Savvy supplements

Are supplements your new best friend when it comes to boosting your wellbeing?


By Amy Wall

In Ireland we’re fond of a supplement. We take them in winter to boost our immune system and if we’re feeling a little tired, we reach for those dissolvable energy-boosting drinks. Few of us stop to think about getting expert advice, instead trusting that because they’re mostly ‘natural’, supplements couldn’t possibly have any adverse side effects. But when it comes to supplements, personalised expert advice is key and Paul Chamberlain, Head of Research and Education at Solgar supplements, agrees. The good thing is that here in Ireland, says Paul, we have access to some great advice.

“There is some great advice available in a lot of health food stores. They do put a lot of energy into educating their staff, especially in Ireland, it’s absolutely fantastic,” says Paul.

“I think if you just want some general advice… then the health stores and the pharmacies are more than capable to deal with that. I think once you start getting into people that maybe have health conditions and are maybe taking medications and things like that, you just need to be a little bit careful with those things. It is wise to keep your doctor informed with what you’re doing so they can take that into account with the drugs and so on.”

So why is supplementation so popular? A lot of it is down to our hectic modern lifestyle.

“They’re doing the best that they can with their diet. They’re trying to do the right things but they feel that a supplement is perhaps an insurance policy,” says Paul.

One thing that’s important to realise though is the fact that no matter how good your supplementation is, it will never work if you have a poor diet.

“We’re always keen to say to people that this is not to supplement a bad diet and a bad lifestyle. It should be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, but just to keep things topped up.”

So what supplements should we all be taking? We asked Paul to give his recommendations for the following common problems.

PLEASE NOTE – If you are experiencing any of the below symptoms, please visit your GP to rule out any existing conditions. If you are on medication it’s also important to consult your GP before starting a new supplement.


“We all need some help with this. Green tea is quite an interesting substance. Green tea has got a tiny bit of caffeine in it, not as much as regular tea and coffee, a little bit of caffeine which does help with alertness. But there’s something else interesting in green tea which is an amino acid called L-Theanine and this has been shown to help with clear focus and attention… Yes you can drink green tea but you can also buy L-Theanine as a supplement and I’ve found this to be really useful for people who need to concentrate, who are maybe doing exams and driving tests or have big meetings or presentations at work, those sorts of things. And it works relatively quickly, showing effects on the brain in 30-40 minutes in most people… The other thing I think of perhaps just a little more long-term would be B vitamins so things like B12 and Folic Acid in particular, but the B Vitamins in general are quite good for that central nervous system function which is helpful.”


“There are studies with short-term memory and a botanical extract called Rhodiola Extract, its other name is Artic Root… and those studies are very small scale at the moment but it’s interesting to see. For me, if you look at it, it’s perhaps more of a long-term brain health issue and I’d be thinking about [recommending] things like fish oils and, again, B Vitamins. There was a thing in the press just recently on blueberries even – their antioxidants. A diet that is rich in fruit and colourful food is a good recommendation for people long-term.”


“The first thing I’d recommend for stress is magnesium. When you’re stressed we tend to use up magnesium at a higher rate. Now magnesium is a nervous system calming nutrient, so for example, when you’re very, very stressed, obviously your nervous system is firing at a high rate, so magnesium helps to calm all of that down. Often you can tell if you’re getting a bit magnesium deficient because you might be more prone to muscle cramps and muscle tremors and things like night cramps so often those sorts of things increase in some people during times of stress. So that’s a good indication that perhaps you need a bit more magnesium. And another thing, the L-Theanine again, just in terms of helping to keep you calm and get you through a busy, stressful day.”

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Catherine Devane