What you should (and shouldn’t) be doing
Priyanka Gupta, ND
Popping all your supplements right before bed sounds like a good idea, right? Here's why it might not be.
You take care in choosing the right supplements.* But are you taking them at the right time—and with the right foods or other supplements? Toying with your supplement timing and learning how to play matchmaker could help you get a whole lot more out of these health helpers. *At least, we hope you do. If you’re still hella confused about which supplements you absolutely need to take, check out our ultimate guide to supplements.
Multis contain an array of vital nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Vitamins contained in your daily multi can be fat soluble (like vitamins D and E) or water soluble (like the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C). Fat-soluble vitamins are dissolved in fat, then delivered by your bloodstream. Excess vitamins are stored in your liver for future use. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and aren’t stored by your body. They have to be replenished every day.
Pop your multi within 30 minutes of a meal to help aid digestion and boost the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Don’t take your multi too close to bedtime. Vitamins B12 and C, found in most multivitamins, can have stimulating, sleep-disrupting effects.
Direct sun is one source of vitamin D; however, it’s easier for those with paler skin to produce vitamin D. A fair-skinned person can produce an adequate amount of vitamin D in 15 minutes of sunshine exposure, whereas a dark-skinned person could take up to two hours—and that’s without sunscreen.
Studies have shown that vitamin D3 decreases mortality. And, according to one study, vitamin D3 is about 87 percent more effective in raising and maintaining vitamin D concentrations than vitamin D2. A recent study verified that vitamin D3 is more effective than vitamin D2 at maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D over the winter.
Although vitamin D can be taken with food or on an empty stomach, taking it with dinner rather than breakfast may increase your absorption. Take vitamin D in the form you prefer: capsule, tablet, drops or liquid.
Calcium supplements have long been synonymous with bone health. They’re also important for strong muscles and a healthy heart. A low intake of calcium and vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis in both women and men. Another group that may be deficient in calcium is nine- to 18-year-old girls.
Spread out calcium intake, as the body can’t absorb a large amount all at once. Take no more than 500 mg at a time.
Don’t take calcium with any other mineral supplements or with a multivitamin. If you’re on any medication, consult your health care practitioner before taking calcium; many medications compete with calcium for absorption.
One of the most underrated minerals responsible for numerous cellular functions is—you guessed it—magnesium. Magnesium is required for vitamin D absorption, heartbeat and blood sugar regulation and healthy nerve and muscle functioning. Since intestinal absorption tends to decrease with age, magnesium is essential for older adults.
Magnesium supplements that can be applied to the skin are an option for people who find oral magnesium supplements irritate their intestinal lining. Leg cramps often experienced by pregnant women or at nighttime can respond well to topical magnesium gel as well. Otherwise, choose from capsules, chewable tablets, sprays, liquids and oils.
Take magnesium with food and apart from other minerals.
Probiotics are all the rage because of their beneficial effects on the digestive and immune systems. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria are two popular strains of probiotic bacteria, but note that certain conditions respond better to certain probiotics. To help ensure probiotics survive stomach acid for delivery to the intestines, researchers have developed a coating that is both heat and acid stable.
A benefit of liquid probiotics is that liquids distribute healthy bacteria all along the digestive tract. However, most liquid preparations require refrigeration; otherwise, the supplement will lose its potency.
Take probiotics with a meal containing healthy fats, or 30 minutes before the meal, for best absorption.
If you suspect you’re anemic, confirm you have an iron deficiency via a blood test by your health care practitioner. A blood test can determine the true level of iron in your blood and whether you need an iron supplement. Professional guidance is important, as excess iron intake can be harmful. Tablets and liquid are two go-to types of iron supplements.
Take iron with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, as vitamin C helps the body absorb iron in the gut and regulates iron uptake and metabolism. Take iron with food to reduce the risk of an upset stomach.
Don’t take calcium supplements at the same time as iron supplements or iron-rich foods; calcium can decrease iron absorption.