Make Vitamins Effective

Whether it’s to fight the common cold, fall asleep quicker, or fill nutrient gaps, everyone has their reasons for taking supplements.

Whatever your reasons may be, you owe it to yourself to make the supplements you do take effective as possible. Here are six ways to make your supplements work harder for you.

1. Take Some with Food

Taking certain vitamins and minerals with food decreases stomach irritability and increases their absorption.

Take calcium for example. The two main forms of calcium in supplements are carbonate and citrate. Calcium carbonate is dependent on stomach acid for absorption and is therefore absorbed more efficiently when taken with food.

Calcium citrate, on the other hand, is absorbed equally well when taken with or without food, but calcium carbonate is more commonly available.

2. Eat Some with Fat

There are two categories of vitamins: fat soluble or water soluble. The fat soluble vitamins — A, D, E and K — require fat for absorption, whereas the water soluble vitamins — C and B — don’t.

Therefore it’s best to take the fat soluble vitamins with a meal containing some dietary fat to efficiently absorb them.

Vitamin D for example, is best absorbed with low-to-moderate amounts of fat. Research showed that 11 grams of fat — equivalent to about two whole eggs — led to a higher absorption than 35 grams or 0 grams of fat.

2. Timing Matters

Remembering to take your vitamins is just as important as when you take them — at least for some.

Magnesium is an essential mineral that’s involved in over 300 reactions in the body. It’s best taken taken before bed as it calms your muscles and nervous system in preparation for sleep.

Conversely, there are anecdotal reports that vitamin D might disrupt sleep if taken later in the evening, so it might be better taken in the morning as a precaution.

3. Less Is More

Vitamin C is a popular supplement used to boost immunity. And while regular vitamin C supplementation may moderately reduce the duration and severity of the common cold, more is not always better.

Less than 50 percent of vitamin C is absorbed at intakes above one gram, so it’s best to supplement in smaller, more frequent doses.

The same is true for calcium; as the amount increases, the percentage of absorption decreases. Absorption is highest in doses less than or equal to 500 mg.

4. Know How They Interact with Medications

Supplements, namely herbal, have the potential to interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications. These interactions can make one or the other less or more effective.

For example, St. John’s wort, a herb used to treat anxiety and mild to moderate depression, can weaken many prescription medications such as birth control pills, some cancer medications, and antidepressants.

Other supplements, however, may work synergistically with drugs. Supplementing with coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) may prevent the muscle and joint aches that are common with cholesterol-lowering statins.

5. Look for 3rd Party Seals

Contrast to the rumors, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate dietary supplements. These regulations, however, are different and less strict than prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

But this does not mean that supplement manufacturers do not perform testing or that products are unsafe.

If you’re still doubtful, look for brands that carry the seal of USP or NSF. These are third party nonprofit organizations that ensure a supplement contains what it claims, without impurities.

Products without these seals are not necessarily inferior, but they may not have been tested.


Gavin Van De Walle, MS
Gavin Van De Walle, MS

Gavin Van De Walle, M.S. is the president of Supra Nutrition and a consultant for dietary supplement formulations. He is formally trained in human nutrition and bioenergetics.

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