It all starts off so well. In an effort to get yourself feeling super-healthy, you trot off to your local health food store and stock up with a shedload of vitamins. You begin taking them and then…nothing. You don’t feel any different. In frustration, you shove them to the back of the drawer and vow not to waste your time and money again.

Investing in supplements can be an expensive business. A high quality one-a-day multi-vit/mineral can work out to be as much as £30 p/month. That’s on the way to a monthly gym membership in one little pill. So what are you doing wrong? Is it the pill, or you?

David Crooks, technical manager for Solgar US and EU, a nutraceuticals company that also sells widely in the UK stores like Boots and Holland & Barratt, says; ‘It’s worth investing in supplements that work, rather than wasting money on those that don’t’. Of course, all supplement companies want us to spend more, but Crooks has a point.

The truth is, to get value for money from supplements, you need to look at a whole range of issues, the first of which is what you’re buying and how much you’re spending as this directly impacts on dose and formulation. Then there are other things like what time you take your supplements, whether you take them with food and in what combination that are also important Get one of these factors wrong and you are as good as flushing your tablets or capsules down the loo. Get them right and supplements can really make a huge difference to how you look and feel.

So how do you get the biggest bang for your health supplement buck? Nutritionist Alessandro Ferretti, of Equilibria Health on London’s Harley Street, advises: ‘Invest in a good quality multi and spread it, that is take it every other day, rather than a cheap one every day’. Here are our other top tips.

  1. Be patient.
    You should allow at least 12 weeks for a multi-vit/mineral to work, although you may feel the difference from Omega 3 fats in 3 – 4 weeks.
  2. Think about your digestion.
    Health supplements, like food, have to be digested. However, if your stomach acid is low because of stress, you are a smoker or have a poor diet, you cannot do this. Address your stress, improve your diet and consider taking separate HCL tablets at meals.
  3. The piggyback effect.
    For vitamins and minerals to be absorbed, they often need a piggyback from a carrier molecule, called a ‘chelate’. Cheap vits/mins use cheap chelates which are more difficult for the body to ‘unhook’ and you may not get the full dose of the vit/mineral you have paid for. Less effective chelates are marked oxide or carbonate on the label. Mid-priced chelates include citrates and malates. Top of the range chelates which deliver the maximum dose are marked bisglycinate.
  4. Look at the dose.
    It may be that the reason you don’t feel any different is because the dose is too low. This can be a particular problem with multi-vits/mins. Use a multi as a basic, but top up with key single nutrients such as D3, vitamin C, zinc or a B complex.
  5. Take with food.
    All health supplements work better with food. This goes double for friendly bacteria which can be killed by stomach acid if taken on an empty stomach. The only exception to this is single amino acids such as glucosamine (for joints if you work out a lot) or 5HTP (for mood) which should be separated from food.
  6. 2 + 2 = 5
    Nutrients work in combination so tipping a load of one vitamin or mineral into your system is rarely effective. A balanced programme of a multi, plus key top up nutrients, will work better. Some nutrients actually make others work better. Take vitamin D3 to bump up the effect of calcium if you want to strengthen your skeleton, or, to give yourself an energy boost, take Vitamin C with iron.
  7. Spread your supplements.
    It may be convenient to take everything in one pill, but any excess of water-soluble nutrients such as vitamin C and the B vits will simply be weed away. Split your dose to two or three p/day to get the best absorption.
  8. Timing is everything.
    Certain supplements work best am or pm. B vits and those containing the amino acid tyrosine are regarded as ‘excitatory’. They can turbo charge you so should not take them at night. Others, such as theanine, magnesium or 5HTP may have an almost tranquilising effect so are best at night.