Jul 29th 2020

Healthy living has gone mainstream and 77% of American adults are now taking dietary supplements. A few years ago we might have chosen a simple multivitamin, but the current trend is to self-select, or to be prescribed, individual vitamins, minerals, and/or herbs so not only do we need to know the correct dose, but we also need to know the optimal time for taking them.

Some supplements can upset our stomachs—for example multis, prenatal vitamins, and magnesium—so it is best to take them with a meal while others are best taken on an empty stomach. Some supplements make it harder to fall asleep at night or produce disturbing dreams, so they should be taken in the morning while others make us feel sleepy so we may want to take them at night.

Calcium is probably one of the most complicated of all the common supplements. Our body can’t absorb more than 500 mg of calcium at a time, so if we need a higher dose than that, we will probably need to space out our calcium consumption over the day. Research has also shown that calcium can help us fall asleep at night, so we may want to save our calcium supplement for the evening.

Saving magnesium for the evening makes sense because it promotes sound sleep and appears to increase the production of sleep-inducing melatonin in older adults. People who suffer from nighttime leg cramps may find that taking magnesium helps alleviate the problem, although the magnesium can also cause loose stools—it is the primary ingredient in Milk of Magnesia, an old remedy for constipation.

There are a few B vitamins that can disturb our sleep that are best taken in the morning. Vitamin B-6 in large doses can induce bizarre dreams that we remember when we wake up. Vitamin B-12 helps our body produce energy, but some people report that if they take B-12 at night, it gives them a surge of energy that keeps them awake when they need to be settling down in preparation for sleep.

B vitamins are water-soluble and are most effective when taken with fluids. Other vitamins like D, E, and K should be taken with a meal that contains fat, so based upon what and when you eat, you might want to save them for a heavier meal like lunch or dinner. Some multis, prenatal vitamins, and vitamin C can cause digestive discomfort when taken on an empty stomach, so it makes sense to pair them with food.

One thing for certain is that vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplement can’t help us if we don’t remember to take them, so linking them with an already-established habit like brushing our teeth, can help remind us to pop open our pill organizer. We can utilize our tech and set a recurring daily alert for taking our nutritionals or we could also consider simply taking all-in-one multis or herbal formulas.

For most of us, a multivitamin/mineral or wide-spectrum herbal supplement taken in the morning will suffice but if we have a sensitive stomach or a specific condition, we may have to nerd up to make the best use of what we take. We can read labels and ask questions, but if we still can’t figure it out, it would be a good idea to check in with our health care provider.

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