Do wellness superfoods really work?

Health-boosting ingredients are popping up in everything from skincare to supplements. Georgia Seago explores three of the most popular to find out if they really work

The wellness world is full of superfood ingredients tipped as the next health-giving supplement. But do these wonder ingredients actually deliver on their supposed benefits? We speak to three experts about some of the most talked-about ingredients in the nutrition sector.

Turmeric

“Turmeric has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine and is often consumed as a daily tea drink in India,” says Lorraine Perretta, head of nutrition at IIAA, which distributes supplement brand Advanced Nutrition Programme (ANP). 

Sometimes called curcumin, its Latin name, turmeric root has become a popular daily supplement for the wellness-conscious because of chemical compounds called curcuminoids found in the root. As a supplement, turmeric has been at the centre of hundreds of studies and gets the most attention for its supposed anti-in ammatory properties in relation to “anti-ageing, skin conditions and periodontitis – a gum infection”, says Perretta.

She adds that a lot of research has also been done into its abilities as an antibacterial agent, and “ongoing studies also focus on areas including gut and joint health.”

While the ingredient is commonly found in spicy foods and drinks such as the traditional Indian tea, it’s best consumed in a concentrated capsule or soft gel format, advises Perretta.

“Turmeric has a low absorbability from the gut and rapid excretion from the body... you don’t get many active ingredients through eating or drinking it,” she says. Though it varies from person to person, Perretta says results are usually experienced within 4-8 weeks of taking the recommended daily dose.

CBD oil

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the compounds known as cannabinoids that make up the marijuana plant. Though present in the recreational drug at varying strengths depending on the strain, CBD extract is inert so doesn’t have any effect on the brain’s psychoactive receptors.

Using CBD oil as a nutritional supplement doesn’t make users feel “high” and it is not addictive, stresses nutritionist and medical director of supplement provider Healthspan, Dr Sarah Brewer, who has written extensively on it.

“Cannabidiol oil enhances the effects of other brain chemicals such as serotonin without stimulating the psychoactive receptors that are targeted by marijuana,” she explains. “There is a growing body of evidence that cannabidiol oil has direct effects on the brain to reduce pain perception, relieve anxiety and stress, improve sleep and lift mood; though because it is not approved as a medicine, manufacturers can’t make any claims.”

It’s available in capsules, chewable “gummies”, drops and oral sprays, but Brewer says many people prefer to take capsules, as the drops and sprays can taste strongly of hemp. Strengths tend to vary from 6.4mg one to three times daily, referred to as high strength, to 15mg once or twice daily, which is commonly deemed as super strength. She adds: “It’s best to start with a low dose and slowly increase.” The quickest delivery methods are oral sprays or liquid drops – capsules are slow-release.

Bee Pollen 

In terms of topical options, whole skincare brands are available based on CBD oil, and CBD massages are becoming popular stateside. “CBD is antioxidant and anti- in ammatory and is used to reduce skin outbreaks and irritation such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, to protect against premature skin ageing [caused by oxidative stress] and promote healing,” says Brewer.

Touted as a nutrition-rich food source for several years by medical herbalists, bee pollen is of cially recognised as a medicine by the German Federal Board of Health “because it contains almost all nutrients required by us to thrive”, says Mel Turkerman, naturopathic nutritionist and founder of Dermanutri Symbiotic Skincare.

Bee pollen in its form as a nutritional supplement is composed of around 250 substances, including amino acids, vitamins, avonoids, lipids and other micro and macronutrients. Interestingly, humans take bee pollen for many of the same reasons bees produce it; it consists of several groups of chemical compounds made by the bees for medicinal purposes.

Turkerman’s favourite qualities are its ability to “be used as a natural allergy treatment, have a systemic anti- in ammatory action on the immune system, and increase energy, which in turn supports the body to repair and rejuvenate more effectively”, she says.

It’s also believed by some to be an effective antimicrobial. Turkerman cites a 2014 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology in which “commercially sold bee pollen showed potent antimicrobial activity against bacteria and viruses”. Owing to this, plus its anti-in ammatory properties, “it’s excellent for skin conditions such as acne and eczema, while its enzyme, antioxidant, vitamin and mineral-rich components can work together for an overall anti-ageing action,” adds Turkerman.

While she supports the use of bee pollen for skin health, Turkerman points out that it’s not a proven treatment so there isn’t a standard recommended dose. “Many people take an eighth to a quarter of a teaspoon of bee pollen daily in powder form, while capsules usually contain 500 to 1000mg. The recommended dosage for these is one or two 500mg capsules a day,” she advises. However, she starts clients off on half a teaspoon per day. “It’s best to gradually increase the dose while keeping a daily record of symptoms,” she says.