Revise your ABCs: Tips to get the most from your daily dose of vitamins

Vitamins and minerals are big business in the UK. In 2016 we spent £421 million on vitamins and minerals and nearly half of us pop a daily pill to make up for any perceived deficiencies in our diets. So how can we tweak the healthy habit to boost our wellbeing further?

Vitamins: morning or evening? 

Perhaps surprisingly, at least for those who take their tablet at breakfast time, a one-a-day vitamin and mineral supplement is usually best taken after your evening meal.

“The repair processes your body undergoes are greatest at night when growth hormone is secreted,” says Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director of Healthspan (healthspan.co.uk) and author of The Essential Guide To Vitamins, Minerals And Herbal Supplements.

“That said, it’s best to take them when you’re most likely to remember. If brushing your teeth in the morning prompts you to take your vitamins, take them then.”

If you often have trouble sleeping and your supplement contains B vitamins, you might want to take it before 2pm. 

“B vitamins are energy promoting and although they don’t give you the same sort of buzz as caffeine, they may keep you awake,” says nutritional therapist Lorna Driver-Davies at Wild Nutrition (wildnutrition.com).

“Similarly, if you take magnesium, take this in the evening as it promotes restful sleep. It won’t make you drowsy if you take it during the day but it works better in the evening.”

Take them with food? 

“If vitamins are synthetic – made to mimic the way we get them naturally in our diets – you need to take them with food, as it ‘unlocks’ the active ingredients and enables the body to absorb them properly,” says Lorna.

“Food-state supplements already have those cofactors in place. The exception is a probiotic, which needs to be taken on an empty stomach so it can work more effectively with the bacteria in the gut.”

Dr Brewer says having a few bites of a sandwich or a glass of juice is enough before taking your supplement. “Don’t take vitamins on an empty stomach unless specifically directed because they can cause irritation and make you feel sick,” she warns. “And don’t take them with tea or coffee, as these may interfere with absorption.”

Missing a day? 

Some vitamins, such as C and B groups, are water soluble, which means that although the body doesn’t store them, they are easy to top up. Fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D and E, however, are stored in the liver and fatty tissues, so although you don’t strictly need to take them every day, Lorna advises you do so.

“Otherwise you won’t get the cumulative results and you’re just wasting your money,” she says. “If you have low levels of vitamin D and miss your supplements frequently over a 28-day period, you can’t expect your levels to improve. Try to be consistent.”

What’s the cost?

The rise of food-state supplements made from wholefood nutrients and combined with food bases for better absorption, has encouraged us to consider the quality of our vitamins.

They can be expensive because of how they’re produced although, as Lorna points out, many people pay a lot of money for poor quality vitamins, too.

“Investigate the brand and the ingredients they use to ensure you’re getting the level of active ingredient you want,” she says. 

Dr Brewer recommends brands with good manufacturing practice (GMP) approval so you can be sure that your supplements conform to certain guidelines. 

Which supplement? 

A good-quality multivitamin tops Dr Brewer’s list – but be wary about taking more supplements afterwards. “Adding a formula for energy means you might be taking more than the EU-approved upper safe level of magnesium, for instance,” she says.

“Diarrhoea is a common side effect of mixing too many supplements as the body tries to excrete what it doesn’t need.”Lorna adds, “In winter we all need more vitamin D. We’re not exposed to enough sunshine and it’s only available from a small number of foods, so a daily supplement is essential.” 

To buy Dr Sarah Brewer’s The Essential Guide To Vitamins, Minerals And Herbal Supplements (£12.99), see Express Bookshop at expressbookshop.co.uk.



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