Our diets in the modern age are becoming less and less likely to provide the vitamins and minerals we need for our health. Exhaustive farming techniques have stripped the nutrients from the soil, while pasteurisation, pesticides and other chemicals work to “clean” what we eat and drink of important vitamins and minerals. Pesticides in particular kill important bacteria that create the balance needed for a healthy gut.
All in all, most scientists and doctors would agree, that taking supplements is becoming more and more important to a healthy body and mind. The American populous seems to agree: In a Harvard study which questioned 125,000 Americans, 88% of women and 81% of men said they used supplements regularly.
However, there are ways of taking vitamins that can be counter-productive or just not productive at all. So, here is the guide to the top ten mistakes to avoid when taking your supplements (and, of course, what to do instead… always like to be as helpful as possible!)
Number 1: Take too little… or too much.
There is actually something called the “Goldilocks Zone” – this is the zone where you are getting just the right amount. Not too much, not too little. This, unfortunately, is not about taking the DV or Daily Value, or the RDA, the Recommended Daily Allowance, because our diets and our lifestyle and our medical history and the medications we take can impact on the dosage we need. So, helpfully, the best advice is to speak to a medical professional.
If you don’t want to go so far as to visit a doctor, then here is some general advice:
Go for brands that say “Optimal” vitamin intake as opposed to 100% of your daily intake. Those that claim to be 100% of your intake will probably offer the minimum amount to be considered 100% and most of us need more than this. Optimal will still be in the safe region of nutrient supplement but will be closer to the UL – upper limit than those that suggest a 100% of RDA.
Some nutrients impact on the intake on other nutrients. So, taking iron can reduce your intake of zinc. The more iron you take in, the less zinc your body absorbs. So, take one with the other.
It is hard to reach the UL of most supplements. However, it is worth doing some research to find out what these limits are. Type hypervitaminosis into a search engine for more information. Most health risks are minor, even if you take too much. But, too much Vitamin A can lead to osteoporosis in some – you should be taking no more than 3000 International Units (IU). Too much Vitamin E can be toxic for some – so no more than 100 IU in a day.
Taking a lot more zinc that you think is a recurring message in the literature on vitamins. Zinc is easily depleted by prescription drugs and can also be lost through sweat. The thyroid also hogs zinc – this means if you have a thyroid complaint you will need to look to zinc in particular to improve your health.
The obvious advice about dosage is to read the labels and do some research to take the optimal dosage to help your health and improve your lifestyle.
Number 2: Taking your vitamins at the wrong time
There is a lot of advice out there that suggests you should take different vitamins at different times of the day – and they are right – some vitamins work better with food because they are fat soluble and some work better in the morning because they boost your energy. But, and this is a big but, if you follow the advice to the word there would be little time in the day to do anything else. For most of us mortals, taking vitamins more than once a day will likely cause us to just plain give up. So, taking most of our vitamins in a morning with breakfast is better than nothing at all. You know yourself better than anyone else – if you can stick to a strict timetable of supplement dosage then you should – it will really help. If you know it would never fit into your working day – then, you need to do the best that you can and be glad that you do this much.
If you can work with different vitamins at different times of the day – then try to take calcium and magnesium at night – as they work better with each other – and magnesium helps with deep sleep. You probably should take iron in the morning if you do this – as iron stops calcium working and vice versa.
In contrast, try to avoid taking the B vitamins at night, as they are taken to boost energy and might hinder your ability to sleep.
Number 3: Taking fat soluble vitamins on an empty stomach
Fat soluble vitamins absorb better into our system with the help of food. These vitamins include Vitamin A, D and K. Some fat soluble vitamins can actually cause gastric problems if they are taken on an empty stomach, therefore taking the supplement with food becomes much more important. As Vitamin D helps the release of serotonin into your system it is a good idea then to take this with your breakfast. Yet, Vitamin K works with calcium to provide healthy bones – and calcium is better taken with magnesium, which aids deep sleep. So, taking Vitamin K with your evening meal might be optimal for your health – if you can see yourself keeping to such a regimen.
Number 4: Taking vitamins together that inhibit the absorption of the other
This is probably one of the easiest mistakes to make – taking supplements that stop each other from working. Oregano oil kills bacteria, so it is pointless to take this at the same time as probiotics. Taking iron at the same time as Vitamin E will make both redundant, as they block the absorption of each other. Iron doesn’t like zinc much either – so you would need to take more zinc if you take iron. Yet, iron will only absorb successfully if taken with Vitamin C – all in all iron is a particularly high maintenance supplement – a difficult friendship to live with.
Number 5: Taking water soluble vitamin doses in one go
Water soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the body. Therefore, what the body cannot absorb into the blood stream is then excreted through urine and faeces. Also, taking water soluble vitamins in one dose can result in peak and valley levels of the vitamin in the blood, for optimal health it would be better maintain straight a line as possible. Therefore, it is best to split the dose of some supplements such as Vitamin C, to make sure the level is even in the bloodstream throughout the day.
Number 6: Believing the negative hype about synthetic supplements
There is a lot of material in the world of health and nutrition that points out that some of the ingredients within supplements are not needed by your body. It is interesting how they do not say harmful to your body – just not needed. They also point out that many of the vitamins can be found in food.
Let’s address these two points carefully. A lot of supplements, especially in tablet form, will include excipients. These are binders and fillers that help the supplement form into a tablet, which makes it easier for you to swallow. These are non-active agents, merely there to support the active ingredient reaching your system. The better the delivery system, the better the bioavailability of the active agent in the supplement. Simple: the nutritionists, expert in their field, work hard to make sure the vitamin is absorbed in the right place, at the right time for you to feel the benefit.
Secondly, the idea that our food can provide all the nutrients we need and we should not need to resort to taking tablets and capsules. The soil has been drained of most of its nutrients due to intensive farming techniques. Pesticides cause the destruction of friendly bacteria and minerals in our foods. Therefore, we are deficient in many of the important vitamins and minerals that will lead to a healthy mind and body.
The only choice we have in today’s busy, stressful world is the supplement our healthy diet and exercise routine with the nutrients we need. When woven into a good diet, supplements can improve our health, extend our lives and prevent many diseases, including but not exhaustive: cancer, heart attack and stroke.
Number 7: Not understanding the impact prescription drugs can have
This is where you really need to seek advice from a medical professional. The prescription drugs are always going to be given because someone trained at some point decided the benefits are worth it, despite the side effects. The algorithm for such risk assessment is far more complex than this article can hope to communicate. So, take advice.
Some ideas of the sort of effect that prescription drugs can have include the diabetic drug metformin and the proton pump inhibitors can cause vitamin B12 deficiency (B12 is quite a sensitive chap… likely to be deficient because of lots different drugs)
Number 8: Believing multi-vitamins will give you all that you need to be healthy
A good multivitamin is better than no vitamins at all. Let’s start with this obvious statement from the start. A multivitamin might provide most of what you need with very few tweaks. However, you will know your lifestyle and diet and you will know that there will be some aspects of your life need an extra boost. For instance, people with PMS or endometriosis would be well advised to take more iron and zinc – both of which will deal with the fatigue and the mood swings attributed to these conditions.
Number 9: Taking the wrong type of supplement for what you need
The best example of taking the wrong form of a vitamin is the Vitamin B family. B3 cab be taken as niacin, nicotine acid, niacinamide and inositol hexanicotinate – which all have different effects on the body. However, there is also the example of magnesium, where oxide is poorly absorbed by the body, glycinate absorbs easily but is not best taken for improved memory, whilst L Threonate – is better for Alzheimer’s. So, when looking at vitamins research which type will best work for you and your needs.
Number 10: Not complimenting supplement with proper exercise, sleep and a healthy diet
The most obvious line that people take when taking vitamins don’t achieve a miracle change in lifestyle is that it they haven’t worked. In fact, the vitamins have probably worked as well as they can within the wider lifestyle. In other words, they are called a supplement for a reason. These vitamins will make you feel better when linked to a healthier diet, good sleep routine and regular exercise.
If you lead a sedentary life with poor diet and erratic sleep, you are still likely to feel fatigue and mood swings, no matter what combination and dosage of vitamins you take. But, and it is a massive but, supplements can support changes in lifestyle and magnify the effect for you. They can help to fuel a body better for the new, more active, better rested version of you and help to encourage to continue with the changes that you have made.
Any supplement will help with longevity of health and robustness of body, when taken regularly. A conclusion that you are not feeling a dramatic change in your wellbeing therefore you should not be wasting your time and money is not understanding the nature of the long game needed with vitamins. In some respects, you need to make a deal with your 50 year or 60-year-old self and say: this is for you and your life then.
If you enjoyed reading this article, we are sure you will enjoy the rest of the Ultimate Guide to Supplements Series:
- WHAT IS BIOAVAILABILITY? HOW IT CAN HELP YOU GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR SUPPLEMENTS
- RECOMMENDED DAILY INTAKE OF SUPPLEMENTS
- THE BEST TIME TO TAKE SUPPLEMENTS
- CAPSULES VS TABLETS, WHICH FORM OF SUPPLEMENT IS THE BEST?