With meals? In the morning? When’s the best time?

Posted on: July 1st, 2019 by Brandon No Comments

To get the most out of your supplements, it is important to take them at the right time and in the right conditions. But this is easier said than done.

Which supplements should be taken with food, and which are best taken on an empty stomach? Which supplements pair well together, and which do not? Use this guide as a reference to help you develop your schedule to ensure maximum effectiveness.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, K, are needed to maintain good health, and are better absorbed with a balanced meal that includes protein and fat. According to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vitamin D3 is 32% better absorbed when taken with a meal containing some type of fats such as cheese, meat, dairy, nuts, or avocados. To learn more about vitamin D specifically, read “What You Need to Know about Vitamin D!

The body uses fat-soluble vitamins in small amounts and stores any excess vitamins in the liver and fatty tissue. This is why they are called “fat soluble.” Excess amounts can have detrimental results, so they are not recommended to be taken in doses exceeding the manufacturers or your health care practitioner’s recommendation.

The Cleveland Clinic recommends those on blood thinners, such as warfarin, to eat a consistent amount of vitamin K every day to avoid disrupting the chemical process that forms blood clots in the body. Too much vitamin A can interfere with vitamin K absorption and too much vitamin E can interfere with the blood coagulation effect of vitamin K. If considering taking excessive doses of these vitamins, it is best to carefully discuss these with your health care practitioner.

There is a relationship between vitamin A and iron. A little can help improve iron levels in the blood, whereas too much can contribute to an iron deficiency. Absorption and optimal utilization of vitamin A may depend, in part, on adequate zinc status. Therefore it is important to have sufficient zinc levels to increase vitamin A’s effectiveness.

Water-soluble vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins such as B and C, are not naturally produced or stored within the body. Thus, everyone needs these on a frequent basis from either a healthy diet with animal- or plant-based sources or from supplementation.

Vitamin B

There are eight types of B vitamins: thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), biotin (B7), folic acid (folate or B9) and vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin). Since B vitamins are water-soluble and only so much can be absorbed at any given time, take these throughout the day.

B vitamins are best taken on an empty stomach. The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University has shown an inability to absorb vitamin B12, resulting in a B12 deficiency, is often caused by low levels of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. As we get older, our ability to produce acids and stomach enzymes decreases. Thus, taking B vitamins on an empty stomach when stomach acidity levels are at their highest is ideal for vitamin B absorption and supplementation. Vitamin B12 is only found in foods from animal sources and supplementation, so B12 deficiency is often found in breastfed babies of vegan mothers.

Niacin (B3) deficiency (pellagra) is often found in people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol or live on a diet almost exclusively based on corn. Niacin has been added to bread in the US since 1938 and its deficiency is now rare. Vitamin B6 deficiency is sometimes found in people who drink excessive alcohol and in women (especially on the contraceptive pill). Biotin (B7) deficiency is rare because only small amounts are required and biotin is widely distributed in foods. However, over-consumption of raw egg whites over several months can induce deficiency because a protein in the egg white inhibits biotin absorption.

Many of the B vitamins are also involved directly in the chemical reactions of energy production. They do not provide energy themselves; they help the body produce energy molecules – called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that the body uses throughout the day. It is recommended to take your B vitamins in the morning and early afternoon hours so that you have sufficient vitamins to be energetic.

While B vitamin deficiency is common, some B vitamins, such as niacin, vitamin B6, and folic acid taken in excess can be dangerous and is not recommended to be taken in doses exceeding the manufactures or your health care practitioner’s recommendation. Many “energy drinks” that some people drink contain B vitamin supplementation that in excess, leads to B vitamin toxicity.

Vitamin C

Like vitamin B, vitamin C is water-soluble and best taken in divided doses throughout the day to help with absorption. Many people think that “mega” doses of vitamin C are good when you have a cold, but it’s mostly just inefficient. Excess vitamin C is not absorbed, and can be seen being flushed out in a deeper-yellow urine. Smaller doses throughout the day can help keep blood vitamin C levels elevated and minimize any possibility of upset stomach. If stomach sensitivity is an issue, taking a buffered form of vitamin C (such as Buffered Vitamin C by Integrative Therapeutics) can help – especially when taking doses larger than 1,000 milligrams. Keep in mind that vitamin C, or foods rich in vitamin C, have been shown to enhance the absorption of iron.

Iron

Taking iron in the morning is the best time for most people. According to the National Institutes of Health, iron should be taken on an empty stomach. Iron is best absorbed in an acidic environment, and the stomach becomes considerably less acidic when full. Vitamin C, or foods rich in vitamin C, have been shown to enhance the absorption of iron. When these two nutrients are taken together, vitamin C helps improve the absorption process of iron in the digestive system. This is important, especially for individuals who get most of their iron from plant-based foods. They tend to be challenged in getting enough iron so getting the most of iron absorption is important with vitamin C supplementation. Read my previous article, “Is Anemia Causing Your Lack of Energy?”

Remember that calcium and iron do not go well together because they are absorbed at the same sites in the body. Caffeine may also reduce the absorption of iron. A study from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that taking iron with coffee or tea was associated with a significant reduction in iron absorption. Other substances to avoid pairing with iron include fiber, soybeans, and phytates – which are found in legumes and whole grains.

Probiotics

Optimal probiotic use is ensuring that the good bacteria make it to the gastrointestinal tract without being destroyed first. Research from Beneficial Microbes suggests probiotics should be taken either with or just prior to a meal containing some fats. This increases the probiotic’s chances of survival against harmful, destructive stomach acid as it travels through the body. There is some misconception regarding how to best use probiotics after being prescribed antibiotics. It is not appropriate to take probiotics at the exact same time as antibiotics. Antibiotics will destroy some of the probiotics. However, according to the Journal of Antibiotics, taking probiotics two hours after antibiotics can reduce the risk of the destruction of the probiotic and antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

While there are many highly-beneficial probiotic products to choose from, it is ideal to use one with acid-resistant capsules, pH-targeted release, and a high bacteria count — such as Metagenics’ UltraFlora Spectrum or UltraFlora IB. This ensures the live probiotics are reaching the gastrointestinal tract. To learn more about probiotics, read my previous article “Which Probiotic Should You Be Taking?

Oils (fish, borage, flax, etc.)

Oils should be taken with food and at least one hour away from exercise and at least one hour before bedtime. This is because high levels of activity and lying in a prone position are known to generally interfere with digestion. Since oils are food substances, there is no reason to think that digesting oils is any different.

Unfortunately, some people have trouble digesting fish oils, even if they follow the right guidelines. Lipase is an enzyme responsible for breaking down fats (such as fish oils) into smaller molecules. Some people don’t have enough lipase-producing cells in their pancreas. If you suspect this may apply to you, consider a fish oil that contains lipase such as OmegAvail Ultra by Designs for Health.

Protein and amino acids

Most people know that protein and exercise go hand-in-hand, but when is the best time to take your protein? Although the ideal timing has been debated, a study from Strength and Conditioning Journal observed that taking protein (and/or amino acids) immediately following resistance training is more effective in increasing muscle growth than if one waits to take protein until later. There are many different types of protein sources. If you would like more information of how to determine your ideal protein source, read my previous article “Which Protein is the Best Fit For You?

Calcium

According to the Mayo Clinic, calcium citrate can be taken with or without food since it is easily absorbed. Other calcium products, like ones containing calcium carbonate, should be taken with food. Calcium is best absorbed in smaller doses; once in the morning and once in the evening. Adding vitamin D will help your body absorb calcium more efficiently, which is why milk has been fortified with vitamin D since the 1930s. Just as important as what to take with calcium is what to avoid taking with it: magnesium, zinc, and iron. While these are all worthwhile minerals, they fight for the same absorption sites as calcium in the body. This means that when taken together, one is absorbed well and the others are not.

Although it is more convenient to take calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron all at once, consider spacing them out. This is why multivitamins with calcium, zinc and iron often have very low amounts of these minerals — so as not to create significant competition. Also, if you are taking any type of prescription medication for high blood pressure, antibiotics, or other medications (bisphosphonates) used to treat osteoporosis, be aware that calcium supplements can interact with these. Speak with your health care practitioner for proper guidance.

Fiber

Unlike with many other supplements, where there is a specific time of day to take them, you should have some fiber throughout the day at each snack and meal. Otherwise, it can worsen the kinds of digestive problems most fiber users are trying to improve. Most studies that have revealed fiber’s beneficial effects have patients take it before meals with a full glass of water. I typically recommend Herbal Bulk by Genestra for those looking for a great fiber supplement.

Mood-boosters and relaxers

Mood-boosting and relaxing supplements like 5-HTP, St. John’s wort, valerian, and melatonin are each taken for slightly different purposes. But whether you are taking one as an antidepressant, for weight loss, or as a sleep aid, all have a reputation for being sedating. While some people can take them whenever without feeling drowsy, most are better off incorporating them into their before-bed routine.

How long it is taken before bed depends on the supplement. For instance, melatonin should be used well before bed when travelling east to help adjust your internal clock and beat jetlag. A supplement like valerian can simply be taken an hour before bed or even right before turning off the lights. 5-HTP can be taken either as a sleep aid before bed or periodically throughout the day if you are using it for weight management, mood enhancement, or migraines. You can learn more about how to use the most common mood-boosters and relaxers for sleep purposes by reading “Which Sleep Aid is Best for You?

What is the alternative?

By this point, you may be asking “what happens if I just take everything I need at once for convenience?” In most cases, it is likely not harmful to do so. It is a trade for a little less absorption for a little more convenience. The one-a-day multivitamin is a good example of this concept. If you can make time to take each of your supplements in the ideal manner, you will likely find them to be more effective. Finding the right balance for your lifestyle and needs is the key.

I hope this guide is a useful tool that helps you get the most of your supplement regimen and, if you have any questions regarding the concepts discussed here or anything else, you can reach our customer service team at 888-460-3091 or e-mail them at: customerservice@oakwaynaturals.com.

Until next time, stay healthy!

Yours in health,

Dr. Gregg Gittins

www.OakwayNaturals.com

To get the most out of your supplements, it is important to take them at the right time and in the right conditions. But this is easier said than done.

Which supplements should be taken with food, and which are best taken on an empty stomach? Which supplements pair well together, and which do not? Use this guide as a reference to help you develop your schedule to ensure maximum effectiveness.

Fat-soluble vitamins
Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, K, are needed to maintain good health, and are better absorbed with a balanced meal that includes protein and fat. According to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vitamin D3 is 32% better absorbed when taken with a meal containing some type of fats such as cheese, dairy, nuts, or avocados. To learn more about vitamin D specifically, read “What You Need to Know about Vitamin D!

The body uses fat-soluble vitamins in small amounts and stores any excess vitamins in the liver and fatty tissue. This is why they are called “fat soluble.” Excess amounts can have detrimental results, so they are not recommended to be taken in doses exceeding the manufacturers or your health care practitioner’s recommendation.

Water-Soluble Vitamins
Water-Soluble Vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins such as B and C, are not naturally produced or stored within the body. Thus, individuals need to get these on a frequent basis from either a healthy diet with animal- or plant-based sources or from supplementation.

Since B vitamins are water-soluble and only so much can be absorbed at any given time, take these throughout the day. They are also best taken on an empty stomach because an acidic environment helps improve absorption. The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University has shown an inability to absorb vitamin B12, resulting in a B12 deficiency, is often caused by low levels of stomach acid and digestive enzymes.

Don’t get carried away, though — many “energy drinks” contain B vitamin supplementation that, in excess, leads to B vitamin toxicity.

Vitamin C

Like vitamin B, vitamin C is water-soluble and best taken in divided doses throughout the day to help with absorption. Many people think that “mega” doses of vitamin C are good when you have a cold, but it’s mostly just inefficient. Excess vitamin C is not absorbed, and can be seen being flushed out in a deeper-yellow urine. Smaller doses throughout the day can help keep blood vitamin C levels elevated and minimize any possibility of upset stomach.

If stomach sensitivity is an issue, taking a buffered form of vitamin C (such as Buffered Vitamin C by Integrative Therapeutics) can help – especially when taking doses larger than 1,000 milligrams. Keep in mind that vitamin C, or foods rich in vitamin C, have been shown to enhance the absorption of iron.

Iron and probiotics
Iron and probiotics

Taking iron in the morning is the best time for most people. According to the National Institutes of Health, iron should be taken on an empty stomach. Iron is best absorbed in an acidic environment, and the stomach becomes considerably less acidic when full.

Optimal probiotic use is ensuring that the good bacteria make it to the gastrointestinal tract without being destroyed first. Research from Beneficial Microbes suggests probiotics should be taken either with or just prior to a meal containing some fats. This increases the probiotic’s chances of survival against harmful, destructive stomach acid as it travels through the body.

It is ideal to use one with acid-resistant capsules, pH-targeted release, and a high bacteria count — such as UltraFlora Spectrum or UltraFlora IB.

Oils (fish, borage, flax, etc.) and Protein
Oils (fish, borage, flax, etc.) and Protein

Oils should be taken with food and at least one hour away from exercise and at least one hour before bedtime. This is because high levels of activity and lying in a prone position are known to generally interfere with digestion. Since oils are food substances, there is no reason to think that digesting oils is any different. If you have had trouble digesting fish oils previously, consider a fish oil that contains lipase such as OmegAvail Ultra by Designs for Health.

Although the ideal timing for protein has been debated for a long time, a study from Strength and Conditioning Journal observed that taking protein (and/or amino acids) immediately following resistance training is more effective in increasing muscle growth than if one waits to take protein until later.

Calcium and fiber
Calcium and fiber

According to the Mayo Clinic, calcium citrate can be taken with or without food since it is very bioavailable. Other calcium products, like ones containing calcium carbonate, should be taken with food. Calcium is best absorbed in smaller doses; once in the morning and once in the evening. Adding vitamin D will help your body absorb calcium more efficiently, which is why milk has been fortified with vitamin D since the 1930s. Just as important as what to take with calcium is what to avoid taking with it: magnesium, zinc, and iron.

With fiber, you should take some throughout the day at each snack and meal. Otherwise, it can worsen the kinds of digestive problems most fiber users are trying to improve. I typically recommend Herbal Bulk by Genestra for those looking for a great fiber supplement.

Mood-boosters and relaxers
Mood-boosters and relaxers

Mood-boosting and relaxing supplements like 5-HTP, St. John’s wort, valerian, and melatonin are each taken for slightly different purposes. But whether you are taking one as an antidepressant, for weight loss, or as a sleep aid, all have a reputation for being sedating. While some people can take them whenever without feeling drowsy, most are better off incorporating them into their before-bed routine.

How long it is taken before bed depends on the supplement. For instance, melatonin should be used well before bed when travelling east to help adjust your internal clock and beat jetlag. A supplement like valerian can simply be taken an hour before bed or even right before turning off the lights. You can learn more about how to use the most common mood-boosters and relaxers for sleep purposes by reading “Which Sleep Aid is Best for You?

What is the alternative?
What is the alternative?

By this point, you may be asking “what happens if I just take everything I need at once for convenience?” In most cases, it is likely not harmful to do so. It is a trade for a little less absorption (or bioavailability) for a little more convenience. The one-a-day multivitamin is a good example of this concept. But if you can make time to take each of your supplements in the ideal manner, you will likely find them to be more effective. Finding the right balance for your lifestyle and needs is the key.

This newsletter should help you get the most of your supplement regimen and will hopefully lead to optimal results.

If you have any questions regarding the concepts discussed here or anything else, please feel free to fill out our Ask the Doctor form found at the Doctors Corner.

Yours in health,

Dr. Gregg Gittins

* Dawson-Hughes, MD, et al., Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Dietary Fat Increases Vitamin D-3 Absorption. 2015

* Cleveland Clinic: Why Vitamin K Can Be Dangerous if You Take Warfarin. 2015

* Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin B12 Summary. 2015

* Tompkins, TA, et al. Beneficial Microbes: The impact of meals on a probiotic during transit through a model of the human upper gastrointestinal tract. 2011

* Blaabjerg, Sara, et al. Journal of Antibiotics: Probiotics for the Prevention of Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea in Outpatients—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. 2017

* McLain, Trisha, et al. Strength and Conditioning Journal: Protein Applications in Sports Nutrition—Part I. 2015

* Zeratsky, Katherine, R.D., Mayo Clinic: Nutrition and Healthy Eating: When should I take calcium supplements? Does the timing matter? 2018 National Institutes of Health: Medline Plus: Taking iron supplements. 2019

* Morck, TA, et al. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Inhibition of food iron absorption by coffee. 1983

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