The vitamins your doctor takes

    27 September 2014

    Whether you think supplementing your diet by taking additional vitamins, minerals and super-nutrients is common sense or money flushed away, there’s no ignoring the pharmacy shelves heaving with fizzy tablets, capsules, and even teas. But do any of these pills actually serve a purpose — even as a catch-all? Here’s some with evidence behind them.

    Vitamin B

    Brain function

    Who says? B vitamins are used in everything from controlling metabolism to the production of red blood cells.

    The Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing found Vitamin B12 and B6 and folic acid slowed brain shrinkage by an average of 30 per cent a year in patients with possible early stage dementia.

    How much? It’s early stage research, but they suggest 500 micrograms of B12, 20 milligrams of B6, and 800 micrograms of folic acid daily. These are high doses so you may need separate supplements.

    Fish oil

    Mental health

    Who says? There’s a surprising amount of research supporting the use of fish oils in patients with conditions ranging from depression to schizophrenia. A meta-analysis published in PLOS One found omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids effective in patients with major depressive disorder, though how they do this isn’t yet fully understood.

    How much? If you suffer depression or other mental illness one to three grams  of omega-3 daily, but speak to your GP if you are on blood-thinning medication.

    Ginkgo biloba


    Who says? Japanese researchers reported in the journal Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology last year that ginkgo may improve working memory function in the middle-aged.

    How much? A trial in 2010 found that just 240mg a day was significantly superior to a placebo in treating memory problems.

    Vitamin D

    Strong bones

    Who says? Numerous studies have found that elderly adults who take combined Vitamin D and calcium supplements have stronger bones. A recent review of all the scientific literature also suggested that it might reduce the risk of developing certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes in later life, too. An Iranian study published in July 2014 suggests that supplements of calcium and vitamin D may help stabilise type 2 diabetes.

    How much? If you are aged over 65 you should take a supplement of 10 micrograms each day.



    Who says? A study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that peppermint oil was the best treatment for those who suffer with irritable bowel syndrome. This was echoed in the Cochrane review on treatments for IBS. This is because peppermint acts as an anti-spasmodic, meaning that it prevents the stomach cramping. And it has no side effects — apart from making your breath smell minty. It is also a natural painkiller.

    How much? Take one capsule three times a day before meals.


    Beating colds

    Who says? Zinc inhibits replication of the rhinovirus which causes cold-like symptoms. It is also involved in making white blood cells. A Cochrane Collaboration review found that zinc (lozenges or syrup) cut the average duration of the common cold in healthy people when taken within 24 hours of onset of symptoms.

    How much? Lozenges of 75 mg/day or less are the best bet, although more research is needed before zinc use can be generally recommended for the common cold.

    Vitamin C

    Speedy healing

    Who says? Vitamin C is vital for skin growth and cell regeneration as it is involved in the production of collagen, a key component of skin, which can affect scar tissue. A 2013 report in the British Journal of Community Nursing recommends supplementation after operations.

    How much? Take 1g of Vitamin C daily while your wounds heal. Slow-release tablets ensure you do not excrete it too quickly.


    Heart health

    Who says? A 2006 review in the Journal of Nutrition found that garlic reduces cholesterol, inhibits platelet aggregation, reduces blood pressure, and increases antioxidant status. The University of Maryland has shown that it boosts circulation, reduces cholesterol and blood pressure by 8 per cent as well as slowing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and reducing the risk

    of cancer.

    How much? Up to 900mg per day has been shown to be beneficial.

    Horse chestnut seed


     Who says? A Cochrane review in 2012 considered 17 trials, suggesting an improvement in the symptoms of leg pain, water retention and itching with horse chestnut seed extract when taken as capsules over two to 16 weeks. Horse chestnut seems to have a blood thinning and diuretic effect, and may help strengthen the veins.

    How much? Twice-daily 300mg of horse chestnut seed extract containing 50mg of the active ingredient aescin. But it can lower blood sugar too, so avoid in cases of type 2 diabetes.