When you take an array of supplements, it can get confusing on how to optimize the process. Do you take them all at once, wanting to get it over with, or do you procrastinate and end up forgetting to take any? However you roll with your vitamin plan, try these nine simple tips to make it more effective.
How to Absorb Vitamins Better
1. Take vitamins with food
In general, most vitamins are best taken with food. Consuming vitamins with meals or snacks let you leverage a cascade of digestive processes designed to help you absorb the nutrients in food. Most of it has to do with acid secretion in the stomach, which is critical to extract the nutrients from your supplement. These bile acids are the key to digestion—and absorption. Piggybacking on those processes means your vitamins will be better absorbed as well. Plus, B complex, iron and zinc must be taken with food to prevent nausea or an upset stomach.
2. Take herbs between meals
Herbs or botanical formulas are best taken in between meals for best absorption. Nearly all herbal products are taken on an empty stomach, any time from 2 hours after eating until 30 minutes before eating. This allows better absorption of the extract since it does not have to compete with food in your gut.
3. Leverage synergies
Many vitamins and minerals work particularly well when paired together. Try these winning combos:
- Iron absorption is enhanced when taking with vitamin C, or vitamin C rich foods like orange juice.
- Curcumin (a powerful anti-inflammatory compound from turmeric) is best absorbed with taken with black pepper.
- Your body can’t absorb calcium or magnesium without sufficient vitamin D. The synergy goes both ways: Magnesium can enhance vitamin D and calcium absorption. Vitamin D also supprots your kidneys’ ability to break down and recycle calcium that would otherwise be excreted.
- Taking lemon water with your vitamin B12 can enhance B12 absorption.
4. Avoid incompatible pairings
Just as some supplements go better together, others thrive when taken separately. Examples of supplements best taken alone:
- Avoid taking iron with calcium, as it can prevent calcium absorption.
- Take zinc and copper separately because they compete for the same receptors in the body. Note that taking high doses of zinc long term can cause a copper deficiency.
5. Titrate dosages
Take small amounts of minerals thought out the day rather than all once to enhance absorption. For instance, take 600 mg of calcium in the morning and 600 mg in the evening to get 1,200 mg of calcium per day.
6. Go double down on fat
Consuming fat-soluble vitamins with some fat is best for absorbing those fat-soluble nutrients.
Plan on taking fat-soluble vitamins—vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin E and lycopene—with a small amount of dietary fat, such as nuts, whole milk yogurt or toast with butter. If your diet does not include healthy fatty acids, your ability to store and break down these vitamins will be compromised.
7. Know medical interactions
Vitamins and minerals can interact with prescription and over-the-counter meds either rending each other less effective or amplifying the effects to the point of overdose. The vitamins and herbs compete for absorption with each other and interfere with certain medications. To avoid doing yourself inadvertent harm, it’s crucial to talk to your healthcare provider about everything you’re taking. For example, if you take blood thinners, avoid supplements that have a blood-thinning effect, such as vitamin K, omega-3s and ginkgo biloba, as they can decrease the potency of your medication.
8. Opt for probiotics
Probiotics are the “good” bugs in your body’s microbiome—the ecosystem made up of trillions of tiny microbes that live in your gut and all over your body. These good bugs help to protect you from germs, break down food, and even play a role in nutrient and vitamin absorption. By helping you digest and assimilate nutrients better, they can make your supplements more effective.
9. Minimize interference
Caffeine and alcohol, both diuretics can promote excretion of vitamins and minerals. In other words, you are more apt to pee out those expensive supplements, rather than absorb them. The tannins and caffeine found in coffee and tea can interfere with the absorption of many vitamins and minerals, especially iron. Best to stagger your daily cuppa with your supplements, so they don’t run interference with each other. And alcohol may intensify the swift breakdown of pills and capsules before they can get adequately assimilated, so wait 3 -4 hours after taking supplements before drinking alcohol.