Skincare representatives and wellness gurus aside, ask any qualified medical practitioner and they'll tell you that the best way to get the micrograms of vitamins you need in a day, is through the natural nutrients found in food. No contest. And yet, we are constantly being confronted with vitamin-infused this, that and the other – from cosmetics and creams to pills, patches and beverages, and even slightly intimidating intravenous options. And each alternative invariably comes with its own celebrity fangirl.
“For most people, the best way to get the vitamins our bodies need is from eating a variety of healthy, unprocessed foods,” says Dr Yasser Sadawey from Medeor 24x7 International Hospital Al Ain. “Vitamin-rich foods have other benefits, too. For instance, they contain fibre and other less well-defined nutrients.”
However, despite the doctor’s orders, there are other factors at play that further the cause of pills et al. Let’s assume that there truly is no direct replacement for the vitamins found in food. For example, vitamin B12 – the most common supplement on the market, which is important for red blood cell formation – can be found in sufficient quantities in a most common foodstuff – eggs.
One hard-boiled egg has 0.6 micrograms of B12, which is about 10 per cent of the recommended daily value for healthy adults. But, with reports of overfed hens injected with hormones that cause them to lay 3,000 or more eggs a year (as opposed to the natural 300), who’s to say what nutritional value is left in the (often dye-infused) yolks that come from such creatures?
Moreover, based on each person’s genetics and quality of life – as well as other constantly shifting conditions such as pregnancy, ageing and immunity levels – there may be a deficiency, of one type or another, that needs addressing. And no matter some of their questionable lifestyle choices, it’s safe to assume that the Jennifers – Aniston, Garner, Lopez and Lawrence, each of whom has spoken out for the cause of supplementary vitamins – have teams of professionals looking into their health and cosmetic needs.
With this in mind, I waded into the world of vitamins, the nutrients that are essential for growth, metabolism, reproduction and disease prevention. The human body does not naturally produce vitamins – they need to be ingested in one way or another. There are 13 known types, which can be fat-soluble (vitamins A, D, E and K) or water-soluble (all the Bs and vitamin C). The first lot are stored for and used over longer periods by the body; the latter need to be constantly replenished. They are more easily destroyed by exposure to heat or air, and are excreted almost immediately.
It’s worth pointing out that vitamin C, which is popular for its collagen-boosting properties, likely passes through the body like a sieve, calling into question the benefits of the not-inexpensive skincare products that are allegedly infused with the stuff. Does that mean we should bypass the non-food format of this vitamin type altogether? Not necessarily, as we need between 75mg and 90mg every day to keep up the repair and regeneration of connective tissues and blood vessels, a process that serves both cosmetic and constitutional purposes.
"Citrus fruits, melons and dark leafy greens are good sources of vitamin C. If you supplement your intake of these with a beverage or a cream that has strains of the vitamin, no harm done; it could further your cause for fresh-looking skin in the long run. Just don't expect the same results without consuming the foods in the first place, or eliminating them entirely," says general practitioner Dr Anita Jagasia. And that's the first tenet for indulging in vitamin-popping: take it on as a supplement, and not as a replacement.
Multivitamin pills are the most commonly consumed supplements. And it is believed that vitamins are best taken in this form, rather than as stand-alone drugs. “A general rule when it comes to pills is, the fewer, the better. So one daily multivitamin is better for most people than a cocktail of individual drugs.
“Always read the ingredients list on the bottle, and choose the one that has less than 100 per cent DV [daily value], so that it only makes up your nutritional gaps,” adds Jagasia.
For example, those who have a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and dairy don’t need any extra vitamin A. On the other hand, women who are pregnant or trying to conceive are advised to take a folic acid supplement, which is rich in vitamin B9; most vegans and vegetarians need to substitute meat with B12; the majority of men over the age of 40 and post-menopausal women can do with a boost of vitamin D. Tenet number two, then, could well be a genuine awareness of your food intake, as well as a recognition of the particular state of your health.
From a cosmetic point of view, the skin is the human body’s largest organ, and one with a constant need for nutrition. Consequently, many beauty brands infuse their creams and balms with vitamins, which work in tandem with beauty supplements. “Liquids, sprays and powders are largely regarded as the most bioavailable forms of micronutrients, but modern capsule technology is also fast catching up,” says Rita Rakus, a London-based cosmetic doctor. “The synergy that can be achieved from combining topical skincare with intelligent micronutrition is undeniable. The trick is knowing which supplements to take and how to use them intelligently.”
Hot on the heels of multivitamins, vitamin-infused beverages are fast becoming a go-to for many. These include fortified water, such as Vitaminwater by Coca-Cola, and Al Ain Vitamin D water by Agthia, which launched in the UAE last month, as well as juice-like options. Skinade, a naturally flavoured peach and mangosteen drink, arrived on our shores last year. It is made up of 7,000mg of hydrolysed marine collagen and a range of B vitamins.
Consuming the 150ml ready-to-drink bottle daily for up to 90 days reportedly triggers a healing response that activates fibroblasts (collagen-producing cells), when it enters the blood stream. “Skinade bypasses the digestive process and is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. It also eliminates pill fatigue and is gentle on the stomach,” says plastic surgeon Dr Paul Banwell, an independent practitioner who ran a trial of the product with his patients.
Skin patches are yet another option. Vitamin Injections London, which specialises in Vitamin Nutrient Therapy, recently began shipping its patches to the UAE. The United Kingdom-based clinic offers three formulations of infused skin patches: vitamin D3, vitamin B12 and B Complex, which need to be slapped on for 12 hours at a time, and can be used every day. Founder Bianca Estelle says: “In recent years, the market for supplements has seen a huge increase.
“However, coatings on many traditional oral supplements are unable to be digested by the body, deeming them ineffective. And whilst there are some oral supplements that do provide benefits to the body, they are only able to do so up to a certain point, typically providing between 8 per cent and 15 per cent of vitamins or active ingredients directly to the bloodstream. The patches, on the other hand, provide 90 per cent of vitamins directly into the bloodstream via 12 hours of continuous transcutaneous nutrient delivery,” she explains. The patches cost from Dh100, and claim to improve energy levels, muscle strength and metabolism.
Going a step further, IV vitamin infusions and injections have also become part of our quest for wellness. The UAE-based Elixir clinic, for example, offers 15 types of VitaDrip treatments. Ranging from 30 minutes to an hour, the drips are adjusted to address a range of conditions, such as fatigue, weight loss, detox and jet lag, and boast 100 per cent absorption rates.
Of course, precautionary tales abound. For instance, in 2015, a court in America ruled that Coco-Cola’s Vitaminwater could no longer claim to support “metabolic, immune system and active lifestyle functioning”. The current labels read that the product could enhance “focus” and “energy” – FDA-approved language.
Likewise, when it comes to patches and injections, Dr Suhail Abbas, from Aster Clinics, cautions: “IV patches are in the research phase, and their results, if any, are still being studied. It’s a methodology that’s in its infancy, so any claims of medical absorption are highly questionable. Further evaluation is in order before the effectiveness of any vitamin patch or injection is proved beyond a doubt.”
He reckons that apart from the vitamins absorbed by the body directly through the food we consume, the medically proven and recommended means of vitamin intake is through pills, but not before adding another caveat. “Any intake of vitamins, especially pills, are likely to be accepted by a body if it is facing a particular deficiency. No deficiency, no pill – as an overdose can cause hypervitaminosis.”
Which brings us to our final and foolproof rule: a health care provider is the only authority qualified to diagnose both the most useful and most harmful vitamin add-ons for you.