How to take supplements

To ensure the supplements are well absorbed and not just flushed straight through the body, the follow these tips:

* Take supplements at room temperature with cool water. Hot drinks can destroy nutrients; iced drinks slow absorption.
* Don’t drink tea or coffee within 15 minutes of taking a supplement as they can interfere with nutrient absorption.
* Take the supplement with or without food according to the following guide:

With food Without food With or without food
Fat-soluble nutrients (including vitamins A, D and E, all essential fatty acids and co-enzyme Q10): if your dosage involves more than one capsule/tablet a day, split the dose and take one dose with breakfast and one with lunch or an evening meal. Probiotics (such as acidophillus and bifidus bacteria): take first thing in the morning and/or last thing at night with, or in, tepid water. Herbs: may be best taken with or without food depending on the type. Consult your herbalist.
Amino acids: take 30 minutes before or after food. Minerals: the majority are best taken with food but some, such as zinc, are best taken on an empty stomach and last thing at night.
Types of supplements

Supplements are available in tablet, capsule, powder and liquid tincture form.

* If you have difficulty swallowing tablets you can crush them.
* If using capsules, try to obtain non-gelatine ones. Check the manufacturer’s label.
* Powders and liquids are particularly suitable for children, the elderly and anyone convalescing, as they’re easily absorbed by the body.
* Try to obtain supplements with the least amount of fillers, coatings and artificial colourings and those with natural, as opposed to synthetic, ingredients.

Dosages and RDAs

Recommended dosages for nutrients should be followed carefully. With supplements it’s not the case that more is better; exceeding recommended doses can be dangerous. However, therapeutic doses are usually significantly higher than official recommended daily allowances (RDAs).

RDAs have been compiled as guidelines for ‘average’ people, yet they vary from country to country and don’t take account of individual needs.

Our lists contain the typical range of therapeutic doses used by nutritional therapists as well as RDAs and maximum recommended dosages for reference. Dosages for children are always much lower than for adults, and men may require slightly larger doses than women. If in doubt, seek advice from a nutritional therapist.

Minerals tend to interact with each other and other nutrients and toxins. It’s important to take this into account when supplementing your diet. For example,zinc can interfere with iron and copper absorption.

Store all nutrients in a cool, dry place and safely out of reach of children. Always read the label and check with a qualified practitioner or your GP if you have any doubts.

This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Stephen Hopwood in April 2009.

First published in October 2002.