Healf guide: updating your supplement stack

Written by: Natalie Louise Burrows


Healf Journal

From Boots and Superdrug to bespoke health stores, online shops and celebrity brands - supplements are everywhere! With a growing market worth £102.33 billion and set to grow to £110.65 billion by 2028, how do you choose wisely and spend your money on something that will give you a return on your investment?

Natalie Louise Burrows, Registered Nutritional Therapist and Clinic Director of Integral Wellness, a nutrition and health clinic specialising in CardioMetabolic Health, dives in.

Here's an interesting fact: protein powders, often a staple in many health and fitness routines, are actually classified as supplements, not food.

Now we’ve cleared that up, let’s also be clear about what a supplement is. The name itself is a giveaway. A supplement should supplement our diet. The food we eat should always come first, and take pride of place as part of our health care and daily routine.

However, sometimes food isn’t enough hence the world of supplements has blown up. 

Do we need nutritional supplements ?

Supplements can play a crucial role in supporting the health and wellbeing of many individuals. Some health conditions benefit from additional nutrients that would be challenging to achieve from diet alone, and recovery from health conditions may require replenishing specific nutrients. Supplements can achieve adequate levels of nutrients, such as low vitamin D and iron, quicker than natural sources, such as the sun and red meat. Medications can also deplete essential nutrients or prevent the endogenous production of vital antioxidants, such as certain diuretics, statins, antidepressants and oral contraceptive pills. Supplements can help replenish and prevent deficiencies.

In the UK, where approximately 60% of the population consumes a diet high in ultra-processed foods, nutrient intake is often limited, making it challenging to achieve optimal nutrition solely through diet. Furthermore, modern agricultural practices have led to soil depletion, significantly reducing the nutrient content of food. In Europe and the UK, selenium levels are particularly low due to the acidity of the soils, and magnesium levels have also dropped dramatically.

While a high-quality diet should always be the foundation of good health, supplements can provide a necessary boost, compensating for dietary gaps and helping individuals achieve better health outcomes.

What supplements should you choose?

The options feel endless. Once, a supplement was simply a tablet, capsule, or liquid. But now we have sublingual sprays, gummies, effervescents, patches, and even injectables.

You’ve also got to decide if you choose food form, liposomal, methylated or unmethylated, herbal, natural, or synthetic. We understand it’s very confusing, and it’s easy to spend money on a lot of things that don't do very much, especially when the industry suffers from many false claims.

Another tip; working with a registered nutritional therapist so you have qualified advice on what supplement forms and doses are best for you and your individual health needs.

Let’s clarify a few terms so you can check what’s already in your cupboard.


Liposomal supplements refer to their delivery system, which encapsulates active ingredients within lipid bilayer vesicles called liposomes. This structure can enhance bioavailability (aka absorption), ensuring more of the nutrient reaches the bloodstream. Liposomes can easily fuse with cell membranes, allowing for direct transfer of nutrients into cells, thereby increasing efficacy (aka how well they work). As an added bonus, the encapsulation can reduce gastrointestinal irritation.

Methylated versus unmethylated

Methylated vitamins are promoted as offering a significant advantage over unmethylated forms, particularly for individuals with specific genetic variations that affect nutrient metabolism. Methylated vitamins, such as methylfolate (a form of folate) and methylcobalamin (a form of vitamin B12), are already in their active forms, meaning the body can use them immediately without requiring additional conversion processes. By providing these nutrients in their methylated forms, there is an argument that supplements can enhance bioavailability and efficacy. However, if you don’t have any genetic challenges, you may not need to spend the additional money and - as with all supplements - too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing. There is a concern as to the potential to ‘over-methylate’.

Food form

Food-form supplements are dietary supplements made from whole foods or concentrates derived from whole foods. They aim to provide nutrients in a form that closely resembles their natural state and tend to be free from synthetic additives, preservatives, and artificial colours. These supplements suggest that they offer improved bioavailability, as the nutrients come with co-factors and phytonutrients that enhance their absorption and effectiveness. They also argue that this is why doses can be lower than ‘synthetic’ supplement forms. Although the hypothesis has potential, it currently lacks great scientific backing. Watch this space.

Herbal versus multivitamin

Herbal supplements and multivitamins serve distinct purposes. Herbal supplements are derived from plants or botanical sources and often contain concentrated extracts of specific herbs or herbal combinations known for their therapeutic properties. These supplements may target various health concerns such as immune support, stress relief, or digestive health, relying on the bioactive compounds present in plants. In contrast, multivitamins (or multi-nutrients if they also contain minerals, antioxidants and other compounds) are comprehensive formulations designed to provide a broad spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in a typical diet. While both herbal supplements and multivitamins contribute to nutritional supplementation, their formulations and intended uses differ, with herbal supplements emphasising plant-based remedies and multivitamins focusing on essential nutrients essential for general health maintenance.

To supplement or not to supplement?

We circle back to the all-important question… to do or not to do?

As explained, there are circumstances where health conditions and medications can deplete nutrients or increase the need; in these circumstances, foods may not deliver the required volume. Additionally, the food industry has made the appeal and convenience of ultra-processed foods so enticing as a nation there are common nutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies that may need to be considered, such as iron, B12, folate, selenium, magnesium and zinc - to name a few.

However, the best thing to do is work with a registered nutritional therapist who can support you in testing your current levels, assessing your health needs and supplementing with the correct dose and form to ensure you’re not wasting your money and you do feel the benefits.


This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Healf