Dietary Supplements: How to Take Them Correctly

Dietary Supplements: How to Take Them Correctly

Navigating the world of dietary supplements can be tricky. Our guide, "Dietary Supplements: How to Take Them Correctly," breaks down the do's and don'ts to help you get the most out of your vitamins and minerals. From when to take your omega-3s to pairing your iron with the right foods for better absorption, we've got your back on the journey to optimal health.

The Evolution and Importance of Dietary Supplements

In the bustling realm of health and nutrition, dietary supplements have firmly established themselves as allies in our quest for well-being. The inception of these nutrient-packed additions can be traced back to the 1930s when American chemist Carl Rehnborg developed the first dietary supplement. This innovative blend was a concentrate of essential nutrients derived from alfalfa, watercress, parsley, and yeast starter.

Rehnborg's pioneering work laid the foundation for an industry that today offers a huge selection of supplements, each promising to replenish our bodies with the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that our regular diets might be missing.

Historically, people have researched diseases that could stem not from what our food contains, but from what our food is missing. This is what led to the call for supplements. Over the decades, biologically active food supplements, or dietary supplements as they are commonly known, have gained immense popularity.

But why are supplements so popular? Well, they’re easy to consume, simple to measure and they’re normally available over the counter. Dietary supplements offer a convenient and efficient means to correct various diseases and pathological conditions by addressing specific nutrient deficiencies. As our understanding of nutrition has evolved, so has the science behind these supplements, rendering them indispensable for many in their pursuit of a healthier life.


Naturally, you need a doctor’s opinion for a proper diagnosis for specific ailments, but supplementation is here to cover your bases when you have concerns about nutritional deficiencies in your diet. It’s your responsibility to make sure that you’re consuming the right combination of nutrients in the right amounts, and where a perfect diet is just not possible, supplements can make up for what’s missing. It’s in their name.

Introducing Supplements Gradually

Figuring out the vast world of dietary supplements can be a bit scary at first, and knowing how to integrate them into your routine is crucial. If you're planning to start taking multiple supplements at once, regularly, you should probably introduce them into your system gradually and keep an eye on the intended effects and possible side effects.


Start by incorporating one supplement every 2-3 days and carefully observe your body's reactions. This method ensures that you can easily pinpoint any adverse reactions and adjust your routine accordingly.

Regularly Consumed Supplements: Vitamin C, Lecithin, and Others

Some supplements like Vitamin C, lecithin, Vitamin D, magnesium, and liver support complexes have earned a reputation for being very friendly and a welcome addition to everyone’s diet. These supplements are known to be generally well-tolerated and can be an excellent addition to your daily routine. In short, they’re harmless in regular doses and they serve to boost your overall wellbeing.


You need to be systematic and try to understand the specific nuances of each supplement to achieve the maximum benefit and maintain a harmonious balance within your body.

Importance of Fats for Absorbing Certain Vitamins

The composition of your meals plays a pivotal role in determining how well your body can absorb the supplements you take. Fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K, require the presence of dietary fats for optimal absorption. Similarly, certain supplements like Q10, curcumin, astaxanthin, lycopene, boswellia, fish oil, and krill oil show better absorption when taken alongside meals rich in fats and enzymes. If you have issues with bile production or digestion, incorporating bile preparations and digestive enzymes containing lipase can enhance the absorption of these fat-soluble nutrients.

The Impact of Carbohydrate- and Protein-Rich Diets on Vitamin Absorption

The nature of your diet also influences the need and absorption of certain vitamins. For instance, a diet rich in carbohydrates may increase your body's requirement for vitamins B1, B2, C, and magnesium. On the flip side, a diet low in protein can lead to reduced absorption of vitamin B2, nicotinic acid, and vitamin C. It can also disrupt the conversion of carotenoids to vitamin A, similar to what happens in hypothyroidism.


There are many tests that you can opt for to check your body’s levels for specific required nutrients and deficiencies and this is where your physician comes in. Seek out their guidance and get yourself checked for any deficiencies you might suspect you have, but try not to obsess about every possible deficiency. A well-balanced diet is the start. Supplements come in after that, when you know you’re missing out on a specific key ingredient. 

Choosing Liquid Supplements for Gastrointestinal Issues

The form in which you take your supplements can be crucial, especially if you're dealing with gastrointestinal diseases or issues with mucous membranes. Generally speaking, opting for supplements in liquid form can be a gentler and more effective option, ensuring that your body absorbs the nutrients without causing any additional discomfort. They’re easier to digest. 

Timing and Sequence of Taking Supplements

Most supplements don't come with strict timing requirements. You could, in theory, consume them at random if you so choose. But there are always exceptions. Herbs with adaptogenic effects, which can have invigorating properties, and vitamin D, are often recommended to be taken in the first half of the day. Understanding the timing and sequence of taking supplements can prevent any possible interactions and ensure maximum efficiency.


Inflammation or swelling in the intestines and elevated ammonia levels can hinder the absorption of amino acids and minerals. Addressing these conditions before starting supplementation can prevent further discomfort and improve nutrient uptake.

Interactions and Compatibility of Vitamins and Minerals

Assorted dietary supplements including vitamins and minerals in various forms and colors.

Understanding Synergists and Antagonists Among Nutrients

Vitamins and minerals can have intricate relationships. Some act as synergists, enhancing each other's effects, while others may be antagonists, competing for absorption. For instance, the combination of vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K works well together, ensuring better assimilation by the body. Conversely, certain B vitamins, when taken in high doses, can compete for absorption.


While there isn't a strict rulebook, being aware of these interactions can help optimize your supplement regimen.

Vitamin-Mineral Complexes vs. Mono-Supplementation

Vitamin-mineral complexes can offer a convenient way to maintain general health. However, they might not always be enough for replenishing deficiencies due to their lower absorption rate. When looking to address a specific deficiency, mono-supplementation, perhaps along with its synergists, can often be more beneficial.


For example, addressing an iodine deficiency would not only involve iodine supplementation but also the inclusion of selenium, vitamin D, magnesium, chromium, zinc, and B vitamins to ensure successful absorption and efficacy.

Foods and Substances that Impact Mineral Absorption

The effectiveness of supplements can sometimes be hampered by our dietary choices. Consuming large amounts of tannins, phytates, and caffeine, which are found in cereals, nuts, tea, and coffee, can reduce the absorption of many minerals from food. Similarly, dairy products may also interfere with how well certain minerals are absorbed.


For example, if you're supplementing with iron, zinc, copper, or magnesium, it's advisable not to take these supplements alongside foods rich in the substances mentioned above, to increase the chances of optimal absorption.

The Role of Tannins, Phytates, and Caffeine in Absorption

An infographic illustrating the different dietary roles in absorption of vitamins and minerals in the human body.

Tannins, phytates, and caffeine have properties that can bind minerals, making them less accessible for absorption. Being mindful of your consumption of foods and drinks rich in these substances can help ensure that your mineral supplements provide the most benefit.

Amino acids and substances that aid their replenishment, such as spirulina, mumiyo, and royal jelly, are best taken on an empty stomach. Ideally, they should be consumed 40-60 minutes before meals. When taken with food, these substances might compete for absorption with the amino acids present in your meal, which could potentially limit their effectiveness.

Specifics of Taking B Vitamins

B vitamins can be a bit tricky when it comes to supplementation. They tend to compete for absorption, and high doses of some can increase the excretion of others. For instance, there's competition between B5 and B3, B5 and B7, B1 and B6, and almost all B vitamins compete with B12.


While vitamin complexes are beneficial, if you're looking to replenish a specific B vitamin, it's better to take it additionally, separate from the complex. B vitamins are ideally taken 30-60 minutes before meals or an hour after.

Guidelines for Alpha-Lipoic Acid and Plant Extracts

Alpha-lipoic acid is best taken in the morning, strictly before meals, about 30-60 minutes prior. Opting for the r-form or liposomal variant is a good choice. Moreover, it's advisable to avoid taking mineral supplements, tea, coffee, and alcohol in the next couple of hours after taking alpha-lipoic acid.


As for plant extracts, most are best consumed before meals. However, be mindful that many herbs, such as St. John's wort, ginseng, and ginkgo biloba, can interact with medications.

Supplements and Drug Interactions

An infographic detailing potential drug interactions with various dietary supplements.

Interactions of Herbal Extracts with Medications

Supplementing your diet with natural and herbal extracts can be beneficial, but it's crucial to be aware of potential interactions with medications you might be taking. For example, St. John's wort, ginseng, and ginkgo biloba are known to interact with certain medications, potentially altering their effectiveness or causing adverse reactions.


Being mindful of such interactions is essential to ensuring that your supplement regimen complements your overall health and wellness strategy without inadvertently causing complications.


Dietary supplements can be a valuable addition to your health routine. When taken correctly, they can help bridge nutritional gaps, support overall wellness, and even aid in managing certain health conditions. However, it is always crucial to introduce supplements thoughtfully, be aware of interactions, and consider the role of diet in supplement absorption. By doing so, you can make the most of these tools in your pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.




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Anna von Büllesheim
Article By Anna von Büllesheim

Anna, a highly experienced Coach and Registered Dietitian with 18 years of expertise, holds an MS in Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition PreventAge®. Her extensive background includes successfully addressing chronic dieting patterns, performance nutrition, and health promotion. With proficiency in Nutritional Counseling, Nutrition Education, Psychology & Motivation, Healing Nutrition, and Performance Coaching, Anna is equipped to provide comprehensive support. She is licensed to practice in Europe, catering to both adolescents and adults, and is a valued member of COFENAT, the Spanish association of natural therapies. Anna's entrepreneurial spirit shines through her involvement in two training projects: one focused on educating pharma and aesthetic professionals in nutritional and nutraceutical advice, and the other dedicated to unlocking human potential and elevating the quality of life to new heights.

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