Singaporeans aren’t known to be particularly healthy, so it might surprise you to know that we spent $490 million on vitamins and other supplements last year, according to consumer research firm Euromonitor.
That’s more than the amount the government is spending on active ageing initiatives this year, by the way. Makes you wonder if we need to be spending that much, doesn’t it?
Here’s a closer look at the facts behind various health supplements in Singapore and how you can budget for the ones you (really) need.
Do Singaporeans really need health supplements?
Health supplements (also known as dietary or nutritional supplements) are products we eat in addition to food to make up for a lack in our diets or to enhance our health.
In tablets, capsules, powders, drinks or bars, they can be vitamins, minerals, herbs or specialty products like glucosamine, probiotics, and fish oils.
You might need health supplements if:
- your diet is less than balanced – you don’t eat vegetables or meat, or have food allergies
- your meals are not entirely nutritious – you eat out too much (hawker meals tend to be high in refined carbs and fats, and low in vegetables)
- you’re in a stage of your life where you might need more nutrition – when you’re very young, very old, sick, recovering from surgery or pregnant
Because health supplements are not medicine, they are not licensed by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), nor are they assessed for their effectiveness before they’re sold in Singapore.
This means the onus is on you to do the research. You don’t want to risk overdosing on the wrong supplements, because certain nutrients in excess can actually harm your health.
10 common health supplements in Singapore and who they’re for
|Supplement||Who might need it|
|Vitamin B12||Vegans and vegetarians, people over 50 years old|
|Vitamin D||Babies, postmenopausal women, people who are often indoors|
|Folic acid||Pregnant women, women planning to get pregnant|
|Iron||People with anaemia, some pregnant women|
|Calcium||Vegans, people with osteoporosis, people who cannot absorb calcium well|
|Collagen||People with joint pain|
|Omega-3 fatty acids||Those with heart disease or heart failure|
|Glucosamine||People with osteoarthritis (OA) or joint pain from arthritis|
|Probiotics||People with poor gut health e.g. diarrhoea, vomitting|
Vitamin B12 supplements – for vegans & vegetarians
Vitamin Bs, especially B12, are important for brain function, keeping blood cells healthy, making DNA, boosting energy and strengthening the immune and nervous systems.
Animal foods such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and milk products are the main source of vitamin B12. So, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, you may need Vitamin B12 supplements or food fortified with it.
People over 50 years old, regardless of diet, might also need B12 supplements as they may not absorb enough B12 in the food they eat.
Here are some sample prices for Vitamin B12 supplements in Singapore.
|Vitamin B12 supplements||Price|
|Natrol, Vitamin B12, Strawberry Flavor, 5000 mcg, (100 tablets)||$8.98|
|Sundown Naturals B12 High Potency Time Release 1000Mcg (120 Tablets)||$13.50|
|Holland & Barrett Vitamin B12 100ug (100 tablets)||$17.90|
|Guardian Vitamin B Complex (60 tablets)||$11.90|
|Appelin B12 Syrup (150ml)||$14.50|
|Blackmores Multi B Tablets (60 tablets)||$21|
|ENZYMATIC B12 Infusion 1,000 mcg Chewables (30 Tablets)||$28.10|
|Holistic Way Vitamin B12 1000mcg (90 per pack)||$29|
|Blackmores Executive B (60 pills)||$31|
|Ocean Health B Complex (60 capsules)||$43|
Vitamin D supplements – for calcium absorption
Vitamin D aids calcium absorption. Apart getting it through fatty fish (salmon, tuna, fish liver oil), your body also makes the vitamin when you’re exposed to sunlight. Living in Singapore, this shouldn’t be a problem for most.
Babies who are breastfed, partially breastfed, or don’t drink a lot of milk/formula (less than 1 litre a day) might need Vitamin D supplements to help with their calcium absorption.
Vitamin D can strength bones and reduce the risk of fractures, so postmenopausal women may also want to take this supplement.
However, too much Vitamin D supplements over a long period can cause calcium build-up in the body leading to weakened bones and damage to the kidneys and heart.
Here’s a look at how much Vitamin D supplements can cost here.
|Vitamin D supplements||Price|
|Gummi King, Vitamin D (60 gummies)||$4.96|
|Sundown Naturals Cranberry + Vitamin D 1000Iu (150 per pack)||$8.00|
|Now Foods Vitamin D-3 2000 IU (120 Softgels)||$8.90|
|Solgar Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) 1000 IU (90 tablets)||$13.00|
|Colief Vitamin D3 Drops 65 g||$15.12|
|Ocean Health Vitamin D3 1000IU (90 tablets)||$19.90|
|Blackmores Vitamin D3 1000 IU (60 per pack)||$20.00|
|Kordel’s Vitamin D 1000IU + Flaxseed Oil (90 per pack)||$25.00|
|Nature’s Essentials Vitamin D3 (100 per pack)||$29.90|
|Fitness Pharma Vitamin D3 (90 Tablets)||$30.90|
|Holland & Barrett Fast Acting Liquid Vitamin D3 60ml||$34.90|
Folic acid supplements – for pregnant women
Folic acid is actually a type of Vitamin B, and it’s known to reduce the risk of some birth defects. As such, pregnant women (or those planning to get pregnant) might want to take folic acid supplements. They are inexpensive and can be easily found online on sites like iHerb.
|Folic acid supplements||Price|
|Sundown Naturals, Folic Acid, 800 mcg (100 tablets)||$2.40|
|21st Century, Folic Acid, 800 mcg (180 tablets)||$3.74|
|Nature’s Way, Folic Acid, 800 mcg (100 capsules)||$4.42|
|Now Foods, Folic Acid with Vitamin B-12, 800 mcg (250 tablets)||$4.78|
|Natural Factors, Folic Acid, 1000 mcg (90 tablets)||$5.57|
|Guardian Folic Acid 5mg (60 tablets)||$10.50|
|Solgar, Folic Acid, 800 mcg, (250 tablets)||$10.80|
|Swanson Folic Acid 800 Mcg (250 per pack)||$12|
|Blackmores Folate 90’S (Folic Acid)||$15|
|GNC Folic Acid 800 (100 Tablets)||$17.50|
|Nature’s Plus Folic Acid 800 mcg (90 tablets)||$18.90|
|GreenLife Folic Acid (100 capsules)||$19.80|
|Holistic Way Folic Acid 1mg 100’s Tablets||$22.00|
Iron supplements – for those who are anaemic
Unlike the vitamin supplements listed above, iron supplements are a mineral supplement. Minerals are nutrients you need in very small amounts, so not many healthy people actually suffer from mineral deficiencies.
Iron supplements are probably the most common of mineral supplements. Getting sufficient iron is necessary for normal cellular and hormonal function, but you shouldn’t be taking iron supplements unless specifically ordered by a doctor to do so.
Usually, doctors only prescribe this to people diagnosed with anaemia and some pregnant women.
Overdosing on iron supplements can be dangerous because the body can’t eliminate it. Too much iron can damage the liver and possibly the pancreas and heart.
|Doctor’s Best, High Absorption Iron With Ferrochel, 27 mg (120 tablets)||$7.30|
|Now Foods, Iron, Double Strength, 36 mg (90 Veg capsules)||$8.99|
|Sundown Naturals Iron Ferrous Sulfate 65Mg (120 tablets)||$10.00|
|Nature’s Plus, Chewable Iron, Cherry Flavor (90 tablets)||$12.88|
|Solgar, Gentle Iron, 25 mg (180 vegetable capsules)||$15.68|
|Swanson Iron Glycinate (Chelated Mineral) 18 Mg (180 per pack)||$15.90|
|Holland & Barrett Iron + C 100 Tablets||$20.90|
|Flora, Floradix Iron Tablets Supplement (120 tablets)||$25.99|
|Spatone Liquid Iron Supplement Apple 28s||$26.60|
|GNC Women’s Iron Complete 30mg (60 capsules)||$27.95|
|Shaklee Vita-Lea® Iron Formula (120 tablets)||$58.80|
Calcium supplements – for bone health
Calcium needs no introduction. From a young age, we all get it hammered into our heads that it’s crucial for strong bones.
Those with osteoporosis would naturally consider taking calcium supplements. But you might also consider if you follow a vegan diet (unless it’s high in plant-based calcium sources) or a high-protein, high-sodium diet (which may cause the body to excrete more calcium).
People who suffer from Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease may also want calcium supplements, as these conditions limit the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Actually, research remains divided on the need for calcium supplements. There are some indications that calcium supplements may not get into the bone but to soft tissues instead, increasing the risk of heart disease and kidney stones.
Proceed with caution as overdosing on calcium supplements can result in nausea, loss of appetite, constipation and impaired iron absorption.
|21st Century, Calcium 500 + D3 (400 caplets)||$8.49|
|Source Naturals, Calcium Hydroxyapatite (120 capsules)||$12.25|
|Holland & Barrett Chewable Calcium 500mg (100 tablets)||$17.90|
|Garden of Life, Living Calcium Advanced (120 caplets)||$18.80|
|Now Foods, Coral Calcium Plus (250 veg capsules)||$20.38|
|Ocean Health Calcium Plus-RX 60’s1||$21.60|
|Country Life, Target-Mins, Calcium-Magnesium Complex (360 tablets)||$24.30|
|Kordel’s Organic Calcium 60s||$28.40|
|GNC Coral Calcium (180 capsules)||$68.50|
Collagen supplements – to ease joint pain
Collagen supplements are a faddish health supplement that’s popular at the moment. It can come in powder form, bars, drinks or pills and is said to improve your skin, hair and nails.
Our bodies naturally produce collagen, a structural protein found in connective tissues, skin, hair, muscles, bones and blood vessels. As we age, we may produce less of it. That’s why people think they need collagen supplements.
However, any collagen you eat will simply be digested like any other protein. There is no way to make it go to trouble spots like wrinkled skin or brittle hair and nails. Some studies show collagen supplements may help joint pain, while benefits to skin, hair and nails tend to be anecdotal.
Despite the lack of proof of its efficacy, collagen supplements are nonetheless pricey:
|Neocell, Marine Collagen (120 capsules)||$17.23|
|AFC Hanamai Collagen Powder (Porcine) 30 Sachets||$23.00|
|TruLife Collagen Cell Renew 10 x 50 ml||$37.60|
|New Moon Inner Radiance Collagen Drink 10 x 50 ml||$39.50|
|GreenLife Collagen 500mg (60caps)||$55.00|
|Kinohimitsu Marine Collagen Powder 180g||$59.90|
|Holistic Way Joint Collagen (60)||$65.00|
|Kinohimitsu Collagen Diamond Drink 16 x 50ml||$69.90|
|Holland and Barrett Marine Collagen (60 capsules)||$70.90|
Omega-3 fatty acids – for heart disease
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids which are part of your cell membranes.Your body can’t produce them. Instead, most people get these from foods rich in them, such as fatty fish and flaxseed.
They’re vital for hormone production, and promote heart health, improve skin and hair and can enhance brain development and memory. There’s a bit of hype around Omega-3 fatty acids being able to keep heart problems and stroke at bay. However, they may be suitable for those who have recently suffered a heart failure or who already have heart disease.
Pick Omega-3 fatty acids supplements with DHA and EPA, the key fatty acids in the group.
|Omega-3 fatty acids supplements||Price|
|California Gold Nutrition, Omega-3, Premium Fish Oil (100 fish gelatin softgels)||$6.95|
|21st Century, Fish Oil, Omega-3, 1000 mg (300 softgels)||$12.74|
|Ocean Health Omega 3 Fish Oil 1000mg (60)||$21.60|
|Now Foods, Ultra Omega-3, 500 EPA/250 DHA (180 softgels)||$26.39|
|Holistic Way Omega-3 Premium Fish Oil 1000mg (150 softgels)||$48.00|
|GreenLife Vita-Omega 3·6·9 (210 Mini softgels)||$55.00|
|Holland & Barrett Omega 3 Fish Oil Concentrate 350 Capsules 1000mg||$54.90|
|GNC DHA 600 (60 Softgels)||$62.50|
Glucosamine supplements – for joint pain
Glucosamine is an amino sugar that plays an important role in building cartilage. It occurs naturally in the fluid around joints, in animal bones and bone marrow, shellfish and fungi.
This is for people with osteoarthritis (OA) or arthritis seeking relief from joint pain. However, studies show that the benefits are still small and require more research. Those with shellfish allergies should avoid this supplement as some glucosamine is derived from shellfish.
|Now Foods, Glucosamine & Chondroitin with MSM, (90 capsules)||$14.38|
|21st Century Glucosamine & Chondroitin Plus (60)||$20.00|
|MRM, Glucosamine Chondroitin (180) Capsules||$21.10|
|Now Foods, Glucosamine & Chondroitin with MSM, (180 capsules)||$26.38|
|Doctor’s Best, Glucosamine Chondroitin MSM with OptiMSM (240 Veggie Caps)||$26.45|
|Solgar, Glucosamine Hyaluronic Acid Chondroitin MSM (120 tablets)||$39.68|
|Holland & Barrett Glucosamine Sulphate 1000mg (60 caplets)||$40.90|
|Glucosamine Sulfate 1500 (90 tablets)||$69.00|
|GNC Glucosamine 750 Chondroitin 600 (60 tablets)||$82.50|
|Blackmores Glucosamine Sulphate 1500mg (180 tablets)||$116.00|
Probiotics – for gut health and healthy digestion
Probiotics are the good bacteria that promote healthy digestive functions. Yes, these are the live cultures that are found in yoghurt and other fermented foods like kimchi too.
If your diet lacks fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fermented foods, and you have poor gut health (e.g. diarrhoea, vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome), you might consider taking probiotics. That said, getting probiotics from food sources isn’t difficult either.
You may also want to consider taking probiotics if you’ve recently taken a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics wipe out your gut flora, so probiotics can help restore your digestive health more effectively.
|Nature’s Bounty, Acidophilus Probiotic (120 tablets)||$6.72|
|Natrol, Acidophilus Probiotic (150 capsules)||$6.80|
|Blackmores Kids Probiotics Powder (20 per pack)||$19.50|
|PNKids Probiotics (60 per pack)||$34.90|
|21st Century 50 Billion Probiotics (30 per pack)||$34.95|
|BIOGAIA (30) Probiotic Chewable Tablets||$45.00|
|GNC Probiotic Fast Stix Mixed Berry (30 packets)||$59.95|
|LACTOGG Probiotic Lactobacillus GG (30 per pack)||$62.01|
Ginkgo supplements – for the elderly
This is the leaf of the ginkgo biloba tree. Studies show that gingko supplements can improve blood circulation, which might help the brain, eyes, ears, and legs function better; and may slow down Alzheimer’s and dementia (though not prevent them). So it is sometimes recommended for the elderly.
|California Gold Nutrition, Ginkgo Biloba Extract, EuroHerbs, 120 mg (60 veggie caps)||$7.95|
|Nature’s Answer, Ginkgo, Alcohol-Free, 500 mg, 2 fl oz (60 ml)||$16.24|
|Eu Yan Sang EOC with Gingko Nut Extract||$25.50|
|Guardian Gingko 3000Mg + Brahmi (60 tablets)||$28.90|
|Ocean Health Ginkgo Omega Alertness Formula (60)||$29.90|
|Nature’s Way, Ginkgold, Memory & Concentration, 60 mg (150 tablets)||$33.03|
|Green Life Gingko 5000 Plus (60 caps)||$50|
Health supplements you probably don’t need
If you’re wondering why some of the more common health supplements aren’t featured in this article, here are the notable exceptions we’ve left off the list…
Vitamin C: Research has revealed that Vitamin C, the most popular of individual vitamin supplements, may not actually prevent a cold or help you get over one faster. Sleeping and eating well, staying hydrated and keeping clean are boring but probably better ways to keep your immune system working.
Multivitamins: While seemingly the best choice because it covers all the important vitamins and more, may not actually have much benefit because they tend to contain vitamins you may not be deficient in, while at the same time having too low a dose of those you need to be helpful.
Immunity boosters: The immune system is a complex thing because it isn’t a single entity but an entire system, so again, stick to practising good healthy habits rather than trying to get a quick fix. Also, doctors aren’t entirely sure if something that raises antibody levels actually benefits the overall system.
Energy boosters: Not necessary as food is your best source of energy. Eating whole grains and nuts as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables are nature’s fix for fatigue.
Supplements for eye health: These supplements are a combination of Vitamin C, E, beta carotene and zinc, and are usually prescribed by doctors only for those who already experience vision loss. There’s no proof that such supplements can prevent vision problems.
Where to buy affordable health supplements in Singapore
Before you click “buy” on that dodgy Qoo10 listing, here are some other options for you to buy affordable health supplements.
iHerb: A massive range of cheap health supplements – virtually every type – on this international website. iHerb usually has the best prices, but to avoid expensive shipping costs, you might want to combine orders with your friends.
Redmart: Surprisingly, Singapore’s online supermarket has a good range of health supplements at reasonable prices. It’s not quite iHerb, but it’s a good enough selection, and everything is shipped from Singapore so you don’t need to wait ages for the shipment.
Pharmacies: Guardian, Watsons and Unity Pharmacy all sell supplements, if you’d like to inspect the product in store. However, these are usually pricier than those bought online.
Supplement stores: Stores like GNC and Holland & Barrett specialise in supplements of all types, and carry more of the atas brands. But these are also the most expensive places to buy health supplements.
Do you take any health supplements? Share your experiences with us in the comments!