Five Supplement Essentials

A few years ago I was asked by a supplement company if they could formulate a pack of supplements that would give me exactly what I considered optimal in the pursuit of 100% health. Having spent 15 years researching the optimal intake of nutrients at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION), and then a further decade focussed on what is optimum for brain function when I headed the Food for the Brain Foundation, I had a clear idea of which nutrients are most essential to supplement, and at what daily dose.

Although there is some overlap, we can say that there are five supplement essentials namely:

  • Vitamins & minerals
  • Extra vitamin C, plus synergistic nutrients
  • Antioxidants
  • Essential fats
  • Phospholipids

I will explain which are important, in what dose and why, later, but what is especially encouraging is the research that is streaming in regarding two critical ‘functional’ measures of health. One I have written about in my report How to lengthen your life and your telomeres, is the growing evidence of specific nutrients being associated with longer telomeres, itself a measure of life expectancy.

The other is the association of specific nutrients being associated with lower homocysteine levels. The higher your homocysteine the worse your methylation ability which is absolutely critical for a healthy body and brain. So, if asked ‘what is the optimum intake of nutrient?’, I’d say whatever is associated with the longest telomeres, the lowest homocysteine level, the least risk for disease and best overall health, which is what we measure in the 100% Health Check.

Incidentally, when we examined the habits of the highest scorers on the 100% Health Check, 85% took supplements, two thirds took up to four different supplements a day and a third took five or more a day. Seventy per cent supplemented vitamin C as an extra, most taking between 500mg and 3g a day. I take five supplements twice a day. Here’s why and what to look out for in your daily supplement regime.


At ION we researched the optimal level of all essential vitamins and minerals and developed the Optimum Daily Amount (ODA). This is not what you need to supplement because, of course, you need to subtract what you can get from a good diet. For example, it is crazy to take an ‘RDA’ multivitamin and mineral because that would assume, if you believe that the RDA levels are enough, that you are eating nothing. For example, the RDA of calcium is 800mg, but the average person takes in 900mg from diet. So, why supplement any? The ODA is 1,000mg, or 1,200mg if you are older, and if you eat a reasonably healthy diet but with less dairy you’ll achieve 800mg from your food, so it’s worth supplementing 200 (if you’re younger) to 400mg (if you’re older).

The main shortfalls of multivitamins and minerals are the ‘big’ minerals. Few give you 200mg of calcium, and even fewer give you 150mg of magnesium, which is the shortfall between ODA (500mg) and what a good diet can give you (350mg). Other minerals like chromium, molybdenum and boron are often left out because there is no established RDA yet.

Another vitamin that is often undersupplied is vitamin D. Scandinavain countries have doubled the basic RDA from 5 to 10mcg, but my research shows that 15mcg (600iu) is optimal, backed up with eating oily fish, eggs and getting some sun exposure, which can give you a further 15mcg. The ODA is 30mcg.

Check out the multi you are taking which should, in any event, be taken twice a day since most vitamins are water-soluble and in and out of the body within 6 hours.


How much vitamin C do you really need? I explored this and wrote about it in Issue 82 of my newsletter, available to 100% Health Club members. Based on the evidence, the most conservative view would be 400mg a day although there is good reason to take in 2,000mg a day, especially if you are older.

Now, that’s way too much to put in a multi, hence the need for a stand alone vitamin C supplement of 900mg, taken twice a day. I take one with extra black elderberry, bilberry, zinc and ginger because, if you get a cold and bump up the dose, these can help.


Omega 3 and 6 fats are essential for your health for two main reasons:

  1. They are essential for every single cell in your body, including your skin and your brain, the dry weight of which is 60% fat. They make ‘prostaglandins’ which are involved in a huge range of different functions in the body.
  2. They cannot be made by your body so you need to obtain them through your diet. So much so that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) suggest that fish should be eaten every week (for women they recommend 2 portions of fish a week and up to 4 portions for men). However many people do not like the taste of fish and there is also the worry about heavy metal pollution like harmful mercury and PCB’s. Good quality fish oil supplements can be purified to eliminate these pollutants. I do both – eat oily fish and take essential fat supplements.

The most potent omega-6 fat is GLA (aim for 50mg a day). The most potent omega-3s are EPA and DHA. Aim for a combined amount of 600mg a day of these.


Your brain cell membranes are made of phospholipids (mainly phosphatidyl serine and choline), attached to omega-3 fats. These are ‘connected’ by methylation, which depends on B vitamins and methyl nutrients, the most important being tri-METHYL-glycine (TMG), giving three methyl units. These are essential nutrients for the brain so I take a brain food formula daily.


While a good multi is providing all the vitamins and minerals that act as antioxidants (vitamin A,C,E, zinc and selenium) there is an exact sequence of antioxidants and their ‘loaders’. For example, vitamin E is reloaded (once ‘spent and oxidised) by CoQ10; vitamin C is reloaded by beta-carotene and alpha-lipoic acid; glutathione is reloaded by resveratrol (see diagram below). Some of these are not easy to get, and most multis don’t include them. Also, the older you get, or the more active you are, the more antioxidants you need – oxidation is the basis of ageing.

I take a combination of these every day as well as eating antioxidant rich foods.

So, these are my five daily supplement essentials:

  • Vitamins & minerals
  • Extra vitamin C and synergistic nutrients
  • Essential fats
  • Phospholipids and methyl nutrients
  • Antioxidants

You can find my range of supplements at