In my clinic last week a 47 year patient came in clutching a large handbag, and poured onto my desk what looked like a pharmacy of supplements. She wasn’t sure quite what they did and hadn’t noticed any real benefits, but she was very aware she was spending a small fortune on them. She was living in hope that one of these would soon help her feel better, take away her fatigue, end her hot flushes, and give her zest for life back.
When I speak to most women with menopausal symptoms the majority are on or have tried numerous supplements. Women struggling in midlife, worried about side effects from medication, are vulnerable targets for the vitamin and supplements industry. Vitamins and supplements are big business. Each year in the UK we spend around £442m on them. But are they safe?
Unlike medicines that are regulated for quality and efficacy by the MHRA, supplements are not regulated within Europe. That means there’s no way to know exactly what’s in them. We sometimes forget that vitamins are chemicals usually manufactured in a factory. Vitamins are tiny molecules and so tablets need to be bulked up using preservative bulking agents and other chemicals that are not checked. Investigations into the composition of several brands of supplements found many don’t contain what they say they do and often make misleading or unproven health claims.
Although there are studies that show the health benefits of fruit, vegetables and oily fish, these have just been extrapolated with the presumption that the vitamins and minerals found in these food would be equally beneficial. This has however not been proven, in fact overarchingly the evidence is now pointing to the fact that regular consumption of unregulated vitamins can do more harm than good. Some studies show that heart disease and cancer are higher in those who take unregulated vitamins on a regular basis. The Iowa Women’s Health Study found that the use of multivitamins was associated with increased mortality risk in older women. Twenty percent of drug induced liver failure is due to supplements. At high doses, supplements are drugs.
Many women in midlife take phytoestrogens in the form red clover or isoflavones, as supplements to help with menopause symptoms. Some get good relief. However, it is worth knowing that women who cant take HRT due to breast cancer risk, should also not take phytoestrogen supplements as they can trigger oestrogen receptors.
Nutrients found in foods can protect us from diseases, so we should focus on our diet rather than buying supplements. Most vitamins have a narrow therapeutic range- and this is easy to control when consumed through food but not with supplements. When we concentrate on one vitamin, mineral or nutrient in a supplement, we miss out on the other phytonutrients found in plant foods that contribute to overall health. As a doctor who screens patients with symptoms for nutritional deficiencies, and prescribes supplements when found to be lacking, I will continue to do so. But what I say to my patients is that supplements should never be used in place of real food. Don’t underestimate what a nutrient-packed salad can do for you compared to a pill made in a factory.
Author Dr Ferhat Uddin
I was former shadow of myself until I met Dr Uddin. I'd become over-weight, depressed and I was barely functioning but immediately after my initial consultation with Dr Uddin, I felt relief. For the first time in a long while, I felt hope and I was able to anchor myself in her care. Dr Uddin is not only highly-qualified but also empathetic and intuitive. She listened and asked all the right questions. Within days I felt better in myself, Just knowing that I had someone that I could trust and that I was finally getting the help I so desperately needed. Dr Uddin provided me with a roadmap map and coached me along the way. I stuck with her 360-degree treatment plan and 6 months later I can honestly say that I don’t know where I’d be today without her. I feel better, wiser and more peaceful about the changes I’m going through. I have so much love, respect and gratitude for Dr Uddin. If you’re looking for professional, holistic support on your journey back to wellness. You’ve found it here. Resh, 2021, yell.com.
Truth is, I’ve had a fairly warped relationship with food ever since I can remember and after 30 years+ of disordered eating and then more recently coming into perimenopause, I felt totally resigned. And, despite the fact that I’d seen therapists in the past, I continued to struggle when it came to implementing and sustaining good habits. Things finally began to shift when I met Sabrina. Sabrina became my north star for all things nutrition. The combination of her expertise, wisdom and deep intuition made her approach to nutritional therapy potent . Sabrina took me under her wing and she was able to help me cut through deep mental barriers. She was able to help me accept myself, where I was in my life and most crucially, she was able to help me to internalise the fact that nutrition is more than food. She helped me understand that food is both life-force and a pleasure to be enjoyed – and on a practical level - she helped me to implement changes specific to my own needs. Today I'm a different person. I'm still on my journey but I'm finally learning a new way and I don't know where I'd be without her. Thank you so so much for showing up for me Sabrina. If you know you need support in altering your relationship with food and in building new habits and routines around food to help you feel better inside and out - you’ve struck gold. Resh, 2021.
I wanted you to know how grateful I am for your help over the last half a year. Despite everything, I wouldn’t give up my experience over that time because of the skills and understanding I’ve gained. Thank you for being a part of that. In particular, thank you for your warmth, non-judgement, and compassion which have helped me relate to myself in a new way.
Dr Uddin took time to explain my symptoms and the risks and benefits of treatment options. She is knowledgeable in her field and I would recommend to any woman going through the change! Anna, 2020, yell.com
Sabrina’s passion for living and her exciting, interesting and fun style make her a hit with her audiences. She knows what she is talking about and is very well researched and empowering. Dr Ava Eagle Brown, Master Coach, July 2018