The Best Time to Take Vitamins

I have received several requests from readers about the best time to take vitamins and which vitamins interact with each other. This type of information is relatively easy to secure over the Internet but many people don't have the time to go surfing on the Web so as a favor to those readers, I have compiled a convenient guide for them.

The requests reminded me of an email I received a couple of years ago that was marked "Urgent!" It was a desperate cry for help from a grade-six student who wanted me to do his homework for him because it was due the next day. His project was about the vitamins found in fruits and vegetables. The mother in me felt badly for him but the teacher in me felt he had to do his share of work to learn his lesson. So, I compromised and taught him how to search the Net for information. I suspect he stayed up a bit that night finishing his homework.

Mind you, this is just going to be tips on the best time to take multi-vitamins and common supplements like calcium and about which vitamins and minerals interact with which. This is not going to be about the best kind of vitamins to take and whether one type is better than another because there isn't enough space.

Vitamins and Minerals 101
In an ideal world, we would get all the vitamins and minerals we need the way God intended and that's through the food we eat. But with today's busy lifestyles and overly processed food, most health experts now say that taking a vitamin-mineral supplement is "cheap" insurance to cover the barest minimum of our needs. But always keep in mind that food is the superior source and a supplement will not erase the ill effects of a bad diet.

Vitamins are either water-soluble or fat-soluble. The B-complex group and vitamin C are water-soluble and are not stored in the body for long. Under normal circumstances, any excess that you take will be urinated away. However, extremely high doses may be toxic.

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble and are stored in the fat tissues and in the liver. If taken in mega-doses, these vitamins can accumulate to dangerous levels.

Minerals are categorized as macro and trace minerals, which do not refer to their importance but only to the amounts needed by the body. Macro minerals like calcium are required in bigger amounts while the body only needs small amounts of trace minerals like zinc.

A multi-vitamin usually contains an assortment of vitamins and minerals from A to Z in varying amounts depending on the formulation. Only so much can be a packed into a tablet or capsule and still keep it small enough to swallow. So vitamins like C and E and minerals like calcium, which are prescribed for certain people in larger amounts, are available separately. For example, smokers need additional vitamin C daily, heavy drinkers need additional B-complex, pregnant women and women taking the "pill" need additional folic acid.

One of my readers asked how she could tell if her multi-vitamin was being dissolving in her body and not just passing out intact. One way to find out is by dropping the tablet into a glass of half water and half vinegar. It should start dissolving within 30 to 40 minutes. If it's still there intact, that particular brand may not be dissolving properly in your stomach.

The best time is with your meals.
The basic rule is that multi-vitamins or other vitamin and mineral supplements should be taken during or right after a meal for maximum absorption. The fat-soluble vitamins need to be taken with a meal that contains some fat. If you are the kind of person who is taking a multivitamin, B-complex, C, and E, you can take them all together after your biggest meal of the day.

If you are taking fiber supplements, don't take them together with your multi-vitamin. Fiber can bind with fat-soluble vitamins and minerals making them unavailable for your body.

Your body cannot absorb more than 500 mg at a time so if you are taking 1,000 mg of calcium, take your pills at separate times of the day. Some experts say nighttime is the best time to take your calcium.

Calcium interferes with the absorption of iron so don't take your calcium supplement with your multivitamin if it contains iron. Now what if your multivitamin contains both calcium and iron? Don't worry about it because the small amount of calcium that is typically in a multi-vitamin will not affect the absorption of the iron. It's only when you take calcium in larger amounts that it will overpower the iron in your multi-vitamin.

Calcium is best absorbed when you have an adequate amount of vitamin D in your body. You can produce your own source of vitamin D from sun exposure. But if you are sun-shy like many of us are, make sure your multi-vitamin has vitamin D or you are eating food that is fortified with vitamin D (usually milk, cheese, cereals). Natural vitamin D is only available in small amounts in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, egg yolks, and liver.

Most people don't need additional iron supplementation, but if you are one of those who needs it, take it separately from calcium. It is best absorbed on an empty stomach but it can cause stomach upset so doctors recommend taking with your meals or between meals with a small snack.

Calcium is not the only substance that can interfere with iron absorption. Coffee and tea bind with iron and can make you absorb less than you should. Meanwhile, vitamin C makes you absorb iron better so take your iron with your vitamin C supplement or with a glass of orange or calamansi juice.

Pre-natal vitamins.
Even though they are called pre-natal vitamins, the best time to start taking these special preparations is before you get pregnant because the extra folic acid contained in them helps to prevent birth defects in the early stages of pregnancy when most women don't even know they are pregnant.

Most convenient time.
When all is said and done, the best time is when it is the most convenient for you. After all, if you have to devise a complicated routine of taking your supplements, you might end up with more days of not taking them than days when you do. Most experts say you will still absorb more than you lose if you take your supplements at the "wrong" time.

Choose the same time every day, whether morning or evening, so it becomes a habit.
To help your memory even more, place your supplements in a conspicuous place that you always look at so they are literally staring at you in the face. Many people keep their vitamins beside their bed or in the dining area.

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