The most interesting Q&A from our Free Expert Advice on Nutrition and Diet session

In December last year we offered free expert advice on Nutrition and Diet from our in-house nutrition scientist. We’d like to share the most interesting questions and answers from Dr Nina’s phone session.

In the future we will offer more services, so check our blog updates regularly.

Q.  I’ve been taking a multivitamin and mineral for years but I keep hearing advice that I may be wasting my money, is this true?

A.  Whilst it is unquestionably better to obtain our nutrients from natural sources, the fact is that, on occasion, this may not be feasible.  If your diet is rich in a good variety of organic fresh fruit and vegetables you probably do not need to supplement. However, the majority of us do not buy organic food, and many of us do not consume the recommended ‘5-a-day’, not necessarily through choice, but often because of circumstance, cost or availability.  Many water-soluble vitamins and minerals need to be consumed regularly as, unlike fat-soluble vitamins, they are not stored by the body.  As they act as co-factors for many bodily processes, deficiencies can become an issue.   Taking a vitamin and mineral supplement should never be used to replace natural sources, but can certainly be useful as a way of ‘topping-up’ on occasions when your diet may be lacking.

Q.  I’m in my early 50s and have been suffering recently from hot flushes.  I’m not totally convinced I’m ready for HRT and would like some advice on natural alternatives.

A. Black cohosh root and red clover leaf are well known natural supplements for helping women through the menopause.  Both plants are rich in compounds called phytoestrogens which mimic the effects of oestrogen and trick the body into believing oestrogen is still present.   Black cohosh root also actively reduces the levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), which is one of the main causes of hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms.  Hot flushes are not just unpleasant, though; the inflammatory process that occurs depletes the body of several essential vitamins and minerals involved in the production of specific polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as the omega-6, GLA, and the omega-3, EPA.   The use of EPO (and more recently, high EPA fish oil) is a well-established treatment for hot flushes that has been used successfully by generations of women.  EPO works because it is rich in GLA, which, like EPA, influences the production of hormone-like substances, called prostaglandins, that are involved in the dilation or constriction of blood vessels.

Q.  Do probiotics really work?

A. Probiotics are simply a mix of bacteria that are taken to maintain or restore the natural balance of organisms in your body.  There is evidence that taking probiotics can have beneficial effects on gut health through mediating immune function and the way we respond to inflammation.  Whether probiotics ‘work’ or not really depends on their successful delivery to the gut.   Probiotics taken orally can be destroyed by the acidic conditions of the stomach and so, understandably, may offer no real health benefits.   However the development of micro-encapsulation techniques to address this problem now means that if you take a probiotic you are likely to receive some benefit.  Micro-encapsulation provides a protective cover that isn’t broken down by digestive enzymes until it reaches the small intestine where the pH is more favourable.  Coating bacteria doesn’t just protect their journey through the gut, it also provides a useful way of adding them to food, such as yoghurt, without interacting with the food or affecting the taste.

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