Whether multivitamins and other dietary supplements are necessary for the general population is a source of debate.
Supplements remain recommended for certain populations with specific conditions — such as pregnant women, or children in developing countries. But recent studies have found insufficient evidence to recommend multivitamin supplements to the average healthy American.
This seems to have little effect on the global supplement industry, which is worth an estimated $128 billion, or on the American public. If you do take supplements, here’s what you should know.
• When to take them: There’s a theory that because you’re getting nutrients throughout the day from food, having your supplements at night helps your body get some nutrition as you sleep.
But Jeffrey Blumberg, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University, says, “Digestion slows down during sleep, so taking your nutrient supplement late at night would not be associated with an efficient absorption.”
Neil Levin, a clinical nutritionist at NOW Foods, agrees that morning is best for multivitamins and any B vitamins.
“Multivitamins tend to do best when taken earlier in the day, as the B vitamins in them might stimulate metabolism and brain function too much for a relaxing evening or before bed,” Levin says.
Although morning is probably ideal, the best time of day is the time you’ll remember.
• With food or without? Most supplements should be taken with food to reduce the chances they’ll upset your stomach, and to improve absorption. Iron, magnesium and fish oil supplements are the most common culprits for digestive upset on an empty stomach.
Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are better absorbed when you have them with at least a teaspoon of fat. The same goes for your multivitamin, which contains these vitamins. For example, if you take them with your breakfast, make sure you’re having some almond butter with your oatmeal or avocado with your eggs and toast.
For probiotics, taking them with a meal or 30 minutes before a meal could be better than taking them after eating.
Hydration is also important, Blumberg says. So be sure to wash down all supplements with a tall glass of water.
• Better together: Some nutrient dynamic duos include vitamin D to boost calcium absorption and vitamin C to boost iron absorption. That’s why taking in these nutrients simultaneously or boosting with food sources is ideal. A classic example is having your iron supplements with a glass of orange juice to get the absorption-boosting effects of the vitamin C.
• Better apart: Calcium can affect your body’s absorption of iron, zinc and magnesium. I recommend taking any calcium supplements at a different meal than any iron supplements or your multivitamin. Also, your body absorbs calcium more effectively when you take 600 milligrams or less at a time. If you’re taking more than that per day, you’ll want to split up the dosage into morning and evening doses.
Fiber is another nutrient you’ll want to take apart from other supplements and medications because it interferes with absorption.
— Christy Brissette, The Washington Post