You wouldn’t waste time or money on a bad relationship, so why do that with your vitamins and supplements? See: when you take those multi-tasking multivitamins, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and gut-microbiome-balancing probiotics at the wrong time, your body cannot absorb them effectively. Meaning? They're passed out before making a real difference in your health. How disappointing. Which, naturally, begs the question … when should you be popping those vitamins and supplements, then? Or, in other words, what’s the ‘best time’ for you to reach for that glass of water?
Bad news? This comes down to the specific supplement you're taking. Good news? In this article, we show you how to determine when you should take a particular vitamin or supplement for maximum absorption, efficacy, and safety.
Is it water- or fat-soluble?
Now, let’s talk about vitamins first. The first thing you need to ask yourself is this: is this water- or fat-soluble? Here’s the difference:
- Water-soluble vitamins: As the name suggests, water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and are readily absorbed into the body’s tissues for immediate use (1). Any excess is simply excreted in the urine, which means they rarely accumulate to toxic levels. Most vitamins are water-soluble. Specifically, that’s Vitamin C and the B-complex group (i.e., all your B vitamins, from Vitamin B1 to Vitamin B7 to Vitamin B12).
- Fat-soluble vitamins: Unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins dissolve in fat (2). They are absorbed by fat globules, individual pieces of intracellular fat responsible for storing energy. Excess fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues for future use; this means they can accumulate to toxic levels if taken in excess (3). There are four fat-soluble vitamins: Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K.
Nutritionists recommend taking water-soluble vitamins on an empty stomach — with a full glass of water — to help your body more easily absorb and metabolize them (4). So, for most people, that'll mean taking them (i.e., Vitamin C and the B-complex) in the A.M. right after you get out of bed. That said, this is a general guideline. It’s worth noting that some people are more sensitive to vitamins and find water-soluble vitamins, like Vitamin C, upset their stomachs (5). If this is the case for you, don’t sweat it; take those vitamins with food. It will reduce their absorption by a little, but that’s 100% better than suffering from debilitating nausea or painful stomach cramps.
And as for fat-soluble vitamins (i.e., Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K)? It’s best to take these with fat-containing meals or snacks (e.g., avocado, egg yolks, or olive oil) for proper absorption (6). So, it'll make the most sense to take those fat-loving nutrients during lunch or dinner for most people.
Wait … what if it’s both?
OK, so the rule of thumb is this. If it’s a:
- Water-soluble vitamin: Take it on an empty stomach in the morning
- Fat-soluble vitamin: Take it with fat-containing foods, ideally during a ‘proper’ meal, like lunch or dinner
Um, that’s great and all … but what about supplements with a blend of water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins? Like Dr. Danielle’s deliciously nutritious Vitamin D3 + B12 Gummies, for instance? Or your good old multivitamins? Answer: you'd want to take these with food to ensure the fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed.
What about minerals?
Here’s what you need to know about your minerals (e.g., Calcium, Magnesium, and Iron): they’re water-soluble (7). This means they’re BFFs with your water-soluble vitamins, best taken on an empty stomach in the morning with a full glass of water.
That said, there are exceptions: in particular, Iron, Magnesium, and Zinc have been linked to an increased risk of stomach upset when taken on an empty stomach. So if you feel queasy popping those minerals on an empty stomach, you have two options:
#1 - Choose chelated minerals
A “chelate” refers to a chemical compound in which a metal molecule (i.e., mineral) and an organic molecule (ligand) are combined (8). So, “chelated minerals” are simply minerals bound to organic compounds, like amino acids (e.g., aspartic acid, lysine, and glycine) and organic acids (e.g., acetic acid, citric acid, and picolinic acid). And because chelated minerals are bound to organic compounds, they don’t require as much stomach acid to be efficiently digested — which, in turn, means they’re much gentler on your gastrointestinal tract (9). Plus, the cherry on top: research suggests chelated minerals boast higher absorption rates than their non-chelated counterparts (10, 11, 12).
#2 - Take them with food
Chelated minerals can be quite a bit more expensive than their inorganic versions. So, if you'd prefer to save your wallet, a perfectly fine alternative is to take those minerals with a little bit of food. Once again, the slight drop in absorption and efficacy is worth all the misery you'll be spared from.
Also, consider your desired effects
Vitamins and minerals, done. What about other types of health supplements? Well, for these, you should look at their desired effects. For example, if it’s supposed to:
You'll want to take these in the morning so they help get you ready to take on the rest of the day. Examples include caffeine, ginseng, and CoQ10 (13, 14, 15).
Is it supposed to help your body break down foods (e.g., Dr. Danielle’s Gut Assist Digestive Enzymes)? In that case, you should take them between 15 to 20 minutes before eating — so they get to your stomach in time to help metabolize your meal.
Promote restful sleep
Is its purpose to lull you to sleep? If so, ideally, you should take these anywhere between one to two hours before bedtime. This gives them enough time to work (i.e., to make you feel sleepy). Examples include melatonin and ashwagandha, the potent stress-relieving herb found in Dr. Danielle’s Stress Lift (16, 17).
Talk to your doctor about possible drug interactions
Another factor that’ll determine when you should, or if you should even, take supplements? The medications you're on. That's because certain combinations of active ingredients in health supplements and drugs could result in inefficacy or, worse, dangerous or life-threatening effects. Common drug interactions you should know include (18):
Antacids and iron or folic acid supplements:
Antacids are medicines that neutralize stomach acid to relieve indigestion and heartburn. Because research shows antacids can impair iron and folic acid absorption, the former should be separated from the latter by at least two hours (i.e., wait at least two hours after your antacids to take iron/folic acid supplements and vice versa).
Cholestyramine and water-soluble vitamins:
Cholestyramine is a medication commonly used to lower the amount of "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL-cholesterol) in the body. Studies show that it may bind to water-soluble vitamins — and, in turn, interfere with their absorption. It's thus recommended to take water-soluble vitamins one hour before cholestyramine or anywhere between four to six hours after to avoid interference with absorption.
Histamine-2 receptor antagonists (H2-blockers) and iron:
H2 blockers are used to treat duodenal ulcers and prevent their return. Because they’re known to decrease iron absorption, you should take H2-blockers two hours before or after iron supplementation.
Warfarin and ginseng:
Warfarin is a blood thinner, an anti-coagulant used to prevent blood clots from forming or growing larger in the blood and blood vessels. A large body of evidence shows ginseng reduces the effects of warfarin, potentially increasing an individual’s risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, and kidney failure (19).
So, how should you space out your medications and supplementations? Ideally, you should consult your primary healthcare provider for advice. Give them a list of all the dietary supplements you're taking so they can help look for possible drug interactions — and provide guidance on how you should take your supplements (if at all, of course).
Barring drug interactions, consistency is key
Vitamins, minerals, and health supplements, in general, aren’t miracle pills. They don’t work instantly. Instead, you'll need to stay consistent to see real results in your health. You'll have to take them daily, so they support your health and well-being in the most impactful way. This, in turn, highlights the importance of finding a supplementation timing that works for your lifestyle. For example, let's say you have dissolvable Vitamin C tablets. Taking them first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, leads to the highest absorption level in your body. You know that.
The only problem? You're too busy in the morning. Between getting the kids and yourself ready for the day ahead, there's barely enough time to breathe — let alone wait for your tablet to finish fizzling, then gulp it down. Well, in that case, you'd be better off taking it once you're at work instead. Put a bottle on your desk; this way, you'll never forget your daily dose of Vitamin C. Bottom line? Find a supplementation routine that works for you (but make sure you get the go-ahead from your doctor beforehand!)