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With a distinctly autumnal feeling in the air – and we’re not even going to mention the torrential rain of the past couple of weeks (!) - it’s not surprising that many people start taking supplements at this time of year. A bit like taking out an insurance policy for the winter ahead. 
 
It’s made even easier these days, with a huge range available in supermarkets and high street chemists, let alone your local health food store or online. Just pop a bottle – or two (!) – in your basket and you’re covered for the winter … 
 
Unfortunately, there’s a trap waiting to catch the unwary, particularly those on a budget or who focus on quantity rather than quality. It’s a topic we covered a while ago, particularly whether supplements really are a necessary part of modern life, which can be found here
 
 
While it may be a cliché, like everything in life, it’s all about quality and that means price. After all, you can’t expect top of the range ingredients in a cut price product. It’s simple logic. Or, as a family member is so fond of saying, you can’t buy a Morris Minor and expect to get a Rolls Royce. 
 
Sadly, many of the cheaper products – whether off the shelf locally or on line – are poor quality. Filled with additives, colours and fillers to improve their appearance, increase their shelf life or, simply, make them more attractive to consumers. However, it’s increasingly becoming apparent that many of these bring their own set of problems. 
 
One currently causing concern is Magnesium Stearate. It’s a chalk like substance used both as a coating and a filler in many cheaper tablets. As a coating, it helps prevent tablets from sticking together during processing, so the production line can run faster. In other words, it allows greater volumes to be produced in a shorter period of time, saving money during the manufacturing process. As a filler, it helps to bulk out tablets, saving on ingredients. While these may both be good for the producer, they aren’t for the consumer. 
 
Magnesium Stearate can’t be broken down and absorbed by our body, so has no nutritional benefit. In very small amounts, it’s not thought to cause a problem. However, in larger amounts, it can build up in the Digestive System over a period of time. Here it acts as a biofilm, preventing the absorption of other nutrients from the Digestive System into the blood stream. It may also affect the immune response by suppressing the function of “t” cells, which hunt down and neutralise any pathogens – ie, anything which causes disease – as well as cancerous cells. 
 
Another one, which we’ve mentioned before, is Calcium. Again, its cheapest form, Calcium Carbonate – chalk – is often used as a filler, as well being the form of calcium used in many off the shelf supplements. Unfortunately, this form of calcium is one our body finds extremely difficult to digest, so very little is absorbed. 
 
Added to this, our body requires a number of other vitamins and minerals alongside to be able to break down and absorb any calcium. These include Magnesium, Phosphorus and Vitamins D and K. As an aside, this is the reason why many supplements badged as helping build / strengthen bones simply don’t have the desired effect. They simply don’t contain everything needed to be able to use the Calcium… 
 
There are lots more examples we could give but don’t want to labour the point. So what’s the answer? 
 
Well, as always, it’s all down to a little common sense. Supplementation should always be a last resort NOT a first one. Improve your diet BEFORE considering any supplement. While it may sound very old fashioned, our bodies are designed to extract all the nutrients they need from the food we eat and fluids we drink. In other words, from plant and animal material. By contrast, synthetic supplements manufactured in a factory are completely alien and unusable to our bodies. It’s like trying to get nutrients from eating soil or rocks. 
 
If you do want a little extra help, make sure you do your homework or take some professional advice first. Always go for a slightly more expensive product from an independent health food shop or company, made from natural and plant based ingredients. And, equally important, don’t forget to carefully read the label before handing over your hard earned cash, to make sure that it can be fully used by your body. 
 
As always, the choice is yours. 
 
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