CareNow® - February 16, 2023

With the modern-day diet, it can be difficult to get all the nutrients we need from our food alone — even for the healthiest of eaters. That's where supplements come in.

Supplements, which can come in the form of pills, capsules, powders, or liquids, are designed to give our bodies extra nutrients to help us stay healthy.

If you've ever been to a pharmacy or health store, you probably know there are countless supplements available on the market, each with its own unique benefits. But knowing what supplements to take when is an entirely different conversation.

We’re breaking down what you need to know before you consider introducing supplements into your daily routine, including whether or not you should take them with food and the potential risks of taking supplements you might not need.

When should you take iron supplements?

Iron is an essential mineral that your body needs to properly produce red blood cells. Most people are able to get enough iron from the foods they eat; however, for those who can’t meet their needs through diet, supplements can be helpful.

The most common reasons for taking iron supplements include iron deficiency anemia, pregnancy, and blood loss.

Signs you might be iron deficient include fatigue, shortness of breath, and a decrease in physical performance. Some people even complain of difficulty learning problems when they’re suffering from an iron deficiency.

The best way to determine whether or not you need an iron supplement, you should get a lab test done and have a diagnosis given by a medical provider. It’s important that iron supplements always be taken under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

It's important to note that taking iron supplements on an empty stomach or with vitamin C can help with absorption, but you should always avoid taking them with food or other supplements that can slow down absorption like calcium, caffeine, and tannins found in tea and coffee.

When should you take fiber supplements?

Fiber is essential for your body to keep your digestive system working and to help you avoid constipation. If you're not getting enough fiber from your diet, fiber supplements might be a good solution.

It’s recommended that women under the age of 50 get 25 g of fiber each day, while men should aim for 38 g daily. The best way to get fiber in your diet is by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — but for some people, diet alone isn't enough.

Fiber supplements can be taken at any time of the day, but it’s best to take them with a meal to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal side effects. It's also important to drink plenty of water when taking fiber supplements to help prevent constipation.

When should I take vitamins?

The best time to take vitamins can vary depending on the specific vitamin and the individual's needs. For instance, water-soluble vitamins don’t necessarily need to be taken with food to be fully absorbed.

Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, require proper absorption to work correctly. Because of this, you should always take fat-soluble compounds with a meal. It doesn’t necessarily matter which meal this is as long as it includes fat of some kind.

Multivitamins are made up of both fat- and water-soluble vitamins, so they should also be consumed with a meal to help your body absorb them correctly. As with fat-soluble vitamins though, the time of day doesn’t factor in at all.

Are supplements good for you?

Supplements can be beneficial for many people, but they are not a substitute for a healthy diet. Eating a well-rounded diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats is the best way to get the essential nutrients your body needs.

Supplements might be recommended for those who have specific nutritional deficiencies or medical conditions. For example, pregnant women may be advised to take folic acid supplements, and older adults may be advised to take vitamin D and calcium supplements.

Anyone with a restrictive diet due to certain health conditions, allergies, or personal choices may also benefit from taking supplements.

It's always important to keep in mind that not all supplements are safe or effective, and some can even be harmful if taken in large doses or in combination with certain medications.

Should you take supplements with food?

If you read any multivitamin bottle, you’ll likely see a recommendation to take the vitamin with food. This allows your body to better absorb many of the vitamins and minimizes your risk of experiencing an upset stomach.

Taking supplements with food helps your body absorb many of the nutrients inside the pill. For instance, when you eat immediately before taking a multivitamin, your body can absorb approximately 15 percent of the riboflavin.

Below are some recommendations on which supplements to take with food:

  • Fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K) are best taken with a meal that contains fat, as they are absorbed better in the presence of fat.
  • Water-soluble vitamins (such as vitamin C and B vitamins) can be taken at any time, but it's best to take them with a meal to improve absorption and reduce the risk of stomach upset.
  • Some vitamins, such as iron, calcium, and zinc, may also interfere with the absorption of other vitamins or minerals if taken together, so it's best to take them at different times of the day.

How often should you take vitamins?

The frequency of taking vitamins can vary depending on the specific vitamin and your individual needs.

  • Some vitamins, such as vitamins C and B, can be taken daily.
  • Other vitamins, such as vitamin D, may only need to be taken a few times a week or even less frequently, depending on your needs and dietary intake.
  • Some vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K are stored in the body and do not require daily intake unless you have a deficiency.

If you’re considering taking a new vitamin, it's a good idea to check the label or consult with a healthcare provider for specific recommendations on how often to take each vitamin supplement.

Is it dangerous to take supplements you don’t need?

Taking supplements that you don't need or that your body does not require can have several potential risks. Potential dangers include:

Interactions with medications: Some supplements can interact with prescription or over-the-counter medications, potentially leading to negative side effects or reducing the effectiveness of the medications.

Overdosing: Consuming too much of certain supplements can lead to overdose and potentially serious health problems. For example, excessive vitamin A intake can cause liver damage, and excessive iron intake can cause damage to the heart and other organs.

Allergic reactions: Some people may be allergic to certain ingredients found in supplements, which can lead to symptoms such as hives, itching, and difficulty breathing.

Masking underlying health problems: Some people may take supplements to self-diagnose and self-treat underlying health problems. But by masking symptoms, they may delay getting the proper diagnosis and treatment they need.

Taking supplements unnecessarily can affect the balance of nutrients in your body, especially if you're taking supplements that are high in certain minerals or vitamins.

It’s important to note that not all supplements have the same risks and that not all people will experience the same side effects or negative effects from taking supplements. It's always best to consult a healthcare provider to determine what supplements are appropriate for your individual needs.

A medical provider at CareNow® urgent care can work with you to come up with a supplement strategy that works for you.

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