From proper scheduling to mixing and matching the right combinations, these are the expert tips you should follow to get the most from any vitamins and minerals.
#1 Take them with food
The digestive process helps the body absorb vitamins and minerals. Taking supplements on a full stomach aids absorption and also helps prevent nausea, a common side effect. Of course, there are exceptions – in this case, it’s iron. Take it on an empty stomach for better absorption.
#2 How they work with medications
Vitamins and minerals can interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications, sometimes making one or the other less effective. For example, calcium may interfere with the absorption of levothyroxine, a thyroid medication. On the other hand, supplements sometimes help drugs work better. Studies show that antidepressants are more effective when taken with omega-3-rich fish oil. The worst-case scenario: when supplements excessively amplify a medication’s effects. For instance, fish oil, vitamin E and gingko are natural blood thinners, so if you take any of them together with an anticoagulant, your blood may become too thin, raising the risk for internal bleeding and haemorrhagic stroke. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for guidance before starting on any supplements.
#3 Pair them
There are vitamins and minerals that work well together. Vitamins D and K2 help calcium absorption, and vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. “In a study we did, taking iron with vitamin C boosted absorption and reduced side effects often seen with iron, such as constipation and nausea,” says Dr Chris D’Adamo, assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
#4 Keep these apart
Some vitamins and minerals are best taken separately. For example, zinc and copper – in large doses – compete with one another, as do iron and zinc. Calcium inhibits iron absorption, so take iron in the morning before eating, and calcium in the evenings, when it can calm your mood.
#5 Help them work well
The live bacteria and yeasts in probiotics aid digestion and help nutrients to assimilate. Plant-based digestive enzymes help with the absorption of nutrients that may normally get destroyed by stomach acid.
#6 How to store them
The cultures in probiotics need to be stored and shipped cold to stay active. Likewise, omega-3 fish oil tablets should be kept in a cool, dark place so they stay effective. Some experts even suggest freezing them for that reason. Check out these 10 foods you had no idea you could freeze.
#7 Go natural
While studies of vitamin E are mixed, it is a powerful antioxidant and should be taken in its natural rather than synthetic form, if possible. This way your body will get more of the good stuff. Look for ‘d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate’ on the label, which indicates that it is natural; ‘dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate’ indicates synthetic.
#8 Watch the caffeine
Your morning coffee may interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals and may also leach calcium from your bones. Minimise these risks by consuming no more than three cups a day, getting enough calcium plus vitamin D, and waiting about 15 minutes after your coffee to take your vitamins. Or if you need help losing weight, you could start with butter in your coffee.
#9 Schedule them
B Vitamins tend to give people energy and are best taken at the start of the day. Other supplements can make you drowsy, so are best taken in the evenings. Magnesium, for example, has a calming effect so is best taken at night.
#10 Consider vitamin form and function
Magnesium is one of the most underrated minerals, and many of us don’t get enough of it. The problem may be how you take your magnesium supplements, as certain minerals – including magnesium – may be easier to digest and absorb and less likely to degrade when taken in liquid form.
“If a vitamin is taken as a tablet or capsule, your body has to break it up to dissolve it, but when consumed as a liquid, you can bypass that step,” says nutrition and vitamin expert Dr Douglas MacKay.
That said, most forms of vitamins – even gummies – are created equally. “The choices are more about preferences, as some people can’t swallow these giant pills,” he says. Your best bet is to choose whichever form you are most comfortable with and make sure it contains all of the vitamins and minerals that you need.
This article first appeared on Reader's Digest.