Choose magnesium chelate or magnesium citrate capsules for easy absorption. Magnesium also absorbs easily through the skin and a spray may be especially beneficial as a sleep aid or for restless legs.