With our hectic daily schedules it is not always possible to eat as well as we would like to, which can leave our systems depleted of much-needed vitamins and minerals. There are ways of combating these lapses, but the most important thing to consider when buying a supplement is that each brand has a different concentration level; often buying a cheap version with too low a level will have little impact. Some also need to be taken together in order to promote absorption, and some should not be taken with food for the same reason.
Some vitamin and mineral supplements should not be taken at night as they can stimulate brain activity, especially if they contain vitamin B complex, which will erode your good night’s sleep. When choosing a supplement, don’t just assume that the more you take, the better you will feel.
Some products can be harmful when consumed in high amounts or in combination with certain other substances. If in doubt, check with your healthcare provider before taking a supplement, especially when combining them with or substituting them for other foods or medicine or if you are pregnant. As you will see below, you can maximize your intake of several vitamins and minerals by simply increasing your intake of certain foods.
Vitamin B Complex
This helps the body to cope in times of stress; helps prevent depression and aids women who suffer from pre-menstrual syndrome, 86 specifically. It is especially effective lf taken at times of extreme pressure, helping to banish feelings of helplessness and the often resulting insomnia. To be most effective, a vitamin B complex must contain thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate and 812.
Naturally occurring: You can boost your intake by eating poultry, green leafy vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, wholegrain products, red meat, soya, potatoes and yeast.
Our stressful lives often trigger the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism that switches on the stress hormone noradrenalin, which causes the body to excrete calcium from the bones. Calcium promotes a good night’s sleep, so it needs to be replaced, especially by women, who often suffer from osteoporosis after menopause. Take calcium with magnesium and vitamin D to aid absorption. Naturally occurring: You will find calcium in dairy products, such as milk and cheese, pulses, canned fish with bones, green leafy vegetables, soya, sesame seeds and tofu.
Milk is an excellent source of calcium – 560 ml (1 pint) provides an adult’s recommended daily allowance, as well as other essential vitamins and minerals.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and is essential to good health. It is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions and helps to maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps the heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system and keeps bones strong. Magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure and is known to be involved in energy metabolism.
Naturally occurring: Magnesium is found in apples, nuts, sesame seeds, figs, dried apricots, lemons and green vegetables.
Like vitamin B, vitamin C is needed to turn glucose into energy. Smoking depletes it, as does alcohol, which also depletes vitamin B – this is one of the reasons you feel so awful after a night indulging in such activities. Vitamin C is an essential antioxidant that repairs the damage caused by free radicals (harmful molecules in our body) and maintains healthy skin and the operation of many of our main organs. Try not to cut vegetables and fruit into small pieces before eating them as vitamin C is oxidized by air. It is also soluble in water.
Naturally occurring: It is found in oranges and other citrus fruit, berries, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, raw peppers and kiwi fruit, in fact all fresh fruit and vegetables contain vitamin C.
An essential mineral that helps stabilize appetite and prevents cravings, as well as maintaining a healthy heart. A lack of chromium can mean daytime drowsiness, cold hands, excessive thirst ii and an addiction to sweet foods.
Nuts are a wonderful source of magnesium and make a healthy snack. One orange a day provides enough vitamin C for an average adult.
Naturally occurring: It is found in wholegrain bread, brewer’s yeast, oysters, potatoes, chicken, green peppers and wheat germ.
Evening Primrose Oil
As well as its high levels of tryptophan and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which helps balance hormone production, this is a great aid to women suffering from sleep problems connected with premenstrual syndrome/tension (PMS/PMT) or menopause.
Native to the South Pacific, the root of the kava (Piper methysticum) is renowned for its successful use in the overall treatment of anxiety, depression, restlessness and insomnia. Kava lactones appear to act primarily on the limbic system, the primitive part of the brain that affects all other brain activities and is the principal seat of the emotions and instinct. It is thought that kava may produce its anxiety- relieving and mood-elevating effects by altering the way in which the limbic system influences emotional processes.
Unlike many preparations, it does not lead to an increased tolerance, so kava won’t lose effectiveness over time. It is useful for anxiety and insomnia resulting from the menopause. For sedative effects, it should be taken one hour before you want to go to bed. Kava is restricted in many countries, and although not available in the UK or Canada, it is legal in the USA and Australia’
This hormone is created by a group of nerves in the brain, found just behind the eyes, called the pineal gland. Its name comes from the Greek word melas meaning dark or black. Melatonin is released by the pineal gland as the sun sets and makes you feel sleepy and ready for bed. It is how the body knows that it is night-time, and even what season it is.
Melatonin also lowers the body temperature, which is needed to slow down the heart rate and allow the body to enter sleep mode. Sleeping in an utterly dark room increases the production of melatonin.
Clever as it is, your body cannot tell the difference between electric light and sunlight – this is one reason why we get less sleep than our ancestors. In days gone by, candles were expensive so people would spend more time in bed sleeping and in a waking state of rest. With the invention of the electric light, the hours in which we can and are expected to work and play have been extended.
Melatonin is a hormone and as such is not available for purchase in some countries, although it is available in the USA. Taking melatonin as a supplement stimulates sleep when the natural cycle is disturbed, and is particularly effective for coping with jet lag.
If your insomnia is stress related, ginseng could help you to control the attendant anxiety and protect you from stress ‘burn out’. It stops you from producing excess cortisol, the stress hormone that can tip from good to bad when too much is produced and it starts to impair concentration. Ginseng keeps up the production of serotonin and norepinephrine, which guard against depression. The dip in our immune system brought on by a lack of sleep can also be corrected by ginseng, when taken in small amounts.