If someone promised that you could have better skin, balanced hormones and improved digestion, all by popping a pill or sipping a drink, would you immediately ask where you could sign up — or assume you’d fallen into a plot of a science-fiction film?
If you answered the latter, think again. Forget the sad, untouched pile of green powders and vitamin sprays languishing on the bathroom shelf — there is a new wave of science-backed, doctor-approved super supplements offering clinically proven, positive results. Some will rebuild your dermis from the inside to make your skin marvellously ‘young’; some will soothe an upset tum; some will do wonders for your levels of key vitamins and minerals, and hence your general health. In a world of sore stomachs — poor diets, coffee, cocktails and general frenzy — they might just change your life.
Sales of probiotic supplements are booming as more understand the importance of a balanced ecology of gut bacteria being central to overall wellbeing. Probiotics are, however, vulnerable to the stomach’s digestive juices, and are often destroyed before they reach the intestines.
Not terribly sexy, but brilliantly effective, is a probiotic called Symprove (£79 for a month’s supply). Launched by Farnham-based entrepreneur (and former military nurse) Barry Smith in 2014, Symprove stands out thanks to its delivery system: four strains of beneficial bacteria (L. rhamnosus, E. faecium, L. acidophilus, and L. plantarum) are suspended in a water-like drink, so the stomach thinks it is water and doesn’t try to break it down.
In fact, in an independent clinical trial at University College London, it was the only probiotic to survive the stomach acids and go on to thrive in the gut. Further tests carried out at King’s College Hospital London found it significantly reduced pain and discomfort in patients with IBS. ‘A lot of the patients I see have IBS-type symptoms; it is increasingly common,’ says gastroenterologist Dr Bu Hayee. ‘They might have been on antibiotics, or had a funny tummy abroad. If you have symptoms, it is best to seek medical advice, but the patients of mine who have taken Symprove have had good results. It’s very exciting.’
Equally innovative are Wild Nutrition multi-nutrients (£30 for 60 days) created by nutritionist Henrietta Norton, who works from health-based members club, Grace Belgravia. For seven years, Norton formulated supplements for leading European brands. ‘The more I understood human biochemistry, the more I doubted the body’s ability to absorb synthetic nutrients. I also began to question the fillers and binders often used in supplements.’ So she set out to reinvent them.
The key difference in the Wild Nutrition product is that the vitamins and other nutrients they contain are ‘food grown’, i.e. presented to your body in ‘food’ form. ‘In nature, plants draw nutrients from the soil and metabolise them into a structure that is easy for humans to absorb,’ says Norton. ‘At Wild Nutrition, we replicate this process, providing vitamins and minerals in a live, raw form which our body can recognise.’
Wild Nutrition’s vitamin C, for example, begins life as a vat of pulped oranges. ‘Rather than presenting an artificially synthesised, isolated form of ascorbic acid (the most common vitamin C molecule) — as you find in most other supplements — our vitamin C also comes with the range of fats, proteins, enzymes it is bound to in plants. These make it far more available.’ This is not just posturing; a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that nutrients as they appear in nature are better absorbed and retained than synthetic equivalents. The uptake of zinc, for example, is 75 per cent better than its synthetic equivalent.
‘We put lower doses of many nutrients in our supplements, as we know they are effective,’ says Norton. ‘The doses some commercial brands suggest can be toxic — particularly when the vitamins come in synthetic form, as they are harder for the body to recognise and appropriately manage.’
Bestsellers include the supplements targeted for hormones and fertility, as well as the B complex for anyone with a busy schedule. And its range of daily vitamins and minerals — Bespoke Woman, Man and Child Daily MultiNutrients — are highly acclaimed. Why, though, should we need to be taking them?
‘I believe everyone needs to supplement their diet,’ says Dr Sohère Roked, GP turned integrative-health-specialist at Knightsbridge health clinic, Omniya. ‘The majority of fruit and veg in supermarkets has been grown in depleted soil and then stored for months. Study after study shows levels of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron and riboflavin (vitamin B2) have declined in agricultural produce. Recent analysis has found, for example, we’d have to eat eight oranges today to consume the same vitamin A our grandparents would have received from one.’
The beauty industry is also grasping the fact that our bodies, and particularly our skin, would profit from better nourishment. The industry would also profit, of course, with ‘nutricosmetics’ (cosmetics you eat) estimated to become a £5.58bn global industry by 2020. Amid the inevitable flimsy claims, there are some beauty supplements proven to work in clinical trials. Largely, they focus on collagen — the protein that forms the scaffolding for our skin — which depletes as we age, heralding those fine lines and wrinkles.
‘One of the most interesting supplements available is Skinade [£99 for 30 days],’ says Dr Benji Dhillon, member of the Royal College of Surgeons, who trained in plastic surgery and is now based at London’s Phi Clinic. The high-tech drink, launched by Marylebone-based wellness company Bottled Science in 2013, has a not unpleasant taste like a viscous mango-flavoured squash, and contains tiny fragments of collagen called peptides. These protein-based building blocks, sourced from the collagen of freshwater fish, are so small they are absorbed straight into the bloodstream without going through the gut. ‘By tracking the peptides, research has demonstrated a high proportion go to the skin, where they kickstart the body’s own production of collagen.’
Data published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology confirms that the structure of the skin is improved after two months use. For what it’s worth, celebrities including Sienna Miller, Tom Ford and Kim Kardashian have drunk the kool-aid (or rather skin-aid) and knock back a bottle every morning.
Victoria Beckham, by contrast, is said to be a fan of taking her collagen in a pill not a drink; word is her choice is the recently launched Nourella (£39.95 for 30 days). Nourella tablets are based on an ingredient called Vercilex (a mix of proteins broken down from collagen) that helps to improve levels of collagen and elastin in the skin — and according to a clinical study published in the Journal of Applied Cosmetology, it can make skin appear 20 years younger. If, I ask Dhillon, these protein molecules are visibly improving our complexion, is there a chance they also replenish other organs in our bodies?
‘Theoretically yes,’ Dhillon continues. ‘Promoting our internal “collagen bank”, which effectively serves as the architecture for our skin and organs, can only promote overall health.’
In Greek mythology, Panacea was a goddess of universal remedy. While none of these supplements is the fabled cure-all, each represents the fruits of properly executed clinical trials, and boasts demonstrable benefits. It would come as no surprise if, in five years time, we are all taking some kind of supplement.
Meanwhile, for those of us unable or unwilling to eat 10 different vegetables a day or go to bed at dusk, they could be a brilliant life hack.
Original article published in Evening Standard, in December, 2016