Updated 23 July 2019

How to get the most out of your vitamin and mineral supplements

Vitamins and minerals are best obtained from a balanced diet, but sometimes that's not enough. Here are a number of ways to get the most out of your supplements.

The best way to obtain the optimum amounts of vitamins and minerals is to ensure that you eat a healthy, balanced diet. In a fast-paced world, this is, however, not always possible. Fortunately, you can make up for any deficiencies with a supplement.

But whether you've never taken a vitamin or mineral supplement or if you're hoarding a cupboard full of pills, there are ways to get the most out of these nutrients and avoid wasting your money:

1. Consider your medication first

Before you start adding a multivitamin or any supplement to your diet, be aware that there are medications that may limit the absorbability of some vitamins and minerals. You should therefore ensure that chronic medication is taken at least two hours before your supplements. An example of this is birth control pills, which can potentially limit the ability of the body to absorb vitamin B and folic acid. Antibiotics can interact with some magnesium and vitamin supplements and Vitamin K may interfere with the efficacy of Warfarin, a medication that prevents blood clots. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor, who will be able to tell you what to do and how to combine chronic medication and supplements.

2. Be careful of overdosing

Minerals and vitamins in high quantities may cause adverse effects, especially iron. Most vitamins can be passed through urine, but iron remains stored in the liver and other organs. When excess iron is not utilised, it can cause damage to the organs over time and you may experience symptoms such as nausea and constipation. This article explains the phenomenon of too much iron in more detail. If you're unsure about any possible deficiency, rather go to a doctor for a thorough blood test, instead of self-medicating.

3. Not all supplements are created equally

Pill, tablet, powder or liquid? With so many products on the market, it may be difficult to know what to choose. But not all vitamins and minerals are absorbed equally well. Purchase what works best for you – if you have trouble swallowing pills, a liquid may be better for you, but be sure to choose a product free of colourants, sugar and binding agents. Also choose a reputable brand, from a reputable pharmacy or store.

4. Take your vitamins with meals

Not only will this help you get into the habit of taking them regularly, but taking a multivitamin when your digestive system moves into action will also help the vitamins be absorbed more quickly, according to Douglas MacKay, senior vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition in Washington DC.

And if you've ever experienced that horrible, stomach-burning nausea after taking vitamins on an empty stomach, you may know that taking them with meals is best. However, read the instructions on the package of each product, or ask your pharmacist if you're unsure.

5. Store them properly

Keep supplements out of reach of children and pets, in a dark cupboard away from direct sunlight. Omega-3 capsules filled with fish oil are also better kept in the fridge, as this will prevent any stench and the chance of it causing fishy reflux all day. Probiotics are also better stored in the fridge.

Image credit: iStock


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