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How to Take Vitamins and Minerals for the Proper Absorption

Question:
Which vitamins and minerals should be taken together or separately?

Answer:
The question of when to take vitamins together or separately is an excellent one and which we address in the "What to Consider When Using" and "Concerns and Cautions" sections of our Reviews of vitamin or mineral supplements. How you take a supplement can be just as important as which product you take -- both may impact how much of a nutrient your body actually gets.

A few rules of thumb:
  • If you take a large dose of a mineral, it will compete with other minerals to reduce their absorption. The mineral most often taken in large amounts is calcium: The dose is usually several hundred of milligrams, compared to doses of just a few milligrams or even microgram amounts (1,000 micrograms = 1 milligram) of most other minerals. So if you take a calcium supplement, take it at a different time of day than other mineral supplements or a multivitamin/multimineral supplement. Doses of magnesium can also be relatively large and should, ideally, be taken apart from other minerals. If you take high doses of zinc long-term (50 mg or more per day for 10 weeks or longer ), be aware that it can cause copper deficiency, so you may need to supplement with copper as well.

  • Some vitamins can actually enhance the absorption of other nutrients. Vitamin C, for example, can enhance iron absorption from supplements and plant foods.

  • The fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are likely to be better absorbed if taken with a meal that contains fats. In fact, one study found that taking vitamin D with dinner rather than breakfast increased blood levels of vitamin D by about 50%. However, evidence (mainly from animal and cell studies) suggests that moderate to large doses of fat-soluble vitamins reduce absorption of other fat-soluble vitamins - by about 10 to 50% - due to competition. Absorption of vitamin K appears to be particularly reduced by other fat-soluble vitamins, while vitamin A absorption is least affected and may actually be better absorbed when taken with vitamin E (Goncalves, Food Chem 2015). Taking vitamins D, E, or K several hours before or after other fat-soluble vitamins would seem to maximize their absorption.

  • Taking certain supplements with food can reduce gastrointestinal side-effects. For example, taking magnesium with food can reduce the occurrence of diarrhea, and taking iron with food can reduce the chance of stomach upset.

  • Be aware that vitamins and minerals can also affect the absorption and effectiveness of medications. You'll find more specific information about this in the "Concerns and Cautions" section of each of our Reviews. You can also look up these drug interactions by drug name in our Encyclopedia.

Keep in mind that these issues are not of significant concern when consuming a multivitamin providing up to the recommended daily intakes (RDAs) of vitamins and minerals -- as long as it does not contain more than 250 mg of either calcium or magnesium.


Learn More About the Best Way to Take Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements



Is it better to get vitamins from foods or supplements, and are natural vitamins better than synthetic vitamins? >>

Are supplements which claim increased absorption or improved bioavailability telling the truth? Is it worth paying more for these? Are there concerns? >>

Some vitamin C products claim to use fully reduced vitamin C. Is this important? >>

When taking a water-soluble version of CoQ10, do I still need to take it with food? >>

As vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, why is it necessary to take it every day? >>



See other recent and popular questions >>
Comments
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Ellen16443   February 10, 2018
Does the caution on calcium supplements apply to PLANT BASED calcium supplements as well?

ConsumerLab.com   February 27, 2018
Hi Ellen - Yes, this applies to plant-based calcium supplements as well. You can find more information about getting enough calcium, and the risks of taking too much supplemental cacium, in the "ConsumerTips" (https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/Bone_Supplements-Calcium_with_%20Vitamin_D_K_magnesium/calcium/#using) and "Concerns and Cautions" (https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/Bone_Supplements-Calcium_with_%20Vitamin_D_K_magnesium/calcium/#cautions) sections of the Calcium Supplements Review. Also see this CL Answer: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/how-much-calcium-is-too-much/how_much_calcium_is_too_much/

Andrew11745   February 21, 2017
It is unclear to me if taking vitamin D3 and K2 together is problematic.

ConsumerLab.com   February 27, 2017
Hi Andrew - Please see this CL Answer https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/_/vitamin-k-vitamin-d-absorption/. Information can also be found in the "What to Consider When Buying" section of the Vitamin K Supplements Review: https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/_/Vitamin_K/#buying

Eileen11471   December 7, 2016
Suggesting people take Vitamin D in the evening with dinner for increased absorption is not good, it blocks melatonin production. Best to take Vitamin D with a high fat breakfast, which we should all have to lower blood sugar and insulin. I know you don't say take it with dinner, but you elude to a study where it was absorbed better at dinner, but that is NOT the best time to take it.

ConsumerLab.com   January 19, 2017
Hi Eileen - It's true that high doses vitamin D may decrease the production of melatonin. See the "Concerns and Cautions" section for more about this: https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/_/Vitamin_D/#cautions. Please also see the section about insulin resistance and glucose control: https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/_/Vitamin_D/#diabetes.

Tim11015   June 26, 2016
Fish oil is a commonly used supplement. My supplement (Vitamin Shoppe) contains 1000 mg of fish oil concentrate, which has 300 mg EPA and 200 mg DHA. Will these amounts affect the absorption of Vit D and CoQ10(ubiquinol) which I take at the same time? Should I still try to have some fat in the meal before taking these?

ConsumerLab.com   December 4, 2016

David8186   December 16, 2015
Your site should never use the term, "Vitamin K". You should revise the entire site to say "vitamins K1 and K2" or "Vitamin K1" or "Vitamin K2".

The reason is to promote education about K2 and to be clear.

Thanks

Amy8189   December 17, 2015
Hi David - Although our report is entitled Vitamin K Supplements, it provides extensive information about the differences between vitamins K1 and K2 and the many forms of K2, e.g., MK-4 and MK-7.

Eileen5859   July 12, 2015
Vitamin D doses also pause the production of melatonin, so I would advise having your Vitamin D in an earlier meal than dinner if you have problems with insomnia.

ConsumerLab.com   July 15, 2015
Thank you Eileen. We've now added a CL Answer about this here: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers//vitamin_D_melatonin/

S5858   July 12, 2015
That is very valuable information. Thank you.

I am a little confused about calcium and magnesium. I have always operated under the assumption that they are best taken together, along with vitamin D, as each of these aids in the absorption of the others. Is this incorrect?

Thank you!


ConsumerLab.com   July 22, 2015
Thank you for your question. We've now answered it, here: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/_/calcium_with_magnesium/

Jeannemarie5857   July 12, 2015
Taking "high doses" of zinc long term should be avoided b/c in addition to impairing copper status, it can actually dampen the immune system. You might be prescribed higher amounts of zinc following surgery, but that should generally be only about 2 weeks. So rather than adding a copper supplement, discontinue the zinc supplement or check with your doctor about the dose and duration.

ConsumerLab.com   July 13, 2015
You are correct, Jeannemarie. More about this is found in the Zinc Supplements Review: https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews//zinc/#cautions

Twyla5861   July 14, 2015
what is considered a high dose of zinc?

ConsumerLab.com   July 15, 2015
Hi Twyla - We've now added this information to the answer above.

This CL Answer initially posted on 3/24/2012. Last updated 8/8/2017.

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