Vitamin D supplements help improve mental performance in young people

Vitamin D

Supplementing with vitamin D helps adolescents solve cognitively challenging tasks more easily and improves their mental well-being, according to a Norwegian study.

Young people perform better in cognitively challenging tests, have improved mental health and fewer self-reported behavioral problems when their blood levels of vitamin D are higher. Norwegian scientists demonstrated this in an intervention study of 50 male and female volunteers aged 13-14 years who received a vitamin D supplement (D3-Pearls from Pharma Nord) or a placebo.

The aim of the study was to investigate if vitamin D supplementation could affect executive functioning and self-perceived mental health in a group of Norwegian adolescents. Executive functions are mental skills that involve mental control and self-regulation. The randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial is published in the science journal Scandinavian Journal of Psychology.

Better at solving problems

The study was conducted during the winter period, as this is the time of the year where northern Europeans typically have low vitamin D levels. Before and after supplementation, both vitamin D and placebo groups were asked to perform different types of problem solving that involved strategic thinking and planning. The participants were also asked to self-report behaviors such as irritability, aggression, and rule-breaking conduct.

The Norwegian scientists observed that the vitamin D levels in the treatment group went up significantly (a 40 percent increase from baseline), showing that the supplement had good absorption. The vitamin D group performed better than the placebo group, especially in terms of solving challenging mental tasks.

Important for brain development

There is already solid evidence showing that vitamin D plays an important role in brain development, cognitive functioning, and mental health, findings all of which are supported by the new study. The researchers specifically link low vitamin D levels to an impaired ability to maintain concentration and to worse social behavior. This new study points to the importance of ensuring an adequate vitamin D status in young people.


Grung B, et al., ”Linking vitamin D status, executive functioning and self-perceived mental health in adolescents through multivariate analysis: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Scand J Psych. 2017;58(2):123–130

March 2017

Sleeping Advice - How many of us have difficulty sleeping?

How many of us have difficulty sleeping?

If you have difficulty getting to sleep at night, you're not alone (even though you might feel like it at the time)! A report for the British sleep council in 2013 showed that around 27% of us in the UK get poor quality sleep on a regular basis (with 5% saying that they sleep very poorly) (1).

The consequences of poor quality sleep are accumulative and will get worse until they're addressed (2). An occasional bad night's sleep may make you feel irritable, while several nights of poor sleep can cause poor concentration, alertness, decision making as well as a low mood. You may find it will impact your workouts and may even find it hard to manage weight.

Worryingly, lack of sleep over a period of time can lead to more severe health problems such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

What are the benefits of a good nights sleep?

Getting a great night's sleep comes with it some fantastic benefits! As well as having a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease, you may also experience

  • Better weight management
  • Improved mental health and cognitive function
  • Improved energy
  • Increased fertility and libido

The foundation of good sleep

Figuring out what is disturbing your sleep goes a long way to tackling the problem. If you experience anxiety or racing thoughts before bed, winding down before you attempt to sleep could be a great idea. Do this in whatever way suits and relaxes you. Perhaps listening to soothing music, reading a book, writing down the thoughts that are on your mind or even a nice warm bath.

Making your bedroom a haven of calm and free from distraction has been shown to have a major impact in the quality of our sleep, especially when initially nodding off. Try making your bedroom tidy, dark and a comfortable temperature. Block out lights such as street lights if possible, with thick curtains or blackout blinds. Keeping a regular sleeping time can also help your body get used to the pattern, and can help tell your brain that it's time to shut off.

Finally, try to keep your bedroom associated with sleep and relaxation by removing TVs, game consoles, and limit your use of electronic devices such as tablets and smart-phones before sleep.

Diet and exercise

Caffeine close to bedtime is obviously detrimental to sleep quality for most people. Tea and coffees should be limited, though you may find relaxing, caffeine -free teas teas such as camomile or valerian useful for nodding off. Don't have more than a small cup though, as frequent bathrooms breaks are definitely sleep-disruptive. Caffeine can be found in less obvious places, like soft drinks, chocolate and medication (such as combined for paracetamol for example), so watch out for those. Though it may help many of us get to sleep, alcohol has been shown to reduce the quality of the sleep we do eventually get.

Regular exercise is fantastic for sleep quality, but try to avoid rigorous activity close to bed time as it could have the opposite effect and be too stimulating. Light exercise, like yoga and stretching, are trusted ways to unwind.

Sleep and kiwi

Kiwi fruits are presently being investigated for their ability to aid a restful sleep, with promising results. In one study, consumption of two kiwi fruits an hour before bed may shorten the time it takes to attain a restful sleep, while improving its duration and quality (3). It is theorized that these properties come from a range of bioactive compounds found in the fruit, including serotonin (which the body can convert to melatonin, the sleep hormone).

Sleep and cherry juice

Speaking of melatonin, tart Montmorency cherries have been reported to contain high levels of it, along with other phytochemicals. One 2012 study compared a group of volunteers who took cherry juice to a placebo group, in terms of sleep. The cherry juice group reported more effective sleep, increased bed in time, total sleep time and an elevated melatonin levels compared to the placebo group (4).

The importance of magnesium supplementation for sleep

Magnesium is a key mineral in our bodies, used for over 300 enzyme functions. Primarily, it's necessary for muscle and nerve function, can relax muscles and calm the nervous system. When we have enough of it, it can be great for stress relief and reduction of anxiety. Magnesium insufficiency on the other hand, can be highly disruptive to sleep.

The research of magnesium and sleep

Magnesium can greatly improve sleep, and the body of evidence to support this is ever growing. In several studies, magnesium supplementation decreased insomnia severity, improved the length of sleep and decreased the time it took participants to achieve a full sleep (5, 6).

Magnesium can also help correct the negative impact a bad night's sleep can have on exercise and sports performance. In one study, sleep deprived participants who consumed oral magnesium supplements had better exercise tolerance than those who consumed no magnesium at all (7).

Magnesium is often consumed to reduce severity of restless leg syndrome, which is a common reason for difficulty getting to sleep, especially as we age. Restless leg syndrome (also known as Willis-Ekbom disease) effects the nervous system and can be described as an overwhelming urge to move and jerk the legs.

Which magnesium supplement to choose from?

When choosing magnesium supplements, absorption is key. As with most supplements, how well our body breaks down the supplement into its individual molecules is a determining factor for how well our bodies can absorb and use it. There are many different types of magnesium, with the most common form in supplements being magnesium oxide. This form unfortunately is one of the lesser absorbed magnesium forms out there. Supplements with multiple magnesium sources and that are designed to absorb well in the gut are ideal choices.

Personally, I take Pharma Nord's Bio-Magnesium, which a multi-sourced magnesium that absorbs fantastically. I dissolve it a glass of water and drink it, because it's so bioavailable.


Constantly struggling with sleep can be more than frustrating, it can be incredibly detrimental to your health! The great news is, you're not alone, and there are many tips to help address it, some you may have have thought of before!

References/Further Reading

1. [Internet]. 2017 [cited 16 January 2017]. Available from:

2. Why lack of sleep is bad for your health [Internet]. 2017 [cited 16 January 2017]. Available from:

3.Lin H, Tsai P, Fang S, Liu J. Effect of kiwifruit consumption on sleep quality in adults with sleep problems. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition. 2011 Jun 15 [cited 2017 Jan 17];20(2):169–74. Available from:

4. Howatson G, Bell P, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh M, Ellis J. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. European journal of nutrition. 2011 Nov 1 [cited 2017 Jan 19];51(8):909–16. Available from:

5.Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi M, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. 2013 Jul 16 [cited 2017 Jan 17];17(12):1161–9. Available from:

6. Held K, Antonijevic I, Künzel H, Uhr M, Wetter T, Golly I, Steiger A, Murck H. Oral mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2002 Aug 7 [cited 2017 Jan 17];35(4):135–43. Available from:

6. Tanabe K, Yamamoto A, Suzuki N, Osada N, Yokoyama Y, Samejima H, Seki A, Oya M, Murabayashi T, Nakayama M, Yamamoto M, Omiya K, Itoh H, Murayama M. Efficacy of oral magnesium administration on decreased exercise tolerance in a state of chronic sleep deprivation. JAPANESE CIRCULATION JOURNAL. 1998 [cited 2017 Jan 17];62(5):341–6. Available from: doi: 10.1253/jcj.62.341.

March 2017

Diabetes is on the increase

Sugar is headline news, nearly ever day there is another story outlining the danger of sugar on the country’s health. It doesn’t help that sugar could be seen as an addictive substance, resulting in the release of mood enhancing substances (serotonin and beta endorphin neurotransmitters) in the brain.


Whether it’s in the form of sweet treats, processed foods or drinks the result of excessive intake is the same; one third of the UK population are now classified as pre-diabetic. In fact, research from Diabetes UK showed that in 2016 the number of people living with diabetes reached over 4 million, an increase of more than 65% over the past decade. It is also thought that there are over half a million people with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes.

What the government says

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recently stated that sugar is the number one nutritional issue, this follows on from research by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). Both recommend that the amount of sugar consumed needs to reduce to help address the growing obesity and diabetes crises and to reduce the risk of tooth decay. The high intake of dietary sugar, as well as increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes also increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and even some cancers, and is also (in part) responsible for the rising levels of obesity.

GlucoControl InfoGraphic

Dietary considerations

Many risk factors for the occurrence of type 2 diabetes are out of our hands, such as age, ethnicity and family history. Luckily, what we eat is in our control and these dietary changes can help us limit our risk.

In terms of sugar consumption, the World Health Organisation has recommended that daily sugar intakes should be no more than 5% of total calorie intake (approximately 25g/day for an adult). Starchy carbohydrates (wholegrain breads, whole wheat pasta, brown rice etc) are generally more slowly absorbed than their counterparts, making you feel fuller for longer and steadying blood sugar levels.

Adequate fruit and vegetable intake is vital, but the emphasis should be on vegetables. Vegetables offer a high density of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and typically low instrinsic sugar. Fibre rich foods, healthy fats (such as oily fish) and lean protein are all healthy additions to a diet. More information can be found at


Type 2 diabetes and obesity

If you’re overweight or obese, you may be at higher risk of type two diabetes, as the pancreas struggles to produce enough insulin for the body’s needs. Fat tissue stored around the abdomen especially contributes to diabetes risk as it is considered highly hormonally active. This tissue has been shown to produce pro-inflammatory compounds known as cytokines, which can cause pancreatic issues including diabetes. Working towards reducing this excess weight through exercise and healthy eating choices can significantly lower you diabetes risk.

If you’re unsure if you’re classified as overweight or not, seek a health professional such as your GP for an accurate measurement. Most health professionals will take a BMI measurement, but this is falling out of favour as it doesn’t take into account lean muscle mass (so athletic and muscular individuals may be incorrectly read as overweight or obese)! The hip to waist ratio measurement is a much more accurate measurement for obesity, is inexpensive, non invasive and is becoming a more popular method of assessment with health practitioners.

To calculate your waist-to-hip ratio you need to measure your hips, measure your waist and divide the waist number by the hip number. According to the NHS, a ratio of 1.0 or more in men or 0.85 or more in women indicates you are carrying too much weight around the abdomen.


Insulin production

What else you can do to reduce your risk?

There are natural steps that can be taken to control blood glucose levels and to ensure that we can make the most of available sugars in our foods. Research published in Panminerva Medica in June 2014 showed that an extract of maqui berries known as Delphinol® can lower blood glucose, by reducing the speed at which glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream from the digestive tract. The active ingredient delphinidin was shown to inhibit the sodium glucose co-transporter (SGLT), which facilitates the uptake of glucose from food into the intestinal tissue and the blood, thus avoiding the sharp spikes in blood sugar which can result following eating.

Chromium deficiency?

The role of the trace mineral Chromium (found in small quantities of green leafy vegetables, poultry and nuts) in blood glucose management is well established. High blood sugar can also be a sign of chromium deficiency, and it can even resemble diabetes.

Adequate chromium intakes are necessary for optimum function of insulin and therefore, blood sugar regulation. Chromium status in individuals is difficult to determine, as there’s no biochemical marker that can reliably determine a person’s chromium status. When choosing to supplement with chromium, chloride or picolinate forms are common and typically have very low bioavailability (0.5-2%), meaning poor absorption from tablet to bloodstream.

ChromoPrecise®, a type of chromium yeast with up to ten times the bioavailability of chloride or picolinate forms, has been approved by The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) after extensive investigation. It has also been confirmed that ChromoPrecise® helps maintain healthy blood glucose levels.


Be sugar smart!

The unique solution for blood sugar management from Pharma Nord Bio-Gluco Control utilises both Delphinol® and ChromoPrecise® in a double action formula to make more efficient use of the sugar available in foods. It is recommended for those wishing to maintain a healthy weight; people suffering from fatigue and/or loss of concentration; those wishing to avoid energy highs and lows; and individuals dieting who need assistance to reduce cravings for sugary foods/carbohydrates and/or to prolong time between hunger pangs.

About the author


Frankie Brogan. ANutr. M.Sc. has worked in the health food industry for almost a decade and joined Pharma Nord earlier this year. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition with Ulster University and a bachelor’s degree in Food Quality, Safety and Nutrition from Queen’s University, Belfast. He is registered as an associate Nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition (AfN), which promotes professional, ethical and evidence-based practice amongst its members. Frankie is also a member of the Nutrition Society, an information resource for UK and Europe based nutrition professionals.

Frankie finds supplements to be the most fascinating area of nutrition, simply because the wide and ever growing range there is to choose from. With such an overflowing market, it’s rarely clear which supplements are the best for us. He has always relied on robust scientific evidence to help him decide which supplements he should recommend to his clients, or even take himself! One of the main reasons why Frankie says he was attracted to working with Pharma Nord is due to it being a company that produces respected, trusted and high quality products that are backed by years of scientific research.

March 2017

Osteoporosis drugs; not as straightforward as once thought

Osteoporosis - Vitamin D and Magnesium

Bisphosphonate drugs, commonly used to maintain bone density in osteoporosis patients, have recently become the subject of controversy. While they help maintain density of most bones, various studies show an increase in atypical femur fractures associated with their long term use.

Healthy bones are maintained through the break down of old bone cells which are then replaced with new healthy cells. Specialized cells called osteoclasts break the older bone down while their counterpart osteoblasts, build up the bone again with new healthy tissue. Bisphosphonate drugs absorb into the osteoclast cells, inhibiting their function which is the initial break down of cells. The result? Slower overall bone density loss.

Bisphosphonates decrease bone fractures of most bone types by 40% (and vertebrae fractures by over 50%). Prolonged use of these drugs (around 3 years plus) can cause an elevated risk in atypical fractures of the femur, studies show (1). The fracture begins with pain and unlike many other fractures, they don't need to be triggered by trauma or force (such as a fall). A recent study from the imperial college London found that the hip bones of those being treated with bisphosphonates had many micro-cracks and less mechanical strength (2).

Studies like these are gaining traction, making the future of bisphosphonate use unclear. With this in mind, what can be done to bring our bone density into our own hands?

Lifestyle and diet choices-Protecting your bone density

The best treatment is prevention, and this is especially applicable for osteoporosis. In our childhood/early adulthood, we build up bone density and this begins to decline from our mid 30s onwards. While it affects males and females, it's worth noting that women are especially susceptible to osteoporosis due to menopause (a decline in oestrogen production). Oestrogen has a calcium sparing effect, so when it declines during this natural process, bone density falls with it.

Being active can go a long way to maintain bone density, especially if weight-baring exercise is included (such as running or light weight lifting). According to the British Dietetic Association, both smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of osteoporosis as well (3).

A nutritionally dense diet containing adequate protein, zinc, calcium, magnesium and vitamin D and K can help ensure optimum bone density. Most of us obtain adequate calcium levels however, whereas both magnesium and vitamin D are common dietary insufficiencies.

Key for bone density; Vitamin D and Magnesium

Vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb calcium. Dietary vitamin D intakes (from sources like butter, eggs and fish) are typically inadequate, though ideally we would synthesize enough when our skin is exposed to UVB rays from sunlight. The issue is, many factors limit our exposure to sunlight including;

  • Age (our ability to synthesize vitamin D from sun declines).
  • Season and latitude – less sunlight in winter and in northern parts of the world
  • Ethnicity/ Skin pigmentation- darker skin requires more sunlight
  • Personal habits: regularly use of sunscreen or covering up

Presently, the UK government recommends that everyone should consider taking a vitamin D supplement, especially in winter months when sunlight is lowest. Due to being a fat soluble vitamin, vitamin D oil capsules absorb in the gut better than the common solid tablet form. Available in two chemical forms, the D3 form (cholecalciferol) is generally considered less toxic, better tolerated and more stable than D2 (ergocalciferol).

Magnesium is a key mineral used for over 300 enzyme functions in the body. It has several approved health claims in the EU including its contribution to the maintenance of normal bones. Most magnesium supplements are single sourced, which may not be well absorbed in the gut (a common example is magnesium oxide). A multi-sourced magnesium supplement is ideal as it will offer a balance of high magnesium content and good bioavailability.

Healthy bone habits

Osteoporosis treatments are more complex than once though, though there's healthy behaviours we can adopt to help maintain bone density as much as possible. Smoking cessation, appropriate alcohol consumption, keeping active (with weight baring exercise) and a healthy diet with key supplements are behaviours we could all learn to adopt for better bone health.

1. Strotman P, Lack W, Bernstein M, Stover M, Summers H. Evaluation of common fractures of the hip in the elderly. Current Geriatrics Reports. 2016 Feb 5;5(1):38–43.
2. Wighton K. Drug used to treat weak bones associated with micro-cracks. 2017 Mar 1 [cited 2017 Mar 2]. Available from:
3. [cited 2017 Mar 2]. Available from:

March 2017